Tomato Facts, and Nothing But the Facts
It seems that at least 90 percent of gardeners are also tomato growers and have many questions that involve growing Tomato’s. Here is a collection of information that may answer many of your Tomato Growing questions.
Determinate varieties of tomatoes, also called “bush” tomatoes, are varieties that are bred to grow to a compact height (approx. 4 feet). Then they stop growing, set fruit on the terminal or top bud and ripen all their crop at or near the same time (usually over a 2 week period), and then die.
They may require a limited amount of caging and/or staking for support, should NOT be pruned or “suckered” as it severely reduces the crop, and will perform relatively well in a container (minimum size of 5-6 gallon). Examples are: Rutgers, Roma, Celebrity (called a semi-determinate by some), and Marglobe.
Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes are also called “vine” tomatoes. They will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights of up to 10 feet although 6 feet is considered the norm. They will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit throughout the growing season. They require substantial caging and/or staking for support and pruning and the removal of suckers is practiced by many but is not mandatory. The need for it and advisability of doing it varies from region to region. Experiment and see which works best for you. Because of the need for substantial support and the size of the plants, indeterminate varieties are not usually recommended as container plants. Examples are: Big Boy, Beef Master, many “cherry” types, Early Girl and most heirloom varieties.
Hybrid seed is (not the same as GMO seed) in agriculture and gardening is produced by artificially cross-pollinated plants. Hybrids are bred to improve the characteristics of the resulting plants, such as better yield, greater uniformity, improved color, disease resistance, and so forth.
Today, hybrid seed is predominant in agriculture and home gardening, and is one of the main contributing factors to the dramatic rise in agricultural output during the last half of the 20th century. In the US, the commercial market was launched in the 1920s, with the first hybrid maize. Hybrid seed from the first generation of hybrid plants does not reliably produce true copies, therefore, new seed is usually purchased for each planting.
The definition of Heirloom plants is not well defined. Most do agree that to be called Heirloom that variety is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but is not used in modern large scale farm plantings. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in gardens has been growing in popularity in the United States and Europe over the past one or two decades.
Heirloom growers have different motivations. Some people grow heirlooms for historical interest, while others want to increase the available gene pool for a particular plant for future generations. Some select heirloom plants due to an interest in traditional or organic gardening. Many simply want to taste the different varieties of vegetables, or see whether they can grow a rare variety of plant.
Most agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated. They may also be open pollinated varieties that were bred and stabilized using classic breeding practices. While there are no genetically modified tomatoes (2012) available for commercial or home use, it is generally agreed that no hybrid or genetically modified organisms can be considered heirloom cultivars.
In this modern age with almost all garden plants being hybrids a Heirloom gardener is at a real disadvantage. Unless you live several miles from your nearest gardening neighbor, at least some of your heirloom plants are going to be hybridized by cross pollination by wind blown pollen or by your neighborhood bees feeding on hybrids then cross pollinating you heirloom when they visit and feed on your heirloom plants.
Don’t panic, you may like your new plant(s) better than your original heirloom planting. This accidental hybridizing (cross pollination) is how nature has handled plant evolution for billions of years. I never concern myself about this cross pollination problem. I select fruit from the plants I like most and save their seeds. How they got to be what they are is beyond my control and I simply don’t worry about how they got that way.
There is nothing wrong with saving hybrid plant seed. True it will not come back true to it’s mother plant. It will revert back to one of its parents genetics. That is not always a bad thing and the worst thing that can happen is you won’t like this plant for what ever reason.
When this cross pollination occurs, heirloom seed you save maybe a hybrid cross pollinated from your neighbors garden. To my knowledge there are only 2 things you can do now. Live with the possibility of planting hybridized seeds or buy new fresh certified heirloom seed every year.
No matter how you handle this heirloom / hybrid situation, the main thing is to enjoy your garden and the fruits of your labor. Good eating, and have a little fun while your at it.
DIY Composting for healthy Tomato gardens
University of Missouri Extension has a very useful publication fact sheet covering:
Selecting a compost method
# Wire-mesh holding unit
# Snow-fence holding unit
# Wood and wire three-bin turning unit
# Worm composting bin
# Heap composting
As well as information on constructing your composting unit.
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