tomato

Tomato 101

Tomato 101

By Jim Hole

There’s no shock as to why tomatoes are so well-loved. Whether it be salsas, sauces or salads, their versatility is unmatched by other garden vegetables. Tomatoes are actually quite simple to grow with the right technique, patience and care. This “Tomato 101” will send you on your way to producing a bountiful yield of this summer favourite.

Varieties

With the vast number of tomato varieties, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. For cherry tomatoes, some of my favourites include Sun Gold, Minimato and Rapunzel. For eating tomatoes, Primo Red, Mortgage Lifter and Stupice. And of course for cooking, be sure to try San Marzano, Mamma Mia and Sunrise Sauce. Stock up on your favourite varieties soon–as many sell out fast!

Soil

Proper soil is crucial for a successful tomato yield. It may be tempting to purchase the “cheap stuff” at your big box stores, but these brands lack the richness needed for tomatoes to thrive. Soils lose organic matter if it is not added back in regularly, so my recommendation is using a 1:1 ratio of Sea Soil and Jim’s Potting Soil. Avoid using manure in your soil as the salt content per bag is inconsistent. More often than not, you will end up scorching your plants and be forced to start over.

Fertilizer

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, which means it is important to fertilize them regularly. I recommend using Garden Pro Tomato Food (5-10-5). This granular fertilizer is also supplemented with calcium to prevent “blossom-end rot”. Simply mix Garden Pro Tomato Food in with your soil and water thoroughly. Another product I like to use on my tomatoes is Epsom Salts. Epsom Salts contain magnesium and can be applied every couple of weeks.

Watering

We often have customers come to the greenhouse with wilted leaves, brittle stems and yellowing tips. After a quick look, I know they aren’t watering enough. I use the analogy of filling up your car with gas to help explain the importance of watering. When you go to the gas station, you don’t put $5 worth in your car, drive till it’s empty, fill up $5 worth again and so on. The same goes for watering your tomato plants. When you water, ensure that you water the entire root zone completely with a good soaking.

Weed Control

There is nothing more frustrating than pouring time and energy into your garden, only to have it scattered with weeds. Not only are they an eye sore, but they also draw the essential nutrients out of your soil, leaving nothing for your tomatoes. Before you plant, I recommend encouraging the weeds to grow–watering like you would for any garden. Once they are a mature size, spray the soil with Bye Bye Weed to kill off any vegetation that is present. Wait 7 days, and plant your garden as you normally would. NEVER APPLY BYE BYE WEED TO YOUR GARDEN PLANTS. IT IS RESTRICTED TO APPLICATION ON WEEDS ONLY. Pulling weeds throughout the summer is an obvious technique for eliminating weeds, but spraying saves you the headache altogether. 

Pruning

Tomatoes come in two growth types–determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes usually grow wider, do not need pruning and grow well in a cage. Whereas indeterminate tomatoes grow tall, require staking and pruning, but usually have higher yields than determinate varieties. Pruning indeterminate tomatoes is quite easy–simply pinch off the shoots or “suckers” that grow out from the stems. This redirects energy to the fruit of the plant rather than the shoots. In turn, this produces much larger, healthier tomatoes. Watch our video on how to prune tomatoes here: www.holesonline.com/blog/how-to-prune-tomato-plants.

 

Still not feeling quite confident on growing your own tomatoes? Be sure to check out our e-book on tomatoes at www.holesonline.com/ebooks/tomato-favourites.

Q: What causes black or brown rotten spots on the bottom of my tomatoes?

A: This condition is called “blossom-end rot” and it is caused by water stress and calcium deficiency due to heavy clay soil or irregular/inadequate watering. Watering regularly is key to preventing blossom-end rot. Even if the soil contains lots of calcium, without sufficient water, the plant cannot absorb essential minerals.

Heirloom vs. Hybrid

Heirloom vs. Hybrid

By Jim Hole

The tomato is the most popular garden vegetable just about everywhere. It can easily be grown organically and there are a huge number of outstanding varieties available. Here is what you need to know to grow juicy, delicious and nutritious tomatoes.

Heirlooms or hybrids?

