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Mouth-watering 'maters

Plan now for tasty tomatoes next summer

Plan now for tasty tomatoes next summer

August 30, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Watch a slideshow of visitors to the Tomato Tasting as they taste their way through 32 varieties of tomatoes.

"Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes

What would life be like without homegrown tomatoes

Only two things that money can't buy

That's true love and homegrown tomatoes ..."

-- "Home Grown Tomatoes" words and music by Guy Clark, recorded by John Denver

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Steve Bogash, regional horticultural educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension, is more than a tomato fan. He's an aficionado.

It was Bogash's job to make sure there were 32 varieties of tomatoes available Wednesday for the Tomato Tasting Day sponsored by the Master Gardeners of Franklin County and Penn State Cooperative Extension.

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He said he originally started with 56 varieties, but the hailstorm earlier this summer "helped" him to whittle it down.

Even when he has time at home, Bogash said he can be found working on his home garden tending to his own tomatoes.

"If you're planting tomatoes you should plant basil and garlic because they always go together," he said. "It's the holy trinity."

Bogash isn't alone. He said vegetable growing is the fastest-growing type of home gardening.

For a while, he said, it was shrinking as a hobby, but it's taking off again. Although there are several reasons including health scares and the economy, Bogash said it is about good-flavored food.

"Nothing beats a homegrown tomato," he said.

In fact, chances are that come winter, visitors to Bogash's home can partake in some tomato juice, squeezed from the very fruit he harvested in the summer.

Bogash said he likes a little taste of summer while winter knocks at his door.

"There's nothing better than cracking a jar of tomato juice open in January," he said.

For this year's tomato-tasting event, Bogash harvested a variety of tomatoes. Some of the tomatoes were part of trials from past years. Others, he said, are new varieties introduced by seed companies, and some were just numbered varieties, known simply by names as JB 110.

"There are so many varieties, we were just thinking about other flavors out there," he said.

During the tomato tasting, people gathered under a blue-and-white striped tent making their way around tables with bite-sized slices of tomatoes. Armed with clipboards and a rating sheet, visitors were asked to sample the fruits and rate them on taste as well as appearance.

And just as varied as the palates of the taste-testers earlier this week, so were the answers for the perfect type of tomatoes to grow.

"It really depends on what you like," Bogash said.

Some tried-and-true tomato eaters seek what Bogash called a "true tomato taste." Some good-tasting tomatoes look "ugly," Bogash said, due to their imperfect shapes; these include heritage varieties such as a Brandy Boy or Mortgage Lifter. Some tomato-eaters prefer a cherry or grape tomato that can be popped into the mouth without slicing.

Picking the perfect tomato is a personal choice, Bogash said. He said he's a fan of the new Ceylon, a heritage tomato that is described in the Tomato Taste Day key as being a "small, ruffled fruit" that has zing in its flavor. But his mother likes the yellow, low-acid varieties such as Carolina Gold.

Here are some quick tomato-growing tips:

Here are some quick tomato-growing tips:

o Know when to plant. Tomatoes should be in the ground by May after the last frost, Bogash said. The best bet to harvest early tomatoes, he said, is to plant cherry tomatoes.

o Train them early. Once the tomatoes are in the ground, Bogash said they should be trained. Install a cage or trellis, he said, so that tomatoes will grow up, not out. This keeps fruit clean and well-formed. Some gardeners, he said, don't bother to stake if they know they are using the tomatoes for making sauce or paste.

o Get to the roots. Bogash said there's a difference from watering plants as opposed to just getting them wet. He suggested a drip or trickle irrigation system in order to soak the roots. He said the extension office offers a pamphlet on building a home irrigation system.

Bogash said with this system soak the plants' roots three times a week about two hours a day, depending on the weather. The best is about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of water a week.

Water plants in the morning. Bogash said watering at night can soak the roots and introduce disease.

o Cover the ground. A black plastic sheet, Bogash said, will keep most of the weeds at bay. The irrigation system should be under the plastic for easy access to the roots.

o Keep them fed. Bogash said the secret is keeping the tomatoes filled with the correct nutrients. "They're very heavy feeders," he said.

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