Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Heirlooms Are Coming!

So ... this is a weird season all around. After everything getting off to that slow start, in the last few weeks, my tomatoes have turned a serious corner. Remember how I couldn't get the Brandywine to set fruit to save my life? All of a sudden, it set about a dozen tomatoes, and they're growing fast. The first one (the top picture) is nearing harvest and looking like a monster. You can't tell from the picture, but that's a 1.5 lb. tomato. The same goes for the Cherokee purple. In general, this plant is more vigorous than the Brandywines have been, and it's just loaded with fruit. Pretty soon, I'm going to start picking daily, and they all look like the one pictured below (in a word, lovely). The Cherokee purple, btw, is a excellent, excellent tomato. You should grow them. Really. They are thin-skinned and won't save at all—you pretty much pick 'em and eat 'em. But it's so worth it. They taste just exactly like a tomato should taste. Finally, even the yellow pear is setting fruit heavily now, and my second planting is doing exceptionally well. The new Brandywines are already three feet tall and growing fast. No fruit yet ...

Obviously, the key this season has been effective spraying, and for about the past six weeks I've been following a program that rotates between chlorothalinol (Daconil), maneb and copper fungicide spray, supplemented with a micronutrient foliar spray (Key-Plex). I've been a little surprised how well the plants have responded. Nevertheless, I'm not in love with all the chemicals, so next season--having proved that spraying works--I'm going to see if I can do a preventive spray program based on organic chemicals, including sulfur- and copper-based fungicides and stay away from the chlorothalinol and maneb. It's a work in progress.

Oh yeah, the Victoria Supreme paste tomatoes have also been bearing heavily. I made a fresh tomato sauce this week with Italian sausage and fresh basil that was seriously amazing.

So all in all ... I'm a little afraid that I proved my wife right yet again: that I'm reactionary and maybe a little hyper. It seems that every year I freak out early on, then end up with a decent harvest anyway. But I swear, I was really worried this season was going to fall flat—I even worried I might be skunked for a while there. And while I'm not going to complain that things seem to have turned around for the moment, let's just say I'm feeling rather ... chastened.

But enough about that, because you know what else is going on? I'm starting to get seed catalogs already and staring to think about next season. I know, I know. But there are a zillion varieties out there I think I need to try, and some I can recommend with confidence. Before I write that post, however, I'd love to hear from anybody else out there: what varieties of tomatoes have done well for you down here in Zone 10?


  1. Congrats. Are you growning these in Earthboxes?

  2. Anon,

    Not this year. These were all grown in open 25-gallon containers, with two plants per container. I love the Earthbox as a rule, and I've grown decent tomatoes in them before. But for the big beefsteak varieties (like Brandywine or Cherokee purple), I find the Earthbox isn't quite large enough to hold enough water and soil for a truly monster yield. Also, the margin for error is razor thin. A big tomato plant is a tremendous consumer of water, and if you let that reservoir dry out at all, the plant wilts.

    If you're into self-watering containers for big beefsteak varieties, check out the EarthTainer (do a Google search). I'll also post a link to the most recent plans, which I recently received from EarthTainer inventor Ray Newstead.

  3. I'm familiar with the earthtainer from your article (thanks for that btw). I was about to build a couple before I checked out the earthbox and switched to those.

    For me earthbox wins out for several reasons.

    1. Aesthetics - The EB looks so much nicer on my patio then a storage tote would.
    2. Durability - I've heard those totes break down in a couple years in this Florida sun.
    3. Convenience - The earthtainer is way over-engineered imo. I was worn out just reading the instructions. The EB goes together in minutes for pretty much the same price.

    If the water becomes an issue I'll probably just get the automatic watering system.

  4. I laughed out loud at your "over-engineered" remark ... Those plans are intimidating. When I interviewed Ray, he struck me as a really nice, really smart and dedicated guy, and definitely an engineer, no doubt about it. He said that only about 10% of people who actually consider building the EarthTainer actually go ahead and do it, for all the reasons you mentioned.

    And I agree about the aesthetics, no doubt.

    I've used Earthboxes for medium sized, indeterminate tomatoes before and done quite well. But I've also had BER in Earthboxes, so if I was to do it again, I'd make sure I had the full 3C of dolomite and still watch them like a hawk.

    Let me know how you do, especially if you're trying to do the big beefsteak varieties or use the automatic watering system, which I've heard good things about. I'll be interested ...

  5. I guess I'm one of the 10%. I finished up 2 earthtainers for my wife last week.

    Now looking for a good local (Coral Springs) potting mix to fill them.

    It really was not hard to make. Built them right to the plans. Only variation was the use of 4" PVC instead of the corrageted pipe.


  6. Anon (other anon),

    That's cool ... I want to build one or two myself, but probably for next season. Let me know how they work.

    As for potting mix, if you can make the drive to Pompano, try Nu-Turf Pompano. They have Fafard 3B and it's great stuff.

  7. Jon,
    I would recommend black krim if you want something unusual looking and good tasting that can do well down here. The only problems I've had with them this season is the learning curve to know when they should be picked and getting them before the mystery creatures gourge themselves. So far cracking hasn't even been a problem though is associated with the variety, but I know we haven't gotten the heavy rains like last winter.

    I would stay away from big rainbow. It could be a fluke -- mine are out producing just about everything else this season, but the fruits have been between plum size and golf ball size, not the two pounders on their advertisement.

    Next year I'm thinking I'll try black krim again. Other than that I'm not sure which varieties I'll try, but I have my eye on hawaiian pineapple - heard anything about that in s.fl?

  8. Anon,

    Black krim is definitely on my list of tomatoes I want to try. Next season, I'm kind of torn between those and the Paul Robeson's, which I've heard great things about but never grown. I've been really liking this season's Cherokee purples—they are just about a perfect eating tomato.

    I haven't tried big rainbows either, but I had great success with marvel stripe last year. They were huge, bicolored and beautiful tomatoes that produced very heavily. I definitely got a few two-pounders.

    I'm still debating what I'll do next year too. I don't know anyone personally whose grown Hawaiian pineapple here, but it's also on my list to try. So far, my short list includes Kellogg's breakfast, maybe chocolate stripe, one of the blacks, at least one paste tomato (I'm liking the Victoria supreme so far this season--an excellent cooking tomato), perhaps the Sungold cherry variety, and something large and red, along with ... oh, I dunno. Obviously, my eyes are bigger than my yard at the moment.

  9. I harvested 17 pounds of completely organic, mostly heirloom tomatoes this week from my front yard raised beds. Needless to say, I'll be making a huge pot of sauce and maybe even dehydrate some as there are more ripening on the vines. My Cherokee Purples, Green and Red Zebras, and Amish Paste have done really well this year. Did some Sungolds, Matt's Wild Cherry, and Tommy Toes also. Also, some Black Prince. I never do seem to have luck with Bradywines, so didn't plant any this year.