Sunday, December 30, 2012

Garden Post-Mortem–Tomatoes

My raised bed garden was completed in the Spring by the addition of two 4x6 foot raised beds made from 1x8 inch red cedar boards. The 8 inch boards would give me a little more depth for plants like tomatoes while not busting the bank (Mel’s Mix is expensive). I added trellises along the long edges of the two beds and the short end of one, giving me room for 14 tomato plants.I planted indeterminate varieties and each plant was pruned to a single stem and trained up a cord on the trellis.

The trellis method worked very well. The one variety that gave me a little trouble at first was Pineapple, which had a number of closely spaced growing tips rather than a single dominant tip, almost like a determinate. As the plant got a little bigger, the issue resolved itself. Wrapping the single leader around the cord worked very well and, even with fruit on the vine, I had no slippage.


All of the tomatoes showed vigorous growth early in the season. Vines got to about a meter in height by mid-season. Then most of them stopped growing. I’m not sure if this was a fertilizer problem, or the very hot weather or the fact that disease was starting to appear. The only tomatoes that continued to flower and produce were the cherry types. A few plants started showing signs of late blight, so I started spraying with a copper fungicide with little obvious benefit.

My selection of varieties in 2012 was different from the usual, mostly heirlooms this year. In the past I have planted about half the available space with a main crop hybrid such as Jet Star, another quarter with a paste tomato such as Roma. The remaining space was used for a cherry and some  heirlooms. So if I got a few slicers from the heirlooms, that was a treat. I still had my main crop varieties to put a lot of tomatoes on my countertop. This year I got my 2-3 fruits per heirloom but had no disease resistant main crop tomatoes, so the countertops were bare.


Cherry/Salad Tomatoes

These types of tomatoes did the best last year and it should not be surprising to me that two of them are hybrids. I planted Sungold again because it is a terrific tomato. Very productive and very tasty. Both plants this year did very well while still showing some signs of early blight. Sungold is F1 and has resistance to Fusarium wilt and tobacco mosaic virus but not to the blights. Still, I will plant it again next year.

The Black Cherry I planted did very well despite showing some sign of late blight. It is not a hybrid, rather  it is open pollinated and was bred in Florida by the late Vincent Sapp. The vine was very vigorous, growing tall and setting large clusters of fruit. The tomatoes were mostly split-resistant and very meaty with great flavor. I’m definitely growing this one again. I also tried a Matt’s Wild Cherry, a wild variety found growing in Mexico, but did not care for it. Fruits were tiny if prolific, and the flavor was not very good, although it was disease resistant. Oh well, I tried it.

Finally, I grew a couple Juliet, an F1 variety my garden neighbor grows every year because her husband loves them. The plants were very robust and prolific, producing right up to cold weather. Johnny’s says they have some late and early blight resistance, which must be true because they stayed healthy all season. Unfortunately, the skins are tough and the flavor is bland unless they are fully ripened. Later in the summer taste did improve, but even so Juliet tomato is not a tomato I would crave for its flavor. I may plant it again just for its vigor and disease resistance and maybe try drying the fruits, which may concentrate the flavor.


Paste Tomato

The only paste tomato I planted was Striped Roman I grew from seeds bought from Baker Creek. I have complained before about my seed starting problems, but I wanted to try these so I selected the best two transplants and planted them. They grew slowly and I got a couple of tomatoes from each plant. I may try these again next year and hopefully do a better job starting them so I have good sized transplants to start with.


Heirloom Tomatoes

This year I planted Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Big Rainbow, and Pineapple, all purchased plants. I had delusions of Black Krim being my “main” tomato and planted two of them. They did poorly, succumbing to disease early. The few tomatoes they produced split badly, so I only got to try a few which were not very good. People rave about Black Krim so I’m sure it’s a great tomato, just not this year in my garden. To add insult to injury, I gave away a couple plants to fellow gardeners who planted them in soil. Those thrived and produced a lot of tomatoes, most of which these fellow “gardeners” let drop on the ground and rot.

The three other heirlooms I planted grew well early in the season and set fruit, but then slowed down. I wonder if I didn’t fertilize them enough or if it was the hot weather. The Cherokee Purple did show signs of late blight very early (and it was a Bonnie Plant, since I couldn’t find a locally grown plant). The first fruit was badly cat-faced and the others cracked badly. But I really like Cherokee Purple and will plant it again for the few slicers I do get. Big Rainbow and Pineapple were great tasting tomatoes, just wish I got a few more.


  1. I think fertilising is key. Whenever my tomato crops haven't done too well it is due to lack of food more than anything else. I didn't have much luck with my Black Krim last year either but I am trying again this year (with a new seed supplier) and it looks like its setting some fruit - we shall see...

    1. I think you are right, Liz. This was my first time with tomatoes in raised beds rather than in the ground. Mid-season fertilizing has got to be more important with the limited volume of soil available to the plants. Next year! Don't think Black Krim is in the plans, though.

  2. So many things can bring tomato production to a halt. Fertilizing them may have been helpful but I suspect the onset of fungal diseases probably was more likely the culprit. I fight that every year in my garden because we grow in a region that is damp and cool for much of the early summer months. Not good for heat lovers and definitely a breeding ground for bacteria, molds, and fungus. Over the years, I have been getting down to a short list of tomatoes that seem to at least have a fighting chance in our region. Not very sexy or exciting of a list though but necessary due to the constraints of my growing environment.

    1. Well it was definitely a bad year for disease, with a mild winter and hot, humid weather. My beds were brand new so soil-borne disease probably wasn't the problem. Lots of blight, early and late, however. Oh well, the seed catalogs are therapy for all that. Time to plan for next year.


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