Tomato Talk

Tomatoes and friends

Tomatoes and friends

I exercised great restraint this year. I only chose 5 tomato varieties to grow from seed, and I only planted two of each kind in my vegetable garden, for a total of 10 plants. Compared to my younger, wilder days, that is a modest tomato planting, trust me.

Because I was being so restrained, I devoted a great deal of thought to my seed choices. I decided I couldn’t live without two varieties that have been consistently wonderful for me. One is a hybrid cherry tomato called Sweet Treats. Search my blog for that variety, and you’ll find plenty of reasons to appreciate my loyalty to this variety, including its resistance to a number of tomato diseases.

First fruits of Sweet Treats.

First fruits of Sweet Treats.

My other repeat choice was Goliath Early Hybrid, a member of the Goliath series of tomato varieties that I’ve found to be both early and wonderful. It is also resistant to just about every tomato disease out there, and it shows in the resiliently vigorous vines that usually top my 8-foot-tall trellis. Thus you can imagine my distress when the company I ordered from — Totally Tomatoes — substituted a completely different tomato without asking me, claiming a crop failure. Although I understand crop failures, Totally Tomatoes infuriated me by sending me a substitute without consulting me. Now on their Web site, they admit what they’re doing — that notice wasn’t up when I ordered. But even now if you search for the variety they substituted, you cannot find a description.

As far as I’m concerned, a company should always ask if substitutes are acceptable. When given that option, I always say no, because I want to decide what my Plan B will be, not some company that knows nothing about me and my garden needs.

The packet of Early Choice tomato seeds I received as an unwanted substitute offered no information about the variety. I have no idea what, if any, disease resistance this variety offers, but I’d bet big money it doesn’t match the disease resistance of the variety I actually ordered. Although my Early Choice plants look fine so far, I have grave misgivings about their staying power, because they have leaves that resemble potatoes (tomatoes are in the same plant family). All of the potato-leaved tomato varieties I know are heirloom types — delicious, but they fail fast, because they have no disease resistance. I want plants I can count on. In my climate, that means plants with disease resistance and flavor. I’ll let you know how this one turns out, but I will also tell you that I plan to never order seeds from this company again. They failed me with grafted tomatoes last year, and they failed me this year by substituting without asking my permission. Two strikes, and they are out. Luckily for me, they are not the only tomato seed company option available.

The other three tomato varieties I chose this year are determinate and new to me. For you tomato newbies, a determinate tomato grows to a set height, ripens all the fruits it has set, and then it’s done. Indeterminate varieties — Sweet Treats and Early Choice for me this year — just keep growing and producing until diseases or frosts kill them, whichever comes first. I chose determinate varieties because growing mostly indeterminants results in a messy, out-of-control trellis every year. I’m hoping that using determinants will give me more good-eating tomatoes with fewer disease issues. Time will tell.

First fruits of either Charger or Tasti-Lee. I can't tell from this photo.

First fruits of either Charger or Tasti-Lee. I can’t tell from this photo.

First up, Tasti-Lee Hybrid. I picked this one because it is supposed to contain 40% more lycopene than other varieties. This antioxidant has proven to be a nutritional powerhouse in a number of studies — and it’s supposed to have “true tomato flavor,” so I’m giving it a try. This one’s a bit of a gamble, because no disease resistance is listed.

The other slicing-type determinant variety I’m trying this year is extremely disease resistant. Charger Hybrid is supposed to be high-yielding with good flavor. It’s also crack-resistant; cracking is an issue when you get a lot of rain after a dry spell — something that happens in my summer gardens most years. The fruits absorb too much water too fast, and their rapid expansion causes them to crack.

I’ve been growing the same paste tomato for years — Viva Italia. But this winter when I was perusing my options, I decided to try a different variety. I don’t remember why, and my choice — La Roma III Hybrid, is actually somewhat less disease-resistant than Viva Italia. It may have been the fruit size. Viva Italia plants produce 3-oz fruits. La Roma III is supposed to produce 5-8-oz fruits. I may have been thinking I can make more tomato sauce faster with larger paste tomato fruits. I can tell you that, so far, the La Roma III plants are extremely vigorous, their growth habit more shrubby than vine-like. And their fruits are growing faster and larger than the other slicer varieties I’m growing.

La Roma III fruits are winning the size contest so far.

La Roma III fruits are winning the size contest so far.

