About this time of year, I start to get anxious to plant tomatoes. I guess I can still hear the echoes of past competition among friends and co-workers to get the first ripe tomato. Over the years I’ve tried a lot of things to get early tomatoes. I’ve planted super-early varieties that wound up not having much flavor, or else not many tomatoes. And I tried season-extending tricks such as the Wall-o-Water plant protectors that surround the plants with water filled tubes. They work, but are a bit of trouble to set up and take down. And if you’re not careful they can smash the plants (been there, done that).
These days, I don’t work too hard to get early tomatoes. My last Wall-of-Water experiment was back in 2011. They are useful for folks with shorter growing seasons though, as is the black planter paper I used that you can see in the above photo. That definitely warms the soil, though is a bit expensive. I am not big on using black plastic, though it has its fans as well.
I do start a few plants a bit earlier than usual. This year I started Sungold, Super Sweet 100, Mountain Magic, Early Girl and Jetsetter about a week earlier than the rest of the tomatoes. I will set out some of these plants in a bed behind the greenhouse. I was tempted to do it last week, but decided to wait. I potted up those plants in larger containers instead.
Getting a plant with a nice big root system has long been my strategy with growing tomatoes. I don’t really care how tall, or how big the plants are, but I want a nice root system, and a plant that’s not rootbound. The one in the above photo is an example of how I want to see them. Most of my plants are hanging out in 3.5 inch pots now, after having been transplanted twice. I potted up the ‘early’ tomatoes into either 5 or 6 inch pots on Saturday. That should keep them growing until I set them out in another week or two. I also gave all the tomato plants a drink of fish emulsion fertilizer (Neptune’s Harvest 2-4-1).
The soil is warm enough here to plant tomatoes, but I see forecast overnight temperatures in the 40F range later in the week. If that comes with strong winds, the heat-loving tomato plants will not like it one bit. I figure they will be happier in the greenhouse. Before I had a greenhouse, I used cold frames to house my plants before planting and they accomplish the same purpose: to provide a little micro-climate for the young plants. They eventually need to be hardened off so they can get acclimated to outside growing conditions, but the key is to do it gradually.
In the meantime, I decided to buy some locally grown hydroponic heirloom tomatoes last week. They are grown by Boffo Gardens, and carried by Elberts Natural Foods. The exact variety wasn’t listed, but fans of heirloom tomatoes should see that the tomato in the above photo sure looks like a Cherokee Purple, Black Krim or maybe a Paul Robeson variety. Whatever variety it is, it was one of the tastiest out-of-season tomatoes I have had in a long time. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of the two tomatoes I bought. It was a small taste of what will hopefully be great tomato-y things to come here at Happy Acres!