"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Planting Tomatoes

And so begins the tedious task of planting the "soft" crops. This is what I consider any temperamental vegetable that shivers at the mere mention of a cold night and must be constantly pampered in order to live. These are the plants that I must diligently tend from seed to florescent light and later on to the greenhouse, finally hardening off under row covers outside. It is with great joy that I am able to free myself of this burden, or perhaps I should say commitment, that so intimately connects me with these particular plants and finally set them free to fend for themselves in the cold hard earth... hopefully not too cold. Tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries/gooseberries, various peppers, eggplants, certain herbs and even a few litchi tomatoes all fit into this category. I love growing my own food but I must say that caring for numerous seedlings is not a task I greatly enjoy.

We made the decision to plant our tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries and a whole lot of flowers about two weeks earlier than usual this year as the weather forecast looks really good as far out as the weatherman's eye can see. Normally cool and rainy going into Memorial Day weekend we have had 75-80° days and close to 50° nights. The most important indicator that it is time for planting is all the volunteer tomatoes coming up in the gardens.

We plant these three in pretty much the same manner. A deep hole is dug and filled with a rich compost that was held aside especially for these particular crops.

Tomatoes are buried as deeply as possible using soil that was excavated from the bottom of the hole to form a bowl around the plant. This sandy soil is a little more sterile than the compost and helps prevent against blight or other viral issues brought on by water splatter.

Field fencing is used to make sturdy cages and each plant is then tagged. Each and every cage will be also staked to the ground before the plants get much bigger.

Tomatillos and ground cherries are planted in a similar manner but instead of a cage I sometimes plant them in a row using two sections of fencing to hold them in place. Cross sections of bailing twine will be run across from side to side as the plants grow in height to keep them from falling over on each other.

This will work for tomatoes as well but ours are mostly indeterminate and get much taller and heavier, if we're lucky, so I prefer to use the cages for the majority of them. Cages also seem to allow for better air circulation which is an important preventative against disease.

We ended up with over 53 different tomato varieties and around 80 plants. The goal being to have at least 1500 medium to large fruits for canning, freezing, drying, and a large selection of seeds going forward. Thanks in part to http://grungysgarden.blogspot.com/ for exchanging some unusual seeds with us, we are having fun with tomatoes this year. The hardest part seems to be giving away the extra plants... a good problem to have for a change.

We have come across more of these yet to be identified salamanders in our gardens this year then ever before? This one was hiding in the compost pile.


el said...

53 varieties! Wow. I thought I was kooky with having 20. I have a bit of a confession though: my harvest last year was "too good" from my own 80 or so plants, so this year I have trimmed my sails and am only doing 30 plants. We just didn't eat them all, way too many jars downstairs, even of salsa!

We're doing the cages out of fencing too for the school's garden. Do you stake the cages to the ground, or bury them slightly? I would think with the sandy soil you'd need to do something with that wind of yours.

Congrats on getting everything in the ground.

Mr. H said...

Hi El,

80 is a lot, but last year we only had 36 and the weather took it's toll on them along with the rest of our garden. Although I would not give up last years challenges for anything, I learned more from one bad year then I have in past several good ones. I'm optimistic that this year will be better... if not, we will take what we can get and keep moving forward. You will no doubt have us beat on bean varieties though.

A large percentage of our mostly vegetarian meals have tomatoes involved in one way or another, and I really don't what to go without dried tomatoes again this year. I can almost taste them on our salads.

Yes, I will stake each and every one of those cages over the next couple days. I normally do that as I plant but we are also scrambling a bit this year. We still have peppers and eggplants along with squash, cucs, zucs, and a few melons to plant. Hopefully I will get to them by the end of the week. We were forced to stop planting in order to play catch up on a most prolific assortment of weeds. I can guarantee it will be a good year for the weeds... it always is.

Silke said...

Your tomato garden looks wonderful and so impressive! What do you do with all the tomatoes you don't eat? Dry them? Can them? Freeze them? We planted all of our soft crops a couple of weeks ago (after germinating them in the house) and had a big problem. A low pressure system showed up that nobody had predicted and it rained straight for two weeks (in fact, it is starting to pour again as I write this). So, we are keeping our fingers crossed that our little plants down drown. I hope at least some will make it!

And thanks for your great comment on my blog! :) Silke

Chiot's Run said...

That's a lot of tomatoes, and I thought I had a lot with 23 different varities and 40 plants. Hope they all do wonderfully.

randi said...

man, I love those cages! I'm seemingly sane growing only about 15 different varieties but count ALL the plants and it's into the hundreds, I'll have to do some giving away to neighbors for sure..I'm with you wanting lots for soups, salsas, sauces and snacks. I think the further north you are the more you truly revere fresh/home canned tomatoes. Maybe next week I'll get them in the ground..Do you have a few favorite varieties you'd care to share with your readers?

Mr. H said...


We freeze them whole and also make a lot of sauce that is also frozen or canned. One of our favorite things to top salads with is dried tomatoes. We did not get to have many dried ones last year because the weather did not cooperate with our crops and most of our tomatoes ended up as sauce.

I hope your plants are able to manage the weather, I am sometimes amazed at how hardy some of these "soft" crops turn out to be.

Mr. H said...


I think 23 varieties is still a lot, I have no doubt that your 40 plants will probably outperform my 80 anyway. I have seen some of your other plants and all I can say is... very nice.

Mr. H said...

Hi Randi,

Your and neighbors will be most pleased. We are having the hardest time getting rid of our extra plants... where are all the gardeners?

I hope all of your plants do really well. My favorites from past years are Black Krim and Black Cherry for flavor, neither store very well though.

Matt's Wild Cherry is also one I like because it is so close to the original wild tomatoes, tastes great, and is very split resistant... probably not a very popular tomato as it is really small.

Bloody Butcher is a red, medium size tomato that tastes great and is very early and productive as well... perhaps my favorite.

Burpee Long Keeper is the longest lasting storage tomato I have ever seen, not much flavor at all but I still have one left over from last year.

I heard from someone in your home state of Vermont that Cosmonaut Volkov is early, dependable, and delicious. We are excited to try it for the first time this year.

Russian Baby Large is the one I am most intrigued by. It is a first for us, 1 1/2 oz red tomato that has grown twice as fast as most of my other seedlings.

I hope you have as much fun with yours as I am anticipating having with mine.

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