Ah tomatoes! who doesn’t love to grow tomatoes? There are so many varieties that sometimes it’s hard to decide. Like 7500, according to Wikipedia. That’s a lot of tomatoes. No wonder they are the number one crop grown by home gardeners. The taste of a home grown tomato puts the store bought one’s to shame.
A few years back, I bought a couple of those little patio greenhouses for $20 bucks a piece. You’ve probably seen them, 5 shelves with a zippered plastic cover. They are great out by the garden for when I’m trying to harden off plants. They are also wonderful for starting mid summer crops while your waiting for a space to open up in the garden. But that’s in summer.
The past couple of years, I’ve turned them into light stands to grow seedlings for the garden indoors, in March. This lets me extend the growing season, and keeps me busy while I’m waiting for the soil outside to warm up enough to work in. It’s great having fully grown potted plants to set out for the cost of seed.
Which brings me back to the tomatoes.
Here in zone 5, it’s time to start the little seedlings. Most tomato seed packets say start indoors before the growing season anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks before the last frost, depending on the variety. For me, last frost is predicted to be May 20.
Tomatoes come in 2 types. Determinate and Indeterminate. Determinate plants tend to be more bushy, and usually bear their fruit all at the same time. This is great if you’re harvesting to make sauces, or stewed tomatoes as you’ll get a large crop to work with. Trust me, if you want to make sauce, you need a LOT of tomatoes. Romas are probably the best known determinate variety. Determinate plants don’t need staking like the indeterminate plants do, nor do they really need to have their suckers pinched ( Those little new branches that grow in the crook between the stem and an existing branch). Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t stake them. Just that their natural habit is to grow upright.
Indeterminate tomatoes are vine-y, sprawling plants. They give a large crop, but over a period of time, rather than all at once. Which is great when you just want a couple of tomatoes for lunch. Most slicing tomatoes are indeterminate. Beefsteak, Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple are all indeterminate as well as heirloom.
Indeterminate plants most definitely need some kind of support. Trellises are ideal, as are sturdy long bamboo poles. Those tomato cages they sell down to the big box stores are never tall enough, even if you double them over. Last year my tomatoes grew over 6 feet tall. I tried the double cages trick. No good. they just got so top heavy that they flopped over the top of the cages before they were done producing. This year, I’m going to train them up a trellis, I think. Unless a better solution presents itself. I’ll let you know how it works out.