The Science & Art
of Growing Tomatoes
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Why is This Specific Newsletter So Special?
I have been growing tomatoes for 64 years. I began when I was 5 years old growing tomatoes in a tiny backyard garden in a rowhouse community in Baltimore, MD. Those first tomato gardens consisted of 5 plants in an 18 inch by 10 foot space. Eventually, I expanded to large gardens with 20-40 plants and since 2004 my colleagues and I have been working on a research project growing approximately 40 different tomato plants each year in containers. Over the years we have planted more than 70 different tomato varieties for a total of more than 1000 plantings. The knowledge and experience we now have accumulated is without equal.
The reason that this specific newsletter is so special is that you will not find the level of experience from planting the same tomato varieties, year after year, from managing drought conditions, cloudy summers, cold summers, excessively hot summers, blight, insects, and critters anywhere else.
After more than 1000 container plantings with more than 70 different tomato cultivars, here is what we have learned:
All tomatoes can be grown in containers. Some will need to be staked. Some do not need to be staked. We recommend that you set the stake when you plant the tomato seedling, not after the seedling has grown into a substantial plant.
The ideal size for a container in which to plant A SINGLE TOMATO PLANT is 18 inch in diameter and at least 10-12 inches deep. Plants perform equally well in plastic and ceramic containers, but our preference has been to plant in plastic containers.
Never use specialty soil mixes for containers. The ideal soil mix is 60% topsoil (available at any garden center/hardware/home improvement store and BTW the least expensive soil they sell) 20% peat moss and 20% compost. Most of us do not have access to a compost pile so substitute dehydrated cow manure.
Each year, you will lose approximately 10 % of the soil in a container. Replenish the lost soil with compost, if possible, or a 50-50 mix of peat moss and dehydrated cow manure.
On the day of planting, mix 1 cup of bone meal into the soil in the container.
When planting the seeding, pinch (do not cut) off all the leaves letting only the top four to remain. Dig a hole in the container and bury the seedling, leaving only the top four leaves above the soil’s surface.
Water thoroughly, but do not let the pot stand in water.
When you have finished planting the seedling, dust the surface of the soil with copper fungicide. The copper fungicide will begin to battle the blight spores which may or may not reside in the soil. We always use the powder form of Copper Fungicide manufactured by Bonide.
1 – Two weeks after planting the seedling, sprinkle the surface of the soil around the seedling with ½ cup of bone meal.
2 – The following week (three weeks after planting the seedling) sprinkle ½ cup of tomato fertilizer on the soil in the pot. We always use Espoma’s TomatoTone.
3 – The next week (4 weeks after planting the seedling) apply a final dusting of bone meal to the soil in the pot by dusting the soil with ½ cup bone meal. Many tomato plants are susceptible to a condition which destroys the fruit known as “Blossom End Rot”. “Blossom End Rot” causes the fruit to develop brown bruises on the bottom of each fruit (the blossom end). The fruit then rots. “Blossom End Rot” is a calcium deficiency which can be easily remedied with applications of bone meal. If, after three proactive applications of bone meal, your tomato plants still develop “Blossom End Rot”, then apply 1 cup of bone meal to your container and remove the affected fruit. The condition will clear up in 5-7 days and future fruit will not be affected.
4 – From the 5th week until the plants stop producing blossoms abundantly, you need to fertilize with tomato fertilizer, ½ cup, every two weeks. If you try to cheat, your plants will not set fruit, and the existing fruit will be smaller.
YOU MUST FERTILIZE!
5 – If your summer is wet or humid, apply a dusting of Copper Fungicide to the soil and the plant’s stem and leaves at week 6 and week 9. If you find signs of blight (curling of bottom leaves, yellowing or browning of leaves) even after these applications, remove the infected leaves and dust the plant and the soil immediately. If it rains after the application, apply the dusting again.
6 – During the growing season, your plants may get attacked by a number of insects. Tomato Hornworm and Whitefly are the most frequent problems. Tomato Hornworms will have to be removed by hand. This is not as big a deal as it may sound because, at most you will find 5-10 hornworms per plant. We have not had a problem with whitefly, and we attribute this to our frequent dusting of the plants with Copper Fungicide.
7 – Woodchucks, squirrels and crows can be a real problem. We have found that none of the natural deterrents work. We can’t help with this problem.
8 – At the end of the season, we remove the dead plant material from the containers and leave the soil. We do not change soil each year and we have been growing in some of our pots for decades. We do replenish the soil lost each year from each container as discussed above. If we have had a particularly bad blight season we dust the surface of the soil in all of our pots, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc. with copper fungicide as the last task we do in the fall.
9 – If you follow the regimen we have just described throughout the entire growing season and if your plants are in full sun (minimum 6 hours of sunlight from 9-3) then you will be successful in growing tomatoes in containers.
10 – The following tomato cultivars are 6 of our favorites. We have grown each of these for more than 10 years. They were chosen because, in each case, the plants are highly productive.
Silvery Fir Tree is a very unusual tomato. It makes an excellent container tomato plant. Silvery Fir Tree is a natural dwarf tomato – the plants rarely reach a height of 36 inches. The leaves are very distinctive. They are highly serrated and very feathery. This tomato was introduced into the United States from Russia in 1995 by Kent Whealy, one of the founders of the Seed Savers Exchange. Kent had been given seeds for this variety by Russian tomato officionado, Marina Danilenko.
Since that introduction, Silvery Fir Tree has become a favorite with gardeners in Zones 1-4 because it is truly a cold tolerant tomato. It will set fruit with great regularity when the night time temperatures fall below 70 degrees Farenheit. But, Silvery Fir Tree can also flourish in the cooler months in Zones 8-10. It produces an abundance of medium-sized, scarlet, slicing tomatoes which have a mild tomatoey flavor.
