By CINDY SUTTER
Scripps Howard News Service
June 12, 2005
Nothing beats the sun-warmed flavor of a tomato plucked directly from the vine. You won't be able to resist popping a few yellow pear tomatoes in your mouth as you pick fixings for your dinner salad. Similarly, herbs fresh from the dirt have a flavorful immediacy that doesn't come from a plastic bag.
Even if you believe you have the proverbial black thumb, you should at least consider an herb garden. A sunny windowsill is all the real estate you need.
Cody Carlough, a customer service representative at Whole Foods, in Boulder, Colo., recommends an assortment of basil, parsley, thyme, marjoram and oregano as a great start for home cooks.
Other fun choices include garlic chives, rosemary, tarragon, sage and dill. And if you don't want to ruin your manicure, many stores and garden centers sell planters with several herb varieties ready for your kitchen window or deck.
If you think tomatoes are difficult to cultivate, think again. An apartment balcony is all you need. While gardeners have an almost infinite number of tips and tricks, growing tomatoes is mostly about finding a sunny spot, sticking the plants in the dirt, watering them and eating the proceeds of your not-so-hard labor.
"(The tomato) is a phenomenally adaptable plant," says self-described "tomaniac" Todd Moore of Sturtz & Copeland in Boulder.
The garden center carries herb plants and upward of 100 varieties of tomatoes.
Certain bush varieties are bred particularly for patio growing. The Czech variety Stupice is an early maturer with great flavor that grows well in containers, as do cherry tomatoes and yellow pears. The plants need at least six hours of sunlight, but even light limitations can be overcome, Moore says. "There's a million ways to skin a tomato."
One customer had morning sun for a few hours in one spot and afternoon sun in another. With Moore's help, he outfitted a shopping cart with moss to make a giant basket and planted tomatoes in it.
"He wheeled it out front in the morning and out back in the afternoon," Moore says.
For those who love tomatoes and don't care who knows it, there are plants to gratify your every desire.
For flavor, Moore particularly likes Black Krim and Cherokee Purple, as well as another dark variety originally from the former Soviet state Georgia that's named after noted actor Paul Robeson. He also likes a variety called Yellow Hillbilly, a yellow beefsteak shot through with red. An American classic is the Rutgers, a Jersey-style tomato.
For sheer quantity, he recommends the American standard Better Boy, which holds the production record of 348 pounds per plant. Good tomatoes for sauce are the San Marzano and Super Marzano that hail from Italy.
If you're choosing five tomato plants, he recommends planting three for flavor, one that produces well when cold and one that produces well in the heat.
Remember that delectable plate full of sliced tomatoes? Start planting.
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