I love the names of heirloom tomatoes. Mortgage Lifter, for example, conjures up such great imagery. But do awesome sounding heirloom names translate into awesome tasting fruit or are hybrid tomatoes really the best choice for our gardens? To answer that question, it helps to understand what the terms heirloom and hybrid really mean.

The way I like to think about the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes is that heirlooms arose primarily through serendipity whereas hybrids arose by calculated design.

With respect to heirloom varieties the story usually goes something like this. Historically, families - or even entire communities - would grow several tomatoes in their fields or gardens and then collect the seed in the fall to provide seed to sow for the following year. Since all tomato varieties are primarily self-pollinated, the fall harvested tomato seed collected from a specific variety would be pretty much be identical to the plant from which it was harvested. But, occasionally, a tomato might be cross-pollinated by bees, as the pollen was moved from the flower of one variety to the flower of another. The resulting new variety of tomato grown from that cross was often nothing spectacular but, occasionally, a new outstanding variety would  emerge and become a cherished variety that was handed down from generation to generation. Thus a new heirloom was born.

Now, we can’t give all of the credit to the bees for great heirlooms. Some heirloom enthusiasts developed a love of the delicate and tedious task of ‘crossing’ one tomato variety with another in pursuit of the world’s next great heirloom. Today, many of our very best heirloom varieties were the result of passionate, dedicated and patient amateur breeders who crossed many varieties in their gardens before finally creating a new, delicious heirloom.

Hybrids on the other hand, are more like a designer tomato. The journey developing hybrids is one that is more purposeful and carried out by breeders who are specially trained in plant genetics. They have very specific goals in mind like breeding a variety that is resistant to a particular disease or one that has superior storage qualities. If they are successful – which often takes many years of painstaking work - the resulting hybrid tomato will express those traits and still be flavourful. 

What should you do?

Having spoken with many tomato aficionados over the years, the overwhelming majority of gardeners just want to plant great-tasting tomato varieties regardless of whether they are heirlooms or hybrids. Thankfully, there are truly outstanding tomatoes in each category.

When it comes to juicy, meaty, true tomato flavour, I’m a huge fan of heirloom tomatoes like Mortgage Lifter and Stupice. If you have a sunny spot on your deck or in your garden, you should try them.

On the other hand, there are some incredible hybrid tomatoes, particularly in the cherry category. Minimato is a small hybrid bush tomato that I like to call bulletproof. If you plunk it in any old pot, give it water and a bit of fertilizer, it will reward you with fruit all season long

Sungold is another great one. It was one of my Mom’s favourites because it is tasty, sweet and it grows like a weed. The biggest challenge with Sungold is that it is so prolific you’ll need to create some new recipes to deal with the onslaught of fruit!

So let’s go back to the heirloom versus hybrid debate. Frankly, I’ve never felt the two were diametrically opposed. I’ve grown all kinds of heirloom and hybrid varieties over the years and both categories yield some fantastic fruit and both types deserve their place in the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hole's Top 10 Favourite Fruit & Vegetable Varieties

Each year at Hole's, we tweak and perfect the way we grow our crops, so that we can provide you with better choices and the best advice. Here is a list of our absolute favourite fruit & vegetable varieties, sold here, at Hole's Greenhouses.

1. Sweet 150 Tomato

A Canadian favourite, Sweet 150 Tomatoes can produce more than 150 tomatoes per season. Bursting with flavour, these cherry tomatoes are perfect for fresh eating, cooking, & even juicing. Pick up your Sweet 150 Tomato plant today to keep you snacking all season long.


2. Odyssey Apple Tree

If you don’t have an apple tree in your garden yet, what are you waiting for? Developed in Manitoba, Odyssey apples are yellow with red blush. Much like Gala apples, Odyssey apples are very sweet and great for fresh eating. These apples are ready to harvest in mid-September, and store for up to 3 months. 


3. Tumbling Tom Red & Tumbler Cherry Tomato Plants

A unique cherry tomato that is perfect for container growing. Try our Tumbling Tom Red or Tumbler Cherry tomato plants. Like the Minimato Tomato, these varieties are also determinate, meaning they are bred to grow at a compact height and don't need to be pruned. Perfect for container gardening! 


