What is the very best location to grow tomatoes?

Tomatoes are sun lovers and do best with direct sunshine.  Anything that reduces sunlight such as shade from trees etc. will reduce production.  Note that some desert areas, Southern U.S. states, and high altitudes may have too much light/heat in which case some shade in the late afternoon may be beneficial.  Some varieties are more tolerant to reduced sunlight than others, but most varieties will grow normally with 8 hours of sunlight per day.  Small to medium fruited types grow fairly well with 6 hours of sunlight though production may be reduced.  Very few varieties will grow and produce with less than 4 hours of direct sunlight per day.  Sun Gold, Gold Nugget, Stupice, Polar Baby, and other smaller tomatoes with early maturity are the best candidates for growing in reduced sunshine.  Shady Lady was recommended by an Australian for ability to set fruit under low sunlight conditions (This is an Australian open pollinated variety, not the commercial Shady Lady available in the U.S.)  Reduced sunlight increases days to maturity so instead of 75 days to ripe fruit, you may get 95 days and lose your crop to frost.

The soil should be a good quality loam with loose texture.  Since most of us don't have soil with those characteristics, it is best to work on building up the soil we have.  A soil test will tell the pH level and give recommendations to raise or lower it if needed.  Tomatoes grow best in soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 which is just a bit on the acid side.  They grow fairly well down to 5.0 and up to 7.5.  Special preparation such as double digging or deep chisel plowing will help loosen the soil up.  With double digging, leave the subsoil at the bottom and the topsoil on top.  Amend your soil with organic matter such as rabbit manure or compost.  You can also grow a cover crop over the winter.  Cultivate the soil at least 8 inches deep to incorporate the soil amemdments.  Soil preparation should be completed at least a month prior to planting.

If you will be using raised beds, get them constructed and filled.  Lasagna beds give good results.  These are constructed in layers starting with cardboard or newspaper and then alternating layers of organic materials such as leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, compost, manures, etc.  Wood or stone is used to build a rim around the bed which holds the materials in place.

Decide whether you will water the tomatoes and make plans how this will be done.  Consider how the plants will be supported such as with stakes or cages.

Whats the best method to grow tomatoes in my area?

Like many things to do with tomatoes, it depends.  Its very important to know not what tomatoes can grow but rather what the limitations are on growing tomatoes.  It also helps to know how much effort you are prepared to put into growing them.  The basic limitations on growing tomatoes are climate, soil, season length, disease pressure, pests, etc.  Once you know the limitations under which you will be growing tomatoes, then you can make progress on getting them to produce up to your expectations.  Start with preparing your soil.  Whether garden, greenhouse, or hydroponic you will need to get the soil/substrate ready to plant in.  Once the soil is prepared, transplant seedlings with care.  Nourish them, protect them, and above all water them if they need it and they will reward you with fine eating.

How far apart should I space my tomato plants?

This depends on whether you are staking, caging, or letting them sprawl and on the particular variety’s growth habit of dwarf, determinate, or indeterminate.  Staked indeterminates can be grown with spacing of 1 foot between plants, caged indeterminates can be grown with spacing of 2 feet between plants, and for sprawling, you need at least 3 feet between plants.  They will be more productive if more space is given.  I have grown indeterminates 3 feet between plants and 4 feet between rows.  This gives them enough room to sprawl out and really produce though walking the rows may be a bit difficult after the plants get huge.  Determinates can be planted a bit closer than indeterminates especially if they are let sprawl.  They will produce well with 2 feet between plants and 3 feet between rows.  The dwarf varieties are suitable for pot culture but if grown in soil, they can be planted as close as 1 foot apart.  A major contributor to the spacing question is the area of soil the roots expand into.  A large tomato plant may have roots 3 feet or more deep and up to 10 feet long from the plant stem occupying up to 300 cubic feet of soil.  Most people plant tomatoes too close together which reduces overall production.  Given a choice, I would never plant indeterminates closer than 3 by 5 feet!

What on earth is “troughing”?

Troughing is the practice of removing all but the top tuft of leaves of a seedling then digging a shallow trench to plant in.  The seedling is laid on its side in the trench about 2 or 3 inches deep.  Its main advantage is in areas with extended cold springs or very low rainfall. The plant should be oriented North to South with the root end to the south.  The combination of large rooting surface and relatively small leaf area reduces or eliminates transplant shock.  Solar heat easily penetrates to the root depth which encourages growth.  Early growth rapidly replaces any leaves removed.  Overall, it is one of the best planting methods around for tomatoes especially if the seedlings are somewhat leggy to begin with.

