When I get excited about the summer and the garden that comes with it, the first thing that comes to mind are the tomatoes and basil. I have to discipline myself to not make my move until the May long weekend; there’s always the concern of frost and even on the coast we hold off as the nights are too humid until then. I figured today was close enough.
My saint-of-a-husband didn’t even blink when he saw how many I brought home:
Lemon boy-matures in 72 days with yellow, 7 oz fruit.
Sweet Million-matures in 60 days, really sweet 1″ fruit.
Sweet 100-matures in 68 days, a hybrid that also produces 1″ sweet, cherry shaped fruit.
La Roma-my favourite-matures in 75 days, a hybrid that produces sweet, plum shaped fruit with few seeds.
Green Grapes-matures in 75 days, an heirloom variety that produces 1″ yellowish-green fruit that hang in clusters like grapes.
Old German-matures in 75-85 days, another heirloom variety that produces huge 16 oz yellow fruit with pink and red stripes.
And then another old German (I accidentally grabbed two-but I’m not complaining) and a second Roma (totally on purpose).
Some tomato jargon demystified:
Heirloom varieties are at least decades old and were originally passed down through families. They are left to pollinate naturally-called open pollination. They are chosen for specific traits such as taste and disease resistance and the seeds are retained for planting next year. They’re known for their great taste and unique colours and shapes, but can be a little picky about growing conditions and are not quite as sure a thing as hybrids.
Hybrids have been bred to be reliable, productive and resistant to disease by intentional cross-pollination. Always a solid choice.
Determinate tomatoes, also known as bush tomatoes, stop growing once they are around four feet high and tend to crop fairly quickly, with all their fruit maturing within a couple of weeks or so and then shutting down. In-determinate varieties will continue to grow and produce fruit throughout the season until frost shuts down the party. So what you choose depends on if you want all your fruit to be ready at once, say for canning, or if you want to be able to eat fruit throughout the summer.
Some quick tips I’ve learned about growing tomatoes:
-tomatoes love as much sun as possible but will require daily watering when it’s hot to avoid wilting and to ensure the fruit is sweet; especially if in containers.
-against a wall or garage, or on top of patio stones is an ideal location as it helps retain heat and creates a little micro-climate. I chose black pots for the same reason.
-Tomatoes love to be planted in a compost rich soil; you won’t be surprised to hear I chose Seasoil. If they come in a biodegradable peat based container you can leave it on as long as you completely cover it with soil (otherwise it will wick the water away from your tomato). And of course we should harden them off for several days just like any other plant.
-Stake them and stake them early, before you damage the roots. I chose the supports above; really helps in keeping them off the ground.
-keep them off the ground! They will quickly succumb to blight and disease if left to rest on the soil. Remove any yellow or spotted leaves immediately.
-avoid getting any water on the leaves or fruit. Water carefully into the surrounding soil and try to keep the stream gentle to avoid splash-back. (is that a real word?)
-pruning off the little stems that develop at the crux of a branch will encourage the plant to put more of its effort into the fruit.
-Apparently the fruit needs a consistent night time temperature of no less than 13 degrees to set and I recently read that if day time temperature goes over 24 degrees, the tomatoes risk becoming soft on the vine and may have to be picked daily. Either way, picking them when they ripen will encourage more fruit. Anything left to wither on the vine, whether beans, peas or tomatoes, will signal the plant to stop producing.
Now I’m willing to experiment with tomatoes but when it comes to the basil I’m decidedly old school. Here are the Large Leaf Italian and Genovese varieties:
I chose cedar for this planter. If you’re planting directly into the soil, tomatoes and basil make for great companion gardening and will help one another’s development throughout the season. Pinching back the flowers will encourage the plant to put its effort into leaf production; as will regularly harvesting the leaves.
Confession time: my dirty little secret is that I love my basil plants-so much so that I have a hard time using them and have even bought basil from the store to avoid “wrecking” the beautiful plants I have at home. It ends this season!