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Green UH
Roses at Garden Show Support for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Green Solutions: New Project Teaches Students to Fix Recycling Challenge

Urban Harvest: Tomatoes in the Kitchen and in the Fall Garden

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Tomatoes in the Kitchen and in the Fall Garden
By Dr. Bob Randall

June is one of the best months of the year for the vegetable gardener because so many vegetables and annual fruits are ripe. Cucumbers, green beans, sweet corn, the first sweet peppers and chiles, okra, and cantaloupes are just some of the fine eatin� we enjoy. But surely of all the veggies, homegrown tomatoes are near the top of the list since they are so much better than most supermarket ones. Unhappily, tomatoes dripping with juice and sugars don�t do well on trucks, so conventional varieties have instead been bred for machine harvest, easy boxing, crush-resistance, long distance transport and extended shelf life.

June Tomatoes
Area gardeners have however lots of opportunities to do much better. There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes, and nearly all of them are better than the long distance types available in the stores. Most of them can be grown from seeds that you can get locally from another tomato, from a package, or by mail via the internet. Look at the tomato variety pictures at or or or or

The June Harvest
June is an excellent month to study tomatoes. Outside, my tomatoes continue to ripen and a couple of young mockingbirds are doing their best to puncture every red one. By picking tomatoes just as they begin to tint, we beat the birds and get plenty of delicious fruits no worse for their premature harvest because they are already turning.

The plants themselves are deteriorating everyday as they die from heat, humidity and the fungus diseases that like these conditions. For all but the most disease-prone types, this isn�t a concern since the daytime temperatures are already too high for further flower pollination, and all the fruit on the vines will likely ripen at a good size.

If you are growing tomatoes, you are eating lots of them fresh and in many different dish-es. At our house, we grow about 20 plants, so we end up canning some, freezing salsa and, of course, cooking with them. Right now they are lined up in the kitchen on every available cookie sheet ripening until they turn deep red or the yellow ones turn orange. Then they are eaten or preserved at peak flavor.

Nancy�s Version of Bill Adam�s Salsa
Salsa, if made with little or no salt and excellent tomatoes, is one of the healthiest flavor-ings you can eat. Former Harris County Extension agent Bill Adams invented a wonderful raw salsa made by processing fresh tomatoes, a lime, garlic cloves, � supersweet onion, Creole salt, pepper, cilantro leaves, and jalapenos/serranos. Nancy Edwards modified this to use what we grow: 12 oz. of cherry tomatoes, 2 handfuls of bought fresh cilantro (or winter frozen cilantro), 1 Tbsp. Metechi or Burgundy garlic, 2 chile pequin peppers, and juice of two fresh calimondins. However you make your salsa, consider freezing enough until the next tomato season.

Time for Fall Tomatoes
Oddly enough, June is not only tomato harvesting time, but also tomato planting time! Tomato seeds planted now will make plants big enough to transplant in late July or early August, and these will be in flower when the temperatures cool in late September.
Either buy, if you can, good transplants in late July or plant seeds now. These can be in large pots in light shade or even right in the bed where they will grow. Whether you plant seeds directly in the garden or in pots and later transplant, your biggest problem will be the tomato�s dislike of our summer heat and the possibility they will die if not watered. Give them a little shade until the temperatures drop into the eighties in the daytime. And if you are going to be away a lot this summer, wait until next spring or get some help.
My general instructions for growing tomatoes are at the Urban Harvest gardening advice web site Top ten tips for tomatoes.

Which Varieties To Grow?
The biggest problem with growing tomatoes in our area has to do with pollination. For most varieties to pollinate, the flowers need daytime temperatures below 85˚ F and nighttime temperatures between 55˚F and 70˚F. Our spring weather is very reliable in this regard, so it is fairly easy to know when to plant in the spring, but in the fall, we sometimes get these temperatures in late September and sometimes do not.

The safest approach is to grow continuously flowering (indeterminate) cherry tomatoes since they have the largest number of blossoms, and therefore are the most likely to have some blooming when the temperatures are right. I am fond of sweet Chelsea and the yellow sungold. But nearly any cherry type will work well.

If you have some space, you can certainly try some of the wonderful standard varieties and heirlooms. At the Cornelius Nursery tomato tasting, the winning tomato plate entry was a combination of celebrity and brandywine. Another winner included Cherokee purple and brandywine. As judge, I didn�t know until the end what varieties I was eating and was frankly surprised that an ordinary variety like celebrity rated so highly. But it was at absolutely peak ripeness, and many of the other submissions were not.

Another possibility is to visit Urban Harvest Farmer�s Market at Eastside�s Tomato Fest the morning of June 11, where a wide variety of locally grown tomatoes will be for sale. There you can purchase many kinds of tomatoes from the different farmers and find out what you want to grow for fall or next spring.

If you are fortunate, you may get a few of Gita Van Woerden�s Anna Russian or any of her three German types: German Johnson, German strawberry, or German head. Or try the lus-cious and super sweet Green Zebra: the green tomato that everyone loves. The surest way to know what to grow is to eat it first.

Bob Randall, Ph.D. is the former Executive Director of Urban Harvest and is the author of Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro-Houston. Contact him at To learn about gardening classes and more go to or call Gary Edmondson at 713-880-5540 ext.13.