Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Our Tomatoes

When you get to your "last frost date" it is time to plant your tomato seedling in the garden. I dig a small hole for each one, drop in a tiny bit of old dried chicken manure, fill the hole with water, insert the tomato plant, fill with soil and water again. This takes a bit of time but ensures that each plant has wet roots and some food. I feed them again after about a month in the garden. This year I am going to use compost/comfrey/manure tea for regular feedings.

When I plant the tomato seedlings, I plant them deep. Tomatoes will grow roots all along the stem underground, giving them a better root system from which to grow lots of delicious, heavy fruit. Pinch off all leaf growth that will be underground when you plant deep.

After you have planted your tomatoes in the garden, how much attention do you give them? The big question on the "net" seems to be whether or not to remove suckers. This determines how they are staked. If you don't remove the suckers and grow tomato bushes, you should probably use a cage.

You can make your own great cages with fencing or concrete reinforcing wire. Make them about 5' tall with lots of space. I had planned to do this with some fencing that I have but ended up needing the fencing for other things. I also had way too many tomato plants for this method anyway.

I remove the suckers and the bottom leaves. I also remove any leaves that cover or shade the developing fruit. Some people remove all the leaves on the plant as the fruit is developing, but I think the plant needs them to make food, so I leave as many as I can further up on the plant. It is important to remove the leaves that are near the ground to keep soil born pathogens like fungus from getting to the tomatoes. It doesn't prevent all of the problems but I think it helps.

I remove as many suckers as I can get while they are small. Sometimes they are quite large by the time I find them and some have flowers on them already. I leave those and just tie them to the wire with the main stem, so sometimes my tomatoes have 2-3 stalks. I take off the rest of the suckers. I use stakes with wire stretched tight between them to hold up my tomatoes. I have too many plants to provide a stake for each one and this is quick to put together.

I used the same stake/wire method for the cukes, two small 'Sweet Mama' squash and also for the sweet potatoes this year. Its an experiment. We'll see how that goes.

I planted a lot of our large Portugal "beef heart" tomatoes, around a dozen plants. These are huge, sweet and meaty. This type of tomato is called "beef heart" because of its size and shape. I got the seeds for these a few years ago in a seed trade. The ancestors (her Grandfather I think it was) brought them over with him from Portugal. I don't know the variety.

I also planted about a dozen 'San Marzano' tomatoes plants. They are from Italy and are reputed to be the best paste tomatoes in the world. I grew them last year and they were very good and dry with a thick wall which makes them good for paste. I didn't make paste or sauce with them last year, but this year I am going to.

I planted some new tomato types this year. One is Matt's Wild Cherry tomato. I hear good things about it and am looking forward to some great cherry tomatoes for salad!

I am also participating in a growout for a group. I am growing three tomatoes for testing and I have just a few plants of each kind. They are 'Spudakee', 'Indian Stripe', and 'Cowlick' tomatoes. Since I have never grown these before, they will be a surprise, a pleasant one, I am sure!

The last tomato type that I am growing is a grape tomato, grown from seed that I saved from some grape tomatoes I bought at the grocery store. I only grew a few of those. Since they were probably a hydrid, I have no way of knowing what will grow from the seed. I hope they turn out to be grape tomatoes. If I do get a good grape tomato plant, I will save some of those seeds, also, for next year. These grape tomatoes won't be heirloom tomatoes like all of the others and will probably be genetically modified too, but they will still be good. The Monsanto police might come knocking on my door and make me destroy them when they find out. I'll keep you posted!

While I am not a real hard-line stickler for heirloom vegetables, most of mine are. I aim for that. I just couldn't find a good heirloom grape tomato seed and I have this compulsion to plant every seed that crosses my path.

Tomato seeds are a bit complicated to save. The fruit has to be very ripe to the point of being far too soft and ripe to eat, almost rotten. You can even let it sit out and get rotten. The seeds will grow better if you do, it just looks bad on your kitchen counter. Make sure to put a note on it that says, "For seed. Do not throw out!" or someone might throw it in the trash or compost bin!

After you collect seeds from very ripe tomatoes, you need to put the seeds in some water in a little dish and let it sit for a few days until it ferments a bit. Then wash well, getting off all pulp, strain the clean seeds and dry thoroughly on a paper towel. Keep the clean, dry seeds in a paper envelope for a few months until they are completely dried out then put in an airtight container. Keep seeds in a cool dry place. A frige or freezer is a good place to keep tomato seeds for long term storage.

