Tomatoes in the Garden
I already had some small-sized tomatoes in my Winter/Spring garden and I mused on which of the larger tomato variety would set fruit first. I speculated it would be between Big Boy and Early Girl.
I have some surprising (to me) updates. And yes, I do plan to have a video walk-through, but I thought I’d wait until I actually had a little more going on — it’s always nice to be able to show larger tomatoes, rather than have to get super-close for the itty-bitty ones.
My first update is that I have my Isis Candy cherry tomatoes in the garden — I finally got around to taking them off my windowsill and into larger (temporary) pots in the garden. I actually ended up with four plants, instead of the three I mentioned before. But — I still do plan on an experiment when they get into their final homes.
The experiment involves two new humic acid products — TeraVite and Extreme Blend. I keep hearing that humic acid will help your plants (of all kinds) grow bigger, stronger, etc. So — may as well put them to the test! I was only expecting three I. Candy plants to grow large enough, soon enough. But…with four plants, I may throw in another test — one plant may get Miracle-Gro (I have a ton of it leftover, so may as well use it up) and the final plant will be the control.
Should be interesting!
I mentioned previously that my Black Cherry tomato plant was just languishing — wasn’t dying, wasn’t growing — just looking like it did when I planted it. Of course, a couple days after I said that, what do I see? The plant has taken off! It was so sudden that I wondered if someone had come in the middle of the night and put a new plant in its place.
(The “secret sauce” is worm compost tea, which I’ll talk about in another post.)
Another surprise was Big Beef. It had been going gangbusters, until I had to transplant it to another pot (which had been invaded by fire ants). It seemed to be OK at first, then just stopped in its tracks.
I guess the worm compost tea did some magic on it as well, as I see a small ‘mater on it — woo hoo!
I am very much looking forward to having some homegrown tomatoes. I have some lettuce growing (which has been delicious), but I need some delicious tomatoes, too! It’s hard to wait, but with any luck, the first of the cherry tomatoes will start ripening within about 10 days.
Tomatoes like well-drained soil, and they generally like it to be moist, but not wet. However, they also need to keep their leaves dry, so as to keep soil-borne bacteria off them. Tomatoes also don’t like to keep bouncing back and forth between dry and wet – especially when they are fruiting.
Growing tomatoes in containers make all the above a little more difficult, especially in the summer when it’s hot. But there is a way to help keep the soil more evenly moist, not to mention help to keep the leaves dry.
Mulch is a Gardening Must-Have
Mulch is an excellent idea for all kinds of gardening, both traditional in-ground as well as raised beds and containers. It serves to cut down on weeds, keep the roots cool in the summer and also helps to keep the soil more evenly moist. And of course, it keeps soil off the leaves of the plants, which helps to keep them healthier.
Kinds of Mulch
There are all kinds of mulching material. Some of the most popular are:
- Hay or Straw
- Landscape Cloth
- Wood Chips
- Newspaper or Cardboard
Each has pros and cons, and it all depends on your needs and your wallet as to which is best for your garden. Let’s take a look at them.
Hay and/or Straw: This is a relatively inexpensive option; where I live, a bale of decent hay is about $9, and that covers all my containers with a thick layer of mulch. It’s also a great filler for my large 20 and 25 gallon containers — they use a lot of potting mix, and by putting a layer three or four inches thick at the bottom allows for additional drainage and less potting mix. Not to mention it eventually composts down itself. The biggest con is that if you have a small container garden, a bale of hay will be way too much for you to use up.
Landscape Cloth: This is a nice option if you like a clean look to your garden. It comes in rolls that are 3 or 4 feet wide, and anywhere from 50 to 300 feet long. Look for landscape cloth that is permeable — it lets water through — and check to see if it’s at least a “15 year” ground cloth. Not that it will actually last 15 years, but you should be able to get several years from it — I have some that is 4 years old and still going strong. The biggest con is that you also need to weight down the cloth somehow. The best way is to use earth staples — U-shaped thick metal wire usually about 6 inches long. You’ll need to “staple” the cloth into the ground every 6 to 12 inches. Kind of a pain, but once you have it in, it’s pretty maintenance-free. I use it mainly for weed suppression around the garden, but you can cut an X in the cloth, peel back the edges and plant your tomatoes in the soil. Just don’t put earth staples near the roots!
Wood Chips: This is the mulch you see at the big box stores, in the large bags. Inexpensive, so if you have a large area to cover, it can be fairly economical. Just be careful you don’t get the really big chips, as they are better for things like trees — and they also tend to attract bugs. The smaller chips or shredded ones are better for the veggies, and there is less of a bug issue. Don’t choose the ones that are colored — yes, the colored chips are pretty but the fewer extra chemicals in the garden, the better. And of course, wood chips eventually do compost down after a few years. I used wood chips way back in the beginning of my gardening, but I like to go barefoot, and wood chips were uncomfortable to walk on (since I also used them for weed suppression in addition for mulching the ‘maters).
