Tomato Season Starts Now – It’s Time to Choose the Seeds
Last Saturday winter began in earnest: steel gray sky, cotton candy snow: very beautiful, very cold,
Then, after the mail came, very much time to be thinking about next year’s tomatoes.
Seed catalogs don’t wait for Christmas any more; they’ve been coming in for about a month. Now the pace is picking up and after last summer’s disastrous late blight, I’m looking through their offerings in a whole new way, because
They were the only tomatoes we got and although they weren’t as good as our favorite heirlooms they were better than anything we could buy locally, heirloom or hybrid.
The story of how this came to be is with the tips for managing late blight organically. But since it would be far, far better not to have any late blight to manage, this is my seed-choosing strategy for (I hope) lots of delicious tomatoes in 2010:
1. Diversify even more than usual. Late bearing heirloom beefsteaks like ‘Brandywine’, ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’ and ‘Costoluto Genovese’ are unquestionably the most delicious, but they’re also the iffiest. So this spring we’ll be starting a wider variety of mid-season slicers, adding red classics – ‘Marmande’? ‘Rutgers’? ‘Bonny Best’? – to old favorite ‘Evergreen’. And on the theory that stronger is better, at least two varieties will be disease resistant hybids.
The greenhouse tomatoes were ‘Big Beef’, but that was chosen because it looked good as a rootstock for grafting. Don’t know what we’ll choose this year except that it’ll be something else and that it won’t be ‘Celebrity.’*
2. Plant more cherry tomatoes, including ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’, a variety several readers – thanks, guys! – reported had natural LB resistance. The disease resistances available are many and various, but Late Blight (Phytopthera infestans) is not among them. There are no proven LB resistant tomatoes unless you count ‘Legend.’
3. Remain fussy. It might seem as though ‘Legend’ should be on the must-have list, but it’s an early, cold-tolerant determinate, which 35 years of trials have convinced me translates as “ after you say they’re tomatoes there’s nothing else good to report.” No matter what the consequences, my vegetable variety bottom line remains Better than Bought or don’t Bother. Life is too short – and the gardens too small – for anything else to make sense.
4. Avoid imported plants. All seedlings not grown by Jan up at Barley Jo ( see heirlooms) will be grown by me or by a local farmer I deeply trust. That includes all seedlings offered by garden centers that sell mass-produced tomato plants, even unrelated things like marigolds and cosmos. The blight only grows on nightshades but its wind-borne spores travel fast, so they could easily be lurking on any plant in the tomatoes’ vicinity. The spores don’t live long on their own, but they live long enough to travel for up to 50 miles and that’s tough enough for me.
* In my 3 years ( I’m a slow learner) of growing ‘Celebrity’, it was always super-dependable. Drought or deluge, disease attack or simple neglect, it made huge numbers of firm, blemish-free, almost perfectly round bright red tomatoes that were as close to tasteless as it’s possible for a fresh fruit to be.