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Gardening with Laurie: Start tomatoes now for fall gardens

By By Laurie Garretson
Aug. 15, 2013 at 3:15 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

It's fall vegetable time. I imagine non-gardeners find that hard to believe. Let's face it - it is really hot out there. Who would ever think of planting little vegetable transplants in this kind of weather?

And if you were crazy enough to plant anything right now, how in the world would you keep them alive in this heat?

Well folks, this is the time to start fall tomato plants. We have to get them growing now, so they will have enough time to mature. It takes time for plants to develop a good root system, bloom and then produce fruit and mature before the first cold night occurs. This is why we crazy gardeners are preparing our gardens and planting our tomatoes. We are crazy for homegrown tomatoes.

Home gardeners seem to spend more time growing tomatoes than any other crop. I think the hardest part about growing tomatoes is deciding which ones to grow. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from, especially if you grow from seed.

Over the past few years, growing heirloom vegetables has become very popular, and heirloom tomatoes are the most sought after.

Just what is an heirloom tomato?

There is a lot of debate over the definition of an heirloom tomato. Some say it can be any open-pollinated variety that's been around for more than 50 years, and others believe that it should be around for at least 100 years. All heirloom tomatoes are varieties that have been passed down through the generations by saving the seeds.

All heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated. Open-pollinated tomato seeds will produce the same kind of fruit as the parent plant. Hybrid-type tomato seeds (such as celebrity tomato) will not grow the same type of tomato if planted again.

Heirloom tomatoes are quite different from store-bought tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes are tomato varieties that our great grandparents would have eaten many years ago.

These are tomatoes that are full of vitamins, antioxidants and cancer-preventing agents. Heirlooms come in many colors and shapes but best of all is their taste. Heirlooms are sought after for that delicious, true tomato taste.

Heirlooms do have their downfalls. Heirlooms will not have the disease resistance you will get with hybrid varieties. They generally do not produce as well as the hybrid types. Remember, heirlooms are grown for flavor, pure and simple.

As your heirlooms mature and each tomato starts to turn color, it's time to harvest. Let the fruit continue to ripen in your kitchen. They do not need sunshine to become sweet and delicious.

I suggest planting at least one or two heirlooms. Save room in the garden for a Black Krim, Persimmon or Cherokee purple (a few of my favorites) to plant along with several of your hybrid tomatoes. See if you care for them. If you find a new favorite tomato variety from one of the heirlooms, try saving some seeds to replant in next spring's garden.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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