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Garden Update, Part 2: Determinate Tomatoes

Orange Tomatoes

The tomato plants are set in two areas of the garden. The main section has three rows, with a fourth row set across the patch from the rest. This is an experiment I’m running, involving root protection from heat. In any case, it means I’ve got tomatoes scattered pretty much all over the place.

Some of the determinate varieties can be found on the south end of the main patch. The isolated row is all determinates, except for one lonely Sungold. In all, there are 22 of these hardy determinate bushes in the garden, representing 9 distinct cultivars. This year I chose for heat resistance where I could; important, as we expect a long, hot summer here in central Texas.

Rinsed TomatoesLet’s start with some of those heat-resisters: Solar Fire, Summer Set, and Phoenix. These are all recent hybrid offerings, and I chose to include three of each. The Summer Set bushes can grow to near 6 feet tall, with the Solar Fire next at 4-5 feet. Phoenix bushes tend to be shorter and sturdier, not much over 3 feet in height. However, the Phoenix plants seem to want more space between each other, as they stay low and grow wide and well filled-in. Each of these types put on regular-sized, smooth, and deeply red fruit. All three varieties are also quite disease-resistant; a nice bonus these days.

All nine of these plants are blooming nicely, and a couple have set some fruit on. Go, plants, go!

The Amelia VR hybrid is a tomato that’s been optimized for the home gardener in the deep South. Plenty of disease resistance, and heat-sturdy too, Amelias grow to three foot tall, or a bit more, and don’t splay all over the garden. They don’t have the super-thick foliage and stem structure of some modern hybrids, but they’re plenty tough. Oddly, they’re a bit finicky to start from seed, and they don’t like cool mornings (below 50° F); if they get cold, they get tissue scarring and “catface.” They’ still grow fairly well, but not as fully as an unscarred bush. I have one that survived the frosts, and it’s a completely different animal (of the plant sort) than the one I bought later. They’re both blooming, though, so I think they’ll do just fine.

Right after the last freeze got my young tomatoes I sat down and cried, then went to the garden center to begin the recovery effort. The first specimens I collected included two nice-looking Better Bush plants, in larger pots. These babies were only about eight inches tall (out of the dirt), and were desperately blooming, indicating they really wanted out of their restraints so they could get going. I turned them loose into the wild and planted their roots deep, then fed and watered. Good thing I stood back quickly! They’re growing fast, and have already set on several clusters of tomatoes. These globes are all about the size of a baseball, or even a bit larger. And more blooms are started just up the stalk. I think we’re in for an avalanche of Very Large Tomatoes, Real Soon Now.

Green Cherry Tomatoes

In the previous Update I mentioned the Goliath tomato. I also have a couple of Bush Goliath, the semi-determinate dwarf cousin. This hybrid was developed for the patio gardener, and that effort led to plants that work well in small spaces. Tough, hardy and productive, the Bush Goliath’s tomatoes look just like those from the larger Goliath plant, up to four inches across and weighing a pound or more. Each. Perfect for slicing or canning. These plants are easy to grow and maintain, and it’s clear they’re going to be well-behaved citizens of the garden patch.

Last year we had great success with the Husky Cherry hybrid. We had four plants, and they even made it through the terrible August heat, after a fashion. I grabbed two plants early this season. This variety makes a very sturdy, dark-green central stalk, with lots of side-limbs that stick straight out. The leaves are crinkly and stiff. Indeed, the whole plant is the most turgid of any in the garden. At first I thought the limbs and runners would be easy to break off, given their stiffness; they’re not. By the time they reach solid production they’ll be very solid plants which will need a cage just to keep them from tipping over. Four plants turned out to be too many, even with the great taste of these tomatoes. Given the other cherry varieties we have, we’ll be well-set again this year. The plants are already to the third ring of their crates and looking very dashing.


Bright Reds

Two heirlooms are represented this season. I’m trying Marglobes for the first time, though this hybrid has been around since forever; 1917, to be exact. Released to general use by the USDA in 1925, this tomato was an immediate hit, with its resistance to diseases (including blossom end rot) and consistent productivity. That’s true still today. My three Marglobes are not going crazy like some of the other tomatoes, but are quietly building a base for later. I may have enough of these for canning.

The other heirloom we’ve planted is the classic Homestead. Officially classed as semi-determinate, these plants can be as tall as six feet when mature; large for a determinate! Homesteads are also mildly resistant to heat, setting fruit even after other plants have given up. I look forward to tasting these medium-sized fruit from my two plants in about two months’ time.

Next up: Hot peppers…

Enjoy the (Bushy Tomatoes) Heat!


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