I’m sure I’ve shared my tomato-growing tips in previous years, but to review briefly, I grow my plants from seed in my greenhouse. I usually start about six of each type, then transplant the ones that look most vigorous. Extra good-looking starts are shared with friends. I never have trouble finding good homes for them.

I try to wait until nighttime temperatures are remaining above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, because studies have shown that tomatoes exposed to temperatures lower than that are slightly less productive. This year, I waited as long as I could, but my transplants have definitely experienced a few nights when temperatures dropped into the upper 40s in my garden. They all look great, though.

When I transplant my tomatoes, I dig deep holes, so that the bottom leaf nodes end up buried when I fill in the holes. New roots sprout from the newly buried leaf nodes, providing even more nutrition conduits for the plants. I also add organic fertilizer especially formulated for tomatoes. My soil is wonderful, but this boost seems to generate optimal flowering and fruit set for me.

I’ve tried every tomato support system out there over my decades of tomato growing. For me, a trellis system works best. I can plant on both sides, being sure to space plants so that they aren’t directly opposite each other. Remember to sucker indeterminate plants to foil their attempts at world domination. But don’t sucker determinant plants. Because they don’t grow infinitely tall, all those side shoots are needed to produce a good fruit crop.

Water when rains don’t do it for you, then wait for the green globes to go red. This is the hardest part for me — the waiting. I should be eating cherry tomatoes by the middle of June, maybe even a bit sooner. The others will likely take a week or more longer.

But I should be up to my eyeballs in another fruit before the tomatoes are ready. My enormous blueberry bushes are loaded with a record fruit set. I see blueberry muffins, pies, cakes, pancakes, and jams in my future, along with handfuls of fresh fruit for instant snacking goodness. I’m so ready!

This year, there should be enough blueberries for me and the birds.

This year, there should be enough blueberries for me and the birds.

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  1. #1 by Marvin Baker on July 18, 2015 - 2:57 pm

    Our farm’s tomato crop of 1,000 large tomatoes is suffering a hardship because of the unknown substitution of our Early Goliath seed. We have been growing the seedlings since February, transplanting them into larger pots, hand planting the plants that are too large to plant with our tractor transplanting implement. We have made an invested in plastic mulch, drip lines, and hours of labor and it has resulted in a tomato that is not suited to our hot climate, does not taste near as well as the Early Goliath, and it a total waste of time and money and farm land. The substituted, Early Choice does not have the flavor, the production, heat tolerance, or the taste of the Early Goliath seed that we have been planting for years. From Totally Tomato we received a $5 coupon when we have lost thousands of dollars because they did not tell us they were substituting the Early Goliath. They wrote, “For 2015 Goliath Early orders, we initially shipped a variety called Early Choice, but mistakenly did not include information that we were making a substitution.” The former owner of Totally tomato has now started up a different company and I’m sure his devotion to his customers is the same for his new company as it WAS when he owned Totally Tomato. His company, Seeds N Such would be a good place to order seeds from.

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on July 18, 2015 - 4:08 pm

      I’m so sorry this happened to you, Mr. Baker. My Early Choice tomatoes also died fast without producing any noteworthy fruits. As it happens, I did find the company you recommend this past year, and that is the company from which I ordered my tomatoes this year. I was merely inconvenienced by the unprofessional behavior of Totally Tomatoes. Your livelihood was affected. That’s unforgivable, and if they had sent me a $5.00 coupon after what you went through, I’d have been tempted to mail it back to them with a note telling them where they could put it. I hope your future tomato crops are vastly more profitable for you.

      Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. #3 by Brandon Smith on July 9, 2017 - 10:59 am

    This IMHO is why it is such a joy to grow tomatoes. Despite our best efforts to control the strains we grow and…perhaps our attempts to repeat a previous years crop…we simply never know what we are going to get at harvest time. In my experience, every year is full of surprises. That is why each plant I start from seed or buy at the store and transplant…is a different variety. By planting a number of diverse types, you guarantee you have at least some success. If you are a control freak type and expect the exact same results from year to year…you can count on being disappointed on a regular basis. People put too much emphasis on the strain of tomato and not enough on the garden environment. I’ve learned that, if the soil is rich in nutrients, the moisture level maintained, and you are lucky to have the right amount of sunshine and temperatures…all strains of tomato will reward you with tasty fruits.

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