Tag Archives: growing tomato

Growing Tomatoes

The Trellis Experiment

I know it’s the middle of January but I also know that plant and seed catalogs start pouring in.  Many of us comb through them and get that gardening itch.  Like it or not, winter is a time to think about the next planting season, at least for me anyway.  Looking back to see what worked well and what was a failure.  Looking forward to see what new experiment might fruitfully improve the garden and what new plants to grow.

We love tomatoes and have been growing a variety of both large and small sizes.  The challenge of growing tomatoes for me is keeping them straight up.  I bought a variety of tomato cages early on but they never worked well for me.  Most of the time they’re too short.  My tomato plants grow over six feet tall and some years I have to get on a ladder to tie them in place.  So I have been experimenting with ways to keep them from flopping over in the least amount of time.  Tying tomato plants is a time consuming process.

These are some of the varieties of tomato we grew last season.

When the tomato cages failed, I used long poles to tie the main stalks up, then used some shorter and smaller ones vertically in between for the branches.  This method worked well but risked damaging the roots when I pushed a new pole into the ground to support a branch.  The tomatoes also flopped over when I failed to have enough time to keep tying them regularly as they grew.  I also used a lot of smaller poles, too many of them, in fact.  I had been using this method until last season.

I made this railroad trellis on one side of a three feet plot and planted ‘Baby bell peppers’ and some leafy vegetables in front of the tomatoes
It worked quite well with cherry and grape tomatoes which tend to creep like a vine. The red ones are ‘Sakura’, yellow are ‘Nova’, and the black and orange on the far left are ‘Indigo’

I experimented on a new method last season.  I still use the longest and largest pole, 8 foot long, to tie the main stem to.  But this time I also put these long poles on either side of the plant, making a railroad track with plants in the middle.  Each tomato has 1 foot by 16 inches in space.  Then I tie smaller poles, horizontally, connecting each long pole together.  I keep a foot of space between each horizontal bar.  Once the tomatoes grow and branch out, I just tie their stems to these bars.  Restricted to gardening on the weekend some weeks, the branches still rested on the bars, without flopping down.

The trellis also worked well for large tomatoes. On the far left are ‘Tie-dye’, then ‘Brandywine’, ‘Cherokee Purple’ with ‘Mortgage Lifter’ at the far right.  At the end of this plot is Swiss chard and Kale.

One mistake I made was to use thinner sticks for some of the bars.  I ran out of the the sturdier ones so I used the ones made for hoops in their place.  They bent way too easily  under the weight of large tomatoes.

Toward the end of the season, ‘Tie-dye’ which grew profusely, got too heavy for the thin sticks I used
When I installed the correct size pole, it worked well. The larger tomatoes, some over a pound, can rest on the bar as well. These Brandywine tomatoes, most either over a pound or close to it, are resting on the bar. I tied some of the fruit stems to the bar as well, to support the weight.

At the end of the season, once I cut all tomato plants down, I untie the poles and put them back in the toolshed.  That saves a lot of space.  I can always shrink or expand the trellis according to how many tomatoes I grow.

Tomatoes And Chili Peppers

Time To Start Seedlings

Tomatoes and chili peppers are a staple in our vegetable garden.  We love trying new kinds of tomatoes for both color and taste.  Once we find the one we like we cull seeds to grow the year after.  Four kinds of tomato we have been growing every year because they have a marvelous taste are Cherokee purple, Mortgage Lifter , Brandywine and Rose.  We fell in love with the Cherokee purple at first bite, with its thin skin, juicyness and full tomato taste.  The rest are big, meaty and tasty.  We vouch for these four tomatoes anytime we’re asked.  We let the cherry tomatoes self-sow year after year.  I have no idea what type of cherry tomato they are, but they’re very sweet.  At this point I should call them ‘Resident Tomato’ since they seem to come up by themselves all over the yard every year.

Cherokee purple from last year's harvest
Cherokee purple from last year’s harvest
This Mortgage lifter also from last year's harvest
This Mortgage lifter also from last year’s harvest

We both love spicy food hence the collection of chili peppers.  I try to add some new kinds of chili pepper every year.  Some are harder to grow than others.  And, growing chili peppers in a cold climate is a challenge.

Growing tomato and chili pepper in the Northeastern part of the US takes some good planning since the growing season is a little bit short for some them to grow, bear fruit and ripen.  I have learned from vendors at the farmers market that the tomato and pepper plants they are selling were germinated in early March.  So, I have been following their method.

This year I started my tomato and chili peppers on March 8, never mind the snow and freezing cold out side.  I put seed trays on heat mats set to 80° Fahrenheit by the bay window.  Natural sunlight is enough for now and I don’t have room in the basement to add trays there.  It’s too cold down there anyway.  Some tomatoes sprouted within 5 days but the chili peppers take a little bit longer.  I usually see them sprout up within a week, providing that the heat mat stays between 75 and 80 degrees at all time.

Tomato and chili pepper seedlings by the bay window, March 14
Tomato and chili pepper seedlings by the bay window, March 14
Tomato seedlings, March 19.  Pretty lanky stretching for light
Tomato seedlings, March 19. Pretty lanky stretching for light
Chili pepper seedlings, March 19.  They are a little bit shorter than the tomato and  a little bit slower to grow
Chili pepper seedlings, March 19. They are a little bit shorter than the tomato and a little bit slower to grow

Now I have to wait for the true leaves to come up before I can put them in their individual pots, should be one more week now.

