25 May May Every Sunrise hold more promise and every sunset hold more peace
What I know about Memorial Day
When I was a much younger girl I would spend the two weeks before Memorial Day working with my grandmother in her greenhouses making up planters for her customers. My job was to “go fetch” the specific plants needed to complete the order. One customer might want red geraniums with yellow marigolds, coleus and alyssum while the very next planter we would do had pink geraniums with no marigolds but ageratum and lobelia. When I was a bit older and certain that I knew everything I questioned why we didn’t just mass produce red geranium and pink geranium planters. It was so obvious to me that we would save so much labor and extra plant material.
“Michelle” she said, “Imagine loving someone so much that even years after they are gone you not only remember their favorite flowers and colors, but you also take the time to order the flowers and deliver them to the cemetery. We aren’t just potting up planters, we are helping people who grieve.”
Thirty years later I do indeed know what it’s like to lose someone I love. I still try to train my staff to not just help the guests who come into our stores to pick planters and geraniums, but to do so with compassion, humor and a smile. We don’t always get it right, but we do try day in and day out to continue my grandmothers traditions.
What I know about Tomatoes
Here are my 16 Things You Need to Know About Tomatoes List! Don’t worry: There won’t be a quiz at the end!
1) I know the difference between a determinate and an indeterminate tomato
The terms refer to the growth habit of a particular variety (and there are also semi-determinates). Think of determinate and indeterminate like bush types and vine (tall and require staking) types.
Some varieties grow to about 3 feet and then stop, making them ideal for gardens with restricted space or container use. These are the determinates. Indeterminates, which includes many of the heirloom types, grow like the vines they are, as long as the season will allow.
2) I know you should grow both heirloom and hybrid tomatoes.
I grow a mix of heirlooms and hybrids for a little insurance: The non-hybrid, or open-pollinated heirloom types are beautiful, delicious and a critical part of our genetic heritage, but some may lack the disease-resistance (often labeled VFN) of hybrids. I like to mix it up, though my sentimental preference is for the heirlooms.
Remember that even with hybrids rated as having VFN resistance, the word “resistance” is the operative phrase. It means less-susceptible, not immune. There is no substitute for good cultural practices, whatever variety you begin with..
3) I know how much sun tomatoes need.
Tomatoes want full sun; don’t plan to plant them in a shady spot or they will languish. Sun means 7 hours of direct exposure, not a passing ray or two. If you don’t have an in-ground spot with that kind of sun, consider whiskey-barrel sized planters positioned in a sunny spot as an alternative—there may be a place for such an impromptu tomato patch somewhere in your yard, driveway or patio.
4) I know how to plant tomatoes.
Don’t laugh, it’s not as easy as “green side up”! Plant them deep, at least to the level of the original seed leaves, or even to the topmost couple of pairs of leaves.
Space plants at least 2 feet apart in each direction; 3 or more would be much better, as air circulation is another disease-preventive tactic. Caged plants need wider spacing than staked ones, and indeterminate varieties more than some determinate; plan accordingly.
5) I know tomatoes need mulch.
Growing tomatoes on a woven polypropylene landscape farbric increases soil heat that tomatoes love; provides weed suppression, and helps with soil-splash control–keeping some of those soil-borne spores from getting up onto the plant by creating a barrier. High-quality woven polypropylene landscape fabric, such as is used on greenhouse floors, is an excellent, porous, weed-preventive measure for a tomato patch. It can be reused for many years. Staple it to the ground with earth staples. On top of that, a layer of clean straw or some other organic mulch will further reduce splashing of spores and other woes up from the soil onto the plants.
Stripping the lower leaves from the plants to eliminate the “ladder” for spores splashing up may help as well.
Just have a few plants or a single row and the fabric would be overkill? A weed free mulching straw will work well and save you lots of time by suppressing weeds too.
6) . I know getting great flavor out of a tomato is part nature, part nurture.
