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Repotting of the century

 

 

I spent six hours repotting tomatoes on Saturday. And if that sounds right up there with a root canal, you wouldn’t be far off at all. I think I’ve about reached my natural limit of tomato plants I’m willing to nurture, and next year all the people I’ve started some for are absolutely SOL. The demands in time and effort are close to maxed out and it seems like forty adolescent tomatoes is all I can handle. See if you live in a normal climate, you’d start your tomatoes something like four weeks before last frost. They would have to be replanted once, from peat pods to four inch pots while they are still a manageable three inch size, and happily occupy maybe six square feet by the time they go outside.

Living in Calgary though, requires the starting of tomatoes in oh say, late March or so, while they won’t see the light of day until approximately oh say, June. In those three months, the baby tomatoes are guaranteed to outgrow their four inch pots and become hugely tall and root-bound. Apparently you don’t want that to happen since it’s bad for the roots, limits the uptake of nutrients, and is stressful for the plant, and who wants to eat stressed out tomatoes? Not me, man.

So when they reached what I thought was a good height of ten inches or so (although as with all my plans I was a week behind), I repotted the tomatoes into empty 2L milk and pop bottles. Why bottles? Well, I did mention forty tomato plants, right? And each large-ish plastic pot at the garden store (and the home hardware store, and the superstore) was approaching four dollars. You do the math. I could buy caseloads of tomatoes for those prices. Plus, and this is huge, I wanted to plant the tomatoes deeply, burying the bulk of each long stem because tomatoes are able to grow new roots out of the fine hairs they’re covered with, and a large root ball means a healthy plant. Well, every single 8” pot was wide and squat. Perfect for petunias perhaps, but completely opposite of the tall narrow pot I’d wanted for the tomatoes.

A container collecting frenzy ensued, with my boyfriends’ six-litre-a-week milk habit coming in quite handy.  (No I’m not kidding, I wondered if we should get a cow on several occasions.) Finally I had a table covered in clean 2L jugs with cut-off tops and punctured bottoms and it looked like the bottle depot exploded all over the table.

Then it was a routine of moistening potting soil in two huge bowls, removing the cat off the counter, adding some soil to the bottom of each container, gently shaking the plant upside down to dislodge it, dropping the plant down the well, adding more potting soil, removing the cat again, watering the plant, using a chopstick to poke a hole to the bottom of the container and watching half the soil disappear in a river of mud down to the bottom, adding more soil, water, label, and finally locking the cat in the bedroom. Repeat X 40.  I am not the most patient person, and the fact that I didn’t lose it once, speaks volumes to my newly cultivated zen-like attitude. Chop wood, carry water and all that.

The cool thing out of the deal is that in clear containers you can clearly watch the trickle of moisture down the sides and have a semblance of how dry your plants are getting. The downside is that my plants now take up a dozen feet of space and require some yoga skillz to water.  

 

 

 

***Speaking of watering, some of the plants (especially the paste variety – Ardwyna) were looking a bit…. ragged. They were tall and spindly, not bushy and in general looked like survivors of a tomato-pocalypse.  Some of their lowest leaves were yellowing too. I googled all the symptoms and the consensus was a mineral deficiency that can be cured with Epsom salt. So when I was done the Herculean task of repotting them, I watered them with a very dilute Epsom salt solution. Lo and behold, they all greened up, grew some more leaves and smartened up in general. I did not have this problem last year, so I am at a loss to imagine why they needed those nutrients, but there you go.

I’ve also started cukes and zucchinis this weekend, and they’ll be coming up too. God help me.

One tomato, two tomatoes

 

 

In a burst of optimism and positivity I’m doubling our tomato plantings from nine plants to eighteen this year. Last year only four produced at all, given our sad lack of summer and other weather prevarications, and we only ended up with a counterful of fruit, dashing hopes of tomato sauces and salsas.  But lessons were learned (namely Calgary weather sucks), and this year I started eighteen seedlings all to myself. Not to be outdone, my significant other decided that he has superior skillz in tomato raising. He thinks he can get twice the harvest for half the work. He feels that I spend way too much effort on these guys what with all the planting, lights management, kelp fertilizing and hovering that I did. He is convinced that all HE has to do is stick them into pots on the deck and leave ‘em alone. To this I say, bring it on. I’ll pit my maxi-kaps and feeding techniques against his pots any day. So he started several plants of his own. This year if the (weather cooperates) we’ll either be drowning in tomatoes or buying a greenhouse.

 

But I’m trying all sorts of varieties this year, from the faves of last year – Ildi, Valencia and Carbon to maters I’ve never heard of – Ardwyna, Slava and Silvery Fir. Below is what I’ve started this year, from small to large with a hybrid thrown in for comparison. I want to know if the superior yields of a hybrid tomato can be pitted against the best of heirloom taste. All descriptions are from the sites that sell them. Photos are from all over the place. (Actually it’s hard to believe but there are very few photos of some of these, often just one! So if I take photos as they grow I’ll be doing a valuable public service. Yeah.)  If you’ve grown any of these before, let me know how they were – cause I’m seduced by all of them.

