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The first bite of a friend's homegrown tomatoes is the clarion call to gardening for many people. The flavor is incomparable and it lingers in our memories through the long winter days. And so begins the epic journey of devotion that is growing tomatoes. Native to the dry highlands of Peru, these plants are rather sensitive to the growing conditions found in much of the US, requiring some extra vigilance by the grower to mitigate plant diseases. Generally, they prefer good air flow from sturdy trellising and low humidity, although there are many varieties that have been selected to perform well under different conditions. The plants are either determinate, or indeterminate. On determinate plants the fruits ripen at one time and don't necessarily need to be staked. Indeterminate plants continue growing until frost with fruit ripening until the plant dies.
Nutrients: dietary fiber, vitamins A, C and K, potassium, manganese.
Tomatoes are frost-sensitive annuals that require at least 8 hours of direct sun daily. Plant in soil that is fertile, well-drained, and high in organic matter.
Sow tomato seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Plant seed 1/4" deep in 3-4" pots. Optimal soil temperature for germination is 70-90°F. Seeds will sprout in 6-14 days. Transplant outdoors once the danger of frost has passed and temperatures have warmed. Plant 18-24" apart in rows 3' apart. When planting, sink plants 12-18" deep, right up to the base of the first leaves. This will promote good root development. Most indeterminate varieties require caging, staking or trellising. Determinate varieties may form upright bushy plants that do not require staking. Provide consistent moisture for the best yields.
To reduce the risk of disease, good pruning and watering practices are important. Prune mature plants to promote good air circulation. Also, water only the roots and soil, not the plant leaves. Mulching also helps reduce disease and maintain consistent soil moisture.
Time to maturity (harvest) for tomatoes differs greatly, depending on the variety (60-85 days). Determinate varieties mature earlier and all fruits mature at once. Indeterminate varieties require more time to maturity and will produce fruits all season.
Perfect, self-fertile flowers are individual or in clusters of 2-20 flowers, depending on the variety. Being self-fertile, only one plant is needed for seed production, but there is a possibility of cross-pollination, so obey isolation distances or bag flowers for protection. Allow fruits to ripen beyond eating stage on the vine before harvesting for seed production. Cut the tomato in half and squeeze the jelly and seed goo into a jar. Add an equal amount of water to the goo. Loosely cover the container and place in a warm location for about 3 days. Stir or swirl once a day. A layer of fungus will begin to appear on the top of the mixture after a couple of days. This fungus not only eats the gelatinous coat that surrounds each seed and prevents germination, it also produces antibiotics that help to control seed-borne diseases like bacterial spot, canker, and speck. After 3 days are up, put a few more inches of water in your jar with your fermented goo, and allow the contents to settle. Once settled you can slowly pour off the water along with the tomato pulp and immature seeds, which will float. Viable seeds are heavy and will sink to the bottom. At this point you can pour all of your seeds and water into a colander to finish cleaning. Tap seeds out onto a fine mesh screen, paper towels, or a few layers of newspaper and allow to dry for a few days before storing.