Monday, January 20, 2014

the tomato experiment for 2014

The plans for the 2014 garden are starting to come together.  Yesterday Nikole and I completed our seed list and Nikole ordered our seeds from Johnny's Seeds.  We had ordered there last year and had good success with the seeds that came from there.  We had only one little snafu and even that turned out okay.  We got to try a great paste tomato when the packet that we received was what we ordered but the seeds inside were a different variety.  The seeds should ship tomorrow and I imagine will arrive this week.  They it will be the fun of deciding what to plant where and when to start the seeds in the greenhouse for transplanting in the spring.

So we ordered a lot of the same varieties as last year along with a few new ones.  We are trying a second heirloom tomato and a second paste tomato this year.  We were so happy with the tomatoes that we grew last year that we are doing those again.  The Big Beef tomatoes were a hybrid so we ordered them again.  Last fall I saved seeds from our heirlooms which is a process that I have not tried before.  I decided to try to plant a few of the saved seeds before we got our order ready to see if our seeds were viable and right now I have baby seedlings under the grow light set up in Caitlin's bedroom.  We actually had a decent germination.  Not every seed that I planted sprouted at the same time but all of the brandywine and the pastes have germinated and half of the cherry tomatoes have sprouted so far.  The cherries were later to start with so I have not given up on them yet.  It will be a good chance to see if we can get a head start on the growing season by putting them in the greenhouse when it is pretty much done with freezing and we have longer days.

nine cells of each variety
planted three varieties

some cells got more than one seed
 So this year our plans are to have these tomatoes:

Big Beef  Johnny's describes this in their online catalog as 'nice combination of size, taste and earliness' and they are right.  They have good flavor and they were the first of our four varieties to fruit and the fruits most of the season were about the size of a baseball.  The stragglers at the end of the season were a little smaller.  I grew these on two sides of a fence with about eight or nine plants on each side in a row of about 20 feet and they got great yields.  these are supposed to be an indeterminate type of tomato but our plants stayed pretty small.  I tied them to the fence and they did well.  I am not sure if they would have done even better given more room per plant.  I might try a two rows, some with larger spacing  and compare the yields.  We used them for fresh eating and mixed with other tomatoes for stewed tomatoes in the canner. 

Brandywine  This is an heirloom that we grew last year and is a pink tomato.  Our biggest tomatoes that we grew were the brandywines although there was a great variety of size in the tomatoes.  I planted these in two rows with tomato cages.  I used the cages that I had and some were the larger cages and some were the smaller cages and none of them really contained these tomatoes.  The plants  were long and sprawling and tipped over the cages.  This year I will try them on a tall trellis and see how they do.  I also will need to do some research on pruning.  I had the most problems with picnic bugs on these tomatoes and that was probably my fault.  I expected these tomatoes to get darker and so the earliest ones stayed on the vine instead of being picked when first ripe.  It was a challenge to pick them and I feel that I have learned a valuable lesson about tomato growing so this year I will spread the tomato rows out and do a much better job of trellising.  I saved the seeds from a few of these tomatoes and will be using the saved seed for these.

Matt's Wild Cherry was the cherry tomato that we planted last year and I planted two rows side by side.  These are another heirloom indeterminate tomato.  I did not get them caged and ended up with a massive hedge that was  20 feet long and 5 or 6 feet wide.  It was nearly impossible to pick except along the edges.  The tomatoes were great.  They grew in little clusters like grapes and were the size of smallish grapes.  They had the most marvelous flavor.  They were very prolific bearing until killed by a hard frost.  I will definitely grow these again except they will be on a heavy trellis and I will limit myself to fewer plants and not plant them next to another row of tomatoes.  I save seed from last year and the saved seeds are part of my group of tomatoes under the lights.

Amish Paste tomatoes were the variety we ordered last year.  We got a packet labeled Amish paste but when the tomatoes ripened they were red with yellow stripes and looked exactly like Johnny's picture if a tomato called Speckled Roman.  We have ordered them again and look forward to a row of these.  They are described as being large for a sauce tomato and a long time favorite so I am excited to try them.

Speckled Roman is the striped paste variety that I am pretty sure we had last year.  They were great, produces a lot of good sized, good tasting tomatoes.  We made some into fresh salsa and salads and a lot were combined with other of our tomatoes in the stewed tomatoes and sauce that I canned.  These are listed on one of Johnny's catalog chart as an heirloom so I saved seeds from a couple of the larger tomatoes at the end of the season and  a few of these are also under the grow lights. 

Rose is the new heirloom that we will be growing.  It is described as meaty and flavorful and good yielding.  It is said to rival brandywine for flavor.  Where brandywine has bigger 'shoulders' and creases the Rose in the catalog picture is smoother.  Both are a pink tomato.

Our tomato experiment is two-fold.  We started some seeds way too early for regular transplanting into the summer garden.  In fact the growing information in Johnny's catalog specifically discourages too early planting but we started ours to see if our saved seed is viable and now that we have the plants started it will be interesting to see how they do.  Can we get them big enough in the greenhouse and transplant them successfully into the garden?  If we put them in containers can we move the containers outside when the weather is right and not have to transplant them?  It will be fun to see how it goes.  


  1. So I was thinking about the massive crazy Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes, which are, as you said, quite delicious! However, they don't tend to survive harvest very well. I think the solution might be to cut the tomatoes off in bunches, like grapes, so you don't wreck the fruit? I can't imagine it will harm the plant too much since they are so huge.

    Regarding the starting of tomatoes early - I've read that before too. If the root systems are too developed, they have pretty major transplant shock, but I think we could leave them in the containers though.

    1. I agree with both of your suggestions. I think that if we get the tomatoes in containers and don't transplant them but just move them outside when it is safe that we might have a better chance. And it is not as if it will be the only chance we have to grow tomatoes.