Any way you slice it

Nothing beats a North Carolina-grown tomato
By Carole Howell
Any way you slice it

Some swear by round, red tomatoes while others prefer a less acidic yellow. Others will disagree and think heirlooms are the only ones worth slicing.

I prefer to grow the huge round reds of the Big Boy and Better Boy varieties simply because I'm not one to mess with a good thing. Practically speaking, one thick slice is all you need for a tomato sandwich.

Christopher Gunter, of the N.C. State University Department of Horticultural Science, knows a little bit about tomatoes. He has spent his career helping tomato farmers grow the most popular types for the commercial market.

"Just about any kind of tomato will grow well in North Carolina," says Gunter. "While North Carolina's soil differs greatly from the coast to the mountains, it's possible to be successful if you know a little bit about tomatoes and what they need to grow."

His advice for the backyard tomato gardener is to start by preparing the soil.

"Tomatoes love the sun, so prepare your beds in full light," says Gunter. He suggests laying in 2 or 3 inches of commercial or homemade compost in the fall or spring before planting. The compost should be worked into the top 6 to 9 inches of soil. This is especially important for the soil of the sandier east coast region of North Carolina and the clay of the Piedmont.

If you're wondering exactly what nutrients your soil lacks, you can purchase a soil sample test kit at your county's Cooperative Extension office and follow the simple directions.

Which types are best for NC?

"Choosing which of the many varieties of tomatoes you plant depends on your tastes and how you plan to use them," says Gunter. "Don't be afraid to experiment with several types to find one that appeals to your taste buds."

Better Boy, Whopper, Celebrity, and Mountain Pride are proven good performers for slicing and canning while cherry tomatoes of many types add color to salads or enjoyment by the handful.

Better Boy, Whopper, and Celebrity are resistant to some of the most common tomato diseases. After all the work and anticipation, you don't want your precious fruit to wilt on the vine. Avoid blossom end rot by working in calcium or a fertilizer with calcium additive, available at your garden or variety store.

Gunter says it really doesn't matter if you start inside with seeds or purchase your plants. Choose plants that have healthy green leaves with no hint of disease. Plant tomatoes 1½ to 2 feet apart with 3 or 4 feet between rows. Stake or cage your plants shortly after planting. Strips of old panty hose make excellent tomato ties.

Once your tomatoes have started to bear fruit, sidedress your tomatoes 4–6 inches from the plant stem with 2 or 3 teaspoons of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer.

Whatever type you choose, make sure to grow plenty for yourself and for sharing. Almost everyone loves a fresh, homegrown tomato.

For me, a thick, bright red slice on white bread (only white) with Duke's mayonnaise (the only kind) and lots of salt and pepper, is a good start toward a second sandwich.

About the Author

Carole Howell is an independent writer and amateur muscadine grower in Lincoln County. You can read more about her at walkerbranchwrites.com

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