Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Which Tomato Plant is Best?

 Which tomato plant is best? The one that can put on tomatoes in a short period of time and they become ripe before frost kills them. A tall order in Northeastern Wyoming. You might think I'm joking but it's no laughing matter when our last average frost date is June 2nd and then the average first frost date begins on September 3rd. That's just 90 days, frost free - maybe.

And I'm not talking warm weather either when I say frost free. I remember years that it was still snowing into the third week in June. I pray not this year. 

It has been quite warm for April this year and I hope it keeps it up. Then again Wyoming weather is very unpredictable and can change at a drop of the hat. Even though it is warmer, it is not exactly growing weather but it would be if we had a greenhouse up.

With such a short growing season and cool weather, it means either buying lots and lots of plants from a greenhouse or growing your own under lights.  

Commercial greenhouses for garden plants is a poor choice. They have their plants shipped in and they are of the varieties recommended for five states. Places where the weather is far better than here. Hence, people are always complaining about their tomatoes not turning red before frost. 

When I bought from greenhouse, I liked Celebrities pretty good but they are a hybrid. You can't save seed from them. That doesn't fit with my plan to become more self-sufficient and they have become harder to find. That's why I started looking into heirloom varieties for the way up north.

And I took a hint from the recommended way to plant tomatoes. You know, you lay your tomatoes sideways in a hole and bury the roots and stems up to the leaves. This is to form a larger root system.

I start seeds in the bottom third of a small pot. Then as the plant grows, I keep adding dirt. This causes a good portion of the stem to become roots just like when you lay your tomato plant down in the garden covering it up to the leaves. More roots, more food service workers to feed the plant. Then when the plant has grow a stem far out of the pot, I transplant it choosing a pot that is far too big. One where I can put the roots way down at the very bottom and fill partially with dirt, adding more dirt as the plant grows. Once more extending the root system. You will find that your stems on your tomatoes become really thick this way.
A big deal when you have high winds like we do in our area. They can beat your plants down to bare stems in one afternoon. I'd show you a photo but I don't have the pictures off the old computer yet. 
 That was why I liked the Celebrity because of their naturally thick stems. But, I've found for our area, I also need something that was better at ripening in a short period of time. One of the reasons I love Siberia. They are reported to set fruit at temperatures as low as 38 degrees Fahrenheit.  We usually go from warm to froze and so I don't know about this.

When I first saw these tomato seeds advertised I thought, if they can grow in Siberia, they will grow here in Wyoming.  They are heirloom so I can save seed, the plants are pretty short and are slower growing to start with but they are really thick stemmed holding up in our wind. They are great for growing in pots because they are smaller. They put on clusters of tomatoes instead of single ones. The one maybe downfall is the tomatoes are just medium sized but frankly I'll take small over with the big ones being a maybe if you get any ripe ones at all before frost.   

Best yet, a couple years ago, we were picking Siberia tomatoes the first week in July. They are just 48 days. Almost unbelievable for a tomato. We had a nice June that year instead of our usual cool weathered month and the plants were good size when I put them in the ground.  Start them from seed indoors and you'll have LOTS of wonderful tomatoes before frost. So if you are looking for a short season, hardy, thick, heirloom variety, give them a try.
 Yes, this is a tomato plant. Another early bird, just 55 days. this plant, Glacier tomato is from Sweden. It looks a bit different than the other tomato plants, even the Siberia, with it's rounded leaves. This plant never does as well for me in the basement under the lights. I suspect I over water it.  I'm sure it is me, not it. But this year, I'm determined to put at least four in the garden and see how they compare with the Siberia that I love so much. 
This is a Long Keeper, another determinate tomato but a 90 dayer. That is pushing the limits of our season. I've never grown this tomato before but I have a neighbor that does. Not sure how reliable it is for producing ripe tomatoes before frost or how it does in our cool Junes. I'm guessing it would be best to get it to good size before transplanting and to wait in to June before putting it out.

This year with the warmer weather this variety just might do well. The tomatoes are suppose to be twice the size of the Siberia, at 6 oz. instead of 3. They are reported to keep up to 4 months at temperatures of 65 Fahrenheit. That is why I'm wanting to try this heirloom variety.  I think I might look for some black plastic to put around the plants to hold the heat.

I'm also trying Saucy Paste, a heirloom Italian paste tomato. Usually I grow Romas, but not this time. Can't remember why. Maybe seed wasn't available from my favorite catalogue. I do see from another that their is a Russian variety at 85 days. Something to think about.

This Saucy Paste variety is reported to have a very compact plant, (remember our wind) and it is a 85 dayer pushing the limits a bit. I know, I know, I'm starting them indoors but still with a typically cooler June, they don't grow as much that month putting them a bit behind. 

The other variety I have started is another of my favorites, Washington Cherry. It is a cherry tomato variety but the size on these tomatoes is really impressive. My sisters, when they had them last summer, raved about the taste and size.  They too are a determinate, stocky plant.

Notice a pattern here? Yes, determinate is the only kind I'll grow. For those of you who aren't familiar with the terms determinate and indeterminate, I'll explain. Determinate tomato plants grow to a pre-determined size, about four feet, and the tomatoes come on in a short period of time. These are great for canning as you have lots of fruit at the same time.

Indeterminate tomato plants put on tomatoes a little at a time as the plant grows. The plant will keep growing. Kirk's grandpa had a indeterminate plant that grew up the side of his stucco garage and onto the roof.
Heirloom tomatoes tend to be indeterminate (vining with fruit ripening over time). There are a few determinate varieties (bushier, with the crop ripening all at one time--good for canning).

With such a short growing season in this part of Wyoming, you can now see why determinate is the only way to go. Beware though, because I've seen indeterminate tomatoes in the greenhouses around here so check the label. Some don't know what they are selling which is a pity. Discouraged gardeners don't return to buy more plants and not many of us have stucco garages to plant our indeterminates next to.

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