Tomato planting season arrives with warmer weather, bringing the promise of good food and life lessons

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By: Jim Carpenter

Photo supplied/Jon Zirkle

I really do get enjoyment out of many of the aspects of working in the garden. Certainly there is a lot of mundane and perhaps even muscle-straining effort involved in preparing the soil and all the mulching, weeding and planting that must take place to have any hope for a bountiful harvest. One of the things that I enjoy is planting tomato plants. I usually start my own tomato plants from seed on my back porch, which has our only southern-facing window. I also have some heating mats and grow lights to help them along until the weather is warm enough to plant outside. With the warmth this last week and projections for rain and even more warm temperatures to come, I decided to plant the tomatoes that I have been patiently attending to on my back porch.

This year I only ended up with seven Brandywine and four Roma plants that I had started from seed about the middle of March. I would have liked them to be a little bigger than they were, but when the weather is right, they will grow better outside than they would on my porch. I will probably need to purchase a few more plants to fulfill my need for more varieties of tomatoes.

One of the first parts of figuring out where in your garden to plant tomatoes is whether you plant determinate or indeterminate varieties. The determinate plants will grow into more of a bush-type plant, whereas the indeterminates will continue to grow (and produce) all season. An indeterminate tomato plant will grow 15 feet high or more if it’s given the proper support. Most heirlooms are indeterminate and will require some sort of staking or trellis. Most of the hybrids are of the determinate variety. One advantage of the determinate tomatoes is that they will basically ripen all at the same time. This might be what you are looking for if you plan on canning a lot of tomato juice or want to make a lot of sauce.

Of course, I favor the indeterminate heirloom tomato varieties, so I either have to space them properly or provide a tomato cage for them. Years ago I made very large cages out of old field fencing, and these contain my larger plants pretty well. For the ones I let grow on the ground, I make sure to mulch the area to keep them from coming into contact with the soil. This helps to minimize any possible slug damage and also helps prevent disease organisms from splashing up on the plant when it rains.

I suppose one of the reasons I like to plant tomatoes is because the tomato plant has a bit of an unusual feature: The entire part of the tomato stalk you plant under the soil will grow roots and generally make a stronger, healthier plant. The two ways to plant your tomato deeper is to either dig a pretty deep hole or plant it sideways in the soil with a lot of stalk covered in dirt. The plant will soon be growing upright and will have a better root support system.

I guess another thing I really like about growing a garden is not quite knowing how things will turn out. You try to do what you think the plants need you to in order to produce the end results you are after. Sometimes problems come up that you didn’t expect, and other times parts of your crop might fail completely. And then there is the idea that you might do things differently than most people and still get good results. You control things as best you can, but there is no promise on an exact outcome.

Once again, the parallel between growing a garden and living our lives is very easy to see. We make our plans and try to produce good results, but problems arise that must be dealt with. I am often reminded of a Yiddish phrase I heard a few years back, “Nen tracht und Gott lacht.” Translated this means, “Men plan, and God laughs.” But plan we must if we ever want to accomplish certain goals, whether it is in the garden or in life. I think the bottom line is in being able to deal with situations that don’t always go according to plan (and is that God I hear laughing?)

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