Tomato Successions: why to sow multiple tomato crops

photo credit: Irena Hollowell

We sow tomato transplants twice here on our farm in central Virginia: once in March, for our earliest crops, and again in mid-April, for a second tomato crop that will start producing in August. Although many heirlooms will produce continuously until frost, we find that production sometimes slows when summer rains or disease-pressure take a toll on our plants. Sowing that second crop gives us the best quality fruit late in the summer and into early fall (and for harvesting underripe fruits to ripen in storage when frost threatens).

Multiple tomato crop successions spaced about a month apart can also help you grow more flavorful tomatoes. We find our tomatoes are sweetest and most flavorful when the weather has been dry when the fruits are ripening. You can get this effect by reducing or stopping irrigation altogether when your tomatoes start to ripen. The fruits will be more intensely flavorful, but the plants will likely stop producing sooner. Time your next succession to start producing just when your parched plants are ready to quit.

We recommend sowing your early-crop tomato transplants 5 to 6 weeks before your average last frost. You can also sow sooner to get a jump on the season, but you may need to pot up into larger containers 2 or more times, instead of just one, to prevent the young plants from becoming leggy and root-bound.

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The Greenhorns’ Cooperative Farming guide released!

The Greenhorns, an organization of young farmers dedicated to helping other young farmers getting into sustainable agriculture, has just published their thorough and interesting guide to getting started with cooperative and collective farming. You can download it from them here (Cooperative Farming) or you can find it, along with a bunch of other useful resources, in our Links section.

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Seeking input: what are your top five heirloom tomatoes?

Overwhelmed by heirlooms? We sell seeds for over 100 tomato varieties, and we feel that all those varieties have special value to be preserved. So we understand that choosing which to grow in your home garden can be daunting, especially if you’re limited to just a few plants.

Here’s my personal top five list. My experience growing and eating these tomatoes over the years is why they’re my favorites. We’d love to hear from you about your favorite tomato varieties, and why.

granny cantrell tomato1. Granny Cantrell’s

Granny Cantrell’s is my absolute favorite VERY LARGE heirloom. These red-pink beauties are similar in size to the Brandywines and Cherokee Purple, but I think the flavor of Granny Cantrell’s is even better. I also find the plants to be hardier and the fruits keep better off the vine, even when picked fully ripe.

Very large tomatoes like Granny Cantrell’s may not be the best choice for beginners: they need even moisture, a long frost-free season, and soil high in organic content.

dr. carolyn tomato2. Dr. Carolyn

Dr. Carolyn tastes sweet and complex, more like one of the larger heirlooms than a cherry tomato. This variety is a strain selected from the yellow-gold Siberian heirloom Galinas, but the two cannot be confused: Dr. Carolyn tomatoes are such a pale yellow, they’re almost translucent. Unique and very beautiful.

stupice tomato3. Stupice

As early as the most popular early hybrids, these classic orange-red globes blow me away every year: how can an early tomato taste so good? And by choosing an open-pollinated variety, you can save your own seed and select for your micro-climate.

black prince tomato4. Black Prince

I grew Black Prince the first year I had my own large garden, and their flavor was so fruity, they were unlike anything I’d ever tasted. A Siberian heirloom with a chocolatey-red appearance, Black Prince produces well for me even those years when I don’t give my plants optimal fertility or watering. Plus they’re early and tolerant of cool springs.

white wonder tomato5. White Wonder

Take care to mark the location of your White Wonder plants well, or you may have a few dropping off the vine over-ripe before you stop waiting for the fruits to turn red. White tomatoes are fun in the kitchen, for white tomato sauces or pale ketchup. But my favorite way to eat these is to bite into them like an apple, straight off the vine (perhaps it’s not surprising then that these would be derived from the heirloom White Apple!). (Ira Wallace comments that White Wonder’s flavor can be a less flavorful years when the weather is very wet — but this tomato still makes my top 5 list, I’ll keep growing it and hoping that the weather cooperates.)

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