The Perfect Tomato

The Perfect Tomato

My favorite tomato is a big, juicy, red, fresh-off-the-vine homegrown one. Next I’d have to say “yummy” to those sweet little cherry tomatoes, and who doesn’t’ love a delicious fried green tomato? The truth is, I’ve never met a homegrown tomato that I didn’t like.

My first (and probably only) romantic story involving a tomato was when my mother would reminisce about her honeymoon at Niagara Falls where they spread out a quilt and enjoyed tomato sandwiches while taking in the view.

Tomato growing is not only fun but also interesting because there are so many kinds of tomato plants to choose from. There are so many sizes, shapes and colors: decisions, decisions, decisions.

Most of us call a tomato a “tomato,” but their botanical name is Lycopersicon esculentum. The Veggie Cage website tells us that the tomato has origins that can be traced back to the early Aztecs around 700 A.D. It is believed that the tomato is native to the Americas. It wasn’t until around the 16th century that Europeans were introduced to this fruit when the early explorers set sail to discover new lands. 

According to Veggie Cage, “Throughout Southern Europe, the tomato was quickly accepted into the kitchen, yet as it moved north, more resistance was apparent. The British, for example, admired the tomato for its beauty, but believed that it was poisonous, as its appearance was similar to that of the wolf peach.”

The folks at Texas A&M Agri-Life Extension Agency love their tomatoes! Douglas Hine, Barbara Mole and Bill Kelldorf agree on these helpful hints for tomato growing: Look for tomato plants with healthy, green leaves as opposed to those with yellow, thin or scraggly stems. Select a site that gets about eight hours of sun each day. Raise the bed if in clay or poor soil. Remove any weeds and till and work in about 2-3 pounds of a 10-20-20 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden. Douglas adds, “My favorite is Celebrity but Carnival, Merced, OG50, Big Boy, Heatwave, Sun Master, and Homestead will do well here.”

Your tomato plants should be placed 2-3 feet apart in mid-March to April. Bury the plant stem and only leave the top 3-4 leaves above ground to promote strong roots. Kelldorf suggests, “Use 1 pint of diluted starter solution or diluted fish emulsion with each plant. Caged plants yield more fruit while plants lying on the ground are prone to fruit rot and leaf diseases. When plants begin blooming, pinch out extra (sucker) shoots and the top shoot. This will help fruit ripen and will add fruit, not tall growth. Mulch well to maintain uniformly moist soil.” They need 1-2 inches of water per week. He adds, “Companion planting of nasturtiums and poppies will attract insects that eat aphids and give you more peace of mind.”

Area entrepreneur and gardening team Patricia and Mick Dubea are partial to the Beefsteak and Better Boy tomato. They like the size that is perfect to slice for grilled burgers. Jan Cardan Pearce gardens with cherry tomatoes and dwarf varieties on her patio. Cecil Hightower and Diane Davis are considered The Tomato Gurus among Jefferson County master gardeners if you have any complicated tomato questions.

Tomatoes are pretty easy to grow. You should give it a try. There is nothing like walking out to your own garden and picking a fresh tomato. Remember the old days when you made a meal of a fresh tomato, sliced white bread, a saltshaker and potato chips?

For your calendar

Want more tomato fun? You are cordially invited to the 32nd annual Tomato Festival in Jacksonville, Texas on June 11, downtown on Commerce Street. Jacksonville, about three hours north of Beaumont, has earned the title “Tomato Capital of the World.” Through the years, this area has been recognized as one of the outstanding tomato producing areas in the nation with an average of 15,000 acres grown annually in the area. Every season about 3,000 train cars full of tomatoes are shipped from Jacksonville to all parts of the United States and Canada. They have been producing tomatoes for the commercial market for over a century, since 1897. Look forward to a day full of activities like Best Homegrown Tomato Contest, Salsa Contest, Tomato Shoot and Tomato Eating Contest. Jacksonville holds the Guinness World Record for largest bowl of salsa at 2,672 pounds.

Also, mark your calendar for the Golden Triangle Rose Society Show on April 30 at Tyrrell Park from noon – 3 p.m. Call (409) 883-9888 for more information.


Joette Reger is an avid gardener and prides  herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. She can be reached by e-mail at joreger [at] msn [dot] com and on Facebook at “Gardengate with Joette Reger.”