Arlene Wright-Correll

How to Grow Really Great Tomatoes©    

By Arlene W. Correll  

Of course we all know that tomatoes were once called “love” apples.  However, did you know that   the tomato was once known as the tomatl or 'cancer apple' since it was believed to cause disease. Recent studies have shown that tomatoes that have been heated (as in cooked or canned) contain lycopene, a substance that has been proven in studies to be effective in preventing particular cancers.

I started my tomato seeds on the window ledge the other day simply because no one here has been able to find time this year to put the ends back on the greenhouse.  Many of us have our own favorite way to start our seeds.  Egg cartons, even egg shells, old plastic containers, whatever.  A few years ago I started using a very easy product for me.

 The picture to the left shows a starter tray similar to the one I use.  This is a 40 plug tray.  One can get 60 plug trays.  I happen to like the 16 plug tray.

These little Styrofoam forms can be used again and again.  I just re-order the plugs and put them in the holes, put 1 or 2 seeds in the small hole in the center of the plug, put the forms in the accompanying bottom plastic tray that comes with the form.  Keep water in the 

bottom plastic tray and quickly the seeds sprout.  Once the sprouts have become big enough, I just take the whole plug and plant out and put into a 3 or 4 inch pot in the greenhouse.  No greenhouse, just put them where ever you like.  After the plants have become large enough for my satisfaction and the weather conditions are correct, I then put into the ground.

Anyone and I mean anyone can grow a tomato.  It is about the only plant I cannot kill off accidentally or on purpose.   Of course “things” happen to my tomatoes, but I always plant more plants than I need especially since our garden is maintained organically, I need to leave some for the “critters”.

However, for those of you who are less “Haphazard” gardeners, here are some good tips on growing tomatoes. 

I love growing the heirloom type of tomatoes as pictured here.  I grew many of them last year.  I always intend to save the seeds and never do.   I do find some of them growing in the weirdest places out of my compost piles the following years.  Of course, I always have a few beefsteak or big boy tomatoes. What garden would be complete without these favorite old standbys?

I use a fish emulsion and seaweed solutions.  I just follow the directions on the packages and containers.    But if you must use a chemical formulation, select one that has a higher middle and ending number (the P and K in N-P-K). Phosphorus (P) helps produce flowers which in turn produce fruit, and is vital for root growth and resistance to disease. Tomatoes can be grown on many different soil types, but a deep, loamy soil, well-drained and supplied with organic matter and nutrients is most suitable. As with most garden vegetables, tomatoes grow best in a slightly acid soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8.

A shortage of this element is apparent when the undersides of the leaves have a reddish-purple tint. K stands for Potassium or potash, and promotes early growth, stem strength, resistance to cold, high yields, and good color and flavor. A shortage of potassium would render a stunted plant with poor root development and little or no fruit. A formulation with high nitrogen content (the N in N-P-K) will produce lush foliage and few flowers. Apply a calcium supplement such as boron or crushed egg shells to avoid blossom end rot.  Tomato End Rot is a tomato that looks great until you turn it over and discover what looks like the plague on the bottom half of the tomato. I have had many of those babies.  Don't over-fertilize! Many a tomato plant has died due to neighborhood rivalry. If you want an edge on the neighbors, try this: Mix your liquid fertilizer at half the strength, but apply it twice as often.  You will be pleasantly surprised at the results.

This year I am going to grow some tomatoes in containers on my patio.  70 years old makes it harder and harder to do some of the gardening chores out in the raised beds, especially when there is no help to be had.

Cherry or grape tomatoes are great for growing tomatoes in containers.  One should select a 3+ gallon container for patio tomatoes, a 1-2 gallon container for grape and cherry tomatoes, and a 5+ gallon container for larger varieties.

