It’s easy for me to get carried away when purchasing seeds – my eyes are too big for my garden, so to speak. This applies to all seeds - but especially tomatoes. There are so many different kinds – cherry, salad, slicing, paste; so many different colours – red (of course), yellow, orange, black(ish); so many different sizes, not to mention the range of tastes & textures.
How to choose...how to choose???
It’s overwhelming – especially as now some seed houses are devoted almost exclusively to tomatoes. I want to say that this may actually be too much choice – But let’s be honest for a second - there's no such thing as too much choice when it comes to tomatoes....well, that's what I tell myself, anyway.
So back to my tomato saga. When I first built my raised beds 2 years ago, I didn’t have the time or set-up to start seeds indoors so I purchased plants from a local nursery. This nursery is a small, locally run place that only sold a handful of hybrid tomatoes from which I selected “Sweet 100”, “Early Girl Improved”, “Balls Beefsteak” & “Roma Paste”.
My tomatoes grew pretty well and I harvested over 23 lbs. of ripe tomatoes from 10 plants. For all you tomato growing gurus, I’m sure this is a mediocre harvest from that many plants – but for my 1st try in over 8 years, I was happy with it. And of course, some plants did better than others. The worst was the Roma Paste – I harvested only 13 small tomatoes from that plant. The most prolific plants, by far, were the Early Girl & Sweet 100.
|Early Girl Tomatoes - 2012 (excuse the bird poop)|
But, even though I was satisfied with the quantity, I was not impressed with the quality. I am trying to keep notes on all of the varieties I grow, especially when it comes to taste. The Sweet 100's were ok, but a bit on the sour side. My notes for Early Girl included the following comment: Taste is ok - not as flavourful as I would like - some have a bit of an unpleasant taste - kind of musty.
That was 2012. In 2013, I set up a corner of our basement so that I could grow my tomatoes from seed. This year, I told myself, I would only grow heirloom tomatoes – I wanted that great tomato flavour and the hybrids just didn’t seem to cut it.
I purchased some heirloom tomato seeds from 2 seed companies right here in Ontario - The Cottage Gardener and OSC Seeds ----- and then completely forgot to note the seed starting date on my calendar.
Next thing you know its late April & I realized that I haven’t sown my seeds yet (big slap to the head). Based on my last frost date, I should have sown them back in late March. So I was a month behind from the start. Well, I plunged ahead anyway and got them all sown on April 29th. The weather in early May was beautiful so I was all excited thinking that this was indicative of a wonderful summer ahead. And then BAM – we had one of the coolest & wettest starts to the growing season in years.
June felt more like early May with only a handful of days reaching 20°C (68°F). Then July came – it was hot but also very humid with lots of rain. A cool wet spring, followed by a hot humid summer – perfect conditions for fostering tomato diseases. One of the issues with heirlooms that I completely failed to take into account was disease resistance. Hello early blight & septoria leaf spot…
So what else did I do wrong? Well let’s see – how about the fact that I didn’t add any additional fertilizer besides compost to the bed (big slap to the head #2). I only realized later that tomatoes are very heavy feeders and I should have used a lot more fertilizer in that bed. I did dig in some chicken manure pellets half way through the season, which helped a bit, but I think it was probably a case of too little too late – my plants all looked pretty sad by the end of August.
And the final mistake I made - I was so excited about finally growing Brandywine tomatoes, which I kept hearing so much about, that almost half of my plants consisted of this variety. It never even dawned on me that they were a late maturing tomato, which of course was compounded by the late sowing. As we reached the end of August and I had yet to harvest a single Brandywine tomato, I realized the error of my ways – I’ll forgo that slap this time as my head is getting sore J.
Even though I still managed a small harvest (14 lbs. of ripe tomatoes from 9 plants), all in all, it was pretty much a tomato disaster year…
|A Very Sad Glacier Tomato Plant in August 2013|
So I walked away from the summer of 2013 with a few tomato lessons learned:
- Always include at least a couple of disease resistant hybrids
- Fertilize heavily (I only use organic fertilizers (low NPK), so "heavily" would still be fairly low compared to traditional fertilizers)
- When choosing varieties, remember to take into account whether they are early, mid-season or late varieties
- Be thankful - No matter how bad a year it is, a few beautiful tomatoes are better than none
So here we are, at the start of the season one year later, and I am about to start my tomato seeds – but more about that in Part 2….
Till next time…