In the world of homegrown vegetables, the tomato is king. Sweet, pungent, robust and juicy, this garden delight is a far cry from its lackluster supermarket counterpart. To enjoy the very best tomatoes all season long all you will need is a few supplies, some helpful tips and a love for this delicious and versatile fruit. For Seedlings: Soilless potting soil, small pots, tomato seeds, and recycled plastic produce bags For Garden: Black plastic, mulch, and stakes or other supports Germination: When you are planting seeds, don’t overcrowd them; they need room to flourish. As soon as the true leaves emerge (see below), the seedlings need to be transplanted—ideally to containers at least 4 inches deep, giving the roots room to grow. To avoid the potential weed seeds and diseases that soil often contains, use a soilless potting mix, which is primarily sphagnum peat moss. Don’t pack too much potting soil in the containers; fill about two-thirds. Hand-sift the potting mix to remove lumps and add water so that it is moist but not wet. (Note that some seeds such as parsley or lavender might need soaking or chilling, so check the seed packet for special directions.) Plant approximately three seeds in each container, sprinkling the small seeds on the surface but sticking larger seeds under the surface. Cover the small seeds with a little more potting mix and water again. Likewise, give the larger seeds a little more water, too. Make your own mini-greenhouse by putting the seedling containers in a plastic bag or under a sheet of plastic. Make sure that air can get in and circulate to avoid mold issues. A good spot for germinating seedlings is on top of the fridge—seeds like a warm, draftless environment. The first two leaves that emerge are actually cotyledons, part of the seed itself. When the true leaves emerge, remove the seedlings from plastic and put them in direct sunlight or under a fluorescent grow light for 12 to 18 hours a day, keeping them moist and warm. When the true leaves appear, it’s time to give the potting soil some nutrients, so add a little fertilizer to the pots. If more than one seedling has germinated in a pot, either separate the seedlings into different pots or remove all except the strongest seedling. Hard to do, I know! A recipe for turning your homegrown tomatoes into the perfect sauce… Tomato Sauce 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion, diced 3 cloves garlic, minced 2 large carrots, minced 2 stalks celery, minced 15 to 20 ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes, pureed, or 1–2 large (28-ounce) cans of pureed tomatoes salt and pepper fresh or dried herbs Heat oil over medium heat and add onion. Sauté until soft. Add garlic, carrot and celery and sauté until soft. Add pureed tomato and bring to a soft boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 40 minutes without a lid, or until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and fresh or dried herbs. Remember: dried herbs will be more powerful than fresh ones! Use sparingly and taste test often. 🙂 If you’re feeling extra crafty, try putting some custom labels on your tomato sauce jars! We love these ones in Rococo. Don’t be surprised if after one summer you become hooked to the superior taste of homegrown tomatoes and look forward to the process year after year. Far from a chore, growing your own tomatoes is a relatively hands-off but satisfying way to put delicious homemade food on your table and provide a gratifying, stress-relieving outlet. Happy growing!