Posts Tagged ‘Tomatoes’

Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles -Week 16 of 2010

The number of tomatoes produced on a single tomato plant in a season is tough to predict. The numbers vary according variety and good or bad weather can have a big impact. Indeterminate plants continue producing tomatoes throughout the season while determinates set their fruit within a few weeks and which  ripens within about a 4 to 5 week period. Therefore indeterminate plants tend to produce more tomatoes than determinites.

You get a variation as a function of which variety you have planted and you get all kinds of changes as a function of the weather. At the same time we can make a general guess so we can reasonably plan on how many plants we want to go into our garden this year.

A determinate tomato, you remember, is the one that grows to only three or 4 feet tall and it produces its entire crop over a period of four or five weeks. You can estimate that you’re going to get something between 20 and 40 tomatoes over the season from one of these plants.

A on the other hand the indeterminate tomatoes are the ones that can grow up to seven or 8 feet tall and will produce continually from mid July to the first frost. These plants, if everything goes well, can produce 80 to 100 fruits during the season; that’s a lot of tomato salads.

So while it is imprecise to estimate exact numbers, if you plan two or three plants per adult and one plant for each child you will likely have sufficient fresh tomatoes for the entire season. That number goes off the wall if you intend to process canned tomatoes or make tomato sauce that is also put up.

So far I have been talking about people who would be considered to be fairly sane. There are among us however, including myself, tomato gardeners who have no control whatsoever. There are only two of us in this household and last year we had more than 20 tomato plants; some would think that is a little crazy and it probably is.

Here is my rationale. I know that there are certain varieties of tomato that are going to grow extremely well in my area. And on the other hand there are varieties which do very well on the East Coast or on the West Coast but not so well here in the Midwest. So I figure the only way to discover those best varieties is to plant each year 5 to 10 varieties that I have never grown before.

Obviously we have lots of tomatoes to share with friends and neighbors and the food kitchens. You will have to figure out for yourself whether you want to be sane or crazy.


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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles — week 16 of 2010

Four weeks ago I planted seeds indoors for the varieties July 4th and Legend and now they are large enough to be transplanted from the seed starting tray to individual foam cups. I will leave these seedlings in the cups until they are ready to be placed outside into the garden in Walls O Water in about three weeks. In the meantime I put the seedlings out on our front porch whenever it is warm enough so that the seedlings will be for really hardened off when they go into the ground.

As you can see I am also using some fleece to protect the ceilings during the day if it gets chilly and windy. Yesterday it got cold enough to force me to put my ceilings back down cellar under the fluorescent lights. It may seem like a lot of trouble but I am confident I will have fresh tomatoes by the Fourth of July.

It sure doesn’t hurt even though the temperatures are still cool to have the bright faces of the spring daffodils popping up around the yard.

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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles – Week 15 of 2010

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes are a must-grow in my garden. They are the eat-them-with-abandon-and-without-guilt candy of the garden. They have been a favorite in my house for almost 20 years.  These coveted Sun Gold tomatoes were an amazing breakthrough by a Japanese breeder in the early 1990s. Just about that time I started growing Sungolds from seed sold by Thompson and Morgan. My late husband Hank would take a bag of Sungolds to work almost every day to serve as snacks for him and his colleagues. We grew them beside a fence that separated our house from the next-door neighbor. The plants grew so tall that our neighbor enjoyed as many Sungolds as we did.

There still isn’t a variety that comes close to its flavor, beauty and long-lasting production. This exquisite gem ripens from green to dark gold, but isn’t fully mature until it becomes pale apricot-orange. Watch carefully for the subtle color change, then savor the intensified taste: uniquely rich and sugary, with a hint of tropical fruitiness. Round 1” tomatoes attached to draping, symmetrical limb-like trusses, are borne on indeterminate vines growing to about 3’. A bit slow at first, it yields reliably non-stop until the first frost. And it has good disease tolerance (resistant to verticilium and fusarium wilts, tobacco mosaic virus and nematodes). It is everything you could ever ask from a little cherry tomato.

Sungold Tomatoes are started easily from seed six to eight weeks prior to the last frost date in your area. Start them in sterile seed starting soil mixture with a bit of bottom heat to aid germination. Keep them in a warm, brightly lit, well-ventilated area.  (Tomato seedlings need bright, strong light~regular windowsills are not bright enough and the plants will get leggy and flop over as they stretch for the light.) Fertilize lightly and increase the pot size as needed. After your last frost date, harden off the seedlings by gradually placing them outside for incrementally longer periods of time over the course of a week to ten days. Prepare fertile tomato beds in full sunlight with lots of compost and/or well-rotted manure. Transplant the seedlings into the prepared bed, burying them one leaf deeper than initially grown. Feed them occasionally as needed and keep them well-watered by soaking the soil and not the leaves~this helps to keep disease off of their leaf surfaces.


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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles – Week 14 of 2010

This year we have decided to limit the number of plants that we start from seed and for the most part buy seedlings from our local garden center. However I need to start two varieties of tomato from seed this year because I’m going to really work on having ripe tomatoes before the 4th of July.