Rodale recommends planting deep, but my plants grow slow!

Planting deep is good advice for long season areas so long as the soil temp at planting depth is above 60 degrees F.  The root system will develop deeper which contributes to more fruit production.  Do not plant deep any time the soil temperature is below 55 to 60 degrees.  This applies to early season plantings in southern climates and most plantings in northern climates.  The low temperature is equivalent to putting your feet in an ice water bath for the plant.

When you are dealing with cold soil temperatures, mound the soil up 6 to 8 inches high, then cover it with black plastic.  Set a plant into the top of the mound through the plastic, putting it about half the length of the stem into the soil.  As temperatures rise, remove the plastic and mound soil up around the plant until another 4 to 6 inches has been added to the mound.  The black plastic will absorb heat and transfer it to the soil mound.  The mound will warm up faster when the sun shines and cool down slower during rain.

So what’s your neighbors magic formula for growing stupendous tomatoes?

Start by getting a vigorous seedling to set out.  Dig a hole 2 feet deep and 2 feet across.  Toss aside all the subsoil, then fill the hole back in with topsoil, 5 gallons of high quality compost, 1 cup of 13-13-13 fertilizer, ½ cup of cane sugar, ¼ cup of table salt, and 1 level shovelful of hardwood wood ashes.  Put 3 inches of plain topsoil on top and set a seedling into the plain soil so that its roots can grow into the amended soil beneath.  He uses 1 level teaspoon of miracle grow to a gallon of water and puts 1 cup of the liquid into the hole with the plant.  The plant should be firmed up in the soil and left alone for 2 weeks except for watering when needed.  Make a cage of concrete reinforcing wire that is 30 inches in diameter.  This requires a piece of wire 8 feet long.  Put the cage up over the plant and stake it down securely.  Securely in this case means 2 steel bars driven up to 3 feet deep into the ground and attached with wire to the cage.  Water the plant as needed and after the first fruits are set, start applying 1/2 teaspoon of liquid fertilizer in a gallon of water per plant every other week.

What effect do gases such as ozone, ethylene, and natural gas have on tomatoes?

They are bad news.  Greenhouse growers that use natural gas to heat have a big problem if a leak develops.  Basically, tomatoes are very sensitive to many contaminants in the air.  In some ways they are like the canaries in mines years ago.  The birds keeled over fast alerting the miners that gas was building up.

Can I smoke around tomatoes?

Yes you can.  There used to be many warnings about Tobacco Mosaic Virus being spread by smokers.  Today it is only a problem in greenhouses and then very rarely.  If you want to avoid any risk of spreading diseases, wash your hands thoroughly, use clean water sources, and clean any tools used around tomatoes with a 10% household bleach solution.  This is not specific to TMV, just general disease precautions.

I want to take pictures of my tomatoes and post them on the internet.  How and what hardware do I need?

Start out with a good digital camera.  Cheap ones usually have a fixed focus and relatively low resolution.  The better ones have zoom focus and resolution of thousands of pixels per square inch.  You will also need a website with dedicated memory to store your photos.  Sites are available for rent that will provide the basic requirements or you can rent memory from your ISP.  A good photo editing program such as Adobe Photoshop is a near necessity.  I have a 5 megapixel camera with auto focus and zoom.  I take photos at 1 megapixel if they are intended for posting on the internet, then upload them to http://starblvd.photo.net/ which converts them to standard vga resolution of 640 X 480.  You can also convert photos to higher or lower resolution, crop to size, rotate, and manipulate color tones with photo editing software.

What about grafted tomato plants?

The intent behind grafting tomatoes is to get a vigorous and disease resistant rootstock with a productive top.  Grafted plants sell at a high premium that may not be justified since the vigor and disease tolerance genes are available in many non-grafted varieties.  They can be more productive but I would just set out a few more plants and have the production with less chance of loss if a plant or two dies.

Some people have grafted tomatoes onto Jimson weed in the past.  This is very dangerous because the alkaloids produced by the roots are translocated into the fruit.  It is possible to do this for seed production because the tomato seed are not consumed.  I still would recommend avoiding this practice because of the risk if the fruit are consumed.

What are good companion plants for tomatoes?

