The famous Brandywine heirlooms are some of the best tomatoes you'll ever taste. (Photo © Jon VanZile)

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in the world for backyard gardeners, and it’s no wonder why. There is no competition between homegrown tomatoes and the store-bought varieties. Unless you have access to a great farmer’s market, there’s just nothing like a fresh-from-your-garden tomato for real tomato flavor. Better yet, when you grow your own, you can grow anything you want. There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes from around the world—you could spend the next ten years growing different varieties and still never get through them all.

But there’s another reason tomatoes are the best plants to grow. Simply put, they are the most rewarding. A well-grown plant is a vigorous, ravenous, stupendous producer. They are dramatic in their harvest when they are hung with globular, perfect fruit. Call me crazy, but no other common garden plant is as beautiful or bountiful as the tomato. Weird, then, that they were considered poisonous for so long (but that’s another story).

So this website is devoted to tomato cultivation. The goal here is to dive deep into the world’s popular vegetable and provide accurate and time-tested information on how to grow them. My sources range from textbooks on commercial tomato cultivation to my own test garden, when I’ve been experimenting with different growing techniques for many years now, to experts in horticulture.

One last word: I am an equal opportunity tomato grower. I don’t recognize a wrong way to grow tomatoes, only different ways. Grow them in the ground, grow them in containers, in hydroponics set-ups under lights, grow them hanging upside down from buckets–who cares how you grow them as long as you have a successful harvest? Whenever I say this, though, the first question I usually get is, “What about organic tomatoes?” I’ve never seen a survey, but it’s my experience that the vast majority of people who want to grow backyard tomatoes prefer to follow the principles of organic gardening.

And good, because so do I. Here’s my position: I’ve grown tomatoes with strictly organic techniques, and I’ve grown them with responsible use of garden chemicals. My default position…always…is to strive for a fully organic garden. Ideally, I like for my house to be a nearly self-contained loop, a place where we recycle our kitchen waste into compost that is used to feed our vegetable garden, which in turn produces the food we eat. It makes me happy to know everything about the food I’m eating, to know exactly how it was grown, what resources it required to grow it, and how safe it is. To know that I grew it. There are few things as satisfying as sitting down to a meal created mostly from food you grew yourself.

But all that said, you will not find an implacable enemy of garden chemicals and synthetic fertilizers here. I’m devoted first to results, then to method. If the choice is between using an approved fungicide at the proper levels or losing a harvest of lovely heirloom tomatoes, I will spray. If there are foliar sprays that can almost work miracles (and there are good ones), then I want to try to them and see what happens. At the same time, I want to understand how these chemicals work, what environmental impact they have, and use them at the lowest possible levels and only when it’s absolutely necessary.

I hope you’ll find what you’re looking for here. If you only grow organic heirlooms, you’re in the right place. If you prefer hydroponics, I hope you’ll (eventually) find what you’re looking for here too. Every season begins with decisions, but it’s also a journey of hope and even a kind of beauty. There is some kind of magic, some deep cellular connection to our shared heritage, in the act of taking a simple seed to a lush plant and finally to a delicious, juice-dripping-off-your-chin, sun-warmed garden tomato.