4. Scarlet Nantes Carrot

Because of their sweet and juicy qualities, Scarlet Nantes Carrots are our favourite for snacking, cooking, and topping salads. These carrots grow beautifully in cool weather and shrug-off frost with ease.


5. Cool Breeze Cucumber

Here’s a cucumber that is really different. Cool Breeze is bred to set perfect fruit without cross-pollination. No male pollen is needed, so even if bees are scarce you'll still get a great crop!

If you’re short on space, these cucumbers can also be grown on a fence or a trellis for uniform straight fruit.


6. Cylindra Beets

As its name suggests, Cylindra is a cylindrical beet. This Danish heirloom is smooth-skinned with dark purple-red flesh, and grows a dark red, elongated root.

Cylindra is a favourite in the kitchen due to it's uniform slices and ease of peeling.

Nearly two thirds of the length of the root will grow above ground, so some gardeners like to hill up soil around each plant as the root emerges. This will keep the skins of the root very tender and protect them from insects.


7. Ghost Chili Pepper

Hole's smoking hot garden favourite! Great things come in small packages. The Ghost Chili Pepper is considered one of the world's hottest peppers, measuring between 850,000 and 1 million Scoville units on the heat scale. When ripe, it turns a fiery red!


8. Goliath Tomato

Just as the name suggest, this plant produces enormous beefsteak tomatoes. With tomatoes this big, be sure to provide a cage for support. Great looking plant as well, with high yields—up to 70 tomatoes from a single plant! Great for sandwiches and burgers... if you can find a bun big enough.


9. Bodacious Sweet Corn

The trifecta of corn varieties: great for fresh eating, freezing and canning. High quality sweet corn that has large, mouth-watering kernels. A popular market variety that shows tolerance to common rust and tolerates cold weather conditions better than other varieties.


10. Green Arrow Peas

The best thing about this variety is the pea-pod length. These extra long pods mean a generous yield of sweet, tender peas. Each pod will contain between 9 and 11 peas! Happy picking.


Visit Hole's Greenhouses today for better choices, and the best advice.

Something Almost Magical

We once planted a large patch of tomatoes right next to our house, on a south-facing wall. As usual, we planted extra, since it wasn’t unusual for only a portion of the crop to come to fruition. Wouldn’t you know it—the season turned out to be perfect! The summer was long and hot, with just the right amount of moisture. As a result, we wound up with tons of tomatoes, more than we could ever hope to use or sell.

One day, a friendly Italian man was driving by and spotted the tomato motherlode. With a grin, he offered to take away any extras we had. Well, we filled the box of his 1958 Chevy half-ton right to the brim. He told us he was going to make the load into sauce—surely enough to last a lifetime! A tomato or two bounced out of the back of the truck as he drove off with a happy wave. 

I’ve always believed that no other vegetable can produce such spontaneous joy in people; there’s just something magical about tomatoes.

A Good Start

Tomatoes need a lot of care, and choosing a location for them is just the first step. I always make sure to give them one of the garden “hot spots,” along our south-facing wall. With our climate, I put transplants into the garden, and I always use top-quality plants. Buying poor plants never makes sense; use good quality plants that are sure to bear lots of fruit rather than poor plants that won’t yield well. I always ensure that the plants have been “hardened off,” that is, acclimatized to the harsher conditions they face outdoors. Plants that haven’t been properly hardened off will be set back.

I’m alert to cool night-time temperatures and ready to run to the rescue when necessary. If there is any threat of frost, I cover the plants with blankets or towels: tomatoes simply can’t take the cold.

I use cages for my determinate (bush) tomato plants. Although it isn’t strictly necessary, I find these plants benefit from the use of cages, since bush tomato plants tend to spread across the ground. The foliage becomes quite thick and bushy, protecting the fruit from sun scald, but fruit often lay on the ground. Cages hold the fruit of the soil, decreasing the threat of slugs and soil-borne diseases. Tall-growing indeterminate tomato plants, of course, must be staked and pruned.

Caring for tomatoes may be demanding work, but biting into the sweet, red fruit makes it all worthwhile.

-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry A Farmer