Newspaper or Cardboard: If you have a small container garden, this may be your least expensive option. For a container garden, I would suggest you shred your newspaper (all but the shiny insert pages) and use it that way. For a traditional garden, you can lay out sheets — I suggest at least three sheets thick. You can also use cardboard, but it’s better for weed suppression (unless you have some thin cardboard — then use it like newspaper). Very inexpensive. The only issue is that if you use sheets, you will need to weight them down, at least until they start integrating (i.e. discomposing) with the soil. No newspaper? Yep, use regular printer paper, or even your shredded bills — put ’em to use!
Whatever Mulch You Choose…
…use it! Here’s the way I use it, to help keep the soil moist. Water the plants about half as much as usual, then add the mulch. Finish by watering in some more, wetting the mulch thoroughly. I water the plants less often, but when I do, I water them deeply. My goal is to have my plants get a nice deep root system, so that they are less susceptible to drying out. And the bonus is that I don’t have to water every day, unless it’s extremely hot and there hasn’t been any rain.
A week or so after the initial mulching, I like to add a little more, and again, water it in. I also trim back the bottom leaves, so that none are resting directly on the mulch.
Choose the mulch best for you!
The Black Prince tomato variety is a bit on the unusual side. First, it’s a very different shade — neither red nor black.
Next, it’s more of an oval shape, instead of round or beefsteak or even the standard “paste tomato” shape.
The picture you see here is one Black Prince tomato that’s pretty well ripe; you can see that it’s more of a mahogany color, rather than red or black.
The shape isn’t showing really well in this photo; it kind of looks like an oxheart shape, and it’s not.
The Black Prince variety is an heirloom tomato and comes to us from Russia, so it’s a fairly early tomato. In my Fall garden, it was the first to ripen fruits.
The plant itself is a little on the wimpy side, without a lot of leaves or stems. However, I have been impressed with the yield, which has been very nice indeed
How about a photo of one that’s still on the vine (albeit not quite ripe yet)?
This is in the sunshine, so the color is lighter, and once again, it’s not ripe. You might notice that it has “green shoulders” at the moment — the green mostly disappears as it gets fully ripe, but a greenish cast does remain.
Black Prince — Tomato Eating Time!
Here’s the big question…how does Black Prince taste?
I’m happy to say that the taste is very good. While some people say black tomatoes taste “smokey”, I didn’t find that to be true. Instead, it was a rich tomato taste – yum!
The flesh is a little soft, as with most varieties of black tomatoes, but reasonably firm nonetheless. There is a good mix of juice and flesh — not a dry tomato at all!
I’m glad that I grew Black Prince seeds in my Fall garden, and I look forward to a continued harvest, until frost (probably January for me).
So it’s Spring 2010 and tomato plants are a growin’! I thought I’d make a video of a walk in part of my tomato garden, instead of just talking about it. Hope you enjoy!
And here’s the same garden, two weeks later!
SuperSweet 100 cherry tomatoes are fun to grow. And what’s really nice is that the cherry tomatoes they produce are nice and true to their name – sweet!
A Little About SuperSweet 100
This particular tomato is an improved variety over Sweet 100. And supposedly a relative of Sweet Million. It’s a hybrid tomato, so plants grown from the seeds won’t necessarily breed true. Although I do believe I will try it anyway! I’m curious to see what I’ll get next season.
The SuperSweet 100 plant in the photo (and you can click the photo for a larger picture) has the cherry tomatoes just starting to turn red. It will be interesting to look at when more of the fruits start ripening.
This particular plant is a survivor! It’s made it through nights in the 30’s, being nibbled on by rabbits and being blown down in high winds. It’s also not growing in the best part of the garden, so it’s got a lot going against it. But it doesn’t seem to matter; it keeps putting out flowers, and nearly every blossom sets fruit.
SuperSweet 100 is an indeterminate plant with regular leaves.
Growing Cherry Tomatoes
One nice thing about the SuperSweet 100 is that it’s a cherry tomato of a perfect size for your mouth, at about 3/4″ to about 1″ in size. I have mine growing in the ground, but I think they’d grow fine in a large container on the patio. For a true bounty, I’d use a 10-gallon container.
You will need to stake this plant. Mine is on a 5.5′ stake, which would probably also be OK for a container. If it was in the good part of the garden, I’d rather use a 7′ stake.
SuperSweet 100 is a fantastic “garden candy” — great for popping in your mouth while working in the garden. Actually, so far this season, none of the ripe fruits have made it to the table — I’ve munched them while out in the yard. Soon enough, though, there will be plenty to eat outside and bring into the house for salads.