There is a lot of talk about companion planting.  First, define companion planting as planting two or more species that co-exist to mutual benefit and do so with overlapping root zones.  Anything planted as a companion to tomato should be a moderate feeder and have a relatively small leaf area. You would not for example plant squash beside tomato because it is both a heavy feeder and has a massive leaf surface area. The same logic applies to corn since it is a heavy feeder and requires full sunlight.

A different scenario entirely is presented by interplanting tomato and cabbage. On first thought it sounds pretty good because you would plant the cabbage up to 2 months before the tomatoes and you would have harvested the cabbage before the tomatoes reach their main production point. So long as small type cabbage plants are used, it can be made to work fairly well. The problem I encounter is that various caterpillers are attracted to the combination and I wind up using poisons to control the bugs. That means the combination did not meet the definition of companion planting since there was no mutual benefit. I would still use this method if space is an issue but define it as interplanting, not companion planting.

A much better companion for tomato to me is onions. I have used bunching onions between the tomato plants to some effect. The onions do not compete seriously with the tomato for nutrients and the combination seems to reduce somewhat the number of pests on the tomatoes. If the tomatoes sprawl, the onions may have a tough time but by winter they get enough light to grow and by the next spring are in good shape to eat.

My last example is my personal favorite method of companion planting. It is to plant tomatoes and use marigolds as companion plants. I use nemagone marigolds which make a small flower and grow 2 to 3 feet high. I usually put 4 or more marigolds around one tomato. Eventually, the tomato suppresses the marigolds but they manage to peek out of the foliage cover most of the season. The marigolds reduce problems with bugs and seem to help a bit with foliage diseases.  Several people have reported serious problems from spider mites with this combination.

I know there are many other companion crops that would work. I have not tried many possible combinations since space is not a problem for me and I just grow enough plants to make a crop no matter what hits them.

What about breeding healthier veggies?

There are several good books on the subject such as Carol Deppe’s.  Caro Rich tomato has up to 12 times as much carotene as a normal tomato and there are numerous high lycopene tomatoes as well as high vitamin C tomatoes such as Doublerich.  Caro Rich is a productive tomato but  has only so-so taste.  There is a high potential to improve nutritional value of tomatoes as well as taste if a good tasting tomato (maybe Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom) were crossed with Caro Rich.  Because genes are arranged on chromosome strands and those strands segregate during reproduction, some combinations are very difficult to almost impossible to achieve.  This occurs when desired genes exist on the same chromosome strand in two different varieties.  The commercial method in that case is to grow several thousands of F1, F2, then F3 hybrid plants and search for a plant that shows evidence of a crossover event where segments of DNA are exchanged between the two chromosomes.  This obviously is not possible for the home gardener.  Home gardeners still can do a great deal to improve the tomatoes they grow.

So what are these “tree tomatoes” I read about in the paper?

One kind of tree tomato is not a tomato at all. It's called Cyphomandra Betaceae and it's a shrub that grows to about 10-15 ft, is not winter hardy, bears only starting in the second year, and has fruits that are red and resemble roma type tomatoes. They are bitter fruits that most folks find inedible. This type of tree tomato became popular during one of the many tomato crazes that existed in Victorian times. There are several different strains of Cyphomandra and they are prized in India and other countries.  Since Cyphomandra is in the solanum genus it is distantly related to tomato.

The second type of so called tree tomatoes are just regular kinds of tomatoes that have extra long vines. Triple-L-Crop is the most common and appears in the Sunday ads, when indeed it is IDed as such. Nothing special about it otherwise, that I have read.  The most common comment is lots of vine, relatively few tomatoes.

What about hybrids?  Do they have a big advantage?

Hybrids have been carefully selected for specific traits which usually include high production, firmness, no cracking, uniform size and shape fruit, disease and pest tolerance, and long shelf life.  Where was taste in those criteria?  There are some hybrids that have excellent taste with a good balance of sweetness and an intense tomato flavor.  Most of these have been developed in Europe or Asia to suit local tastes.  Some examples are Camone, Odoriko, Momotaro, and Sun Gold.  By comparison, heirlooms usually have good to excellent taste but poor production and/or quality.

The disease tolerance issue is complex because many parts of the world are unaffected by a given problem such as Fusarium.  This disease is far more prevalent in the southern half of the U.S. than it is in the northern tier of states.  My take on this issue is to grow hybrids where disease tolerance is a requirement.  An example would be to grow Tomato Spotted Wilt tolerant varieties in areas where that disease is prevalent.

