Tag Archives: tomatoes

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:

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

Most of you have probably already transplanted your tomato seedlings, but here at SESE we do it a bit later than most. Why? Because we want the vast array of tomatoes we grow for the tastings at our late August open house and at the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival in September to be ready for picking just at the right time for those events. We’re growing more than 70 varieties for you to come and taste!

Just a tiny selection of the tomatoes going in our tasting patch
Just a tiny selection of the tomatoes going in our tasting patch

Here’s the technique we use for quick and successful transplanting of tomato seedlings:

After hardening them off for a couple weeks in our cold frames, we’re ready to take them out to the garden. For us, this means lots of careful labelling and mapping to keep all those varieties clearly separated!

Step 1: We start by spreading hay thickly over the whole area where the plants will go. This serves to keep the ground cool, hold moisture in, and choke out weeds, and in the long term it adds organic matter to improve the soil. If you try this, make sure you get hay that hasn’t been treated with herbicides or pesticides. You’ll also want to get hay that’s been sitting for a year or so, giving all the seeds a chance to have sprouted and died, or you’ll be growing grains alongside your tomatoes.

Step 2: Make a nest in the hay at each place where you want a tomato to go. Space them about 4 feet apart and make each nest about a foot in diameter, pushing the hay away until you can see the ground.

tomato planting nest

Step 3: Dig a hole at the bottom of the nest, toss in a double handful of compost, and mix the compost with the soil you have loosened.

removing tomato seedling from flat

Step 4: Gently pull the seedling out of its container and lay it on its side at the bottom of the hole you’ve dug, all the way at one edge of the nest space. This way you can cover not just the root ball, but also a good portion of the stem with soil. You want to bury a third to a half of the plant. Tomatoes will grow roots along any portion of the stem which is underground, and this method gives you a much sturdier root structure. Be careful that the sideways portion of the stem is supported by soil so it doesn’t break.

tomato seedling planted

Step 5. Cover the root ball and stem portion with soil and press it down firmly. Good soil to root contact is essential to get the plant sucking up water and nutrients right away. Then pull the hay back into place all around the stem of the plant, tucking it in cozily. Finally, give it a good watering and watch your baby grow!

Tomato seedling tucked in

If you do come to the Heritage Harvest Festival, here are a few of our top picks to look out for:

  • Rutgers 250 This is a brand new variety which brings added durability to a flavourful old heirloom and we plan to add it to our 2017 catalog.
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry This one is always a favourite at tastings, an intensely sweet wild cherry tomato originating in Mexico.
  • Garden Peach A delightful novelty tomato disguised as a peach.

Underdog Tomatoes

At Southern Exposure we carry a lot of tomatoes  — 110 as of this year’s catalog!  We carry ones that we like and that grow well.  It’s always gratifying to see varieties that we’ve helped introduce, such as Cherokee Purple, OTV Brandywine, and Amy’s Apricot, go on to sell well and find their way to many other gardens.

Aug2014 (806) tomato assortment prcsd

But there are also some personal favorites of ours that never get as much appreciation as we’d like; this blog post spotlights a couple of them.

Green Grape is a cherry tomato that never gets as much attention as its more famous cousin, Green Zebra.  I’ve got more of a sweet tooth, so when it comes to tomatoes, one like Green Zebra is a bit too tart for me to really enjoy.  Green Grape is a sweeter variety and has an interesting flavor that’s described as being like muscatel.  (I don’t drink alcohol, so one of these days I’ll have to get around to sipping some muscatel to see if it reminds me of Green Grape!)  It’s got big, plump cherry fruits that ripen from green to green-yellow.  Since that’s an unusual color it’s hard to know when they’re ripe. To figure out when they’re ready to eat, feel the first fruits as they ripen. When they’re softening and plumping up, try a few.  Once you’ve figured it out, you’re good to go for the rest of the season.

Oct 2012 (59) Green Grape prcsd

Another great thing about Green Grape is that it’s a semi-determinate (bush type) plant.  Almost all the tomatoes we carry are indeterminates, so it’s a rare treat to find such a short plant with great tasting fruits.  (The Dwarf Tomato Project is working to improve this situation, and besides Rosella Purple, we hope to grow a few more dwarf varieties for seed this year.)

Folks often think Green Grape and Green Zebra are heirlooms because of their unusual color, but both of these are more recent; they were bred by Tom Wagner in the ’80s.  Tom is a passionate tomato breeder, and continues to this day working on all kinds of unusual new varieties. Besides being great for eating fresh, a great way to serve these is to serve sliced fruits with pesto pasta.

Yellow Bell is a Tennessee family heirloom.  It’s a sauce tomato — more juicy than a Roma tomato, so it needs more cooking to get a thick sauce.  But its juiciness means it has great flavor as a slicing tomato as well.

090507 615 prcsd

I first grew Yellow Bell when I was in southern Missouri, and was always super impressed with how well the plants held up.  By late September when most other tomatoes had given up, Yellow Bell was still chugging along — all the way up ‘til frost I’d be getting big handfuls of fruit off the plants.

090507 617 croppedYellow tomatoes like Yellow Bell make for really pretty salsa – wish we had a photo handy I could show off here! – and yellow tomato sauce with chunks of green and red pepper is gorgeous as well!

And to end this on a humorous note – a woman from southwest Virginia recently sent us seed for a tomato that sounds similar to Yellow Bell, but which their family called Bag tomato.   As she wrote, her mother-in-law “called it Bag tomato because its shape reminded her of a man’s scrotum. (No vulgarity intended.)”  We really liked her mother-in-law’s reassurance!  We haven’t had the chance yet, but hope to soon grow out both Bag and Yellow Bell next to each other to see if they’re similar.