A hundred years ago, almost every American family grew some of their own produce at home. In rural America, farming families would grow almost all their vegetables, as well as raise livestock for their meat and dairy needs.
Today, with the advent of mass transportation and the growth of suburban America, there are fewer and fewer self-supporting family farms. Many Americans living in urban or suburban areas do the majority of their grocery shopping at large commercial grocery stores. However, home vegetable gardening has reemerged as a popular hobby for families.
Of all homegrown vegetables, the tomato is considered the most popular crop. Many American families plant at least one tomato plant each year, either in their backyard or somewhere in the landscaping around their home. What is the reason for the tomato plant’s widespread popularity? It is an extremely easy plant to grow, thriving in almost all U.S. climate conditions and soil types. Tomatoes will grow in almost any location that receives at least four hours of sunlight per day. They do require regular watering for optimum fruit production, but will produce some fruit even in dry conditions.
Tomatoes are a fairly disease resistant crop, too, suffering only occasionally from leaf wilt and blight. Good planting and pruning techniques can usually prevent these problems. Tomato bugs, white flies, and cutworms can also pose threat to tomatoes, but these pests can usually be kept at bay with soap spray, cutworm collars placed at the bottom of the plant, or other commercially available pesticide sprays.
Because tomatoes are such a popular plant for home gardeners, they are usually readily available for purchase as young plants from local garden centers and discount stores during the early spring months of the year. Plants found in stores will probably be of the more common varieties and hybrids such as Better Boy, Beefsteak, Sweet 100 (a cherry type tomato) and Early Girl. Less common varieties may have to be purchased as seeds and grown “from scratch” by the gardener. Growing plants from seed is certainly a more economical option than buying already established plants, and can be worthwhile, particularly when planting on a large scale.
Growing plants from seed is not difficult, and seed packets for many vegetables and herbs usually begin appearing on store shelves as early as January or February. Starting plants from seed indoors is a good way to get a head start on the growing seasons, and can often result in bigger plants and larger harvests. All you really need are pots full of soil and a warm, sunny location for them during the day. For optimum seed starting conditions, you can also use a grow light or heat lamp.
Greenhouses can also be enormously helpful in starting plants from seed, because they create warmer growing climates for the plants than the surrounding air outside. For the gardener with space restrictions, indoor tabletop green houses can be a good option, as they occupy no more space than a small table or workbench. For the serious gardener with plenty of outdoor space, a larger outdoor greenhouse may be the better choice. Greenhouse kits to help you build your own greenhouse are readily available through specialty catalogs and online stores.
Though home gardening isn’t what it used to be a century ago, it has adapted along with the American family and our growing and changing way of life. Most families today obtain the vast majority of their food from grocery stores; however, the small suburban garden continues to thrive as a source of good food and a leisurely pastime for millions of American families today.