One of my absolute favorite tomatoes of any kind is the Orange Banana tomato. This garden beauty has a complex flavor that is both tomatoey and sweetly fruity. I think it makes the very best sundried tomatoes, but I also make orange tomato sauce from the fruit and combine it with red tomato sauce (like San Marzanos) to produce some of the most flavorful sauces I have ever tasted.
Orange Banana, when sliced lengthwise and roasted, is out of this world.
Orange Banana plants are very prolific producing 40-50+ fruits on a single plant. The oblong, pointed fruits range in size from 4-6 ounces.
Little is known about how this tomato arrived in the United States, but, like most great heirlooms, it was brought by a family relocating to America who treasured the fruit and carried seed with them to plant in the New World. Eventually the seed was shared with The Seed Savers Exchange out of Decorah, Iowa and now Czech’s Bush is a fairly well-known heirloom tomato.
It is one of our recommendations because, unlike most heirloom tomatoes, Czech’s Bush is a determinate variety. Tomatoes can be determinate or indeterminate. Determinate varieties grow to about 36 inches. Sometimes we refer to them as ‘bush or container’ tomatoes. These terms are somewhat misleading because all tomatoes can be grown in containers and determinate tomatoes are still vines, not bushes, even though they are short vines. The one shortcoming of a determinate variety is that along with being a shorter plant, determinate varieties have a shorter fruiting season – usually 4-6 weeks.
Czech’s Bush produces medium-sized, sandwich tomatoes, usually in clusters. The tomatoes have a rich tomatoey flavor. They do not tend to be sweet. If space is limited or if your heritage is Czechoslovakian, this is a great plant to add to your garden.
For all of you red tomato lovers, Eva Purple Ball is the tomato for you. It is so much the quintessential red tomato that it is often called the “Perfect Tomato” because of its extraordinarily perfect shape, perfect color, perfect size (5-7ounces), perfect flesh texture and perfect flavor.
Eva was brought to this country in the late 1800s from Germany by the Joseph J.Bratka family of Elmwood, NJ. The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange made it commercially available in the US in 1994.
The vines have an above average yield (about 30 or more fruit per vine) and the flavor is strong and savory. Good flavor-good yield what more could you want from a tomato?
Amish Paste is believed to be a very old variety. It was first grown in the 1870s by the oldest Amish community in the United States located in Medford, Wisconsin.
The variety began to receive national attention when Thomas Jon Hauch of Heirloom Seeds received seeds from the Amish in Lancaster County, PA in the early 1980s. He shared seeds with The Seed Savers Exchange of Decorah, IA, and in 1987 SSE made the seed available to their members.
Amish Paste is one of the truly reliable, consistently prolific, tomato plants to grace this earth. The vines may look like they are on their ‘last legs’, but they still keep producing and producing and producing. If you depend upon your garden to generate enough tomato sauce/paste/sundried tomatoes to get you through the winter, then this is a tomato for you. A single plant will produce 50+ fruit.
The fruit is plum shaped, usually 6-10 ounces. The flesh is sweeter than other paste tomatoes, and because of this, Amish Paste make excellent sundried tomatoes.
Amish Paste tomatoes usually contain more seeds, but I have never found that to be a problem.
I believe that if you have extremely limited space, enough for only one tomato plant, that a wise choice is a paste tomato variety. Paste tomatoes are big enough to use for sandwiches and salads. They make the best sundried tomatoes, and, of course, they make great tomato paste/sauce.
Amish Paste because it is so prolific would be my choice if I could only grow one tomato.
Peach tomatoes are little known in America today, but they have been a part of the American tomato diet since 1885. Peach tomatoes are so named because their skin is covered with a light fuzz. In general, peach tomatoes are among the smallest of the slicing tomatoes. An average peach tomato weighs 2 ½ oz. The first peach tomato introduced in this country was a pink peach tomato, but within 5 years there were yellow (white) peach tomatoes and red peach tomatoes. These tomatoes are frequently some of the sweetest tomatoes you will ever eat.
Wapsipinicon Peach is one of my favorite tomatoes. I grow it every year. It is a white/yellow peach tomato. In 1890, Elbert S.Carman, plant breeder and owner of The Rural New-Yorker introduced the first white peach tomato. By 1902, fifteen North American seedsmen offered the white peach tomato.
Wapsipinicon Peach is named after the Wapsipinicon River Valley in Iowa. The tomatoes, even in my cloudy, cold, Hardiness Zone 4 summers are the sweetest tomatoes that I harvest. They can be used in a fruit tart they are so sweet. The indeterminate plants are some of the most productive. In an average summer, a single plant will yield 50-80 fruit.
There is nothing as special in the culinary world as a tomato warm and fresh from the vine. We hope that all of you will have learned something from this specific newsletter and that you will find just a little space, in full sun, somewhere on your deck, patio, porch or in your garden to grow at least one of these magnificent plants.
After all, it’s not summer until you have had your first BLT!
Our Tuesday, January 22, 2020 newsletter is all about planting dahlias with a special focus on planting dahlias in containers. If you are intending to plant dahlias in containers or anyone you know is planning to start growing dahlias this year, THEN this is the newsletter to read. We have been growing dahlias for more than 50 years. We have been growing dahlias in containers for 16 years. We have grown more than 60 different varieties of dahlias in containers. There is no better resource to consult about planting dahlias and planting dahlias in containers than this upcoming newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter now at the following link:
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