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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 19, 2008

HAWAI'I'S GARDENS
Specialty tomatoes will grow at home

By Jari Sugano

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tomatoes in unusual sizes, shapes and colors are what's hip now.

SCOTT R. BAUER | Special to The Advertiser

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Specialty tomatoes such as grape, cherry, teardrop and pear-shaped have gained popularity in supermarkets as well as in backyard gardens because they're small, sweet and easy to grow.

These specialty tomatoes come in every color and shape imaginable, and their names often reflect the shape of the fruit.

Small-fruited tomatoes prefer well-drained soils rich in organic matter, with pH levels of 6.0 to 6.8. Plants can be direct-seeded or transplanted 12 to 15 inches apart, in rows 3 to 4 feet apart. For home gardens, raise planting beds to increase drainage, and sow plants in an area with plenty of sunlight. If space is limited, plant specialty tomatoes in 5-gallon containers, one plant per container. The bigger the container, the better.

When purchasing tomato plants, it is wise to know which type you are buying. There are two types of tomatoes: determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes are often referred to as bush-type tomatoes, as they grow to a determined height, produce fruit then stop producing after a short time. Indeterminate tomatoes, known as vine-type tomatoes, do not have a height or time limitation. Indeterminate varieties require maintenance to continuously produce quality fruits.

Amend garden soils by adding one to two buckets of well-rotted manure or decomposed organic matter to the soil. Apply a complete fertilizer such as 10-20-20 or 16-16-16 at a rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet half at planting and half at fruiting. Additional fertilizer applications may be applied for indeterminate tomato varieties.

Both determinate and indeterminate varieties produce better-quality fruits when staked and grown on trellises. Determinate varieties require no pruning. However, indeterminate varieties can become very leafy if left unpruned, compromising air and light circulation. Indeterminate varieties are typically pruned to one or two central leaders by removing side shoots. Removal of excessive side shoots ensures the plant's energy goes toward developing fruit.

Managing pest and diseases on smaller tomatoes is still a concern. For specific pest management recommendations, call the University of Hawai'i Master Gardener Hot Line at 453-6055.

Irrigate plants regularly, targeting the soil to avoid fruit cracking and avoid unnecessary contact with leaves. Small-fruited tomatoes are ready to harvest 60 to 80 days after planting. Vine-ripened fruits are often sweeter than fruit picked early and allowed to ripen.

The UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Seed Lab now has available for sale home garden packets of the Komohana Red Grape (determinate) tomato. For more information, call 956-7890.

Steve Fukuda contributed to this column. Jari Sugano and Fukuda are extension agents with the University of Hawai'i-Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. Reach Sugano at suganoj@ctahr.hawaii.edu.