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For Papijoe

Time to start planting tomatoes...

...now that the days are getting longer and warmer.

Heirloom tomatoes are the old strains that have been kept alive by gardeners harvesting their own seed. Brandywine, Lycopersicum esculentum, is a 112 year old Amish heirloom legendary for its sweet, rich, slightly spicy flavor - a variety that is still the big favorite along the Delaware/Pennsylvania border (as well as gathering a more national following, hitting most lists of best tasting tomatoes). It dropped out of sight for a while as the big seed guys were concentrating on farmers and not gardeners.
papi brandywine.jpg
You won't find taste like this in the crimson hardballs you see in the grocery stores. This is a tomato prized for its taste and comes in 3 varieties - pink, red, and yellow - each with a slightly different, exceptionally full flavor.

Knowing your love of Tolkien, I think you must plant a Brandywine! This is one of the yellows ~
papi yellow brandywine.jpg

Here's another Heirloom tomato, doesn't it look delicious? I love the name, Mortgage Lifter, lol!
papi mortgage lifter.jpeg

While Brandywine may be the perfect tomato, it is not the perfect plant. It is late-season, taking 80 days to fruit, and it seems to like temperatures on the cool side. Brandywine gets tall, so you'll need to stake or cage it. And it is not always the most prolific producer. But this is quibbling. Plant some, grow some.

A few other interesting varieties and colors are the oranges - Nebraska Wedding, Kentucky Beefsteak and Tangerine;
papi nebraska wedding.jpeg

purples are represented by Black Prince and Prudens Purple.
papi black prince.jpg

Yellow is another bonanza with Persimmon Yellow, Pixie Peach and Lillian's Yellow Heirloom.
papi lillian's yellow heirloom.jpeg

Even green checks in with Green Grape, Evergreen and Green Zebra which has yellow stripes!
papi green zebra.jpg

Red/yellow stripers include Mr. Stripey
papi mr stripey.jpg

and Old German (a Mennonite variety; it appears we owe the Amish and Mennonite folk a huge debt of gratitude for keeping many of these old strains alive).
papi old german.jpeg
Check the local extension service or Master Gardeners for heirloom varieties specific to your region.

Here's how to start, papi.

Order a combination of heirloom seeds or here's another site where you can order individual Brandywine seed packets. Then get some Jiffy 7 peat plugs from your co-op or nursery; they are usually sold in bulk and used to cost about 5¢ each.
papi peat pots.gif
I have used these before and they are the simplest way to start seeds. Soak them in warm water to expand to 2" tall. Pull the netting back from the top, make a hole with a pencil and drop in a few seeds. Water lightly every few days and when roots appear out of the plug they are ready to be transplanted.
papi peat pot2.jpg
You can buy a plastic container to hold them or use a cookie sheet with sides.

Now many people think you need a half barrel to plant tomatoes but individual gallon pots will do just fine. Go to your nearest nursery and buy a bag of good potting soil; then they will be more than happy to give you, at no charge, as many gallon pots as you need. Buy some plant tape
papi plant tape.jpg
or if you're stingy, use string or twist ties to stake up the plants. You can buy the bamboo planting stakes at Wal-Mart:
papi plant stakes.jpg

Soil, sun and water requirements ~
Tomatoes require plenty of sun. Plant them on your porch or against the back of your house - wherever they will get that afternoon sun. As for soil, they will grow in just about anything you throw at them. An old survivalist manual says you can grow them in newspaper if you add the right fertilizers! That isn't to say that soil amendment is a bad idea. If you want to get fancy, you can customize your mix. Besides straight potting mix, add peat moss, ground bark and perlite (sponge rock) to improve the soil even more. All these ingredients enhance draining capability.

Tomatoes do very well when planted in containers, as soil can easily be changed or improved from year to year (raised beds are good for much the same reason). Uniform watering is the key to nice fruit. Even watering can prevent leaf-end roll, blossom end-rot and "cat-facing", those misshapen crags and cracks on the stem end of the fruit. The experts stress that tomatoes are about the watering! Skimp on amendments, fertilizers and the rest, but if you want good tomatoes it's about the water.

