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Garden Update, Part 1: Indeterminate Tomatoes

Assorted Tomatoes

The garden’s doing famously now, with spring finally deigning to make an appearance. Most folks (including me) had to replant most or all of their gardens this season, some unlucky souls (like my brother) doing so twice. So we’ll be late with the produce, though it appears that there will still be plenty to go around.

Because I’ve installed a large variety of vegetables, in spite of only having 450 square feet to work in, I’ll break this Update into sections: Indeterminate Tomatoes, Determinate Tomatoes, Hot Peppers, Sweet Peppers, and Other Veggies.

This year I have fifteen indeterminate tomato plants in the patch. Last year I had some indeterminate towers over nine feet tall! These cultivars usually shoot up early, and this year is no different. The fastest to reach the top of the tomato cages this season are the Sungold Cherry ones. (Also spelled Sun Gold, for some reason; go figure.) Due to an unexpected senior moment (I’m claiming the sun was in my eyes), I wound up with four of these hardy plants. Two more than planned. And originally I didn’t have any place to put them, but I squeezed one into an unused corner where the wood fences join, and another in an open hole at the northeast end of the cucumber trellis. Both are a little hard to reach, but not completely isolated. This is my first try with Sungolds, and given the vibrant health of these bushes I expect to overwhelmed with extra-sweet, orange fruit soon. At present all four plants have quite a few blooms, and tomatoes already set.

Green Tomatoes

PJ and I tried to start some tomatoes from seed this year. The only ones that survived are three Sweet 100 Cherry plants. (I need a better hothouse arrangement; but that’s for a different rant.) These seedlings were way behind the others early on, but they’ve been stretching upwards at an alarming rate. They’re now well up the cages, and in another ten days or so they could actually pop out the top of the 54” crates I’m using! They’re a pleasant, deep green color, with plenty of short limbs, each holding many smaller, crinkly leaves. Rather like the leaves on a Husky Cherry, though the Sweet 100 isn’t as sturdy a plant as the Husky There are no blooms yet, as this trio seems to be concentrating on structure over productivity at the moment. There are plenty of fruit stalks starting, though; it won’t be long until we’ll be eating handfuls of sweet, red globes in addition to the orange Sungolds.

I put in two Goliath plants, fairly late in the planting scheme, and I began with a couple of already-large specimens. These plants take quite a while to get ready for fruit, as they need to produce strong stems and structure to hold the gigantic fruit the plants set on. Once the Goliath gets going, it produces prodigious quantities of very large, round tomatoes, ideal for canning or sauce-making. Fruit averaging two pounds each, with a single plant yielding 40 or more in a good season, make these lovelies potentially the best workers in the garden. My only concern is that these bushes aren’t terribly heat-resistant; if we get extreme heat early this summer, they might not yield much. We’ll see. At present they’re most of the way up the cages, and trying hard to bush out wide.

One Better Boy survived the freezes that replaced our normal spring weather this year. He was frost-bitten, of course, but somehow he’s sprung back nicely and is threatening to catch up with the Sungolds that surround him. No tomatoes set yet, and only a couple of blooms; but I expect Big Things (get it? Big? I’m a riot, I am.) from him later.

The remaining indeterminates in the garden are heirlooms: two Pink Brandywines, two Hawaiian Pineapples, and one Old German. I’ve not grown any of these varieties before. Brandywines come in several apparent types, although they are all basically the same cultivar: red, pink, orange. The plants look more like a potato plant in the beginning, with large, spatulate leaves. The two plants I have are looking happy, but not showing any signs of blooms or cluster stems yet. Fruit of a pound are more each often have ridges, and can be a bit variegated in color when cut through. They’re beefy and sweet, great on burgers and sandwiches. I look forward to having some of these once the summer heat becomes unbearable.

Mixed Cherries

Pineapple tomatoes are a new species to me. They’re an heirloom beefsteak that produces a yellow-orange fruit big enough that a single slice will cover a third-pound burger patty nicely. I found these at my neighborhood specialty garden store, and was immediately taken with “the tomato with the funny name.” Rumor is that these do have a very sweet, almost pineapple taste; I’m ready to be surprised. Two potential issues: These tomatoes have trouble setting on fruit (as many heirlooms do), and they’re not necessarily heat-resistant. I’ve got the roots put in very deep, and with water and care I hope to keep these bushes healthy through their main productive spell. They’re currently most of the way up the cages and looking strong, with several clusters of blooms opening.

The Old German cultivar is said to have been developed by Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley, beginning more than a century ago. I found a couple of frost-bitten specimens at a local nursery, clearly in need of love from someone. After dickering with the shopkeeper I took the pair for half-price, and planted them together in one hole. So far, one of them has done quite well, recovering from its freezing scrape with doom and beginning to catch its stride in the last few days. The plant is nicely up in its cage, with a few blooms already showing. No fruit set yet, though. These tomatoes are Yet Another Beefsteak type, though slightly smaller than others in the garden. The fruit takes a while to ripen, but in another six weeks I expect to be enjoying these odd-shaped, bicolor tomatoes in salads and other dishes.

Next up: a summary of the determinate tomato section of the garden…

The (Tall Tomato) Heat is ON!

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