Spring seed sowing – tomatoes
After months of winter it’s suddenly seed sowing time. I sow tomatoes, chillies and capsicums inside at the start of September so they get some good growth before getting them outside October/November. All my tomato seeds have germinated well and a couple of weeks on are ready for the next stage which is to put them outside for the day (and bring them back in at night) to harden them up for planting outside. (I’ve bought some different chilli seeds this year that I can’t wait to try so will post about them separately soon).
I’m always trying different tomato varieties. I love the range on the Bristol seeds website in particular and am really only limited by space and logistics – have a look at the options available and and you’ll see what I mean. These tasty varieties aren’t commercially viable so we don’t get to buy them to eat – some of my plants only produce three or four fruit – so the only option is to grow them ourselves.
Here’s what I’m growing this year –
Brandywine Pink & Cherokee chocolate (beefsteak) – we’ve grown these for several years in the greenhouse. Brandywine is similar to a beefsteak – they’re both great for slicing on toast – super tasty with not too many seeds and fairly firm so they slice well. Brandywine pink is one of our first tomatoes to ripen but unfortunately neither produce many fruit – two, three or four. This year I’m going to super boost the compost in the ground and see if that helps.
Orange tomatoes –
After reading about research done by Mark Christensen at the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust a few years ago I’ve started growing orange tomatoes. You can read the benefits of orange vs red at their website. My basic summary is this – research had shown that to get the benefits of lycopene (a great antioxidant present in tomatoes) tomatoes need to be cooked. New research in New Zealand from the Trust shows that there’s more than one type of lycopene – tetra-cis- lycopene is found in orange rather than red tomatoes and can be eaten raw to get the benefits. Hundreds of years ago tomatoes were orange and contained the easily absorbed tetra-cis-lycopene but commercial breeding has led to our red varieties which contain all-trans-lycopene. So red tomatoes are ok, we just need to cook them to get the healthy benefits. Orange tomatoes will provide that raw. And since in summer we’re mostly eating them raw it seems like it’s a good idea to grow the orange varieties. As with all foods variety is everything so I’m happy to still have some red and dark coloured ones too.
Here’s my two orange varieties for this year
- Moonglow – mid sized fruit, quite firm and it came out tops on the research for being good for us!
- Big Orange – as the name suggests a good sized tasty beefsteak and also good for us.
Cherry tomatoes –
- Red cherry – I’ve been growing this one for many years and have lost the name of what it is. It’s a good strong plant and produces heaps of fruit.
- Ildi – this is a yellow cherry tomato which is also grows well in the greenhouse and is a good cropper. The tomatoes are tasty and firm so hold up well when cut in half for a salad.
- Both the cherry tomatoes freeze well – if I have excess I just freeze them whole and can pull some out to throw into stews or soups over winter.
Varieties from previous years
For a cooking tomato I’ve tried Ponderosa red and Marmalade but neither grew that well for me and the fruit produced weren’t anything special. Next year I’m going to try some more varieties – ideally something orange will turn out to be a good cropper and ideal for cooking up in pastas etc.
I’ve tried a couple of dark coloured tomatoes – black cherry and purple Russian but I found the fruit of both of them got mushy easily and aren’t growing them again this year.
Elbe – another orange fruit with a similar leaf to a brandywine. The plant wasn’t as hardy as the other two (Moonlight and Big Orange) and didn’t crop very well. Unfortunately I didn’t save seed from this one so have lost it for growing again.
I save the seeds each year directly onto paper towels. I just smear some of the seed from a cut tomato onto a paper towel, write the name and date and leave them to dry before storing them that way in an envelope. DO NOT leave them to dry somewhere where the wind catches them, they blow to the floor and a certain puppy rips them up (hence the demise of Elbe). When it comes time to planting I just carefully pick the seed off the paper and put it into seed raising mix. I’ve found that the red cherry & Ildi seeds are especially reliable when it comes to germination – I don’t even bother picking the seeds off the paper for those – I just rip bits of paper off, put them on the seed raising mix and scatter a little more mix over. Needless to say I end up with heaps of seedlings doing it this way but cherry plants are good to give away so I don’t mind.
I keep notes on my plants but wasn’t as diligent the last two years with noting how the orange ones grew and the differences in the taste of the fruit. The lack of decent plant markers last year was a contributing factor. They need to be up high on the plants rather than in the ground so they don’t suffer from puppy snatching (there was a reoccurring issue in the garden last year). Previously I’ve tied them to the string attached to the greenhouse roof which worked well so I’ll do that this year. Also the permanent pen used to write on markers (I used a couple of broken brick pieces) needs to have clear nail polish brushed over it to stop the plant name fading. Another mistake I made was this year – I used a non permanent pen on the outside of the seed raising pots. I thought this was a cunning plan as I could wipe off the name and easily reuse the pot for another time (instead of using permanent pen). Unfortunately the greenhouse effect created by putting a plastic bag over the pots to get them to germinate caused the pen to run. Fortunately I could still read most of the names and the couple I can’t I can deduce what they were. If I grow the same varieties each year I should just write on the pots with a proper pen.
My next step is to get the ground ready for these tomatoes
- Tidy the greenhouse – I’ll pull out the brassicas I’ve unsuccessfully tried to grow in there over the last few months and give it a good hose out.
- Dig new beds. The greenhouse isn’t big enough to grow all our tomatoes so this year I’ll dig up an area next to it to grow some outside in the ground. Last year I grew them in pots in this area but they dried out too easily. Tomatoes need consistent watering (every day in pots if it hasn’t rained) which I didn’t do so that was one reason they didn’t perform very well.
- So I also need to lay dripper hoses.
- I put up some old trellis to act as a wind barrier and also act as a framework to put bird netting over the plants to protect them but it ended up shading the area too much so that’ll need to be moved.
- Feed the ground. I put compost in the ground each year but this year I plan on really ramping it up. I’ll dig big holes where the plants will go and fill that with goodness. I don’t have much compost ready so I’ll make a mix based on Koanga garden’s foliage feeding advice and what I have available –
- manure – sheep and chicken
- seaweed – chopped up
- ash from our fireplace
- kitchen scraps and those brassicas from the greenhouse that didn’t grow all chopped up
- coffee grounds
- egg shells (they provide calcium and magnesium)
- small amount of broken down compost from the bottom of the pile
Because I should have started preparing the ground weeks if not months ago I’ll soak all this first for a week or so then just dig it in. Check back soon to see the progress of the tomatoes and also the chillies and capsicums. One of the chillies I’ve bought is called Chocolate Brazilian Ghost and is described as being the Frankenstein of super hot chilli peppers. That does scare me a little bit.