STARTING THE TASTE OF SUMMER FROM SEED

Before there was a vegetable garden in my life there were tomatoes. I first grew tomatoes in 10-inch plastic pots in the first apartment I lived in after college. The pots weren't big enough and the squirrels grabbed every fruit the moment it appeared.

When I moved to my next apartment, I tried to grow a tomato in a north-facing window box. I have always been an optimistic gardener. After we came home from living in New Zealand, I covered a patio with tomatoes in containers along with all kinds of flowers. I think the gardening prowess in New Zealand must have rubbed off on me because I came back a much better gardener, despite not doing any gardening there.

I've been growing tomatoes for 20 years now and I have never started one from seed.

That's about to change. This year I'm going to be starting most of my tomatoes from seed (I'm allowing myself an out to buy a couple plants that might catch my eye).

It's not that I'm afraid to start tomatoes from seed. It's quite the opposite: I'm afraid I won't be able to stop starting tomatoes from seeds.

I have room for about eight tomato plants in my garden and various containers and that's probably pushing it. Every packet of seeds has about 25 seeds in it. And yes, I can give away excess plants. But will I?

I've struggled more than a little with making my selections as well. Depending on the source you consult, there are between 3,000 and 10,000 types of tomatoes. I need eight or fewer.

I picked up Craig LeHoullier's book Epic Tomatoes, which had information on several interesting sounding varieties as well as everything else you need to know about growing tomatoes. (The most interesting thing I learned is that not all suckers are bad and you don't need to get rid of them all.

My personal priorities for tomatoes are:
  1. They have to grow and produce reasonably well in our short growing season.
  2. Taste. (Although I've never met a homegrown tomato that wasn't 1,000 times better than a tomato from the store.)
  3. Disease resistance.
I usually look for varieties that are quick to reach maturity, and that can come at the expense of taste. I also like to get a wide variety of tomatoes in terms of color, use and size.

Given all that, here are the varieties I've ordered seed for so far (I'm linking to the places I bought them but obviously many places carry the same varieties):



MEXICO MIDGET
LeHoullier said his wife would never forgive him (or maybe divorce him) if he didn't grow this tomato every year. This very small cherry tomato grows on large trusses and provides amazing flavor. If this one is as good as LeHoullier says it is, I don't expect many of these to make it in the house.

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CHEROKEE PURPLE
This may be my favorite of all tomatoes and I can't imagine not growing it (or substituting Black Krim) every year. It's sweet and dark and meaty and everything I want a tomato to be.
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SHEBOYGAN
This is a paste and canning tomato, which is a bit of a change for me as I rarely grow that variety. What drew me to it is that supposedly this heirloom was grown in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, (Mr. Much More Patient's hometown and a mere 20 miles from our house) where it thrived. I want a tomato that thrives and gives me more fruit than I can possibly figure out what to do with.

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This was developed at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, so it must be good, right? I was drawn to this tomato for the same reason as I was drawn to Sheboygan: It stands a good chance of doing well in my area.

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I'm a sucker for an interesting tomato and this one is intriguing to me. Descriptions of the flavor range from "horrible" to "sparkling." Apparently if you pick these when they are anything but ripe the flavor is not great. I'm willing to give it a shot.

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This is described as a pinkish brown tomato with green stripes. It matures quickly and the flavor is said to be outstanding. I'll classify this one as an experiment.

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I will also probably add in a Kellogg's Breakfast tomato, as that has been one of my best producers for several years and I love the orange-yellow tomatoes that taste more like a red fruit than a yellow.

Now comes the waiting. 

Do you know what kind of tomatoes you'll grow this year? Do you plan it out ahead of time or just grab what strikes your fancy?

8 comments :

  1. I don't know but you have got me thinking about it now. That blue one sounds interesting. I have never heard of it.

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  2. I suspect some tomatoes I got from my mom last year may have been Cherokee Purple or Black Krim (my mom couldn't remember). They had purple shoulders and were SO yummy! I saved the seeds from them so I hope they come true. Looks like you picked out a great selection! And now I'm hungry for fresh ripe tomatoes...

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  3. does that blueberry one also go by the name Indigo Rose? It looks very similar. If so, it is the worst tasting tomato I have ever tasted. I would rather have a sickly pink, grainy commercial tomato. Indigo Rose is a very, very low acid variety so it doesn't have much tomato flavor. But they are gorgeous. My friend and favorite farmer of all trades always grows them sheerly for their beauty. They are eye catching enough in her mixed tomato baskets to earn their keep. She has also said that children often like them...since they have no taste. My rant may all be in vain as they may be completely different from one another.
    Tomato seedlings are so fun. There is no smell I love more than young tomato leaves. I always wish they weren't poisonous and I could use them like herbs. I haven't started any for years. I am sti gun shy after summer 2011 when I had literally thousands of seedlings because I got very over eager. Finally on a bleak day in June, I threw many away. I felt sick! Ah I'm so ready for the farmers market to start.

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  4. This year I will start German Striped from seed. I've started from seed in the past with good luck. I give away all but two plants because I don't have much sun in my yard. While I haven't had much trouble starting seeds up until now, the instructions on the back of the seed packet from Stoke's seeds would scare anyone from attempting this. I always top off the starting mix with shredded sphagnum moss after planting the seeds to prevent damping off.

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  5. Tomatoes were the first thing I started from seed, and now starting my seedlings is basically the only thing that keeps me sane at the end of winter. Hands down my favorite all time variety is Black Cherry. The plants are AMAZING. I've grown them for at least 6 years now. Last year I lost my seeds and was so upset, but lucky for me, mid-June a Black Cherry plant sprouted up in my garden from last year's fallen fruit, and despite the last start, it was one of the most bountiful plants in my garden! I have been able to harvest from that plant well into October (in PA). I highly recommend it! Also, I buy all my seeds from tomatobob.com Tomato Bob has never let me down :)

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    1. I've ordered from them, too. They are here in Ohio I think. With my first order, there was a little mistake and they made up for it ten fold. They are a great company!

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  6. I've started tomatoes from seed in the past -- it was quite easy. But the Amish nursery down the road from me does such a good job and has an interesting variety of newer and heirloom varieties (and at $1.29 per 4- or 6-pack it's actually cheaper than buying seeds for multiple varieties), so I usually just pick up a few started packs around the 1st of May. Have fun with your cool varieties and let us know how they taste in August! -Beth

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  7. While Purple Cherokee is one of my favorites (and I'll be growing it this summer), I grew the Blue Berry tomatoes last summer and didn't like them at all. It was too difficult to tell when they were ripe and I wasn't particularly fond of the taste. I'll be curious to see what you think of them though.

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