A gardener who wants to experience the many different tastes of tomatoes would not have many options with hybrids.  For this reason I recommend growing some hybrids for production and some heirlooms to find the ones you really like.  There are some productive heirlooms that are well worth the effort of growing!

Hey you!  Yeah you, (whispering) what's Brandywine?

Brandywine is a tomato with excellent taste, potato leaves, and low production.  It is a large beefsteak pink tomato that grows on an indeterminate plant.  Arguably, the entire heirloom tomato craze is a result of people growing and liking Brandywine.  In recent years, there have been many other tomatoes tagged with the Brandywine name.  These include Yellow Brandywine and Red Brandywine which are very good heirloom varieties in their own right.  Of the three, only Red Brandywine has a history tracing back to the Amish.  There are several recently developed open pollinated varieties that have the Brandywine name.  These include Black Brandywine, Purple Brandywine, Brandywine heart shaped, Brandywine cherry, etc.

My tomatoes are already planted in the garden and the leaves are yellowing?

Yellowing leaves can have many causes.  Magnesium deficiency and low nitrogen levels are two major culprits.  Side dress with dolomite lime using caution that you do not raise the ph too high and consider adding a nitrate fertilizer.  Some virus and fungal infections also cause yellowing leaves.  These are best prevented by good sanitation, treatment with an antifungal agent, and preventing leaf hopper infestations.  Daconil is an oft recommended anti-fungal for tomatoes.

Ber! Ber!  No, its not cold, what is Blossom End Rot?

Blossom End Rot is a physiological disorder that affects some varieties but not others and, depending on environmental conditions, may affect a variety one year but not the next.  It is a result of calcium availability imbalance inside the growing plant.  As a general rule, the paste tomatoes are affected more than any other type.

University tests have proven that additions of calcium to the soil are not an effective treatment.  Still, some people (Mike McGrath for one)like the eggshells in the hole trick.  If you choose to do this, I suggest you use at least a dozen eggshells for each plant and that you crush them first.  Dig a hole at least a foot deep and work the eggshells into the dirt in the bottom of the hole.  Cover with fresh topsoil and set out your plant.

Even if it doesn't help, it doesn't hurt either.  It also encourages folks to dig deep beneath their plants which encourages root expansion and that is a very big positive for the plants.

We are due for a frost tonight, what can I do to protect my plants?

It depends on how cold the temps get and how big your plants are.  If the temperature is due to go no lower than 29 degrees Fahrenheit,  cover them to protect from the worst of the cold.  Anything from a gallon milk jug with the bottom cut out to a 5 gallon bucket upended over really big plants will work.  You can quickly contrive a plastic tunnel with a few pieces of pvc pipe and a sheet of plastic.  If the temp is due to get below 29, use two layers of cover such as a box over the plant with a bucket over the box.  Consider a plant blanket with a heat source under the blanket.  Large strings of christmas tree lights strung down beside the plants with a blanket to cover them and hold the heat in will protect down to about 24 degrees.  Another good alternative is styrofoam buckets upended over the plants.  These are sold as minnow buckets in many large chain stores.  Styrofoam plant covers are also available from some nurseries and plant suppliers.  If the temp is due to go below about 24, you probably should dig them up and bring them indoors.  It will damage the plants but they will be alive rather than dead if left outside.  See also Wall-Of-Waters.

My Wall-Of-Waters collapsed and squished the plants.  What can I do to prevent this?

WOW’s occasionally do this.  One type has all the water cells linked so that if one leaks, the whole thing collapses.  There is another with individual tubes so that one can deflate without bringing the house down.  You can also cut the top and bottom off an empty cola bottle to form a tube that will fit in the WOW and prevent it collapsing on top of the tomato.  Push the sleeve down into the soil to anchor it firmly and set the WOW over it.  WOW's are a moderately effective way to protect plants from temperature extremes.  Be aware though that temps below about 20 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods of time will freeze the WOW's leaving you with dead plants.  One person I know combines WOW's with styrofoam covers and manages to set tomatoes out a month earlier than anyone else in the area.

What causes my tomato plants to have a “weeping” growth form?

