Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The 2010 Plan, Part I

The vegetable season always starts on a surprisingly apprehensive note. I'm always worried about making the right choice and getting the right seeds—and buying tomato seeds is a little bit like buying a car. It's not exactly easy to back out once you're committed.

Last year, I grew big pink tomatoes, striped tomatoes, and yellow tomatoes. And oddly, one of the things I realized was that my favorite tomatoes are the big, acidic red ones. I like tomatoes that taste like tomatoes. And because I preserve my own salsa, I also like paste tomatoes, which have fewer seeds and liquid and make thicker, richer salsas and sauces.

So this year, I've spent a fair amount of time with my nose buried in my favorite tomato catalog, trying to decide what kind of tomatoes I should grow. I wanted to strike a balance between big, juicy red tomatoes and the more interesting varietals. In the end, this is what I've decided to grow:

  • Brandywine. These are probably the most famous heirloom tomatoes in the world. They are big, luscious, red tomatoes with a deep tomato flavor. Because they are not naturally resistant to any of our diseases or pests, they must be grown in containers.
  • Cherokee purple. Another heirloom tomato. These are deep purple and known for their striking color and taste.
  • Victoria Supreme. These are paste tomatoes I'll use for sauce and salsa.
  • Heinz. Yep, the actual Heinz tomato. I've never grown these before, so I'm curious what ketchup tastes like off the vine. These are determinate tomatoes.
  • Yellow pear. These are advertised as "garden candy," and they're tiny and cute and yellow and pear-shaped. Last year, I had horrible luck with yellow tomatoes, so I wanted to see if I could get it right this year.
As always, I bought all my seeds from the Tomato Growers Supply Company. I highly recommend them; I've never had a bad experience.

Obviously, I'm growing mostly heirloom and non-disease-resistant tomatoes from seed. If you're planning on buying tomato vines from your local garden center, you'll likely be getting Celebrity, Big Boy, Better Boy, Roma, or cherry tomatoes. I've grown all these before, and had a great experience. Better Boy are still among my favorite tomatoes in terms of flavor, and these varieties all have the advantage of being resistant to the pests and diseases that are so common here in South Florida (that's another entry). So if that's your plan, don't fret—but don't buy them yet. It's WAY to early to plant vines. Just hold off for a while, and later on, as we get closer, I'll give some quick pointers on buying tomato vines from a garden center.

Finally, my choice of tomato varieties this year will definitely affect my growing methods. Because I'm growing tomatoes that cannot resist our soil-borne pests and diseases, I'm growing 100% in containers this year. I've found over the years that I've steadily gravitated toward containers, until I'm finally growing ONLY in containers. While you can grow excellent tomatoes in the ground, ultimately I find that containers make it possible to grow more varieties and control the growing environment more completely. To me, these are good things.

But all that will be coming up later. For now, I've got my seeds in hand, and it's almost time to start germination. But not quite yet. Patience is in order—and unfortunately, that's usually in short supply right around this time of year. In the meantime, I'll try to keep myself busy with all the new stuff I'm planning on growing this year ...

Up next: Beyond Tomatoes (The Total Edible Winter Garden)

And p.s., I added a subscribe option to the bottom of the page if you wanted an automatic update every time a new post is added ... you know, for convenience sake.


  1. I'm mixing vermiculite to my soil blend for container-grown tomatoes which is made up of composted cow manure, perlite, dolomite lime, pine bark fines and spaghnum peat moss. I would please like to know what proportion of vermiculite to add since I've read that it can have a PH of 6.0 to 9.5. Your assistance on this would be very appreciated. jocorra9@aol.com

  2. I tend to avoid vermiculite, actually, and only use perlite. I generally aim for about 15% coarse, chunky material to enhance drainage. Is there a particular reason you're using vermiculite?