Yes, I couldn’t have picked a better title for the class I am giving tomorrow. If you have been reading my blog, you will know I am just slightly obsessed with tomatoes. You see I am a seed saver. Each year I grow out heirloom tomatoes for a seed bank and collect seeds from three to four different varieties. They are collected, fermented and dried and sent to a seed bank. One thing I am passionate about is the preservation of heirloom seeds. It just happened to be heirloom tomatoes that I was asked to grow.
Don’t think tomato seeds are the only ones I collect. I harvest many vegetables and flowers for seed each year. For one thing it’s a huge money saver. Right now my Red Russian Kale is in flower and the seed pods are forming along the branches. Once they start to yellow I will cut a few off and dry them. Each pod has almost 40 seeds so I don’t need to keep them all. I did a short seed collecting lesson with the grade three class the other day and asked them how many seeds they thought one kale plant would have. They had already opened one pod so they quickly realized that one plant would probably supply enough seed for our whole community. It’s such a miracle that one seed can produce one plant but in turn produce hundreds to thousands of new seeds each year. None of us should be going hungry.
Anyway back to tomatoes. I can get off track when it comes to seeds. Tomorrows class will be about how to plant tomatoes and their care. I think they are one of the easiest plants to grow. Our wet climate here on the southwest coast of BC does present a few challenges later in the summer but there are ways to help.
Out of the 500 heirloom tomatoes I grew this year, I have about 100 left. So everyone coming to my ‘Crazy for Tomato’ class will be potting up one of my tomato plants to take home. Over the last few weeks I have been asked many questions about tomatoes. I even had some people say they would never grow tomatoes again. Oh no! That couldn’t happen. It turns out the tomatoes this person grew had rotted last year. She didn’t know what she had done wrong. I heard a lot of questions about blossom end rot and having had it occur once I knew this was most likely the problem.
Blossom end rot is a sign of not enough calcium getting to the plant. It’s very important to add this nutrient to your soil when planting your tomato. For many years, I have added dolomite lime to my planting hole when transplanting my tomato plants to their five gallon containers. Dolomite lime contains both calcium and magnesium which are important to the plant. I have been told that sweetening or raising the PH of the soil is not the thing to do with tomatoes but my plants do well. This year I will be using Gaia Green 4-4-4 Organic fertilizer in my plantings as it contains all sorts of good stuff like glacial rock dust, bone meal, greensand and kelp. I may do half my planting with a touch of dolomite lime and half with just the organic fertilizer and see how it works out. Actually the only tomatoes I ever had blossom end rot on were the romas. Since they are not my favourite tomato, I just won’t grow them, problem solved. You can see by the photo above, it’s not a pretty sight. Fortunately it was only the first few tomatoes that had this occur.
Blossom end rot can also occur when watering is not consistent. Remember your tomato plant relies on you to water it everyday at the same time just like you expect meals on time. Watering must be consistent. If you miss a day, the plant will be stressed and calcium will not be taken up by the root system. So what do you do if your tomato doesn’t look like it needs water? Just make sure you give them a bit of water to keep them on schedule. I don’t mean to flood the plant but water it lightly. No water is worse than a little extra.
I often tell people you have to think about the juice in a tomato, strawberry or melon. It’s a lot of water, right? So most of these plants require proper watering every day. At our lesson everyone learned how to pot up a tomato. For complete instructions, read my post on ‘how to care of your new tomato plant‘. This post will go over the way to transplant your tomato to its final planting hole or container.
There are two types of tomatoes. Indeterminate and determinate. Indeterminate vines continue to grow and produce fruit until killed by frost. I have had mine grow to about six feet in the greenhouse. This type will always need some kind of support. Determinate tomatoes tend to grow and produce all their fruit at one time. They are often more compact but not always.
There are two types of tomatoes on the market. Every year growers try to introduce newer and better tomatoes. Most of the new tomatoes are hybrids. Many of our hybrids are developed from two or more different tomatoes in order to capture desirable traits from each. Unfortunately along the way some have lost that old-fashioned flavour. Early Girl is an example of a popular hybrid tomato. I grow mostly heirloom tomato plants which means that most of them are indeterminate and require staking.
Heirloom plants are defined by having been grown before 1950. Some of the tomatoes I grow date back into the late 1800’s. So why do I grow them? I grow several heirlooms each year for a seed bank. It’s all about preserving seed diversity and making sure the old-time favourites our grandparents grew do not disappear.
It’s really a personal decision as to which tomatoes you want to grow. What do you use tomatoes for? Do you need to grow a paste tomato because you like to cook or do you eat them fresh? Cherry tomatoes are one of the most loved tomatoes of all as they can be easily popped into the mouth. For containers, you can grow any kind of tomato as long as you have supports in place. Many of the cherry type tomatoes do well in containers as their fruit is not as large weighing the plant down. Myself, I grow all my tomatoes in containers and stake them all.
Be sure to add your stakes right after planting. Trying to get a tomato cage over a large plant could easily damage your tomato plant. Growing your tomatoes in the ground is as easy as I just showed you. I would plan your support system ahead of time. If I were to have a very large garden of tomatoes I would place supports such as 1″x4″x6’ one either sides of the bed and about two feet apart. Tomatoes can be hard to control and need good supports. I would run something like clothesline wire along the post on each side. and plant my tomatoes inside the row of supports. Space your plants at least 24” for determinate and 36” apart for indeterminate plants.