Friday, March 28, 2008

The optimism of gardeners never ceases to amaze me. Although weather conditions can be dreadful one year, we always have a sense that the new spring will be the best one ever. It reminds me of the fact that after having one child, we forget how much work and how difficult it was and go ahead and do it again and again and again...(well some of us do anyway.) So optimism... it's better than the alternative!

Our season is shaping up nicely and our weather has been great so far, knock on wood. We are selling our plants as fast as we can grow them this year which is great for us, but for you...we strongly suggest ordering early since we want to make sure your plants are in stock when they are scheduled to ship.


Which tomatoes are best for my area?

Probably the most common question we are asked is which tomato should I grow, which one will do well for my area. At universities all over the country such as Rutgers, Arkansas, Clemson, Auburn and many others, the agriculture departments actually designed tomato varieties by cross breeding, which would accommodate weather conditions in their particular regions of the country. Many of these such as the Rutgers tomato, Creole tomatoes, Atkinson, Arkansas traveler, and others were meant to try to overcome some of the problems farmers were dealing with in those locations such as poor soil, humidity, wet conditions or early summer heat. While these tomatoes, which are still sold primarily in those areas, are of course available now to anyone as seeds and they have spread all over the U.S. Because these tomatoes are bred for those conditions, they can be fairly reliable for farmers to grow in the area they were designed for, but are not the only varieties that grow well nor are they only for certain areas. Rutgers tomatoes grow very well all over the country and have great taste anywhere.

Backyard gardeners really don't have to worry so much about these issues of humidity and heat because we actually can prepare our gardens for most weather conditions by adding good compost, drip irrigating and mulching. Those three things will help you always get good results from almost any tomato. Certain gardeners in high elevations, with very short seasons, or extreme coastal conditions should be aware that they may need to shop for early type tomatoes which will set fruits at cooler temperatures and that don't need to have a very long amount of time to produce fruit. By and large though, most of us can grow whatever type we want and should grow several types so that we have fruits coming ripe over the long season.

Heirloom varieties which were saved from previous generations in many places all over the world have traveled extensively. Some hail from Russia, Germany, Japan, France or Switzerland and have come together with American varieties such as Cherokee Purple and the Brandywines from Amish areas of the U.S. The reason these generally do well anywhere is because they are strong breeds that have survived the test of time and those that did not thrive were not saved by early gardeners. I believe we should bring back as many varieties as possible from the past but sometimes they need to stay in the past if they do not produce well. Therefore, we are careful to only recommend varieties that have proven themselves over time.

"New" Heirlooms such as Big Zebra and Copia are actually cross bred heirlooms and they have been stabilized over time and, theoretically, will have the best of both parent plants. They can take several generations before they are established varieties and settle in with particular traits. Gardeners love science projects and many will try to work to create new types of tomatoes on their own or just see what nature will do with some bird and bee help. Pollen travels by wind and insects and saving the seeds from year to year can make some interesting blends of genes.

Our recommendation?

Grow the ones you like! Try something new! Pick a colorful collection! There are so many tomatoes to choose from and so little time to grow them all! We always add new ones to our list every year so we can experiment and come up with new favorites all the time. Varying the dates to maturity, sizes, shapes, colors and flavors is what it is all about. Get your neighbors to try ones that you cannot fit in your garden and keep the favorites from last year. Then have a tasting party every summer to compare notes and see what did best for them and for you. You will be surprised how different a tomato can taste when grown in someone else's back yard under different watering and soil conditions. Plus it is a great excuse for a street party!

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