As much as I try to accomplish tasks in a timely manner, life just seems to get in the way and things occasionally get done later rather than sooner. So it is this year with starting my tomato seeds. Here it is April 16th and I have just planted the seeds in their cell packs this evening. They then went under the grow lights with a plastic dome placed over the cell packs to keep the moisture in. As long as one has a light source, starting most seeds inside is not a difficult task. Always use clean containers, fill them to the top with moistened soilless growing media and keep it moist but not saturated. Remove any plastic coverings once the seeds start to germinate and keep the light 2 to 3 inches above their leaves while the seedlings are young.
I plant two tomato seeds in each cell of a 4-cell pack and will then thin to the strongest seedling. If the seeds are 2 or 3 years old, then 3 or 4 get planted in each cell. Tomato seeds last 3 to 4 years for me which is both good and bad. Hating to waste anything, I use up all the seeds from the varieties I have on hand before I order more seeds (unless the plants performed very poorly which was the case for a green cherry tomato I tried a couple of years ago). So I don’t get to try new varieties as quick as my heart desires, usually only 1 or 2 each year.
Some tomatoes I can’t live without and grow them every year. These include 3 cherry tomatoes – ‘Sungold’, ‘Sweet Million’ and ‘Yellow Jelly Bean’, all of which look and taste so sweet and summery in my salads, and my canning tomato, ‘Polish Linguisa’ which I make tomato and chili sauce from. These four I grow each year and they account for about 12 plants in total. So I have room in the garden for about eight or so more tomatoes and here is where the fun begins.
My 2013 selections include some I grew last year and have leftover seed for, and 3 new tomato varieties. First the repeats: ‘Djena Lee’s Golden Girl tomato came as a ‘Free Trial Offer’ from Totally Tomatoes (they lie, they have a plethora of peppers too!). I grew one plant last year and loved it so much that I am growing it again. It is an indeterminate heirloom grown by Djena Lee and given to the Reverend Morrow in 1929 who kept this variety going. For 10 consecutive years, it won first prize at the Chicago Fair and I can see (taste) why! It is an orangey-yellow fruit that starts maturing about 80 days after transplant. I love the tangy but sweet flavor and that it did well in my garden last year.
On the other extreme, a second heirloom, ‘Peron’, billed as the sprayless tomato because of its disease resistance, died on me somewhere around the middle of August – from which disease I am not positive. It was introduced in the 1950’s by some Gleckler seedsmen and was supposed to have 3 ½ inch globe shaped fruits, none of which I got to harvest. It is an open-pollinated variety ready in about 68 days from transplant. I will give it one more chance.
Late blight struck my plants again last year although it was towards the end of the season. ‘Yellow Jelly Bean’ was able to almost outgrow it with its vigorous, indeterminate habit and I was harvesting those yellow, oval tomatoes well into October. But I saw that Johnny’s Selected Seeds was offering ‘Defiant PHR F1’ which is supposed to have high resistance to late blight and moderate resistance to early blight along with 6 to 8 ounce globe-shaped fruit and I am giving it a try. ‘Defiant’ is a determinant hybrid that matures in about 70 days from transplant.
Another hybrid I am trying this year is ‘Ultimate Opener’. Every gardener is searching for that earliest ripening tomato (although they would have started them already if more diligent than me!) and according to Pinetree Seed catalog descriptions this tomato should ripen in 57 days from transplant. The medium-sized, 8 oz. tomatoes are produced on strong, disease resistant plants that reach about 6 feet in height.
Last, but not least, is a Polish heirloom from Russia called ‘Soldacki’. It is from Krakow but was brought to Cleveland around 1900. Pictures show lovely and flavorful, dark red, ribbed fruits and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into a sun-ripened fruit. Being indeterminate in nature, they will require staking or caging and fruit should mature in 75 to 80 days.
I’ll report at the end of the summer on garden successes and failures. If you have been thinking about starting tomatoes from seed, you still have time but get to it soon. Once you start shopping for tomato seed you will be amazed at the incredible selection you have to choose from. Go for it!
Good gardening to you!