All posts by Lisa Dermer

How to Choose the Right Tomato Varieties for Your Garden

Radiator-Charlie's-Mortgage-Lifter-tomato-SESE-web

By Ira Wallace, with Lisa Dermer

Mention summer gardens and the first thing to come up is which tomatoes are you growing? Year after year tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables grown by our customers.  In our 2017 catalog we offer more than 100 different tomato varieties. There are currant tomatoes as small as a dime and big beefsteaks like Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine that can weigh well over a pound (plus every size in between and more shapes than most gardeners can imagine). In addition to the ever popular red and pink varieties there are orange, yellow, black, bi-color and even green varieties. We offer something for every gardener, but how to decide which to grow this year?

There are many criteria that could be used but these four are basic for me:

1. Flavor and texture – the first thing I consider is fruit qualities like flavor and texture for the sandwiches, sauces, and salads we like to eat. Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomato (photo top) is a large heirloom slicer with superb flavor, but be prepared for its long season and indeterminate growth habit (read on).

2. Days to maturity – is not just important for those with a short growing season. In many areas of the Southeast there are two seasons for tomatoes and other summer vegetables. The period in late July and August when it is too hot for tomatoes and sweet peppers to set fruit well, means we grow two crops: one to mature before the hottest spell, and one after. Fast-maturing early and medium days to maturity varieties are really important in such areas. Stupice is a favorite early variety: the small-to-medium size fruits have excellent heirloom-type flavor. We also list several Extra-Early tomatoes.

matts wild cherry tomato SESE

3. Growth style– there are two main growth habits for tomatoes:

-Determinate varieties that grow to a certain height (usually 2-3ft) then stop growing and mature all of the fruit in a short period of time.  Many paste tomatoes are determinate. These varieties are great for canning and well suited to growing in short or split season areas

-Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing, flowering and setting fruit until stopped by frost, disease, or really bad weather. Most Cherry and large beefsteak tomatoes are indeterminate, They need to be caged or staked with a really sturdy support.  Most really large heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate. These varieties are great if you have plenty of space, warm summer temperatures, and a long enough growing season. Delicious and super productive Matt’s Wild Cherry (photo) is a very small cherry tomato with tall, determinate plants.

-The Dwarf Tomato Project has given gardeners a new set of options, with short (2-4 feet tall) plants bred from heirlooms, and retaining heirloom flavor quality, that are easier to trellis and to grow in containers. We offer Rosella Purple, for diminutive plants with fantastic fruits similar to Cherokee Purple.

4. Disease resistance-Find out which diseases are common in your area and select resistant varieties whenever possible. As organic gardeners our first line of defense is prevention. When reading a seed catalog or looking at the back of a seed packet, disease resistances are often shown with an abbreviation after the name. For example verticilium (V) and frusarium (F) wilts are common soil-borne tomato diseases. Look for the V or F after the variety name. Nematodes (N) are  another common disease with resistant varieties available. Roma VF and Tropic VFN are excellent disease resistant varieties and show how the disease resistance is sometimes incorporated in the name.

More resources on www.SouthernExposure.com for tomato growers:

Five Inspiring Reasons to Grow Your Own Transplants

greenhouse-seedlings

Why grow your own transplants from seed?

1. The transplants you grow at home are often healthier, sturdier seedlings than any you could buy. (Seedlings should be short and sturdy, not long and spindly.) That means they’ll suffer less transplant shock, which often means better production.

2. You can time them so they’ll be just the right age when you’re ready to transplant (seedlings you buy are often over-old). This makes for a better start on life and healthier plants overall.

3. You’ll know the full life of your plants, and avoid introducing unknown pesticides or other chemicals into your garden.

4. When you grow your own transplants, you’ll usually end up with your more plants than you need, so you can share or trade with friends or neighbors.

5. Our favorite reason is that sowing your own lets you choose from a much, much larger number of varieties. While the situation is improving, there are still often only a handful of varieties commercially available as plants. The majority of our gardening diversity is only available to gardeners who grow from seed!

At the farm at Southern Exposure, March is when we sow our first round of nightshade crops. We’ll sow another round in late spring: where summers are hot, it’s best to sow a second, later batch for harvest in late summer and early fall. The same plants you put out in spring will be scraggly come September.

We sow peppers first, timing them to be 8-weeks-old at transplanting. Next we sow tomatoes and eggplants, timing the tomatoes to be 6-weeks-old at transplanting. The eggplants go in the ground a couple weeks after the tomatoes.

If you don’t have a greenhouse or cold frame to gow your seedlings, you can grow them inside your house. We recommend growing seedlings under grow lights indoors.

Winter Storage: Garlic & Perennial Onion Bulbs

Lisa Dermer & Ira Wallace

Perennial onion bulbs (shallots, potato onions, and other multiplying onions) and garlic bulbs store very well over the winter provided that they are well-cured, dry, well-ventilated, and not packed over 4 inches deep. See our earlier post on HARVEST AND CURING to learn how to harvest and cure your garlic and perennial onions for optimal storage quality.

Storage Conditions

Ideal conditions are a temperature between either 32-40°F or 50-70°F with 60-70% humidity. Commercially grown garlic is stored in the dark at about 32°F and 65% humidity. Depending on the species and variety, the bulbs may last six months or even longer. Garlic will sprout prematurely if kept between 40-50°F (the temperature of many refrigerators). You can use an unheated room in your house, a root cellar, your garage, etc.

Maintain good air circulation.

Most varieties store reasonably well in a cool room if hung from the ceiling in mesh bags, or spread on shelves in a layer less than 4 inches deep.

Don’t Just Forget About ‘Em!

Inspect stored perennial onions and garlic once a month or more often. Remove bulbs which have sprouted or spoiled or else the whole batch may spoil.

To Plant or Eat?

The larger multiplier onion bulbs should be eaten or planted in the fall because they have a tendency to sprout easily. Large perennial onion bulbs may also be grown in pots or flats in your home during the winter, and used as a source of greens all winter long. Keep the smaller bulbs for kitchen use. Well-cured and -stored bulbs may keep all the way through to the following year’s harvests.

For seed garlic, ideally select large, well-formed bulbs with good wrappers. If your bulbs aren’t high quality — e.g., the wrappers don’t fully cover the differentiated cloves, you can still plant otherwise well-formed cloves.
.