Tomatoes for 2023

R2elk

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One thing that continues to elude me is the *perfect* way to support tomatoes. I've tried lots of ways - stakes, 4 foot hog wire cages, regular cages, sprawling - and all have benefits and drawbacks, none are perfect.
I have been having good luck with cages made from woven wire fence cut to length and forming a circle around the tomato plant. I also use stakes to hold the wire cage in place in our winds.
 

Branching Out

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I have been having good luck with cages made from woven wire fence cut to length and forming a circle around the tomato plant. I also use stakes to hold the wire cage in place in our winds.
Our tallest cherry tomato plant is 11-12' tall, growing nicely straight up a strong piece of twine that is secured to the soffits directly about the plant near our front door, very much as one would grow a cordon tomato in a green house. If only I could grow all of my tomatoes this way-- but sadly, I only have one front door. 😂

In terms of mistakes, allowing a bunch of red Romaine lettuce to bolt and go to seed amongst my sprawling Kathleen's Wild Sweet Cherry was a bit of a disaster, and something I do not plan on repeating. What a mess, with the lettuce and tomatoes all tangled up and absolutely covered in aphids by September.

And like you Heirloomgal I had an awful lot of extra tomato seedlings this spring, with more than 100 largish plants that I tended for many months before ultimately giving them away. That was aligned with my stated goal this year, in an effort to encourage others in the community to try their hand at growing their own fresh produce. So mission accomplished. But even though I don't want to do that again, I know that when it comes to gardening I exhibit very little self-control. My theme song could be Queen's 'I Want It All'-- and I want it now. I clearly need to change my tune. Lol. I made a note for next year to give away extra seedlings promptly when they are still very small, rather growing them on before gifting them. My hope is to grow fewer varieties, with at least 3 of each type so I can identify the best qualities of each plant. Once I decide on the varieties I will start extras of those cultivars only if friends express interest-- but not otherwise. It was fun pretending that I was a tomato nursery this year, but it definitely made it a challenge for me to pot-on my own plants in a timely manner.

In other lessons learned, there is a commonly held belief that tomato plants will suffer if set out too early. I found the opposite to be true with the early cold-tolerant cultivars that I punted outdoors in late March. They were uniformly stronger and healthier than the ones I babied indoors under lights. So maybe some of the tomato advice that we get is based on growing main season cultivars, and perhaps we would do well to try different approaches with varieties that are outside of that planting window. I also think I held on to those early cold-tolerant tomato plants in the garden for far too long, with the exception of a very few that continued to fruit for many months (Andrina, Glacier, Red Robin). Learning when to let go would be an asset (not my strong suit so far), and it could free up valuable garden real estate that could be planted with other more productive crops.

The biggest mistake I made this season may have been neglecting to harvest efficiently in advance of rainfall; I lost a lot of tomatoes this way to splitting, and I think it could have been largely prevented by doing a better job of picking them in a timely manner.

And lastly, for anyone wishing to try late season tomatoes I would encourage you to find a spot with some protection from the elements for at least some of these plants, or maybe grow a few in large pots that can be moved. The smallest amount of cover seemed to keep the plants looking healthy and green well in to the autumn, which encouraged weeks of extra fruit production (at least in our area where frequent late-season rainfall is typical). Sadly, a lot of the late fruits that I am harvesting for storage were exposed to the elements; they are not storing well as they are blighted, so they will have to be tossed out. If only I could have planted them a few weeks earlier they may have matured before blight set in. So next year my plan is to try starting the late season 'storage' tomatoes 3-4 weeks after the main season plants, with a small insurance succession 2-3 weeks after that. It will take some trial and error to find the sweet spot so the storage fruit matures to a harvestable green stage around the first week of October, which for us is when blight often arrives and takes out the plants. If the timing can be worked out it could make many aspects of growing tomatos easier, including spreading out the harvest rather having than the feast and famine pattern that many of us are accustomed to. It would also mean fewer seedlings in the house at one time in the spring, which would be great.
 

Zeedman

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One thing that continues to elude me is the *perfect* way to support tomatoes. I've tried lots of ways - stakes, 4 foot hog wire cages, regular cages, sprawling - and all have benefits and drawbacks, none are perfect. I always wind up with tomatoes on the ground no matter what, though sometimes that's from having too many plants and not getting around to picking as often as I should.
Although I've used large cages before (of concrete reinforcing wire) and the results were OK, I've found the same string trellises I use for pole beans also work well for tomatoes. It takes periodic training; but if you gently twist tomato leaves around string, they will harden like tendrils & become strong enough to support the plants. Other than the first set, most tomatoes will be borne well off the ground. This also provides good air flow; but I prune off dead leaves & suckers as necessary to maintain an open canopy. And as with anything trellised, spacing with regard to shadow naturally results in pathways for easy access.