So far most tomato and chili pepper seeds have sprouted:

  • The large tomatoes: Mortgage lifter, Rose, Brandywine, Cherokee purple and Chocolate
  • Cherry tomato: Indigo cherry drop, Razzleberry, Tomatoberry and Nova
  • Chili pepper: Bhut Jolokia, Sikkim, Purira, Korean chili, Karen chili (tribal), Jamaican Red, Jamaican yellow, Himalayan yellow, Lemon drop, Wild Brazil, South Indian chili, Yellow torch, Long Thai, Thai Bird chili, Scotch Bonnet, Mexican chili, Yellow Thai chili

I forgot to put baby bell and Shishito peppers in, so I will have to buy the plants for this season.  They are very mild and good for snacking.  I may be able to start the Shishito now though since I will stir-fry the peppers when they still green, no need for maturity.

The gourmet growing season has begun!

 

A Good Year For Tomato

Slow To Start But Good At The End

The growing season started late this year because winter seemed to last forever.  Vegetables that need warmer temperatures like tomatoes and peppers grew slowly at the beginning.  I started to germinate the seeds in March but couldn’t put anything in the ground until May.  Once in the ground, they seemed not to want to grow at all so I wasn’t expecting much from these two vegetables this year.  But as soon as the temperature reach 80º F, they grew like grass especially the tomatoes.  I have to tie them up once every couple of days so the stems won’t break.  A few of them are taller than me now.

It turned out to be a great year for tomatoes.  Though it’s hot during the day, it’s much cooler at night.  There have been only a few high humidity days so far.   Hot and dry during the day and cooler at night is good for tomato and chili pepper.  It’s harder for disease to develop on the leaves.  I actually have to cut the leaves off the tomatoes so the fruits can get some sun, ripen faster and get some air flow between plants.  I slowly cut from the bottom up.

I picked some of the small ones (the Ceylon) this week.  Cherry and Grape tomatoes are still green since they are self-sown so they sprouted up much later than the ones I germinated in the house.  The larger ones like Cherokee Purple and Rose have just started to turn.  I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into them over the kitchen sink!

Tomato plants crowded with leaves
Tomato plants crowded with leaves
Ceylon tomato, a medium sized tomato, I grew for the first time this year. Plenty of 1.5 to 2 inches fruits
Ceylon tomato, a medium sized tomato, I grew for the first time this year. Plenty of 1.5 to 2 inches fruits
I have no idea what this one is.  I picked up an organic heirloom tomato from the farmer's market last year and we loved it.  So I kept some seeds.  They are pretty big and look like ribbed pears.
I have no idea what this one is. I picked up an organic heirloom tomato from the farmer’s market last year and we loved it. So I kept some seeds. They are pretty big and look like ribbed pears.
This one grew from seeds of the same tomato above but probably has to fight for food with the asparagus next to it so the fruits are much slimmer.
This one grew from seeds of the same tomato above but probably has to fight for food with the asparagus next to it so the fruits are much slimmer.
These Cherokee purple are too big for their own good. The one in the middle is around 4.5 inch across.  Their weight broke the stem.
These Cherokee purple are too big for their own good. The one in the middle is around 4.5 inch across. Their weight broke the stem.
Another Cherokee purple, our favorite, started to turn.  The stem also bent from the weight.
Another Cherokee purple, our favorite, started to turn. The stem also bent from the weight.

Started Seedlings

Adapting To A Long Winter

I usually start seedlings of any plants that need longer time to mature in the house not long before I can plant them outside: Chili pepper, tomato, Bitter melon, Moonflower and a few more. I put them right in their permanent spots in the garden when they have developed their true leaves (the second set of leaves).   When it gets too chilly I just cover them with plastic cups or soup containers. It’s been my normal practice until this year.

The cold weather has lasted longer this year so I had to adapt my method of planting otherwise the plants will not have enough time to produce anything but leaves.  I started chili peppers, tomatoes and Anise in mid-March.   The 48 cell seed starter tray is a perfect tray to use for this job. I put 3-4 seeds in each cell and put the tray on a heat mat that I set to 80º F.  Most of the tomato plants sprouted in about 4 days, followed by some of the chili peppers.

Chili pepper and tomato seedlings getting some sun outside in a warm day
Chili pepper and tomato seedlings getting some sun outside in a warm day

Then came the part I always skip, putting them in their individual pot when they develop true leaves. I know if I put them in the ground at this time, even with plastic cups over them, they will die.  So, I separated the tomato seedlings and put them in their individual pots in the house.  When it gets a little warmer outside I will put them in the cold frame to harden them before I put them in their permanent spots or give them to friends and colleagues.

Tomato seedlings are in their own space and chili pepper seedlings still under the dome
Tomato seedlings are in their own space and chili pepper seedlings still under the dome

As for large size tomatoes, I grow the usual ones: Mortgage Lifter, Rose and my favorite-Cherokee purple.  The ‘Ribbed’ one, I have no idea what it is but I love the taste so I kept the seeds to grow this year.  I’m still waiting for some self seeded cherry and grapes tomatoes to sprout in the garden.  They are late this year due to weather.

"Gold Nuggets" cherry tomato seedlings
“Gold Nuggets” cherry tomato seedlings