Sunday, July 27, 2008

Growing tomatoes

In a warm summer climate, with plenty of sun, tomatoes are almost a given in a vegetable garden. Even non-gardeners may stick one or two tomatoes in the ground, just to have some fresh ones. One of our neighbors has two staked tomato plants at the side of her house, in otherwise a sea of lawn.
a 'Beefy Boy'
Garden centers, nurseries, and local 'feed and seed' stores usually offer up the traditional hybrids: Big Boy, Better Boy, Roma, and Sweet 100, with some recent additions of Brandywine, Mortgage-lifter, and other well-known heirloom varieties. There are hundreds of different varieties of tomatoes, with varying levels of acid and sweet, shapes and sizes, colors, and stripes.

I've grown different sorts from seeds, too, and tried unusual types bought at horticultural student plant sales, and have just about come to the notion that growing ONLY disease-resistant tomatoes in my Southern soil is productive, and any non-disease resistant (heirlooms) need to be in containers. I love the diversity and history of heirlooms, and they're wonderfully delicious, too, of course.

This summer, the VFN-resistant varieties have been the clear winners. The so-called Amish paste tomatoes (actually a striped heirloom of some sort) have declined due to nematodes, the non-resistant Sweet 100's haven't lasted long either, and a couple of heirloom peppers have had some sort of sudden wilt, bacterial, I think. Hhrmph.

I haven't always been so scrupulous with rotations, and of course, that's the first line of organic management of common plant diseases like fusarium and verticillum wilt, and buildup of Southern root-knot nematodes (they LOVE the roots of non-resistant varieties of tomatoes and peppers).

Using rotations with French marigolds, canola, sesame, grasses, and cole crops are other ways of reducing nematode populations, along with solarization in mid-summer - I'm going to give those a try, too.

I'm quite tired of yellowing tomato leaves and sad-looking plants!


  1. I know you're right, but I can't help it. Every time I run across a new heirloom (or, make that, old heirloom new to me), I have to try it. I do have most of mine in raised beds and rotate but last year was just about a tomato disaster and I almost gave up and went back to the hybrids. This year, so far anyway, it's a different story. Well, same awful weather but great tomatoes. Some heirloom varieties just do better than others here. Jeaune flamme, a lovely small bright orange tomato goes gangbusters and is very early. Ozark Pink loves the heat and takes the drought. But my new best friend is Striped Roman-- gorgeous huge meaty plum, very prolific, fabulous flavor. Other than luck, my success this year (so far, as I said) I'm crediting to a tip from an heirloom grower in North Carolina (Chip at Appalachian Seeds-- great place!): I've been using Serenade on my plants since they were small seedlings mixed with fish emulsion at weekly intervals. Serenade is a naturally occurring bacteria like Bt, but this one helps prevent blight and a few other nasties. I have had to switch off with Neem on my curcurbits to fight the mildew but the tomatoes are still going strong with very, very few yellowing leaves. Some recommend switching off every three weeks or so with copper on the tomatoes but that's too strong for me. Could be just a fluke, but I'm not complaining-- plenty else out there to complain about, like my wilting butternut squash.

    And with Serenade, unlike Neem or other oils, you don't have to worry about spraying in the heat. It has cumulative as well as shielding properties (so if it rains a little, you don't have to reapply off your schedule) and it doesn't hurt our friendly insects. I'm sold on it-- so far.

  2. A fellow that promotes market gardening of tomatoes "for Health and Wealth" left this comment:

    "We have a different outlook than some. We do enjoy our small collection of heirlooms but we grow tomatoes for Cash Flow and pretty much stick to proved Hybrids that work well in our Climate."

    I've excerpted his message because I thought it was interesting, but since I don't post commercially-oriented comments, I haven't let the whole comment (which included his website) through.

  3. Corrie-
    I'm so glad that you're having fun growing your tomatoes. I certainly will keep trying with heirlooms, too, and Serenade sounds like it's worth trying, as well as managing soil pH, etc. I'm going to try some cover crop rotations this fall, to mix things up. Containers are always a refuge, as well!

    My odd C. moschata squash is wilting big-time, too, with no obvious reason. I'm about ready to toss it on the alternative compost heap. It'll give me more space to plant fall crops.


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