Rob Cardillo
"There's only two things money can't buy. That's true love and homegrown tomatoes," wrote singer-songwriter Guy Clark. Those of you who have tasted a lip-smackingly ripe tomato fresh from the vine will agree with Clark.
Tomatoes are the most popular crop for backyard gardens—about 90 percent of vegetable gardeners grow them. Even folks who don't have vegetable gardens grow tomatoes. A half-dozen plants thriving in pots on a sunny deck can supply a family of four with a summer of good eating. Follow these gardening guidelines for your best crop yet.

Picking the Right Type
There are countless varieties of tomatoes available, each of which differs from the others in taste, the size, shape and ripening time of the fruit, as well as in the plant's disease resistance. To get an idea of what's out there, check out print and online seed catalogs. Two good sources are Totally Tomatoes and Tomato Growers Supply Company; both feature hundreds of varieties. Local nurseries offer an ever-expanding array of tomatoes. You'll find the newest disease-resistant hybrids alongside some of the old-fashioned favorites, such as 'Brandywine', prized for luscious taste. When deciding what to grow, choose varieties proven to perform well in your area. Talk to neighbors and check with your extension service to learn the local favorites. And, if you're a novice grower, choose at least a few varieties designated as All-America Selections winners. This nonprofit group tests new varieties all across the country and awards only those with outstanding growth and flavor. Their logo appears with plant descriptions in most catalogs. It's always a good idea to experiment with a few plants of several varieties to determine the ideal tomatoes for your garden and taste buds. What's more, growing different varieties is an insurance policy of sorts -- a disease that strikes one variety might not harm the others. These are the qualities to consider when selecting tomatoes for your garden. Growth forms. Tomatoes are classified as either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate, or bush, varieties grow to a set height (from 18 to 36 in.) and then form tomatoes at the ends of their branches. All fruits ripen during a concentrated period, usually within four to six weeks -- good if you cook vats of tomato sauce. These plants don't necessarily need staking, and the true dwarf varieties among them, such as 'Patio' and 'Tiny Tim', fit perfectly in pots.
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