Tomatoes 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.
You 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).
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.
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.