Just thinking about a warm ripe beefsteak tomato fresh from my garden is enough to make me drool in the depths of January. Since the harvest at that point is six long months away, I do what I can to make the wait seem bearable. In short: I obsessively shop for tomato seeds and start them indoors. Yes, I could just buy greenhouse plants in May and put them directly in the soil, saving myself the worries of non-germination, wilt, and dampening off, but where’s the fun in that? A friend recently asked me, “You mean, you start your tomatoes from seed?” I wondered if she realizes that all tomatoes are started from seed by somebody!
Starting your own plants from seed allows you to choose exactly what you want to grow. You can experiment with heirloom varieties or the latest hybrized-resistant-to-everything invention. You can customize your garden to your particular climate zone or go exotic and specialize in South American wonders that hearken back to the original species. Or, go with a theme: all tiny varieties, all named after their hybridizers, all bi-colored, all Russian-types, all named after states (Oregon Spring, Carolina Gold, Alaskan Fancy, Georgia Streak, Kentucky Beefsteak, Nebraska Wedding, and New Yorker). Tomato names conjure up Country Fairs and contests of tall tales. Each hybrid a dream of the perfect tomato: early in the season, mouth-watering to taste, pest-resistance and loaded down with ripe fruit until frost,
This year, Craig B. and I placed a shared order from Totally Tomatoes, which carries about 250 varieties of tomatoes as well as over a hundred peppers and a smattering of cucumbers, melons, and squashes. There was a shipping mixup in which my shipment went astray, but the company quickly sent out another batch and they arrived in time for my February 25th seed-starting target. And a big thank you to Rhonda B. who gave me her indoor grow-lights. I think they made the difference; this year’s tomatoes look better than ever.
I chose eight varieties this year (leaving room for the two plants I won’t be able to resist buying at the Garden Show next weekend). And I displayed uncharacteristic restraint in starting only two plants of each kind (four seeds total, since I double plant and then snip one seedling off). Then, I actually composted one plant of each when I transplanted into pots, leaving me with one plant of each kind, ready for the garden. I selected the eight kinds based on: variety/color and days-to-crop. Here are my picks:
- Quimbaya Hybrid — from Colombia, small 4-5 ounce fruits, blocky shape, 65 days
- Aunt Ruby’s German Green — Heirloom green beefsteak, 12-16 ounce, with spicy undertone, 80 days
- Caspian Pink — from Russia, this beefsteak has supposedly beaten the legendary Brandywine in taste trials, 80 days
- Dr. Wyche’s Yellow — Golden-orange beefsteak up to 1 pound, 80 days
- New Yorker — early 4-6 ounce salad tomato, 66 days
- Bloody Butcher — Just loved the name on this one! High yield of 4-ounce fruits that are deep, dark red. Strong tomato flavor, 55 days
- Riesentraube — German heirloom pear-type cherry tomato. Prolific, 70 days
- Hard Rock — Free seed with order. 3-ounce fruits good for canning, 80 days.
Now I just need to get Jd to re-till the garden (when he feels better) and we’re less than three months away from a crop! He doesn’t like tomatoes, but he sure loves the Best Salsa Ever!