Large tomatoes will require support. However, they too can be grown in large containers.   I have read of gardeners using an old bra or a sling made of discarded panty hose.  Grow HUGE tomatoes from varieties known for huge fruits such as Delicious, Brandywine, Bragger, or T&T Monster; when the flower cluster appears, check it daily for when the flowers become fruits, then remove all but one fruit per cluster. If you're willing to take a huge chance, and are growing just for size and are growing just for size and show, remove all fruits from the plant except one or two. Keep the plant protected from birds and wildlife with a homemade wire cage or a covering designed specifically for keeping birds away.
I prefer the tripod method, whether it is using some good solid stakes or the metal cage. 

One of my favorite tomato plants is the Roma or paste tomato.  We eat a lot of pasta in our home and this tomato makes the greatest sauce.  We also like them in salads or just eating fresh from the garden.  There is nothing like a warm tomato right off the vine.  Especially when one has an organic garden, one can eat anything right out there in the field.  Carl, like his dad, keeps a little house on a post out in the garden.  Inside the door is a salt shaker, just for tomatoes

I have read that tomato plants started from seeds indoors have a tendency to get leggy with very thin stems, even when light is optimal. Studies have shown that brushing your hand lightly across the tops of the plants daily will increase the size and strength of the stems.  Try it, what harm can it do?  

When it is time to transplant your seedlings, bury the plant as deeply as possible. Roots will develop all along the buried stem and help support the weight of the plant as it matures. It helps to keep putting dirt around the stalk as the plant grows in order to strengthen it.  Should the plant be really tall and spindly, plant it horizontally. Don’t worry as the plant will put out root shoots all along the stem.  The stronger the root base, the better your tomato plant will stand up. 

Place your stake when you set out your plant since adding it later could damage healthy roots.  Do not be in too much of a hurry to get your plants into the ground.  Keep checking your zone for your last frost date. You do not want to lose all your hard work by being impatient.  Tomatoes are warm-season plants and should be planted only after danger of frost has passed. Temperature is an important factor in the production of tomatoes, which are particularly sensitive to low night temperatures. Blossom drop can occur in early spring when daytime temperatures are warm, but night temperatures fall below 55 degrees F as well as in summer, when days are above 90 degrees F and nights above 76 degrees F.

Staked plants are usually pruned to a single or double stem and periodically tied loosely to the stake with soft twine. Pruning is accomplished by removing all the branches or "suckers" that grow from the leaf axils, leaving only the main stem or the main stem and one additional branch near the base. Unsupported and caged tomatoes may be left to branch normally. Staked and pruned tomatoes produce fewer but larger fruit than caged or unsupported plants.

I always plant marigolds on the borders of my tomato beds.  They seem to keep the bugs down. 

I like to use a lot of mulch to control weeds etc. However, planting in early spring when the ground has not thoroughly warmed, hold off on the mulch.  When the soil warms, apply mulch no closer than 1 inch to the stem, and reapply as needed to keep weeds down, retain moisture, and to keep the soil cool when the really hot weather arrives. Mulch will also keep fruits from rotting by not allowing them to touch the ground, and prevents soil-borne diseases from reaching the lower leaves.

One has to worry about cut worms.  A good idea is to use a Dixie cup with the bottom removed, a toilet paper tube cut in half, or a paper towel tube cut into thirds to thwart attacks from cut worms. When planting, slip the tube over the top of the plant (or from the bottom if it fits through more easily) and bury it an inch or more from the soil surface. Cut worms cut the plant at soil level, rendering it useless.

A drip system is really the best for tomato plants because it gives water to the plant at soil level, not the foliage. Wet foliage attracts insects and fungus disease. Keep evenly moist; irregular watering (too much, then too little) can cause fruits to crack.  A timer on your watering system helps greatly. 

Harvesting your tomatoes sometimes come all at once.  If you have some that haven't completely ripened, try placing them in a paper bag with an apple or a banana. The same reaction (a hormone called ethylene) that causes one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch will quickly ripen (and over-ripen) tomatoes. Remove the tomatoes from the bag when they have ripened. Most people know about the bag, but not about the apple or the banana.