So I’m starting from seed the variety “Fourth of July” and the variety “Legend”. The beginning process I use is a bit unorthodox, but it works. I use either paper towels or high-quality paper napkins and soak them in warm tea overnight. I then place six or eight seeds on a tea soaked paper towel, fold it up and place the packet in a plastic bag and set it on top of the refrigerator where it is warm. While normally tomato seeds will take from 7 to 12 days to germinate, my system produces germinated seeds in 2 to 3 days.

I then very carefully plant the sprouted seed in what’s called an APC {see photo}. This is a self watering seed starting device put out by Gardeners Supply Company {www.gardeners.com} or Lee Valley Tools {   }. By sprouting the seed ahead of time I don’t have to worry about wasting seeds. I use a soil less mixture to plant the seeds, usually a combination of Canadian spaghnum peat moss and vermiculite. For examples of seed starting devices go to seed systems.


I place the planted APC under florescent lights that have been connected to a eider that  keeps them lighted for 16 hours each day. The bulbs are placed about 1 inch above the seedlings. As the seedlings mature I keep raising the lights to stay about 1 inch above the plants.


When my seedlings get to be about 2 to 3 inches tall with nice thick stalks I will transplant them from the APC to individual large foam coffee cups that I have saved over the year. I slice holes in the bottom of each container so I know it will drain very well. Just as with the APC I keep my transplanted seedlings under fluorescent lights for the next three or four weeks.

I will leave the details for placing my tomatoes outside for a later post.

For detailed guidelines for starting any vegetable from seed go to www.yardener

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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles – Week 15 of 2010

Planting time is the perfect opportunity to improve the soil in your garden. I dig in heavy clay soil that left to its own devices becomes compacted making root penetration difficult.  So, whenever I dig I amend and loosen it by dumping the removed soil into a container or on a tarp and mix in some goodies, before refilling the hole.

My basic recipe is a shovel full of garden soil to a hand full of compost and a scoop of Espoma’s Soil Perfector. Because my soil has a high pH, I also toss in a handful of Canadian Sphagnum peat moss.

What is Soil Perfector?

One application of Espoma Soil Perfector permanently improves the structure of any soil. Soil Perfector is made from a naturally derived, ceramic mineral that is kiln-fired at temperatures in excess of 2000o F. This process creates a durable, lightweight granule containing thousands of tiny storage spaces that hold the perfect balance of water, air and nutrients for an improved soil structure. Soil Perfector will not break down or degrade so you do not need to re-apply it year after year.

What About Compost?

Good quality compost adds humic acid and enzymes that break down minerals, also referred to as micronutrients, into a liquid form that plants can use. The humic acid in compost helps produce a gelatinous substance that binds minerals and organic material together turning chunky soil into that gorgeous soft crumbly stuff that can bring can a gardener like me to tears.

It’s also home to many beneficial organisms that become part of the soil food web, the underground community that returns Natures detritus to the soil. Without this incredible underground food chain man would have been buried in his own trash eons ago.

New Compost Has It All

Working with all these products can be a hassle for gardeners who don’t have time to batch mix from scratch.  This season I’m taking the easy route and substituting the new high quality compost mix, Organimax, which also contains additional soil microbes, Mychorriza, kelp and host of other goodies that I hope will make my garden rock. Priced at $14.98 for a 3 cubic foot bag, Organimax is currently available at English Gardens, Romence Gardens, Wojo’s, Allemons, Souliers, Ray Wiegands and Van Attas.

What Are Mychorriza?

Because I want to get the most out of my garden I also add a dusting of Mychorriza, a beneficial fungi that attaches itself to the roots of a plant and helps it get moisture and nutrients from the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi have occurred naturally in the soil for 400 million years. They form a close symbiotic relationship with plant roots. They are called mycorrhizae (from the Greek “mukés”, meaning fungus, and “rhiza,” meaning roots).

However, in most soils that have been disturbed by residential construction, or intensive cropping practices with applications of fertilizers containing pesticides and other chemical products, the mycorrhizae content has considerably diminished, and has become insufficient to significantly enhance plant growth.

When mycorrhizal fungi colonize the plant’s root system, they create a network that increases the plant’s capacity to absorb more water and nutrients such as phosphorus, copper and zinc. This process in turn enhances growth and favors rapid development of roots and plants.  Look for the product “Myke” in garden centers. http://www.premiertech.com/myke/mycorise/index.htm

Beneficial Microbes?

To increase the beneficial microbe count I also mix in a teaspoon of microbial material in the form of Plant Growth Activator from Organica (www.organica.com.) Organica Plant Growth Activator is specifically formulated to promote the establishment and enhance the viability of annuals, bulbs, perennials and turf. This unique natural product contain beneficial soil microorganisms and natural plant extracts that function synergistically to improve soil biology and promote healthy plant growth. Promoting and maintaining healthy soil biology is the key to successful gardening at any level.

There are lots of products on the market today that contain these beneficial organisms, so we need to spend some time in our local garden centers checking out what’s new.

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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicals – Week 14 of 2010

Having suffered through two seasons of lousy homegrown tomatoes, due to bad weather, I’ve been polling gardening pals around the country for suggestions on which new varieties to grow.

