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Early Tomatoes

I was in the supermarket the other day and saw that tomatoes are currently up around the $10.00 a kilo price. Well I suppose it is winter and tomatoes are a lot more expensive to buy,even if they are fairly tasteless when compared to your own home grown ones.

A lot of the tomatoes sold in the off season are imported from overseas and in particular from Australia.The tomatoes are picked green as they have a greater shelf life if they are not ripe before transporting (food miles) and then they are ripened with a chemical prior to display for sale.When a tomato is picked green there is no further production of sugars hence the reason for the lack of flavour.These green tomatoes are gassed with ethylene which turns them red fairly quickly.

There are two good reasons to grow tomatoes out of our normal season, a savings in money plus better flavoured home grown tomatoes.

The problem with growing tomatoes through the winter is to find varieties that do not mind the cold and will set fruit in lower temperatures.Many of the more common types will grow well in a glasshouse if protected from the cold, but when they reach flowering stage, there is not sufficient warmth to produce the pollen needed to set the fruit.The flowers just fall off through lack of pollination.

I decided to see what tomato seeds I could find to start off at this time. A visit to a Niche Seed stand at a local garden centre came up with three types, all of which are Heritage type tomatoes from Russia. Now if they originated in Russia then they must be able to withstand a good degree of cold and still set fruit. The types are:

Tomato Purple Russian described as a unique cool tolerant variety from the Ukraine, with wonderful sweet, fleshy medium sized fruits. (Looks like a tree tomato or tamarillo) Believed to be the best purple/black tomato on the world market. It seldom splits, which is often a failing of the darker skinned types and is less susceptible to diseases. Matures in 100 days.

Heirloom Tomato Black from Tula, Many tomato connoisseurs call this tomato ‘the ugliest, most delicious tomato ever grown’. It is a robust beefsteak type and the largest of the black tomatoes.The slightly flattened fruits grow up to 125mm in diameter, dark, greenish black in colour and the flesh is chocolate brown with a rich, spicy flavour. Matures quickly in 35 plus days.Grows well in dry conditions and will crop outdoors till frosted.

Tomato Silvery Fir Tree , the plant has fine feather (carrot like) foliage, extremely decorative and eye catching especially in tubs. This tomato produces masses of 85mm red, slightly flattened fruits and is disease resistant. Matures in 100 days.
All three types are not tall growing and have an average height of just under a metre which makes them perfect for growing in containers.

After reading the informative descriptions of each and seeing the photographs of the fruit I decided to take a packet of each to see how they would preform for me.

Heres how I will germinate and grow these Russian fellows.
First, I found some small pots in the shed and filled them with a good compost and then placed two seeds on each pot with a label to tell me what type they are. I covered the seed with a bit of fine pumice (sand would also do) and moistened them down using a trigger sprayer, containing dilute Magic Botanic Liquid. (MBL) Next my 3 pots went onto a heat pad indoors to give the needed bottom heat for quick germination. Twice a day I will mist the mix with the MBL solution and in about a week they should be germinated. Once the first two leaves have started to appear they will be placed immediately out into my glasshouse. (This is most important as they need full overhead natural light, otherwise they will stretch and likely fail).

To grow tomatoes at this time of the year you really need a sunny glasshouse or conservatory and you have to be very, very careful with your watering. The growing medium needs to have a little moisture in it, but NOT be wet. I will let the little plants grow up to about 6-10 cm tall before transferring them to a bigger container. If both seeds germinated I will cut the lessor plant off at the base allowing the stronger one to fill the small pot with its roots. (Small pots means no damage to the roots when transplanting). The mix to use at this time will be a good compost with a little soil or worm casts added.

Also it is time to give the plants a boost so a small amount of Wally’s Secret Tomato Food with Neem Granules will be applied to the top of the mix. This will not only give the plants a boost but it will also protect them from possible whitefly problems building up. Much care is needed in your watering as wet mix makes for cold roots and possible disease problems.

One disease that appears to be a greater problem especially in a glasshouse is botrytis (stem rot) so to give the plants protection from this I will apply a spray of Perkfection every month to the foliage.

The second pot which should be about 12 to 16 cm in diameter will allow the plants to grow to about 35 plus centimeters tall at which time they will be potted into their final container which will be a 45 litre plus type. Same mix applied, compost and a handful of soil or worm casts mixed through.

The reason for the soil or worm casts is to obtain the microbes that they bring to the compost.

After potting into this large container they will each have a sprinkling of the tomato food mentioned along with a little Ocean Solids and Simalith Rock Dust. Misting the foliage with MBL and Mycorrcin every couple of weeks will also assist in keeping the plants healthy.

Now I have only used 2 seeds out of each of the three packets so the remaining seeds are resealed in their foil case and with the colorful packet are placed in the fridge for future use.

At the time when I pot into the second container I will use the original small pots to plant another two seeds of each variety. These can be grown on for planting outdoors later on if the spring weather is suitable, if not they will also live their productive lives in containers.

Likely this procedure will be repeated 3 or 4 times which should use up about half of the available seeds.

Once the fruit have matured and we have been able to establish which varieties of the three preformed best, plus had a flavor we liked most, then our own seeds will be kept of those preferred varieties.

If everything goes according to plan we should be eating ripe tomatoes before Labor Weekend and in the case of Tomato Black from Tula maybe one or two months earlier.

If so, for a relatively small outlay and a bit of fun growing these Russian Tomatoes we will save a good amount of money not having to buy expensive, tasteless tomatoes for around about $10.00 or more a kilo in spring.

Beside we will also have the peace of mind that our tomatoes will be full of nutritional value and not a lot of harmful pesticides.

3 comments on “Early Tomatoes

  1. David Stanton on said:

    Whereabouts in Marlborough or Nelson can I purchase Russin Tomato seeds

  2. Ross Orr on said:

    Do you use any method in the glass-house to assist with pollination of the first tomato flowers? e.g. “full set” if it is still available.

    Thanks

  3. Wally,
    You have very interesting website. God bless you.
    I would like to buy some tomatoes that has not been spread with poison.
    Where can get that round Hamilton please.
    Please visit this website http://www.maxiseasy.com
    A health product that produces GLUTATHIONE.

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