Archive for the ‘Heirloom Tomatoes’ Category

Garden Update – Tomato Explosion!

It’s the end of March, and the tomato plants are growing and blossoming and producing LOTS of tomatoes!  But along with my successes, I’ve had a failure as well.  Come on and let’s take the tour!

Big Beef – Wow!

Big Beef Tomato 2016 03 31My Big Beef tomato plant has gone through some tough times, what with multiple multiple transplantings, an ant invasion and losing some foliage.  It did set a tomato shortly after Big Boy and Early Girl, and it has far outstripped those plants!  It’s got the biggest tomato in the garden, and it is getting bigger every day.

Big Beef is a hybrid tomato, and produces red beefsteak-type fruits.  I can’t wait to taste it when it ripens!

Black Cherry – Finally Hit Its Stride

Black Cherry Tomatoes 2016 03 31My Black Cherry tomato plant took quite awhile to do anything.  For several weeks it just sat in its pot and didn’t grow – not until I gave it a drink of worm compost tea.  That perked it up, and now it’s flowering and producing cherry tomatoes with abandon.  Black Cherry is an open-pollinated tomato plant (although sometimes it’s classed as an heirloom).

I’ve tried growing Black Cherry in the past, but one year almost my whole garden was decimated by hornworms – including Black Cherry.  Another year I got rained out before I really got the plants started — that was my fault for starting so late.  I am very much looking forward to the cherry tomatoes, as they are supposed to taste heavenly!

Better Bush

Better Bush Plant 2016 03 31This is such a pretty plant – I love the rugose foliage and deep green color of the leaves.  Better Bush is a determinate – the only one I have in the garden at the moment.  It’s not a large plant at all, but it’s loaded with fruits.  The tomatoes don’t get to be very large; maybe in the 3 to 4 ounce size range — but they are abundant.  Better Bush is a hybrid.

I’ve  grown this tomato variety in the past and it never fails to give me a nice harvest. It might not look it in the photo, but the plant actually has lots of tomatoes.

Maybe they aren’t the biggest tomatoes, but nevertheless they taste great when fully ripe.  Yum!

Red Beefsteak

Reg Beefsteak North 1 2016 03 31I have two of these open-pollinated tomato plants, and they are gorgeous at the moment — big and lush and full of both tomatoes and blossoms.  One is doing slightly better than the other, but not by much.  Even though they are container-grown, these should give me some 12 ounce to maybe a pound beefsteak-type red tomatoes.  A lot of them.  😉

This plant in the photo, as well as its sibling, have reached the top of the cage already, and I have about 6 to 8 weeks of decent growing weather left (after which it gets super-hot).  I expect that it will keep growing during the summer; I just don’t know how well (or if) it will produce fruit then.

BTW, having grown both in-ground and in large containers, I can say it’s a fallacy that you can’t get a good harvest of big tomatoes from a container tomato plant.  But more about that in another post.

And the Big Disappointment….

Big Boy and Early Girl ran into a problem a couple of weeks ago — they got waterlogged.  Between me getting a little over-zealous with watering, a plastic mulch cover that kept in the moisture and cooler temps, the plants were almost swimming.  I corrected the situation, but they looked really sad — even though they both still had tomatoes.  Both plants are hybrids.

Since then, Early Girl has perked up some; she’s put out new suckers, started flowering more and also setting more tomatoes.  She still looks spindly but seems to be coming back from her near-drowning experience.

But Big Boy…I don’t think he’s long for this world.  Almost overnight it’s developed what looks like rust on its leaves.  Granted, we have had a lot of rain in the past week, but none of the other plants are reacting this way.

I’ll try some mild organic fungicide, but if it’s not showing signs of improvement in the next few days — out Big Boy comes, tomatoes or not.  I have plenty of other tomato plants at the moment, so losing one isn’t the end of the world.

What’s Up Next?

In the next garden update, I’ll talk about the trials and tribulations of Juliet, and how Cherokee Purple and Husky Cherry Red are doing.  Plus — I have the Isis Candy Cherry “wannabes” in the garden, and they are growing like there is no tomorrow.  I’ll talk more about the experiment I plan to run on two of them, to see if some new organic supplements live up to their claims.

What’s in the 2016 Spring Garden?

Earthbox with Tomato Plants2016 02 23Tomatoes get planted early here in my part of Florida.  Unfortunately, I got a really late start this year, so the majority of my plants are starts that I bought from various garden centers.  Not that using starts are bad — they are actually quite convenient.  There just isn’t a really big selection of tomato varieties.  So what do I have in my February garden?

Tomatoes on Parade

I have the following tomato varieties in my late winter / early spring garden; they are a mix of heirloom, open-pollinated and hybrid:

  • Big Boy – Indeterminate
  • Early Girl – Indeterminate
  • Big Beef – Indeterminate
  • Black Cherry – Indeterminate
  • Cherokee Purple – Indeterminate
  • Red Beefsteak – Indeterminate
  • Juliet – Indeterminate
  • Husky Red Cherry – Semi-determinate
  • Better Bush – Determinate

I also have three Isis Candy Cherry wannabes that I did start from seed — but more about them later.

Containers or In-Ground?

Everything is in a container now; I don’t do any in-ground gardens anymore.  I have a dedicated area of the yard (i.e., where my old in-ground garden was) that I have overlaid with landscape fabric and placed my containers.

I did have a greenhouse of sorts, but the covering (kind of a translucent tarp material) had the seams disintegrate in a storm.  While that may seem like bad luck, it’s actually good.  The “bones” (the steel frame) of the greenhouse are in excellent condition, so I am using it for hanging planters.  It’s great for strawberries and orchids!  The frame is also great for strapping on really large stakes that I can use to support my tomatoes — I just park the tomato container in front of the stakes.

