Home & Garden

Tomatoes fit for a queen

Author: Canadian Living

Home & Garden

Tomatoes fit for a queen

It's possible to find a decent-looking tomato in winter, but I'm not convinced that it's possible to find one that actually tastes good. Delicious, homegrown tomatoes are so important where I live that some of us celebrate the harvest with a Tomato Queen party. I know the harvest is a long way off, but now is the perfect time for gardeners to remember how good homegrown tomatoes taste because this is when we remind each other to order seeds. The best time to sow seeds is six to eight weeks before the average last spring frost.

Come Labour Day in my neighborhood, a group of partygoers choose the best-tasting cherry, paste, beefsteak and regular tomatoes. From those winners, they choose the best-tasting tomato of all, the one that will earn its grower, male or female, the title of Tomato Queen.

When my seeds arrive, I pregerminate them. That way I grow only viable seeds and don't have to thin seedlings. On a piece of paper towel I write in ballpoint the name of the tomato variety, then I press the paper towel into the bottom of a plastic sandwich box, dampen it, and sprinkle onto the towel the number of seeds I want, allowing a few extra for insurance. I can grow more than one variety in the same box by dividing the paper towel into sections with my pen. I don't cover the seeds directly, but do put the lid on the box, which then goes into a warm place, around 30°C. I check daily to make sure the towel is still damp. In a few days, a little white rootlet appears on the side of the first seed to germinate. When it does, the seed is ready to plant.

For containers, I use recycled polystyrene cups or the plastic four- or six-cell packs that come with purchased transplants. I fill the containers with a purchased seedling mix (peat moss and perlite or vermiculite), moistened and pressed into the container. On the surface, I make a shallow indentation with one finger, drop in a germinated seed, then lightly cover the seed with additional moist mix. Now the container can go back to a warm spot. Darkness is OK, but as soon as I see a loop of stem appear above the soil, I put the pot into a bright place.

I use a south-facing window. For many gardeners this won't work well because their homes are kept very warm, and the combination of weak outdoor light and too much heat results in leggy seedlings. Our old farmhouse tends to be coolish, especially at night, a situation that produces sturdy seedlings -- although they can't take frost or too much exposure to temperatures under about 10°C. I turn the seedlings occasionally to keep them growing straight, and water them weekly with a liquid houseplant fertilizer, following the directions on the label.

As soon as the weather is warm, I put my seedlings outdoors during the day. When they're seven to 10 centimetres tall, I plant them even deeper, root ball and all, in larger containers of compost or garden soil. When the nights are warm and frost is no longer in the forecast, they're planted in a sunny spot in the garden.

Come harvest time, a few of my best-tasting specimens will show up at the Tomato Queen party.

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Tomatoes fit for a queen

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