I am almost embarrassed to admit how shocked I was the first time I ate a tomato out of my own garden. It was so full of flavor! In fact, I found much to my surprise, there were a number of different elements at play on my taste buds. It opened up a whole new world to me. I was no longer fooled by the bland, stiff, reproductions that sat under fluorescent lights at the supermarket. It has gotten to the point where, for the most part, I am willing to go without a tomato until they are ripe on the vine in my own plot. There are, of course, exceptions but I buy them in the store knowing full well what I am missing out on.
Over the years I have developed a few favorites but am always on the lookout for new and interesting varieties. A favorite in our household is the Lemon Drop cherry tomato from Seed Savers Exchange. We also love Gardeners Delight which is a plump red cherry tomato. Though cherries seem to do best in our garden we also have enjoyed Cherokee Purple, Speckled Roman and Mortgage Buster over the years.
For the most part tomatoes are a very hardy plant. We do start some plants on a sunny window sill in late February on occasion but we also buy starter plants from the local greenhouses as well if something unusual is available. The key to any successful garden is the soil. Healthy soil, healthy plants, it really is that simple. We use rabbit and chicken manure along with green manure from our compost bins to feed our soil.
When the tomato plant is old enough to go outside you want to start slowly by hardening it off. Simply do this by putting the plants outdoors for short periods of time, 20 minutes or so to begin with, and gradually increase it over the course of a week. It allows the plant to strengthen its roots and not get totally decimated by the spring sun.
Once the plants are ready to be put in the ground you want to bury your plant all the way up to the first set of leaves because believe it or not the entire stem will send out roots making for a stronger and more productive plant. Also make sure to properly space your plants. Nothing creates mold quicker on tomatoes than poor circulation.
Eventually your plants will provide a bumper crop of tomatoes. At this point it is worth saving seed from the healthiest and earliest specimens. Simply cut open the tomato and scoop the seed mass into a warm glass of water. Allow it to ferment for 3 days. Once it begins to clearly separate pour the water through a strainer and most of the "goop" should be off the seeds. If not casually remove it with a paper towel. Allow the seeds to dry on a plate for a few days and then place them in an envelope that you will store in a cool and dark place. A piece of advice, make sure you label the seeds, you will not remember one set of seeds from another 8 months later!
Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead https://www.facebook.com/seedtoharvestbossyhenhomestead/ which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here https://amileinhershoestalesofastayathomedad.wordpress.com/