Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, How to Grow World Record Tomatoes, written by veteran gardener and grower Charles Wilber. Copyright 1999. #6341. Softcover. 132 pages. $14.95 regularly priced.
By Charles Wilber
In the United States more gardeners grow tomatoes than any other vegetable. Some say ninety-five percent of our gardeners grow tomatoes. Most anywhere you find food, tomatoes will be found in some form.
Tomatoes will grow in many types of soil, but they prefer well-drained loams (a crumbly mix of sand, silt, and clay). They are easy to grow in a flower pot in the window or as a tree-like plant twenty-eight-feet or more tall in a garden.
Growing tomatoes can be done in the yard or most any place with plenty of sunshine. Be aware that tomatoes are easily killed by frost and early plants should be covered for protection.
Tomatoes are quite hardy and can be planted in leftover spaces like corners, fencerows, low-growing flower beds, early spring flower beds, on trellises beside buildings, or planted in the center of a bale of rotted hay or straw.
The two types of tomato classifications for many gardeners are the determinate and indeterminate groups. Determinate are the lower growers. They have less production since the stem ends at the flower cluster. Seldom does this group require pruning or major caging. Indeterminate vines do not end at the flower cluster but keep on growing.
It is necessary to consider varieties based on need or use. For varieties that do best in your area it may be helpful to ask an experienced neighbor or your local extension service who may also have helpful literature.
In most areas where I work, disease-resistant varieties like Better Boy VFN are used for climbing. The 342-pound average plant I had in the Guinness Book of World Records was a Better Boy VFN.
A good supply of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium is needed for tomato production. Some good sources are green crops worked into the soil, manure compost, rock minerals, and other nutrients as needed, according to soil tests. A word of warning on chicken manure, use it sparingly as the nitrogen will make your plants “leggy” if too much is used.
Failure to fertilize properly serves up weeds, and weeds attract the insects and fungal crop destroyers that ultimately obliterate crop plants. It all starts with a failure to understand stewardship.
The Origin of the Tomato
Tomatoes seem to have originated in Central or South America. The name itself comes from an Aztec word, Zitomate. The plant was grown by Indians in Mexico and Peru long before the time of Columbus. It was taken from Peru to Italy, where it met with favor. There it was called “golden apple” and “love apple,” but by 1695 the name “tomato” had come into general use. When the cultivation of the plant first started in northern Europe, the fruit was considered poisonous and was grown more for curiosity and ornament than for use. The English herbalist Gerarde wrote in 1595 that “love apples” were eaten abroad, prepared and boiled with pepper, salt, and oil and also as a sauce, but he reported that they “yield very little nourishment to the bodie, and the same naught and corrupt.”
The first written mention of tomatoes in the United States was made by Thomas Jefferson in 1781, but they were not grown commonly for use even then. Some time later, the secretary of the Connecticut Board of Agriculture wrote: “We raised our first tomatoes about 1832 as a curiosity, made no use of them, though we had heard that the French ate them. They were called love apples.” By about 1835 culinary use had become more general, although many people still considered them poisonous.
This attitude is particularly interesting in view of the enormous popularity that tomatoes enjoy today.
Charles Wilber was a man on a mission, dedicating his entire life to studying nature. And he spent most of his 90+ years learning how to coax the maximum production from her bounty. He started by emulating the conditions of the forest floor — the same forest where the giant sequoia grow. Then he added in good gardening techniques. The results were simply amazing. In this almost unbelievable book he tells his personal story and his philosophy and approach to gardening. He reveals for the first time how he grew record-breaking tomatoes and produce of every variety. Whether your interest is to win blue ribbons, profit from market gardening, or feed the world, you’ll never look at gardening the same. And you’ll have tons of tomatoes too!