My Precious Tomatoes

A rainbow of fall tomatoes.

My compulsion to garden began with my quest to grow an abundance of tomatoes. I didn’t even like tomatoes until I was about 22 years old. The first time I remember loving the flavor of a freshly-picked, salted tomato was when I lived in Chicago working my first post-college job. I visited friends in Champagne one weekend and bought tomatoes at the farmers’ market. That first bite of beautifully ripe tomato was like heaven on a plate and since then I’ve been hooked. Two years after that tasty bite, I moved to Michigan—where the climate is just right for tomato growing.

My first garden was a success in Michigan, which has a much milder climate than North Central Texas. The harsh Texas summers and drought conditions make gardening a challenge. I decided to approach the objective from a different angle by looking for the best-performing vegetable varieties for my area.

I consulted the Texas Agri-Life Extension Service’s list of recommendations but only found a few tomato varieties for sale at local vendors– Celebrity, Beefsteak and Big Boy are the most commonly available. So I started looking to seed sources and catalogs, hoping to find varieties that would grow well where I lived. Over the last few years, I’ve amassed quite an assortment of seed stock and catalogs. The more I learned about the plentiful tomato varieties, the more intrigued I became with open-pollinated and heirloom varieties of all plants, not just tomatoes.

Peppers: Jalapenos and Serranos

Even though Texas “technically” has a long growing season, the hottest part of the summer is about keeping things alive, not producing. So really we have two short growing seasons with fall being best of all. In the spring I try to grow bush-type tomatoes that ripens (55-70 days) all at once. In July I pull the spent vines and start seeds in the same beds. What sprouts and makes it will produce the best fall fruit. If a volunteer tomato comes up, I let it grow. Every time I’ve done that, it’s produced the most awesome fruit.

After three trial-and-error growing seasons of starting tomatoes from seed, I’ve found that Porter and Porter Improved are the top performing tomato cultivars in my backyard; Willhite Seed has the highest germination rate of all the sources I’ve used; and when a volunteer tomato plant starts growing, let it grow because you will be rewarded for it.

My favorite resources:

Texas Agri-Life Extension http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ — a great resource for all Texas gardeners. If you live in a different state, look for your local extension service. It will be affiliated with the land grant university in your state (Auburn, Michigan State, University of Illinois, Purdue, Texas A&M, etc.)

Willhite Seed
www.willhiteseed.com – everything I’ve ever grown from this supplier has been top notch. They breed their own watermelon seeds! The first year I grew their Porter tomatoes, I had a 98 percent germination rate – that is quality seed!

Botanical Interests
www.botanicalinterests.com – this company is part of the coalition of non-GMO growers and suppliers of seed. They have the best information on their seed packets – tons of information about each variety and cultivar.

Totally Tomatoes
www.totallytomato.com – the 2013 growing season is the first year I’ve used seeds from this supplier. So far so good. They have the most comprehensive selection of tomatoes I’ve ever seen. They also have a wonderful selection of other seeds, especially night shade plants (tomatoes are part of the night shade family).

RH Shumway
www.rhshumway.com – this company has the coolest retro-style catalogue and is one of the best sources for beans. 2013 is the first growing season I’ve used this seed provider. The germination rate has been excellent. It will be awhile before I can report on production.

Victory Seeds www.victoryseeds.com – one of the best sources for open-pollinated and heirloom seeds that grow in most parts of the United States. They produce their own seeds and are a non-GMO seed source.

Baker Creek (rare seeds) www.rareseeds.com – another comprehensive source for heirloom, open-pollinated and non-GMO seeds. I have not grown any seed from this supplier but they have great reviews.

The Garden is Calling

The Garden is calling me … I received two new seed catalogs. Yea!

All kinds of organic, heirloom and hybrid varieties.

Other cool garden accessories and products…

For tonight … that’s all I got. Been burning the candle from both ends this week, but  I’ll be dreaming about the garden tonight. [Also I am having terrible writer’s block. Sometimes this is as good as it gets.]

Tomato Tutorial: Determinate v. Indeterminate

Tomato Tutorial: Determinate v. Indeterminate

Determinate or indeterminate, who knew?

 

 

 

If you start paying attention to the info on the back of seed packages or catalogue descriptions you will start to notice one of two words showing up. Determinate or Indeterminate.

Until recently, I would just shrug not understanding what that was all about. Occasionally you will see semi-determinate, which is usually an heirloom cultivar. However the classification is similar to pole beans or bush beans.

 

What’s the difference?

Determinate= a bush-type plant, meaning that the plant has a “determinate” height. It will grow to a point then will stop growing up. All new growth will then take place from side-shoots off the main stem. And the plant will be bushy. These plants usually set fruit and ripen in a concentrated span of time, making this a great type if you want to can tomatoes.

Growing determinate plants: use a tomato cage, a good sturdy one, it might be helpful to also put a stake near the main stem and tie the stem to it. It will keep the plant from toppling over when its heavy with fruit.

Sturdy tomato cage.

Indeterminate= vine-type plant. This is a tomato that will continue to grow and has an “indeterminate” height. These can be unruly, if not staked and caged well. For those of you in Texas you know what I mean. In August the tomato vines will be heavy and 10 feet tall and still growing. And you will be looking at this profuse vine thinking “what am I supposed to do with this?” These types set fruit and ripen continuously, so you have an ongoing supply of tomatoes from the vine.

Growing indeterminate plants: use a very tall stake or tomato ladder so the vines can grow up. This helps to keep the fruit off the ground which leads to a whole other set of problems.

I’ve also been known to drive in a T-post and use in conjunction with a cage. When the vines get too heavy for the cage to support it, the T-post will prop the cage up. T-posts are in abundance on the ranch because we use them to build barbed-wire fences.

An example of using a T-post with a cage (this is not my garden, BTW)

One type is not better than the other, but it’s helpful to know what kind you are growing when planning your garden. You can select specific types depending on what you want to accomplish or the planting space you have available. Personally I like a variety of both in my garden. I have a small raised-bed garden at my house and a large plot in our family garden out at the ranch. In my small home garden I’ve planted a variety of both indeterminate and determinate tomatoes.

The determinate types will suit my purposes better at home because they are compact plants and will ripen in a concentrated period of time. I can harvest my main tomato crop, then move on to my next crop and get the most out of my small garden. I’m also hoping to have enough come off at one time to can (aka put up) my crop.

Canned tomatoes

At our ranch plot, I’ve got more indeterminate varieties because we have much more space and can provide plenty of room for the plants to spread out. I’m hoping the indeterminates can provide a just-in-time regular delivery of homegrown tomatoes to eat throughout the season.

One last note about growing tomatoes in Texas: think of growing tomatoes in 2 shorter growing seasons, instead of one long season. Tomatoes will take a hiatus from mid-July to late August when it’s too hot. In fact, most tomatoes will not set fruit when overnight temps reach 80-85 degrees.

My plan is to grow an early crop, pull up spent plants, then replant in late August for a fall harvest.

Flowers on the tomato vine now hopefully mean juicy tomatoes later.

Fingers crossed. Happy Gardening 🙂