My good friend Rose Marie Nichols McGee, owner of Nichols Garden Nursery ( www.nicholsgardennursery.com) located in the cool wet confines of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, suggested I try growing the early beefsteak variety “Legend,” bred at Oregon State University.” “Legend” is said to thrive in cool springs and lagging summers, yet it also does well in hot temperatures. Most tomatoes stop producing when the temperature hits 90 degrees.

One of the secrets to “Legend’s” success is the early fruits of this determinate open-pollinated variety are parthnocarpic, meaning it will set fruit without pollination. Therefore, unseasonably cold or warm temperatures will not keep the plant from setting fruit.

“Legend” tomatoes produced early in the season are seed-free. And in times where cool weather persists, seed savers may have a tough time finding some to save.

But the other good news is “Legend” is resistant to the late blight, the airborne fungal disease that devastated many gardeners’ tomato plants last season. Best of all, McGee says, this early producing beefsteak slicer (68 days) has great flavor. I trust her taste because she’s a great cook and she shares her garden-fresh recipes on her blog the Gardener’s Pantry at nicholsgardennursery.wordpress.com.

The “Legend” tomato plants may not be available in garden centers just yet, so those wishing to grow it this year may have to resort to starting it from seed or buying plants on the Internet. Thompson & Morgan, www.tmseeds.com, carries “Legend” seeds, and locally I found them at English Gardens and Bordines.

Plants and seeds of “Legend” tomatoes are also available by mail order at Territorial Seed Company, (800) 626-0866, or at www.territorialseed.com. The deadline for ordering tomato plants is May 1.

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Choosing Where To Grow Your Tomatoes

If you believe that you need to have a garden in order to plant tomatoes, think again. There are a number of ways to grow terrific tomatoes without having or needing a garden.

Tomatoes In the Garden

If you do have a garden then you already have a good place to plant tomatoes. Tomatoes need at least 6 to 10 hours of sun daily plus some afternoon shade in really hot climates. They accept almost any kind of soil, as long as it has lots of organic matter in it to help it hold moisture and drain well and is on the acid side (pH 6.0 to 7.0). Add organic matter such as peat moss, chopped leaves or compost to lighten and loosen clay soil or plant tomatoes in raised beds to improve soil drainage.

A Container Called Earthbox

Last year Nancy tested a new container system designed to grow vegetables, including tomatoes. It is called an Earthbox (www.earthbox.com). This plastic device which is a little over 2 feet long and 1 foot wide and 1 foot deep has a special watering and fertilizing system to make this a very low maintenance container.  It can handle two tomato plants.

Bountiful Tomato Plants with Grow Bags

For years now, gardeners in England have made the most of very limited garden space by growing vegetables, greens and herbs in plastic bags placed on steps, patios and landings. In this country the Gardeners Supply Company (www.gardeners.com)  has made improvements of this concepy and achieved terrific results! First, their Tomato Grow Bags are made of patented, double-layer polypropylene instead of sheet plastic. This felt-like fabric breaths better, so your plants won’t suffer from heat build-up, overwatering, or poor aeration. Plus, the fabric air prunes plant roots, resulting in a strong, healthy root system. They have demonstrated success using a Grow Bag for many popular crops — shallow for salads or deep for tomatoes, peppers and potatoes.  We got are going to try two or three of these interesting devices to see how they work; we will give you a report at the end of the season.

Gardener’s Revolution™ Planter

How about growing tomatoes upside down? It sounds crazy but the Gardeners Supply Company has come up with a device they call the Gardener’s RevolutionÔ Planter. This Gardener’s Revolution™ Planter has a unique top-down watering system that delivers the right amount of moisture to the container’s soil. The new, woven-poly liner opens up for planting, then zips shut — you won’t injure the plant trying to push it through a hole. The liner is also air-permeable to aerate roots and prevent heat build-up. An improved, two-part powder-coated steel cage encloses the liner, and the planter hangs from our unique swivel hook that makes it a breeze to turn your plant.  As with the grow bags we are going to try a couple of these planters just for fun.

Planting Tomatoes in Containers

In the final analysis we can grow tomatoes in almost any kind of container as long as it is large enough and has holes in the bottom. The only limitation is your imagination.

While determinate, or compact, dwarf tomato varieties purposely bred for containers are ideal, indeterminate or cherry type tomatoes do well in containers too, as long as they are supported with stakes or a trellis of some sort.
Containers must have drainage holes in the bottom and ideally be at least 1½ feet deep. Mix some compost into the potting mix initially. Keeping plants moist and protecting them from excessive heat are the biggest concerns.

 Plan to water thoroughly whenever soil surface feels dry. During the hot summer this may mean twice a day, especially in terra cotta containers.   For more information about growing any plant in a container go to our website at: Container Growing

So this season we are going to be growing tomatoes in our cottage or garden, and our backup garden up on the Hill, and in all manner of containers.

For detailed information about growing tomatoes go to our website at: Growing Tomatoes

The soil temperature needed to safely plant tomatoes into the garden is at least 70°. This morning my soil temperature was  39° ; we must be patient. I expect we’ll have the proper soil temp in late May or early June.

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