This is usually caused by cold weather stress.  Some varieties are more sensitive than others to cold temps and may get a really droopy appearance.  Usually they grow normally when hot weather finally sets in.  There is some evidence that combining Sevin with Daconil may cause curled leaves and reduced growth including a "droopy" appearance to the foliage.

Warming up the soil, how's it done?

There are several ways to speed up soil warming in the spring.  One that is used by many people is to build up a mound of soil to plant in.  The sun will warm the mound up significantly faster than soil that is flat.  The most effective method is to use two layers of clear plastic with the first layer on the soil, then lay several 12 oz. cola cans on their sides on top of the plastic and place another layer of plastic on top of the cans.  The two layers of plastic separated by a few inches will trap heat at the soil surface.  This can change the soil temperature by about a degree Fahrenheit per day at a depth of 6 inches.  Once the plastic is removed, heavy rain can quickly cool the soil back down.  This trick can still speed up tomato plant growth by several days especially in areas with cool spring temps.

What about using plastic mulch around tomatoes, does this new red plastic work?

Yes, but.  It works by tricking the tomato plant into thinking it is in competition.  It only works when an area of red plastic covers an open area of about 4 feet on each side of the plants.  It prevents rain from penetrating into the soil which means you may have to irrigate.  The average increase in production is 10% to 20%.  My preference is to just plant a few more tomato plants.

Does plastic mulch help prevent disease? Deprive plants of water? Whats the best mulch?

If properly used, it does reduce splashing from the soil surface onto the leaves.  This might help prevent some infection but several of the foliage diseases can be airborne which allows them to infect your plants anyway.  Plain plastic sheeting can prevent water from getting to your plants.  If you use it, put a soaker hose under the plastic or use another watering method.  Generally, the plastic sheeting is a poor choice for mulch.  Newspapers with a covering of pine straw or grass clippings works well and still lets water pass through.  Other materials such as pine bark mulch or old hay may be acceptable though hay can have lots of grass seed which wind up growing in your garden. One of the better methods of preventing weed growth is with woven plastic mesh. Check out the material at ShawFabrics

What about the weather? "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." Lazarus Long (Robert Heinlein)

There's not much you can do to change the weather so best to handle it with careful preparation.  Strong winds will blow down many stakes and cages.  A deeply sunk post or metal bar beside the cage will help prevent this.  Rain may be plentiful one year but drought reigns the next.  A good drip irrigation system will help with this problem.

To prune or not to prune, that is the question.  What do I do with these suckers

A great deal depends on whether you intend to Stake, Cage, or let them sprawl.  If you are letting them sprawl, then by all means leave the suckers alone.  If they are to be caged, then you might want to let most of the suckers grow to produce more foliage and fruits.  When they are staked and planted at high density, you will probably want to prune all suckers off and let only the main leader grow.

Late in the fall, you may want to pinch off the ends of all leaders so the remaining fruit will finish maturing.  This allows extending the productive life of the plant by diverting energy from growth to maturing fruit.

How much water do my tomatoes need and is it possible to overwater?

This is highly dependent on the varieties you are growing, climate you are in, soil type, container vs in the ground, etc.  In a nutshell, bigger plants need more water.  In hotter weather all tomatoes need more water.  If your soil is sandy as compared to clay based, you will need more water.  Containers are a special case and may require watering up to twice a day depending on size and water retention capability.  A simple rule of thumb is to water the tomatoes any time the soil is dry and the plants show the slightest signs of drooping.  Typically ½ inch of water will provide for a plant for about 3 days except in extreme heat and drought conditions.  As for overwatering, yes you can definitely overwater and it can kill tomato plants.  The soil should be moist, not flooded with standing water.  Another problem with overwatering is that it can induce splitting of ripe or nearly ripe fruit.

What is the best way to water my tomatoes?

There are many ways that work from just spraying with a garden hose, to using soaker hoses, or individual water jugs by each plant.  If you are using the water hose, its time consuming and you may cause disease problems by splashing soil onto the leaves.  Soaker hoses are much more efficient giving less evaporation and more even distribution of water.  A simple way to water is to use gallon jugs or 3 litre soda bottles.  Cut 3 or 4 X’s in the bottom of the jug and bury it a few inches in the soil near a plant or between two plants.  Fill the jug with water and it will soak slowly into the soil right where it is needed.   Another method is to get irrigation tubing and emitters and place one beside each tomato plant.  Its important to provide an even supply of moisture to the plant so once you start watering, continue on a routine schedule.

