Thursday, February 26, 2009

Starting Tomatoes

I planted my tomato seeds this evening. It seemed like the right thing to do on a raw, snowy day.

Tiger Mountain is not a good location for growing tomatoes. The nights are cool (rarely above 50 degrees), the ground stays even colder on account of the numerous springs and seeps just below the topsoil . Still, I wouldn't be much of a gardener if I weren't willing to rise to the challenge.

Over the last 10 years I've learned a few tricks to keeping the tomato patch a little warmer than the rest of the garden. And this will be the fourth year that I've hedged my bets by planting a few tomatoes in the greenhouse where I can really coddle them. Every once in awhile we have a warmer than usual summer, and I'm blessed with all the tomatoes I can possibly eat and preserve. And every year around this time, hope trumps experience and I start seeds of varieties that, if it's a warm summer, will maybe give me a few really nice slicing tomatoes, probably in September.

San Marzano is my standby for cooking and canning. It's loaded with pectin, and not very juicy at all so it makes wonderful thick sauce. This one is most reliable in the greenhouse, but I get bigger harvests from the ones I plant outside.Fortunately the green ones ripen well indoors.
Stupice isn't the tastiest tomato by any means but I know that no matter how cold a summer we have, I will get some ripe tomatoes from this plant. They'll be small and misshapen, but by god, I will have my tomatoes!
Ferline and Legend are my hedge against early blight if we have a wet summer with cool nights. I can't tell the two apart, but I continue to plant both, and marvel that a disease-resistant tomato of such perfect appearance could also taste so good.
Loveheart, because one must have a cherry tomato.
Sungella is like the popular Sungold cultivar, but a little bigger, about the size of a hen's egg. It produces reliably no matter what kind of a summer we're having, and it's so good I don't know why I bother with Stupice, except that the undergardener is deeply suspicious of tomatoes that are not red.
Early Goliath is the only beefsteak-type tomato I have ever gotten to ripen outdoors here. It's worth battling the slugs for these. They're that good.
Marmande is getting a second try. I've tasted this one and know how wonderful it is, but I didn't get a single ripe one last summer.
Anna Russian is another "stretch" tomato. Last year I didn't get any ripe ones. Two summers ago I got a few, and they were so good I just have to try again and hope for a hot summer.
Early Girl, only because the seeds were free and I remember growing this one in Utah, where just a couple plants bore well enough to give me a 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes every few days.
Costeluto Genovese is a new one for me. It's an old Italian cooking variety and I don't know what I was thinking. The climate here is nothing like Genoa.

Last year I surrounded my plants with gallon jugs of water. The idea was that the water would heat up during the day and keep the plants a little warmer at night. It seemed to help. This year I'm going to paint the jugs black so the water will get even warmer during the day. And I'm going to erect a cloche over the bed to keep the plants covered at night and on cool days.

This is going to be the year for abundant ripe tomatoes. I can feel it. I have hope.

5 Comments:

Blogger Gardeness said...

This post is great because I know zilch about tomatoes. I've already started some but I think I'll try to find some that you mentioned. Thanks.

The willow stems are rooting. I'm so excited! Thank you, thank you! Any special care to pass along?

27 February, 2009 00:27  
Blogger Solitaryman said...

I am here lurking, enjoying your garden posts. Were you a reader of blogs on Xanga, you would have seen this picture: http://x1e.xanga.com/039f3b5bc7032234128779/b184811052.jpg
It's the first time we've used wall-of-water thingees. Houston is a tough place to grow tomatoes for different reasons. It gets so hot so early, that blossoms won't set. So our tomatoe season ends in mid-June. Thus, we need to rush the season with the water. We have hope.

27 February, 2009 03:37  
Blogger PA said...

Wow... terrific idea using water jugs to keep the planting beds warm. I read a story long ago about early settlers keeping large barrels of water/ice in their cellars over the winter. As the water turns to ice, it actually releases some heat.

What are your plants for staking/supporting the plants. I have used the Tomato Stake for 2 seasons now and love its simplicity.
www.thetomatostake.com
The cages are horrible and always break my plant branches.

27 February, 2009 07:58  
Blogger Just Jenn said...

Every gardner should get some nice ripe tomatoes - hope you get a bunch of them this year!

27 February, 2009 18:26  
Blogger Molly said...

Gardeness: I'll bring some seeds to the meetup. No special care for the willow, except keeping it moist. I nurse mine along in 1 gallon pots outside for a year to get them established.
S'man: Good to hear from you! Let me know if the red WoW's make a difference. Houston is a tough place for all kinds of life.
PA: Staking is a challenge. I use the wooden stakes from campaign signs mostly. Last year I just let everything sprawl on the ground. Big mistake. I'm going to experiment with a dome of concrete reinforcing mesh over the bed this year. Hard to explain but I'll take a picture.

28 February, 2009 00:43  

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