Tomato plants are very forgiving

Tomatoes, shown here at Mowery Orchards in Woodstock, can be grown in just about any soil but they need sunshine and water. Photo by Sally Voth

If you’re interested in growing some of your own food, but are a novice, you would have a hard time going wrong by starting with tomatoes.

“They’re pretty adaptable,” said Lea Justice, who owns Vine Ripe Farm, 6015 Panhandle Road in Warren County, with her husband Jim. “Depending on the variety, they’re grown all over the world now, from Russia to South America, where they’re from. Any place that has decent sun, that’s all they need.”

It’s said tomatoes need five hours of direct sunlight a day to fruit, or in other words, for their flowers to turn into the tomato fruit, according to Justice.

“They really are one of the more forgiving types of vegetables,” she said.

Tomatoes can grow in any soil from sandy loam to heavier clay, Justice said.

“They do need a fair amount of irrigation,” she added. “They’re mostly water. If you don’t have rain, you should be prepared to irrigate. Otherwise, their immune systems will lower and they will be more susceptible to diseases.”

There are thousands of tomato varieties, and the Justices will have more than 25 types, along with other vegetables, flowers and herbs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 30 at their annual plant sale. Their farm stand is open Thursday and Friday afternoons between May and November.

“One of our favorites is called Old German,” Justice said. “That’s an heirloom that hails from the Shenandoah Valley that the Mennonites from Germany first started to save the seed.

“It’s lower acid because it’s yellow with orange stripes, but it’s very sweet. It’s a beefsteak.”

It has good disease resistance, particularly for an heirloom tomato from this region, she said.

“It makes the best BLT,” Justice enthused.

She also has an appreciation for the dark tomatoes, particularly the Cherokee Purple.

While it’s not a very good producer, the Paul Robeson tomato is another favorite of Justice’s.

“It kind of has a cult following of people that like those dark tomatoes,” she said.

However, the Paul Robeson variety isn’t very tolerant of diseases, so the season for them is not long. It’s just a good tomato while it lasts, Justice said.

“For people who want an easy tomato that’s very productive and flavorful, there’s one called the Celebrity that most farmers in our area really pay the bills with,” she said.

There are more than 600 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, according to, and seeds available for “countless hybrids.”

While the tiny grape tomato, with names such as Elfin and Chiquita, can be as light as 1 ounce, the large beefsteak varieties, which include the Big Boy, can grow to about 5 pounds, it says.

Tomatoes don’t even need to be grown in soil. They can be grown hydroponically, using a water and mineral system instead.

While hydroponic gardens may have an initial higher cost, the plants are protected from bugs, and can be grown all year inside.