I’ll take some photos of the garden area, once I get it a little more cleaned up.  I am afraid I let part of the garden area go au naturale for a little too long, so I have about a 150 square foot area that needs some serious TLC.  Oops!

Kinds of Containers

I have quite the mix this year!  I have one Earthbox, one “City Pickers” container (kind of like an inexpensive Earthbox), some fabric grow bags, and then some standard plastic pots.

Better Bush Tomato Plant 2016-02-23You can see my Earthbox in the photo at the top of the page.  I have my Big Boy plant on the left, and the Early Girl on the right.  I did use the Earthbox for the first time during my last tomato-growing season, and I must admit, it works really well.  Unfortunately, my plants expired due to a combination of heat and insects (both of which were much worse than usual).  Then again, all my plants had the same fate, no matter what kind of container they were in!  (I was just able to get in a small harvest from my Earthbox plants because they did better.)

If I had the money, I’d convert everything to either Earthboxes or the fabric grow bags.  One of my grow bags is to the left, holding my Better Bush plant.  However, seeing as I have a ton of regular plastic pots that are in perfectly fine condition, I’d rather spend any extra dollars on soil amendments and/or fertilizers (all organic).

What’s New?

I bought some insect screening to drape over the plants, as well as some 6-foot bamboo poles.  I have some new soil/plant amendments that I am trying out — and I will use my Isis Candy Cherry wannabe plants for some experiments to see what kind of differences (if any) there are between the various amendments.  I also have two Red Beefsteak plants where I have another experiment running.

Stay tuned!

I am also retiring my old method of tying up the tomato vines.  I used to use cut-up strips of old (but clean!) pantyhose, but I am moving to plant clips and flexible padded wire.  While I do have some tomato cages, the plants inevitably migrate outside the cages on either the sides, the top or both!  So cages or not, I need to support branches with a heavy fruit load.

To Prune or Not?

And finally, I am trying some different methods of pruning the plants.  Traditionally I have done minimal (which means barely any) pruning.

This year, I will be pruning off a lot of the suckers off some plants, do some heavy pruning of at least one staked plant, and then do my normal method on the others.

I also have one plant that I plan to let just do its thing — no caging, staking or pruning.  It’s the Juliet tomato.  I actually bought it to be a “sacrificial” plant, so the bunnies and the birds would have a little something.  Juliet is a grape cherry tomato, but it’s not one of my favorites.  Well, at least it wasn’t when I last grew it.  I like tomatoes with a more assertive taste, and Juliet was just a little too mild for me.  But I have to admit — Juliet produces its fruit with absolute abandon!  And who knows, it might be a much better year for Juliet in my garden — we’ll see.

Heirloom Tomato Report

I thought I’d update you with an heirloom tomato report, on how these wonderful plants are growing in the garden.  I’ve had extremely unsettled weather from January through last week (beginning of March) and the tomatoes have taken it with differing results.  Here’s a homegrown heirloom tomato report!

Heirloom Tomatoes in the Garden

First, in case you aren’t aware, I am in South Florida.  Although my winters have been pretty mild in the recent past, it was a cold one this year, with several freezes.   Last week’s temperature dip into the 30’s didn’t help matters.  But it’s warming up now, and the plants look happier.

Here’s a list of the heirloom tomatoes currently in the garden:

  • Black Sea Man:  Determinate, black fruit
  • Brandywine:  Indeterminate, pink fruit
  • Druzba:  Indeterminate, red fruit
  • Eva Purple Ball:  Indeterminate, dark pink fruit
  • Kelloggs Breakfast:  Indeterminate, orange fruit
  • Loxahatchee:  Semi-determinate, red fruit
  • Mr. Stripey:  Indeterminate, bicolor yellow/red fruit
  • Pineapple:  Indeterminate, bicolor yellow/red fruit
  • Prudens Purple:  Indeterminate, dark pink fruit
  • White Bush:  Determinate, white fruit

And here are the heirloom plants that (sadly) succumbed to one of the freezes:

  • Big Rainbow:  Indeterminate, bicolor yellow/red fruit
  • Green Zebra:  Indeterminate, green striped fruit
  • Yellow Cherry:  Indeterminate, yellow fruit

That’s not too bad, though — just three that are more temperature-sensitive. 

Last Week’s Cold Snap

Almost all the plants got nipped by the dip into the 30’s last week.  Green Zebra was the only casualty, but all the other plants except two showed signs of stress and/or what I call “freezer burn” on some leaves.

The two heirloom tomato varieties that came through totally unscathed were Loxahatchee and White Bush.   Both acted as if the cold snap never happened.  Unfortunately, White Bush doesn’t seem to be in circulation anymore (couldn’t find any seeds for sale) and Loxahatchee is from my own heirloom breeding program, and I don’t have enough seeds to offer for sale at the moment.

Heirloom Tomatoes — Who’s Blooming?

Mr. Stripey is the only one with tomatoes and blossoms, but that’s the one variety I bought as a plant; all the rest I have grown from seed.

None if the seed-grown plants are actually in full blossom at the moment, but about half have small (and in Brandywine’s case, not so small) blossom buds.  So far, I expect Brandywine to have the first open blossoms, probably by Saturday.

The heirloom tomato plants that aren’t showing blossom buds, like Druzba and Pruden’s Purple, are just too young yet (I just put them in the garden a few days ago).   I plant my tomatoes is waves, hoping to extend the season.  While it doesn’t always work (sometimes they all stubbornly decide to ripen at the same time no matter what I do), sometimes I get lucky.

I’ll be taking some photos this weekend of the various heirloom tomato plants.  I’ll also be updating The Great Tomato Experiment report.  Meanwhile, you can take a look at other posts I’ve written on heirloom tomatoes.

See you then!

Tomato Seeds

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