Another way to clean them well without fermenting is to use Comet cleanser, the blue powder in the round can. You know...the ordinary Comet cleanser our mother's used regularly. Take the seeds from a very ripe tomato and wash them with Comet, scrubbing off all the pulp. Rinse VERY well, strain and dry. This works. I have done it and successfully sprouted the seeds the following spring. I read this method on the "net".

Cucumber seeds need the same treatment as tomato seeds, either method will work.

This year I am going to can our tomatoes using my waterbath canner. I had it last year but just didn't have the time to use it. I worked full time off the farm last year and had to forego a lot of things I am going to do this year. I have the waterbath canner, I just need the strong shelves in the basement to hold the canned produce. I don't want those glass mason jars falling off on the cement floor in the basement, so secure shelving is wise. There is a huge and heavy wooden shelf in the garage that would be perfect for that, if hubby can be persuaded to let me have it. I might have to use my secret weapon - witholding pie!!

I am looking forward to seeing shelves full of our own canned produce this fall! A waterbath canner is used for a few things that don't require pressure. Most foods that are canned need a pressure canner and I do want to go down that road, as well. In the mean time I will use the waterbath canner for things that work well canned that way, like tomatoes, fruit in syrup and anything pickled with vinegar. Those are about the only things that can be canned with a waterbath canner. If it doesn't have a lot of acid or sugar, it need to be canned with pressure.

I want to make and can our own spaghetti sauce with our tomatoes also, but that needs pressure in canning because of the other vegetables in the sauce with the tomatoes, so I don't know if I will get there this year.

I don't have a pressure canner :-(


Its on my list...


Granny J said...

Great post. I find it interesting that there are so many different varieties of tomato plants.

Our ground here is so bad that I plant my tomatoes in buckets. I emtpy all my dirt at the end of the year, mix it together along with egg shells, coffee grounds and grass clippings and let it sit until the following spring, then I fill the buckets and start over. I'm going to make a bigger compost bin this year in preparation for filling raised beds next year.

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm said...

Sounds like you makae good soil! That's an idea I could use for potting soil. I make my own in the fall and put it in the basement so its not frozen in late winter when I need to start planting seeds. I might just do that too.

Good luck with the raised beds!

There are so many different types of tomatoes! Its astounding! I have grown a lot of different kinds but just stick to these few now, except for the ones I am testing.

VT Gardener said...

Great Blog! Thanks for the advice about seed saving. I started cannning last year and will seed save this year too. It is hard to explain the feeling of acomplishment that I get when I see all the jars lined up or when I hear the last "pop" and know that all my jars have sealed correctly.
I too am growing mostly heirloom veggies. Maybe we could do a seed exchange? I would LOVE to try some of those beautiful heart shaped tomatoes from Portugal...I am growing green zebras, caspian pinks (one of my favorite varieties) black cherry, sungold, and huge lemon oxheart....
Let me know if you are interested!

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm said...

I am always interested in a seed Exchange! I am not looking for any more tomato varieties, unless you have a good heirloom grape tomato variety?

I am also happy to send you some seed if you send me an SASBE.

I am always looking for other veggies, however. I want to grow lemon cucumbers next year. Would you happen to grow those? Or yellow pole beans?

I am also looking for tobacco seed, the smoking kind, not nicotiana.

icebear said...

Hi Sheryl, for smoking tobacco, Pinetree Garden Seeds has a pretty good selection :

unless you were looking to exchange seeds with fellow gardeners instead of buy them, but i thought i'd mention it. I have some of their Aztec Tobacco seeds left from 2008. I store seeds carefully, it might be fun to swap for seeds of those lovely looking paste tomatoes.
Let me know and i'll see how many i have left, they are dust size seeds.

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm said...

Hi icebear! I am hoping to save my own seeds for tobacco this year.

I also have some Aztec nicotiana seeds and they are great! I have pink, purple and red too. Unfortunately, I have abstained from planting ornamental tobacco since I am growing Virginia Gold for smoking and don't want them to cross pollinate.

Thank you so much for the offer! I will be happy to trade you some paste tomato seeds but don't need the Aztec nicotiana.

Here are some seeds that I think I will need to get next year. I am happy to trade for any of these. I will probably have some more to add to it before next spring.
lemon cucumbers
pole beans
hot peppers
sweet red tomatillos

I am trying very hard not to accumulate so many seeds that I can't possibly plant them all.

I may also have these seeds for sale on my blog starting this fall.