I wish I had a cheaper source of water than the garden hose.  What about greywater and rainbarrels?

Recycle the rinse water from your washing machine! If you're trying to be completely organic, it might throw a wrench in the works, depending upon what product you use to wash your clothes, but there really is nothing dangerous in the water that the machine uses for its final rinse. (The soapy water from the earlier cycles is fine for flowerbeds.) You would be amazed at the amount of water that your washer uses.  You could also consider a rainbarrel(s) or cistern.  One inch of rain running off the roof of a 2000 square foot house roof will provide about 1250 gallons of water for storage.

I love to grow tomatoes cheap.  Who can beat these prices?

For soil I use coffee grounds, eggshells for calcium, and make a thick mulch of leaves to get turned into castings.   I have a nice weed free cover over the patch during fall and winter. For cheap tomato supports  I take my beat up machete and go to the woods and lop up 6' by 1.5 inch diameter poles. For cheap tomato ties I use a length of rolled up cotton fabric and cut off in .5 inch strips. Works great and does not bruise or damage the plants.  You can also use "yarn" found inside 5 micron 10" standard water filters. You can break it with your hands, it doesn't seem to hurt the plants, and its free after the filter is used!

Why do tomato plants grow up toward the light?

This is called a tropism and is caused by auxins, naturally occurring chemical growth enhancers/suppressors.  One tropism is that roots grow downward.  Another is the plants efforts to grow up toward light.  If you place a tomato plant in the window, all the leaves on the plant will turn toward the light source.  This is because the light destroys auxins in the leaves nearest the window but the auxins in leaves on the other side of the plant induce excess growth which forces the leaf to face the window.

Can I grow a spring crop and then a fall crop too?

If you are in zone 6, 7, 8, 9, or higher, you can.  These areas have a long enough season that 2 crops may be the best way to grow tomatoes.  I’ve had best results using long season tomatoes for spring and short season plants for fall.

What about tomato brix ratings and how does it affect taste?

While tomato flavor is a composite of sugars, acids and organic compounds, sweetness comes from plant sugars. The human palate is finely attuned to sweetness from birth.  You could have a high Brix tomato that didn't have great flavor (though I've never found this to be the case) but you never have great varietal flavor without high Brix levels.  Measuring soluble solids with a refractometer is a simple way to measure the energy available to the plant. The more energy available, the healthier the plant. The healthier the plant, the better flavored, and likely the more nutritious, the fruit. Taste is a highly personal thing dependent on the taster.  Some people dislike tomatoes that are too sweet.  Others think tomatoes that are not sweet are too strong flavored or too “acid”.  Supermarket tomatoes almost never have a brix rating as high as 6.  Carefully nurtured homegrown tomatoes routinely have ratings of 6 to 10 and can go as high as 14.  SunGold has been measured with 12 and probably could go higher.

What are the best tips for getting the tastiest tomatoes?

Genetics is the first and foremost consideration.  Growing a variety that does NOT have the genetic capability of making good flavored fruit is a hopeless cause.  Brandywine (Sudduth) is well known for producing very good flavored tomatoes.  Big Beef is a hybrid known for decent flavor.  What sets these apart from the average bland hybrid such as Celebrity?

Very high nutrient levels in the soil is linked to better flavored tomatoes.  This is because the plant has all the nutrients it needs to produce the plant and to mature the fruit.  The very best tomatoes I ever harvested were the year I put down a layer of rabbit manure 4 inches thick and then planted tomatoes.  The vines were 15 feet long and fruit production was incredible.  Flavor was off the charts.  Note that the nutrients must be in balance.  If nitrogen is too high, flavor suffers and production goes down. 

Low disease and insect pressure is directly tied to good flavor.  Among the worst flavored tomatoes I've ever grown were Black Sea Man in 2008.  The plants were hit by nematodes and foliage diseases so heavily that they were all dead before the first fruits could completely ripen.  Other varieties growing beside them were fabulous, in fact, Strawberry Margarita became one of my new favorites. 

Reducing water as the fruits ripen is a well known manipulation to get sweeter better flavored fruit.  You can achieve the same effect by improving the nutrient status of the soil so the plants are growing healthy with a high foliage to fruit ratio.  You get more fruit as a bonus. 