(Did I mention about watering?)
papi watering can3.gif

Water plants when the top three or four inches of soil are dry. Avoid wetting the foliage and soak the soil until you see water draining through the bottom of the container. After the plants begin to set fruit, water them daily, especially on hot, windy days.

It is OK to plant tomatoes in the garden when the temperature is a consistent 50° F, but plants won't begin to set fruit until the overnight low is regularly above 55°. As your plants get larger, use the bamboo stakes or buy some 1/2"x1/2" stakes at Lowe's or a lumber store. These will support the weight of the fruits as they begin to grow. Cages are a quick and easy fix that work great; twig or bamboo tripods and trellising are good too and very attractive.
papi trellising.jpg

Tomatoes should be harvested when they are fully ripened and just starting to soften. Once picked, store tomatoes in dark, warm conditions. DO NOT REFRIGERATE TOMATOES! Ever!
papi refrigeration.gif
Fresh tomatoes start to fall off the flavor wagon as soon as they go below 55°; you might as well buy those soulless, tasteless clones at the supermarket.

You have three days to use a vine-ripened tomato; it is wise to observe the garden and make that crucial decision: Are there too many to eat and is today the day I make sauce? (Cooked sauce WILL freeze nicely and there are few greater winter joys than hauling out a container of sauce from the freezer and enjoying your tomatoes months later!)

Growing tomatoes in containers can even be an advantage. That's because the biggest downfall to growing tomatoes in the ground is soil-borne fungal diseases like verticillum and fusarium wilt. That's why experts always recommend that you rotate the area in your garden where you grow them in the ground. But growing in containers you provide your own soil. Sterilized potting mix prevents any chance of fungal diseases.

Fertilize regularly with almost any all-purpose fertilizer. Anything from Miracle-Gro to Osmocote to pelleted fertilizer is fine.

Then just sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor :-)

But papijoe, if you HAVE TO buy tomato plants instead of starting from seed, be sure to pick out healthy plants with no yellowing or speckling on the leaves (fusarium or leaf spot). If you're not sure what tomatoes you want or need, checking the tag can be a big help in selecting a good tomato. Look for a string of letters on the tag. They denote resistance to disease:

  • A - Alternaria leaf spot
  • F - Fusarium wilt
  • FF - Race 1 & Race 2 Fusarium
  • L - Septoria leaf spot
  • N - Nematodes
  • T - Tobacco mosaic virus
  • V - Verticilium wilt


So a tomato with an FFLT code is resistant to both common strains of fusarium wilt, septoria leaf spot, and tobacco mosaic virus (don't even THINK about smoking around your tomatoes...). Most of the modern strains are more disease resistant than heirloom varieties. Here are some different types.

Early Tomatoes ~
These determinate types set fruit at much lower temperatures, making them great for early fruit and invaluable for areas with cool summers. Early Girl, Sunstart,
papi sunstart.jpeg
and Burpee's Early Pick are good examples, as are New Yorker, and Wayahead. Red Robin is a good cherry type.

Here's a link with some suggestions for Massachusetts residents.

Hybrid (F1) Tomatoes ~
These are the result of breeding programs, F1 being a designation of first generation crosses between two good tomatoes to get a better one. Most of the modern tomatoes fall into this category, and if the truth was known, probably a lot of the heirlooms, too. A good example would be the giants like Beefsteak from which Big Beef (Big Boy x Beefsteak) and Beef Master were bred.
Big Beef after 80 days:
papi big beef 80 days.jpg

Plum (Paste) Tomatoes ~
These are the Italian style tomatoes with thick meat and a small seed cavity, making them perfect for tomato paste or sauce. Roma is still the hands down favorite; Sauce and Slice is a newer variety that does double duty (perfect for the tiny garden or containers). Look for Plum Dandy or Super Marzano as well.
papi super marzano.jpg

Small-fruit tomatoes ~
These include the grape and cherry tomatoes. If you’re looking for a great plant for a small container or windowbox, try Tiny Tim,
papi tiny tim.jpg
Patio,
papi patio.jpg
or Small Fry tomato.

papijoe, I don't know if you live in an apartment but if you do here's a site for growing tomatoes in small spaces.

Good luck and let us know how they turn out!

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