 

CHERRIES:

Ildi

Tiny lemon-yellow and lemon-shaped, zesty tomato on 1-2 ft vines. Produces hundreds on a plant. Great for containers. Early. Grow outside.

German Lunchbox Cherry

Photo by Cpt. Obvious

Deep pink colour, oval shape. Semi-determinate plants produce well and start to ripen early. Exotic rich flavour, starts out acid, then sweet. Grows well in the greenhouse and keeps for weeks once picked. Rated 10 for flavour. Rare.

Sungold

Photo by tradeswindfruit.com

This interesting variety has an absolutely unique tropical taste when it is orange – not quite red and not quite gold. Rich and fruity tomatoes droop in long trusses on vigorous vines that keep on producing all summer. A must for garden snacks. Resistant to Fusarium wilt race 1 and Fusarium wilt race 2. This variety requires more heat and time to mature completely.
Vine (indeterminate), Matures in 65 days. (hybrid seeds)

 

EARLY:

Russian Red

Photo by koanga.org.nz

First to ripen in a very cool season, of the larger varieties. The fruit has broad shoulders and pointed bottoms. Semi determinated plants give decent full season production. Texture is meaty, nice acid/sweet rich flavour, great slicing tomato that keeps well on the vine and once picked. Rated 10 for flavour. Rare heirloom

Slava

Photo by tomatofest.com

From the Czech Republic. Name means “glory” and it is a glorious one. Blight resistant.

Silvery Fir

Photo by motherearthnews.com

Bright red small fruit, famous for its very unique dense carrot-like foliage. Determinate plants produce very well and early. 2-3 feet. Texture is moist, skins are tender, and tomatoes have a very strong, lingering flavour. Excellent sandwich tomato and a favourite for cheesemelts. Rated 10 for flavour. Russian heirloom.

Ardwyna Paste

Photo by stellarseeds.com

Long, fat and tapered. Good in large containers and greenhouse. Excellent flavour for sauce. Few seeds. Early and abundant production.

 

FULL SEASON: (the hardest to grow in Calgary, but man oh man – the payoff)

Valencia

Photo by hillsidecommunitygarden.com

This is a huge golden orange, almost round fruit, very solid and heavy. Has a meaty texture with a sweet flavour and a touch of acid. Excellent slicer. Rated 9 for flavour. Indeterminate.

Carbon

Photo by rareseeds.com

Taste test winner in 2007 and 2008! 8-12 ounce uniform tomatoes that ripen to dark red with blackish overtones. Deep red interior. Fruits are flattened round and smooth, without cracking or blemishing. Rich, sweet, complex flavour. Excellent for salads and sandwiches. Indeterminate.

 

Sudduth’s Brandywine – no photo

Grown by Sudduth family for nearly 100 years. Up to 2 pounds. Dusty rose. Unsurpassed acid but unique and complex flavour. Indeterminate.

Yellow Mortgage Lifter

Photo by tradeswindfruit.com

Bright yellow colour.Nice meaty texture and thin skins, with a rich, medium zesty flavour .An excellent producer on semi determinate vines.Always dependable, best grown outside.Rated 10 for flavour.

Big Beef – the dark horse for comparison

Photo by gardenharvestsupply.com

Big Beef tomatoes are really big, 10-15cm (4-6″), unblemished tomatoes grow in record time on vigorous vines. Firm, meaty and wonderfully sweet with an acid balance that gives a rich taste that always wins at taste trials. AAS winner. Grows to 1 pound. Round to globe-shaped. Flavor is full and hearty with lots of sweet juice balanced with that wonderful tomato acidity. These giants slice up perfectly for big sandwiches. Fruit stays large even at the end of a long harvest season. Resistant to Fusarium wilt race 1; Fusarium wilt race 2; nematodes; Verticillium wilt; Tomato Mosaic virus. Big Beef requires more heat and time to mature completely.

 

 

The evolution of a tomato:

 

It’s hard to describe just how much tomatoes love their self-watering containers, but these photos speak for themselves:

They went from this:

Seedlings

 

To this:

Evo - tall babies

 

To the great outdoors:

Evo - outside

 

Where they grew:

Evo - half way there

 

And became monsters: (notice no more window, they’re easily six feet tall)

Evo - jungle

 

And finally, finally weeks after they were expected they produced actual REAL tomatoes:

 Evo - actual tomatoes

 

This has been a very trying year for many gardeners and farmers. From late blight in many areas to a very late start to the season up north, from late thaws to a cold and windy and rainy summer, it seems like everything was stacked against poor crops this year. Probably this is, because I started a garden. But I’ve taken a look at many a friends’ garden patch to see how their ‘maters are doing, and after doing that I’m especially impressed by mine.

Most tomatoes around here hover around two feet tall, with a few tomatoes on each plant. This is owing to poor clayey soil, insufficient water, chilly nights and a short season, but my plants have persevered and are easily the tallest I’ve seen outside the greenhouse.  They started producing quite late, due to a cold summer, but if there’s any hope of a warm September, I may even see a few of them ripen. Here’s hoping!