Vine Ripened Pleasures

The H.J. Heinz Company uses more tomatoes than any other company in the world; over four billion pounds every year.

Last year Heinz paid about four cents per pound to its network of tomato growers.

Just a few days ago, Newsweek reported that the H.J. Heinz Co. may be able to negotiate a 10 percent decrease in their four cents per pound price. If they can do it, this will get Heinz tomato costs down to about 3.6 cents per pound, significantly raising its profit margins. Wow!

What would life be without homegrown tomatoes? Heirloom varieties, like these, seem to be what most home gardeners now prefer.Shares of the H. J. Heinz Co. on the NYSE are currently trading at about $. J. Heinz company45.82. Right now I’d say Heinz is a “buy” recommendation.  .  .  the stock that is, not the tomatoes.

Tomatoes at the supermarket deserve all the negative comments they get; they’re awful. The skins are as tough as a plastic soda bottle. They taste like wet Styrofoam and wedges in a salad from a store-bought tomato need to be cut with a steak knife.

These tomato imposters are because commercially grown tomatoes are bred to withstand rough treatment, produce their fruit all at once and are picked way before they are ripe. Just compare a store-bought tomato with a home-grown, vine-ripened tomato. You can taste the difference, smell the difference and feel the difference.

What would life be without homegrown tomatoes? A long, sizzling summer devoid of fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes would be pretty bland, and while traditional hybrid favorites satisfy some tastes, heirloom tomatoes seem to be what most home tomato gardeners prefer.

"Heirloom" means a tomato that has been grown from the seed of a plant that was pollinated the old-fashioned way, via birds, bees and wind. Unlike hybrids, heirlooms produce in a way that is true to type, meaning there is little variation in the fruit from one generation to the next.

There’s no absolute rule, but most experts say that an heirloom variety should date back at least 50 years. Most heirlooms have remained popular because they are prolific producers, resist disease and especially because they boast superior flavor.

The origins of these heirlooms are varied: the red 'Brandywine' is of Amish descent, dating back to the late1800s; 'Jaune Flamme' is a French descendant; 'Cherokee Purple,' is rumored to have been grown by the Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, 'Stupice' has Czechoslovakian roots.

Heirloom tomatoes run the gamut of sizes, shapes, colors and flavors. 'Green Grape' and 'Black Cherry' are bite-sized. Huge ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’, one of my personal favorites, is an all green tomato with great flavor. 'Garden Peach' has peach-type fuzz on the skin, with a sweet citrus-like flavor.

If you've been growing tomatoes for a few years, you probably already have a favorite. Nonetheless, it’s always fun to try something new and the beginning of April is a perfect time to choose your tomatoes and get them in the ground.

Choose a sunny spot and add prepare the soil. I add a healthy amount of home compost and blend it thoroughly with your soil, but a good organic, blended soil amendment will suffice. Harvest Supreme is a good brand to look for. Add a little granular organic fertilizer into the same mix and blend it all together to a depth of about 12 to 15 inches and at least as wide.

Set the tomato into the soil with only about four or five inches showing. That’s right, bury your tomato, leaves and all, and you will have a healthier, more vigorous and well rooted plant.

If not immediately, pretty quickly surround the little plant with a large, sturdy tomato cage. Please don’t waste your time or money on the cheap little five dollar tomato cages that are everywhere. In ten weeks, when your little four inch tomato is six feet tall and laden with big, heavy, plump tomatoes you will know why. Trust me on this one.

Now, just keep it watered and add another shot of fertilizer in about six weeks. As the plant grows and tries to escape its cage, occasionally push the tips of the plant back inside.

If you’re growing a medium-size six-ounce tomato you should expect about 20 to 40 tomatoes per plant, but sometimes many more. That’s a total of about 11 pounds of delicious, flavorful tomatoes. Most families need two or three plants.

Or, you could contact the H. J. Heinz Co. and cash in on your 40 cents worth of tomatoes.

Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar. You can learn more about Ron, including more of his plant recommendations on his Featured Experts page or visit his profile at www.themulch.com/mulch-community/609-ron-vanderhoff/profile
Questions from Readers April 3rd

Where do I find out more about the rebates on the new water saving sprinkler heads?

Bruce, Costa Mesa


For most citizens in OC, including those in Costa Mesa, you can find out more about all the water efficiency landscape rebates, including sprinklers and irrigation timers at www.socalwatersmart.com. You can even download the rebate form from here.



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