Tomatoes are usually categorized as early, mid-season or late. Another consideration is whether the tomato cultivars you choose is determinate or indeterminate in growth habit. Determinate (D) tomato plants grow to a certain height and then stop. They also flower and set all their fruit within a relatively short period of time. This is an advantage if the tomatoes are being grown primarily for canning purposes.


Indeterminate tomato plants grow, flower, and set fruit over the entire growing season.

Another characteristic to look for when choosing tomato cultivars is disease resistance. Many cultivar names are followed by one or more letters indicating resistance to Verticillium wilt (V), Fusarium wilt (F), or nematodes (N). Disease resistance can be an important consideration, especially if you have experienced these problems with tomatoes in the past.

Early: Moreton Hybrid (V), Jet Star (VF), Pik-Red (VF)(D), and Pilgrim (VF)(D).

Mid-season: Heinz 1350 (VF)(D), Better Boy (VFN), Burpee(VF), Roma (VF)(D)(paste type), Floramerica (VF), Celebrity (VFN)(D), Red Star (VFN), Market Pride (VF)(D), and Mountain Delight (VF).

Late: Supersonic B (VF), Ramapo (VF), Supersteak (VFN)(D), Mountain Pride (VF), Beefmaster (VFN).

Yellow and Orange: Jubilee, Sunray (F), Lemon Boy (VFN).

Large vine with small fruit (not suited to cage or container culture): Small Red Cherry, Large Red Cherry, Red Pear, Yellow Pear, Small Fry, and Sweet 100.

Dwarf vine with medium fruit: Patio, Pixie. Dwarf vine with small fruit: Tiny Tim, Presto, Baxter's Bush Cherry.

If a heavy freeze is on its way, go out and pick all the tomatoes. Green tomatoes that have reached about 3/4 of their full size and show some color will eventually ripen, and smaller, immature green ones can be pickled or cooked green.

Some people like to pull up the whole tomato plant and hang it upside down in a dark basement room and let the tomatoes ripen gradually. If you try this system, check them regularly to prevent very ripe fruits from falling onto the floor - splaat!

On the historical note, tomatoes are native to Mexico and Central America.  It's not clear how tomatoes came to the U.S.. Thomas Jefferson grew them in the 1780s and credited one of his neighbors with the introduction, but Harriott Pinckney Horry recorded a recipe "To Keep Tomatoes For Winter Use" in 1770. There is a folk legend that they were introduced by African slaves who came to North America by way of the Caribbean, and some historians believe that the Portuguese introduced tomatoes to the West Coast of Africa.

One of my favorite treats is fried green tomatoes.  Here is one of my recipes.

Classic Fried Green Tomatoes        

  • 4 to 6 green tomatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • cornmeal
  • bacon grease or vegetable oil ( I prefer olive oil)

Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 - 1/2-inch slices. Salt and pepper them to taste. Dip in meal and fry in hot grease or oil about 3 minutes or until golden on bottom. Gently turn and fry the other side. Serve as a side dish - delicious with breakfast! Keep warm in a low 200° to 250° oven if frying in batches.

There are plenty of ways to coat and fry your tomatoes; use bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, cornmeal, or flour. Some people dip them in beaten eggs before dredging, while some just dredge then fry. Salt and pepper them first, and use a little bacon grease for flavor if you have it.

Fried Green Tomato Sandwich Recipe

For the best Fried Green Tomato sandwiches be sure to use the larger, center slices of the tomatoes, and use the strained bacon grease for frying the green tomatoes. (use only as much as necessary, along with the olive oil.) For the "lettuce" in this BLT, use arugula or any other green you like.

