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Garden Review and Planning

January 5, 2010

Seed catologs have begun to arrive. The days are slowly getting longer. With the holidays passed, thoughts are shifting from gift-making and festivities to planning for the garden.  It would be easy to think this shift will make the days much calmer and more relaxed. In some ways, this might be so. However, I am obsessively detail oriented when it comes to the vegetable garden. Kirk has expressed his wish that I channel some of that obsessive energy into organizing and decorating our home, but that is another tale.

I have had my garden for two years and read countless books, magazines, websites, and blogs covering a wide range of gardening topics – composting, companion planting, organic gardening, square foot gardening, integrated pest management, and plenty of basic how-to guides. There is so much I have yet to learn. Even then, there is no substitute for experience. I’ll be spending the next couple, or few, weeks reflecting on what has done well in my garden and what needs a new approach.

tomatoes 2009

First up, tomatoes. Is there anyone that doesn’t grow tomatoes? When I think of a vegetable garden, I think tomatoes. Even if the garden is only a large planter on the patio, the thought is still tomatoes. In 2008, I grew three basic beefsteak from seed and three cherry seedlings from my neighbor. In 2009, I grew twelve tomatoes, three each of four varieties, all started from seed. This was a bad year for tomatoes in New England. I’m fairly certain that my garden escaped the late blight plague, but the cool, wet summer offered the perfect conditions for some other fungus or disease. From the research I did, I suspect early blight. Frequent pruning of spotted leaves kept the plants alive and growing, but under-producing. My garden is highly sun challenged. All sources say direct sun is a minimum of six hours. At the height of summer, I estimate my main vegetable garden gets five hours, maybe five and a half, of direct sun. This year, the sun didn’t even make an appearance until late July.

Cherry –  Super Sweet 100 Hybrid

I suspect the cherry tomatoes were the same common variety my neighbor gave me the year before. They were the most productive of the tomato plants, but we don’t like them. They also had spots. Being an inexperienced gardener, I was never sure if this was normal or disease. A couple eaten freshly picked, or a few on a salad, are okay now and then, but most of them ended up in the compost pile. Perhaps an heirloom cherry tomato would be more enjoyable, but space is limited and there are too many other interesting plants to invite into my garden.

Paste –  Roma


The Roma tomatoes were the most plagued with blight. Even still, I managed to make two small batches of sauce to eat and freeze. These were the only determinate variety that I planted. They didn’t behave as I expected. I think I prefer the habits of indeterminate vines, but I won’t exclude another determinate type if one interests me. I want paste tomatoes, but I’ll try a different variety, this year. There wasn’t anything special about Roma and I suspect the determinate growth pattern aided the spread of the blight.

Heirloom – Bloody Butcher

bloody butcher

Supposedly, this an early producer. It wasn’t. There wasn’t anything special about Bloody Butcher. It didn’t have a flavor that I wanted to eat fresh, but was good in sauce. It wasn’t bad, but there are so many other varieties to try, I won’t grow this one again.

Heirloom – Brandywine Pink

brandywine pink

This was a much larger tomato and later to produce. I only harvested a few of these, but I saved seeds to grow these again. Brandywine Pink satisfies my vision of what a tomato should taste like. Most times, I just don’t like raw tomatoes. This one I like. It’s perfect for a BLT, a salad, a sandwich, or just snacking. It may seem like a waste of space, but this tomato is worth it, if for no other reason than other fresh tomatoes aren’t worth eating.

Other Notes on Growing Tomatoes

cherry tomatoes

The cold, wet weather got the tomatoes off to a slow start. The sun made an appearance long enough to get the them growing. Then, the rains returned to drown the them and cause cracking, even with excellent drainage. Plant covers have many uses during the growing season. I wonder if a plastic covering over the soil would direct the excess rain off of the raised beds. I could leave the plastic in place, but that would mean watering even if it rains. I could use something removable, but that would involve predicting the weather. Would either be worth the effort?

Tomatoes are not my favorite food. Most of our tomatoes are eaten in the form of pasta sauce, salsa, or additions to dishes like chili. Of the varieties grown, only the Brandywine Pink has earned a place my garden again. So far, Speckled Roman is the best contender for a paste variety to try. I also want to try Cherokee Purple. That should be enough tomatoes for this year. If we like these, great. If we don’t, we’ll try different varieties next year. Anyone have any favorites to recommend?

I started tomato seeds in the beginning of February. They outgrew their containers and the lighted shelves before planting time. This year, I’ll try starting them at the end of February and have larger containers for them. I’ve read that the still air indoors may contribute to leggy plants. To avoid this and encourage stronger stems, I’ll turn on the overhead fan periodically. Other suggestions included fondling the plants and talking to them.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2010 8:57 am

    Nice post on tomatoes, very interesting, although I can’t see some pictures…

  2. January 5, 2010 2:20 pm

    It is so true that nothing can teach quite as well as experience. Even after getting my degree in Horticulture, I found there was so much I didn’t know once I got out in the field. Any gardener who claims to know it all, really doesn’t 😉

  3. January 7, 2010 9:47 am

    I also planted Roma tomatoes in my zone 6 CT garden. Fortunately I did not have late blight, but last season was not an easy one for tomatoes, regardless. I also removed any leaves with the slightest hint of trouble. In my garden, Roma did very well, even though I have to plant my tomatoes in large pots (sunk into the soil) to keep an overly healthy vole population from feasting on the plants. We had many fresh tomato sauce meals from my 6 plants.
    And on the fan thing. I use a small fan on all my indoor seedlings once they grow beyond their first set of leaves. I think it helps strengthen the stems. But I’m pretty careful not to start my seedlings (especially tomatoes) too early. Leggy tomatoes are just too ungainly.

  4. January 7, 2010 12:12 pm

    You posted a comment on my blog about possibly wanting to try growing some of the seedlings from my crazy tomato cross — if you want to (and you know you do! It’ll be fun!) please e-mail me (engeizuki at gmail dot com) with your address so I can send you the seeds.

  5. January 17, 2010 4:19 pm

    Pink Brandywine was our favorite tomato in 2008, but Black Russian knocked it off the top of the podium. We still like the Pink Brandywine, but the Black Russian tomatoes were insanely delicious. I admire your committment to grow from seed. I don’t have the patience to set up grow lights, shelving, etc. I happily hand over the cash for seedlings early in the season.

  6. Jane permalink
    February 4, 2010 2:48 pm

    The best way to support your tomato plants is with The Tomato Stake.

    Easier to use than metal cages or upside down planters, stronger than bamboo and won’t rot like wood stakes. The built-in twist-tie supports make tying your tomato plants easy!


  1. Fresh from the Garden Tomatoes are the Best « Evolution of a Gardener

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