Temperature is a partial contributor to flavor.  The only time I've had bad flavored tomatoes linked to temperature was when I had a very late fall crop that matured fruit when night temps were down near freezing.  There is a distinctive flavor transition point near 50 degrees (nighttime temp) where fruit that matures at higher temps tastes better and fruit matured at lower temps tastes bland.  As a general rule, temperature is not a major contributor to bland flavor except very early and very late in the season.  An exception has to be made for folks in extreme climates since zone 3 microclimates are too cold for all except a few short weeks in mid-summer.  In these climates, it makes sense to use hoop houses and tunnels to improve flavor. 

The last item I'll mention is your own tastebuds.  Each of us perceives flavors slightly differently.  There are arguably four basic flavor profiles that most of us fit into.  Some like sweet fruit like Sungold.  Some like dense tomato flavor with very little sugar like Druzba.  Some like a tart tangy flavor like Green Zebra or maybe Jaune Flamme.  The fourth category is folks like me who want a balanced flavor with some sweetness, some tartness, and intense tomato flavor.  Brandywine, Daniels, KBX, etc are tomatoes that balanced tasters tend to like. 

What about harvesting tomatoes for best taste?

The best tasting tomato is one that has ripened fully on the vine.  Commercial tomatoes are harvested at breaker stages.  Breaker stage 1 is grass green, breaker stage 2 is just starting to turn color, breaker stage 3 is about half colored, breaker stage 4 is colored ¾ of the way.  Fully ripe tomatoes are just past breaker stage 4 though they may still have green shoulders depending on variety.  When overripe, tomatoes become soft, develop off flavors, and lose sweetness.  Bugs, birds, and diseases may make it difficult to harvest a true vine ripe tomato.  If this happens, try getting them as ripe as possible, then harvest and carry indoors to ripen on a counter or table top.  Never store tomatoes in the refrigerator.  This is the major cause of the sawdust tasting tomatoes in stores.  The only valid reason to put a tomato under refrigeration is to chill it slightly for a salad and then it should not  be for much more than an hour.  Tomatoes can be frozen with low impact on taste, just freeze them as quickly as possible.

How do I sweeten up the Toms?

In order to get sweet tomatoes you've got to grow a variety that has the potential for sweetness.  Unfortuantely, that eliminates most hybrids and quite a few heirlooms.  Here are some varieties that have the potential to get really sweet: Sandul Moldovan; Omar's Lebanese; Bulgarian Triumph; Large Pink Bulgarian; Eva Purple Ball; Hugh's; a good bicolor in a good year such as Regina's Yellow; Bulgarian #7; Crnkovic Yugoslavian; Nicky Crain; Pink Sweet; Brandywine; SunGold, Sweet Quartz, etc.  Maximum taste demands growing a variety known to have the genetic capacity to produce sweet tomatoes. Full sun is another requisite because without that the plant can't collect enough energy to synthesize the various flavor components and sugars to maximum potential.  If grown with minimal amounts of water, the plant concentrates more sugars in the tomato.  Saline soil causes tomatoes to have a sweeter taste.  In some countries such as Israel, specific varieties (Desert Sweet?) are grown just for their tendency to sweeten up when grown in the briny soils they have.

Are yellow tomatoes higher in carotene?

The general answer is no with some exceptions.  Carotene normally expresses an orange color so yellow tomatoes will be low in carotene.  Caro Rich is a high carotene tomato that has good production of bright orange tomatoes.  Its taste is acceptable but not as good as some of the better yellow/orange tomatoes such as Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Dr. Wyche, etc.

Why do diced tomatoes contain calcium chloride?

It increases turgor pressure and helps the pieces to remain whole during processing.

Touch me, I like it.  What is thigmatropy?

Thigmatropy is the name for an effect where plants alter their growth habits as a result of being touched.  It was first noticed in greenhouses where plants next to the aisles were found to grow sturdier and healthier.  The cause was workers walking down the aisle brushing against the plants.  You can stimulate thigmatropy by rubbing your hands or a stick across the tops of the plants a couple of times a day or by placing a fan so it blows gently across the seedlings.

It has a good beat and you can dance to it.  Do tomatoes like music?

Tomatoes and many other plants seem to respond to vibration in the air by growing more vigorously.  This is similar to thigmatropy but the effect is caused by sound vibrations in the air.  So the next time your neighbor comes over to complain about the radio going full blast in the garden, you can tell him you are stimulating your tomatoes!  He probably won't be satisfied with that explanation though.