·         8 slices, thick-cut bacon

·         3/4 C all-purpose flour

·         1/4 C stone-ground cornmeal

·         Salt to taste

·         Black Pepper, freshly ground, to taste

·         1 C milk

·         1/4 C olive oil, plus more if necessary

·         3 or 4 large green tomatoes, sliced 1/4" thick

·         1/4 C prepared mayonnaise

·         1 T prepared chili sauce

·         8 slices lightly toasted rye bread

·         1 large bunch or 2 small heads of lettuce

Just when you think have more tomatoes than recipes, you will discover another one, such as the …..

Green Tomato Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup shortening -- melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 1/2 cups diced green tomatoes
  • coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°. Cream sugar, shortening, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Sift flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg into egg mixture. Blend together. Stir in nuts, raisins and tomatoes.
Pour into greased 9x13 inch pan. Top with coconut if desired. Bake for one hour.
Serves 12.

Green Tomato Mincemeat

6 green tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon allspice
6 tart apples, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup currants
1/4 cup vinegar
1 cup raisins
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup unsweetened orange juice
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy pot. Simmer until thick. Makes about 3 quarts. Freeze mincemeat in one-cup portions.

Green Tomato Pie Filling

4 quart chopped green tomatoes
3 quart peeled, chopped tart apples
1 pound dark seedless raisins
1 pound white raisins
1/4 cup citron, lemon, or orange
2 cup water
2 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar, 5%
1 cup bottled lemon juice
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook slowly, stirring often, until tender and slightly thickened (about 35-40 minutes). Fill jars with hot mixture, leaving 1/2 head space. Adjust lids and process. Boiling water bath: 25 minutes for quarts.

  Should you live in parts of the southern and southwestern states you can grow an abundant crop of fall tomatoes. However, finding young tomato plants to buy in the middle of summer may be hard.

An easy way to solve this problem is to cut small suckers from spring-planted tomatoes and let them grow to full-sized plants. Instead of pinching out most of the suckers on your tomato plants, allow some to grow four or five inches. Then in mid- or late summer, cut the suckers from the plant, remove the lowest set of leaves and place the suckers in a jar of water or moistened sand or vermiculite. This will start the rooting process. Once roots begin to form, plant them in pots or directly in the garden. Firm the soil around the suckers and water them heavily for two or three days.

These plants will do just as well as any you could raise from seed or buy at a garden store. Just be sure they don't have any insect or disease problems or you'll be fighting them all fall. The plants will give you a nice fall crop of tomatoes, too.

About the author,

Arlene Wright-Correll (1935-    ), free lance writer, award winning artist and avid gardener is mother of 5 and the grandmother of 8.  For almost 40 years she was an International real estate consultant and during the last 20 years of her career traveled to many parts of the world.  She has been a cancer and stroke survivor since 1992. While working and raising her children she had many hobbies including being a very serious home-vintner for approximately 14 years while residing in upstate New York in St. Lawrence County producing 2,000 to 3,000 bottles of wine a year. She was the president of the St. Lawrence County chapter of the American Wine Society in Potsdam , NY. During that time she wrote a Home Vintner column for the Courier Freeman and the Canton Plain Dealer.  In 1975 her hearty burgundy won first place at the annual American Wine Society meeting in Toledo , Ohio. This home vintner created many formulas or recipes for not only still wine, but sparkling wine and beer. She enjoyed the friendship and fellowship that was created by working with other home vintners during those years. She is an avid gardener, an artist, and a free lance writer of many topics including, but not limited to “The ABC’s of Making Wine and Beer©” by Arlene Wright-Correll   this jam packed information CD includes 15 chapters on how to make your own wine and beer. This CD has loads of tried and true recipes, easy instructions, equipment identifying photos and it includes three bonus articles “How to Host a Wine Tasting Party”, “How to Build an Underground Wine Cellar” and “ Everything You Wanted to Know about Wine, but Were Afraid to Ask”. This $19.95 value is on sale today for only $14.95 at

"Tread the Earth Lightly" & in the meantime
may your day be filled with...
Peace, Light, and Love,
Arlene Wright-Correll

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