If you're going to read about tomatoes, it makes sense to read a book written by someone who is completely tomato crazy. Gary Ibsen, author of The Great Tomato Book, definitely qualifies. He's a veteran grower and the founder of Carmel, California's TomatoFest -- a festival that is devoted to all things tomato.
Review: "The Great Tomato Book"
If you're looking for a crash course in growing tomatoes, Gary Ibsen's The Great Tomato Book is a perfect place to start. Ibsen covers every aspect of tomatoes, from their history to how to grow, prepare, and save seeds from them.
Part One of the book is "An Introduction to the Tomato," in which Ibsen answers basic questions about the tomato, such as the eternal "fruit or vegetable?" question, and explanation of why tomatoes don't taste the way they used to, and a glossary of basic tomato terms. He also covers the history of the tomato, and explains the health benefits of eating tomatoes.
Part two is all about growing tomatoes: seeds, planting instructions, the relationship between good soil and good tomatoes, trellising, watering, feeding, and saving tomato seeds -- it's all here, and the information is very easy to find.
The next section is a glossary of recommended tomato varieties. This part is especially useful during winter, when you're going through your seed catalogs looking for new tomatoes to grow next year.
The next couple of sections are about harvesting, preserving, and cooking with tomatoes. There are instructions for freezing, drying, and canning tomatoes, as well as a wide variety of recipes -- and suggestions for what to do if you have "too many tomatoes."
The final part of the book is a resource guide to seed sources, garden suppliers, tomato organizations and festivals, and recommendations for additional reading.
As I mentioned, it's a complete crash course in tomato growing, in one slim volume. It's a useful reference to have on your shelf.
Quotes from "The Great Tomato Book"
"I considered myself fortunate if my selection included a couple of early season varieties, two or three beefsteaks, a paste, and a cherry tomato. Life was simple then, if not narrow, considering my limited experience with tomatoes. And then I discovered heirloom tomatoes."
"Twelve tomato plants should be enough for the average family of four to eat, cook, can, and give away. If you love tomatoes, I suggest including in your planting at least a couple of reds, a pink, yellow, orange, and bicolored; a couple of pastes, a black, a green; and a couple of cherry varieties."
"The seeds from your open pollinated tomatoes are the link to tomatoes that may reach back hundreds of years from many corners of the world."
"Varieties are being lost at such a rate that it's possible that many of the best open-pollinated varieties available now will not be available in the near future. Saving seeds is not only the best way, but probably the only way to be assured of planting your favorite heirlooms in the future." (Note: This book was written back in 1999. Since then, we've seen an upsurge in the appreciation of heirlooms and local foods. However, this advice still stands: saving seeds is important to keeping lesser known or less marketable varieties in existence.)
I recommend Ibsen's The Great Tomato Book to any gardener who is getting started growing tomatoes, or for those who, after growing a tomato plant or two, find themselves determined to sneak in "just one more tomato plant." This is the first sign of a tomato addiction, and this book will be helpful in your journey.