I once knew a gardener who pruned tomatoes to a single stalk, and tied them to rebar poles. This allowed him to plant more closely, and grow more varieties. But the downside was that due to the sparse leaf cover, there was less protection from sun scald.
Learning when to let go would be an asset (not my strong suit so far), and it could free up valuable garden real estate that could be planted with other more productive crops.
I'm guilty of that too - especially when the frost comes late, as it did this year. It's hard for me to let go & cut down plants which are still producing, at the expense losing my window for putting the garden to bed for the Winter. Now that the Fall rains have arrived & wet ground is here to stay, the garden cleanup will have to wait for Spring. This won't be the first time (and probably not the last) but that does prevent me from turning under leaves & ashes this year, to amend my soil. :(
 
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Branching Out

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I have a bunch of tomatoes ripening in the basement, including these especially shiny ones. Does anyone know if there is a gene that makes some tomatoes especially glossy? It is as though they have been coated with lacquer. I found a reference in a scientific paper that mentioned glossy mutants and an increased cutin load. This is all new to me, but I find it fascinating.

Other sites suggested that wild tomatoes could have higher cutin loads. These tomatoes were not labeled-- drat. Pretty sure they were part of the Wildling Panamorous Tomato patch, which is a cross of domestic tomatoes and two wild species. https://store.experimentalfarmnetwork.org/products/wildling-panamorous-tomato
 

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Branching Out

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Here are a couple of photos of the very last tomatoes that I harvested in 2023. They have been growing in an unheated high tunnel under our sundeck, and were harvested a couple of days ago on December 30th. I am certain that this was a Spanish Winter Storage Cherry tomato plant (so certain that I did not feel the need to label the container...will I ever learn?), yet it ripened months later than the other five plants of that variety. The fruit is also more slender, and with some vertical striping. I am torn on whether to pursue this cross, or to turf it. The shape of the fruit is rather unique.
 

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flowerbug

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Here are a couple of photos of the very last tomatoes that I harvested in 2023. They have been growing in an unheated high tunnel under our sundeck, and were harvested a couple of days ago on December 30th. I am certain that this was a Spanish Winter Storage Cherry tomato plant (so certain that I did not feel the need to label the container...will I ever learn?),

haha! :)


yet it ripened months later than the other five plants of that variety. The fruit is also more slender, and with some vertical striping. I am torn on whether to pursue this cross, or to turf it. The shape of the fruit is rather unique.

how does it taste? :)
 

Zeedman

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I am torn on whether to pursue this cross, or to turf it. The shape of the fruit is rather unique.

how does it taste? :)
That would be my question too. I've dropped several early, beautiful, unblemished, highly productive tomatoes because they were bland in flavor. No one needs buckets full of tomatoes that are as appetizing as soggy cardboard.

Keep in mind also that if a tomato is a cross, that might be because the variety is especially prone to crossing... and would be very difficult to stabilize - and keep stable - in future years. I had to drop a variety I really loved ("Federle") because the saved seed was 25-40% crossed. If after tasting you do decide to grow it again, my advice is to take a cutting & keep it alive over Winter, to plant again.
 

heirloomgal

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Here are a couple of photos of the very last tomatoes that I harvested in 2023. They have been growing in an unheated high tunnel under our sundeck, and were harvested a couple of days ago on December 30th. I am certain that this was a Spanish Winter Storage Cherry tomato plant (so certain that I did not feel the need to label the container...will I ever learn?), yet it ripened months later than the other five plants of that variety. The fruit is also more slender, and with some vertical striping. I am torn on whether to pursue this cross, or to turf it. The shape of the fruit is rather unique.
So it's not supposed to look like this, with the stripes?
 

heirloomgal

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That would be my question too. I've dropped several early, beautiful, unblemished, highly productive tomatoes because they were bland in flavor. No one needs buckets full of tomatoes that are as appetizing as soggy cardboard.

Keep in mind also that if a tomato is a cross, that might be because the variety is especially prone to crossing... and would be very difficult to stabilize - and keep stable - in future years. I had to drop a variety I really loved ("Federle") because the saved seed was 25-40% crossed. If after tasting you do decide to grow it again, my advice is to take a cutting & keep it alive over Winter, to plant again.
Interesting @Zeedman, are the flowers of Federle different somehow? I actually have that tomato in a shopping cart right now, and wonder if I should toss it?
 
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