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Tomatoes in Florida, Solanum lycopersicum

Uses : Edible Fruit. Native to : Mexico, Peru
     There is a lot to talk about when it comes to tomatoes, but only a fraction of it is relevant in Florida. Information is readily available from IFAS and even the public library regarding pest control, so we won't go into that here. And the pests do love our tomatoes!
     Perhaps the most important part of tomato growing is the timing of planting the seeds. Whether you start seeds inside or buy seedlings or sow directly in the ground, it is really all about timing. I would say tomatoes are not for the person who puts things off, because late planting will delay flowering and fruiting which will make tomatoes not really worth growing.

     Here we can grow tomatoes in the early spring and late fall. The plants do not tolerate the hottest part of the summer, though your season can be extended into the beginning of the summer by moving your plants into a microclimate, which is why we have had so much success with growing our tomatoes in five gallon buckets. A sheltered part of your yard away from the warm breezes is ideal, and shade, especially midday or afternoon is preferable. Tomatoes need loose soil that drains well, with plenty of nutrition, and frequent watering when the temperatures approach the 80's.
     I personally think cherry tomatoes are much better to grow here than the traditionally larger varieties, as they produce an edible fruit very quickly after flowering, while the larger varieties need more time to grow out the fruit. This additional time factor gives the birds, squirrels, and bugs more time to take advantage of your delicious offering.
     Starting seeds indoors is not necessary but I highly recommend it. This last year we started the seeds in the five gallon buckets on the back porch, and brought the buckets indoors on the nights that dipped below freezing. This fall we will probably do the same, and then set the buckets out for some shady protection at the beginning of September. Another benefit to the bucket system is that we put in potting soil from the store - not something I would normally do, but the potting soil already has fertilizer added.
     Saving seed from season to season is easy to do at home in your kitchen, by harvesting from your best fruits and washing very thoroughly, then drying. Most plants are self-pollinating so even one successful plant will give you more seed to work with next year. Store seeds dry and away from light. Tomato seeds are great gifts!
      The plants are members of the nightshade family, and so are inedible to humans and animals. Dead plants are only good for chopping and composting.

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