The flavor profile relates to the genetics of the seed you start with, but the way you grow it can factor into what is probably a 60-40 equation. Choosing a Florida-bred variety for your Massachusetts garden will never let you hit the sweet(est) spot.
7) I know it’s not easy!
With all the diseases and pest issues a tomato can experience, it’s a wonder we ever get a harvest—but blessedly we do, and we can even improve our odds. Most gardeners and farmers are fighting the presence of some kind of soil-borne tomato pathogen, such as the septoria and early blight that reside in Northeast, mid-Atlantic and upper Midwest soils. That means rotating tomatoes from one spot to another doesn’t cut it; we need to manage around disease presence. Start by choosing resistant varieties, and then following good tomato-hygiene.
8) I know late blight sucks.
If you are worried about late blight specifically, the hygiene regimen also includes discarding any potato tubers missed at fall harvest, and these other steps. (
9) I know you need to be realistic:
If you’re not going to prune all season, don’t stake plants; use a cage. Staking requires that each indeterminate plant be kept to one or two main stems of vine-like, not bush, habit. All small suckers that develop in the crotches between the leaves and the main stem must be removed, too, on staked plants.
10) I know you probably aren’t fertilizing enough.
Yes, tomatoes are “heavy feeders,” but a good soil that’s high in organic matter (compost, compost, compost) is your best ally. Don’t overfeed, especially with nitrogen-rich fertilizers; it can invite trouble. Instead use organic Espoma Garden Tone fertilizer
11) I know why tomatoes fail to fruit.
So3metimes, despite all the loving care, tomatoes fail to set fruit. Assuming you did not feed too much nitrogen, it may be weather-related. Nighttime temperatures that remain above 70 or temperatures below 50ish interfere with pollination. Fruit set can also be hampered by over-feeding nitrogen, or by irregular watering. Hot, dry conditions at blossom time prevents proper pollination and can causes buds or tiny fruit to drop. If it’s early enough, a next round of flowers may appear during favorable weather.
12) I know the best tomato to grow.
No I don’t! Nobody agrees on what the “best” tomatoes are. Even here at the stores, Rick likes the small cherry Sweet 100’s, Alec prefers Juliet the grape styled one and I grow mine in pots and like any dwarf types.
13) I know you can’t plant enough tomatoes.
Don’t forget: Plant enough of at least one paste type for last-minute freezing of whole fruits. Forget canned tomatoes going forward; just pop some of those out of a freezer bag into that soup or stew or chili recipe instead. Or go one step farther, and herb and oil and pre-roast “extras” of your favorite tomatoes of any kind, then slide into freezer bags for the best “sauce” or ingredient ever. My other must-have to freeze: my easy, skins-on tomato sauce.
Extra Credit! Some things you may not know (No, this is not the quiz!)
There is a bit of confusion between the differences between Hybrid, GMO and Heirloom vegetable plants. Lets shine some light on these differences between these but not before I say that Lakeview does not sell GMO seeds or plants.
Hybrid plants are bred from 2 plants, to create a different, more desirable plant. Plants with desirable traits are bred with other plants with other desirable traits. Plant a tomato with great insect resistance and plant it beside a tomato with great disease resistance and they will cross pollinate to form a seed with characteristics from both parent plants. Hybrid plants have hybridized in nature for hundreds of years by the birds and the bees.
Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are not bound to being crossed only with other plants, instead they can have their DNA replaced with that of bacteria, plants, animals, mammals and more. The science has been used primarily in corn, soybeans and some squash. An example is corn plant can have its DNA replaced with with the DNA of bacteria that kills insects.
Heirloom plants are plants that produce fruit that has been true to the parent plant for over 50 years. Unlike most hybrid plants, Heirloom seeds produce a fertile seed that can be pulled from the fruit and replanted the next year. Old school farmers will plant their crops from the seeds from the previous years crops. Heirlooms are not cross pollinated with other plants.
All our best
Michelle and Team Lakeview!