Day 21 of Your Successful Vegetable Garden

Tomatoes! North America’s favourite home-grown vegetable. (Actually, it’s said it is “America’s” favourite home-grown vegetable, but I’m sure Canadians are as keen on home-grown toms as Americans.)

Garden Tribe’s final day of Boot Camp focuses on tomatoes, and what a great ending (and how great that it’s ending!). And isn’t this a brilliant line:

Some gardeners are all about herbs. Some gardeners are all about their roses. But there is no one quite as obsessive as the gardener who likes to grow tomatoes.

I’m going to be repeating some of what Garden  Tribe says, because it’s my blog and I can do what I want. So here’s some things to know:

1. Type. Not variety, but type. There are two types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate. You can remember it this way: determinate determine to all ripen together, so that you’ve got a great crop all at once to can or freeze. They are bush like, and don’t get nearly as big as the other. Which is indeterminate, as in, they can’t determine when to ripen, so they all do it at their own speed. Indeterminate tomatoes are like thick vines, just growing and growing until you tell them to stop.

So if you’re wondering what kind of tomato to get, the answer lies in what you want tomatoes for. Salad? Cherry-type tomatoes–they’ll likely be indeterminate–vine-like. Canning? Plum-type, and/or determinate, ripening pretty much all at once. Maybe you want to spread out the harvest but still for the purpose of canning–get two different kinds of determinate tomatoes with different length maturation. For eg. Celebrity tomato is determinate, ripening in  70 days from sowing. Roma, plum and determinate, ripens in  80 days. So you have time to get the Celebrity in and canned before the Romas are ready.

2. Conditions. West Coast Seeds (my source of all wisdom and knowledge with regard to vegetables) says to not plant out tomatoes in coastal BC until the nights are consistently over 10°C. Which is not going to be until June 1. I showed you what my seedlings look like now,

This tomato seedling can't be planted out for weeks yet (altho I might try the milk jug trick again), but you can see it's already pretty tall. I'll give it as much light as I can, but when I put it in the ground I'll bury most if not all that stem.

This tomato seedling can’t be planted out for weeks yet  but you can see it’s already pretty tall. I’ll give it as much light as I can, but when I put it in the ground I’ll bury most if not all that stem.

with still a month to go before I can plant them out. Before planting them out they have to be hardened off, which will take a week. That still leaves three weeks of growing indoors without getting stunted, or too leggy, or starved for nutrition, or left dry for too many  minutes… I’ve decided to try the milk jug treatment so I can get them outside two weeks early.

Hot weather, enough but not too much water, (slow down watering by mid-late summer so the plant will focus on fruiting instead of continuing to put on green growth–unless you’re using containers, in which case just continue as normal), protection from rain as the summer nights start to get cooler (we suffer from late blight here). Again, here on the “wet coast” buying tomato plants that have a short maturation time can take advantage of our good July and ripening in August. Most of the cherry/grape style toms mature in 60-65 days.

3. Staking. If your tomato is a vine-grower you’ll have to have some way of keeping it frowing upright. And once the tomatoes start to grow, they get heavy. Those little tomato cages you see at the hardware store will NOT hold up your crop. So decide whether you’re going to splurge on bigger better cages that will last many years, or create another kind of support–like this one from Doug Green’s Garden.

Here’s one last little trick, don’t remember where this came from. When you’re ready to get the plants in the ground, the day before, put them outside lying down. By the next day the growing end will have started to turn upward toward the light (looking like a hockey stick), so then you can easily plant it in your trench with the tops sticking out.

So I have to say, if I can grow tomatoes, anyone can grow tomatoes.

And that’s the end of Boot Camp. Get out there and grow some supper! And let me know how it’s going. I’ll keep you posted on my successes as well–of course this year I will actually have some successes!

Since this whole Boot Camp was about offering quick lessons to take the beginning gardener from fear of starting to joy in succeeding, here’s a link to another gardner’s suggestions for the beginner: In Lee Reich’s Garden.