This year I have 28 tomato plants, 14 each in the raised-bed and in-ground gardens. All but 5 of these were started by me from seeds this winter. There were ups and downs but I generally did a decent job this year starting my tomatoes from seed. In addition to the plants in my garden, I was able to give another 9-10 tomato plants to other gardeners in the community garden. What you wind up with in the spring is not always what you plan for in the winter. Each year you have to be satisfied with what you achieved and supplement it with purchases if necessary. What follows is an inventory of what is actually in soil and growing now. Just forget those garden planting schedules I made in February, they no longer matter.
The Raised Beds
Working counterclockwise around the raised beds.
Above is Esterina, an F1 hybrid cherry tomato that I am growing in lieu of Sungold. I love Sungold but it has a terrible tendency to crack whenever it rains. Esterina is just as sweet and prolific and more crack resistant. I grew it last year and liked it, so this is the second year. I have 3 of these planted in the raised beds and gave away 2 of them. My seeds came from High Mowing but it is also carried by Territorial and William Dam in Canada.
This is Jaune Flamme, a French heirloom tomato that produces clusters of apricot sized and colored fruit. I tried it last year and had mixed results but I am giving it another try. I have 3 plants in the raised beds and another in the in-ground garden for comparison. I also gave away another plant to a neighbor in the gardens. The plants are looking strong and healthy and starting to flower.
Next is the legendary Juliet, an F1 hybrid plus-size grape tomato. Juliet has it all: vigor, productivity, disease resistance, crack resistance, and of course, flavor. These are some of the first tomatoes in summer and usually the last I pick in the fall. Above are two Juliets in the raised beds, looking healthy but a bit demure. Another reference plant in-ground seems to be taking off a bit faster. These are purchased plants. I usually buy them from my neighbor, Jem Mix, but this year she was a bit late in announcing her plant sale so I found these at a garden center, grown by Burpee. Hopefully they did not come with a free helping of late blight, which is always the chance you take when you purchase plants shipped in from out of state.
Next are three Chocolate Pear tomatoes grown from seeds from Baker Creek. I tried these last year after being disappointed in the productivity of Black Cherry. They did pretty well and the plants this year, while small, look really healthy. I had extras so I gave away two more of these to fellow gardeners.
Above is Pruden’s Purple, a potato-leaved heirloom tomato similar to Brandywine, purchased from Jem Mix. The plant is large with a thick, sturdy stem. I counted 14 flowers and buds on the truss you see. Since fruits can get as large as a pound apiece, does this thing think it can actually survive that? I would be happy if it did. First time growing this one. I was looking for something smaller like Rose De Berne but she was sold out.
The last two tomatoes in the raised beds are Sweet Treats, an F1 hybrid developed by Sakata Seeds. This is a pink tomato with large cherry tomatoes. I saw this one growing in the kitchen garden at Tower Hill botanical gardens and was impressed with its vigor during a terrible summer.
This a a photo of the Sweet Treats tomato at Tower Hill in summer of 2013, a very hot and dry summer here. You can see why I was impressed with it. It seemed to be one of the few things alive and looking healthy that summer. And how about the painted rebar tomato pole? That’s not going to snap under the weight of some beefsteak tomatoes.
This is my second year having an additional plot at the community garden. Since this is a temporary situation, I am not going to invest in raised beds or expensive soil improvements. It also is a chance to see how tomatoes of the same variety do in (admittedly crappy) soil versus the raised beds. One comparison I have made is, it is a lot harder (2X-3X harder) to garden in the ground than in raised beds filled with Mel’s Mix. It took me 4 hours to plant 14 tomatoes in this row versus an hour plus in the raised beds. And that does not account for the several days I spent weeding, tilling, hoeing, raking and de-rocking the plot.
Above is Opalka, an indeterminate paste tomato from Poland that I saw growing at Tower Hill. Plants are looking very healthy and sturdy and are starting to flower. I am growing four of these from seeds I got from Fedco and I gave away two more plants to a neighbor. Opalka is named for the Opalka family that brought seeds to Amsterdam, NY about 1900.
My other paste tomato is a determinate Roma-type that was grown by a garden neighbor last year. Everyone was impressed with the vigor and massive production of those plants. Unfortunately, the plants were purchased and had only a generic “plum tomato” label. She gave me seed she saved and I grew a six-pack for her and another for myself this winter. I planted four of my plants and gave two away. Since they are determinate, I used tomato cages but added a tomato stake for stability.
Next are two Sunkist, an F1 hybrid orange tomato exclusive to High Mowing Seeds. I grew these last year and they are terrific, producing lots of perfect, medium-size slicers, every one crack and blemish free. Flavor is good and they are very meaty. Plants are stocky and vigorous and last year they were one of the last to get hit by disease, which had gone down the row of heirlooms.
The final four plants in this row consist of a Celebrity, and one each of Jaune Flamme, Juliet and Sweet Treats, since I wanted to see how those do in soil versus the raised beds. Above is a photo of the Juliet. The Celebrity was a gift from another gardener. It is one I have wanted to try since it supposedly has good disease resistance. but unfortunately not to late blight. It is also a determinate, which I usually avoid because it is hard to train a determinate to a single leader, and it is prone to cracking when it rains.
In both gardens, planting holes were prepped with the same amendments: compost, Garden Tone, Chickity Doo Doo, kelp meal, rock dust, crab shell, and Plant Success Granular mychorrhizae. In addition, all plants got my soil drench treatment. It is raining for the next couple of days, but after that I will start spraying the plants with some preventative sprays, probably alternating Serenade with Actinovate, to build up a population of helpful bacteria on the leaves. Right now the leaves are a vibrant, healthy green without a yellow leaf or even a spot. It would be nice to keep it that way for as long as possible.