Starting in mid-May this year, we planted 17 heirloom tomatoes. Eleven different varieties in all. Varieties include Green Grape, Black Cherry, Green Zebra, Japanese, Purple Cherokee, Black Krim, Yellow Boy, Black Price, Siberian, Red Zebra and Pineapple. Earlier, we were discouraged from growing tomatoes due to warnings that the area is too cool for tomatoes. We are at three thousand feet in the foothills of the Sierras. The comments came from a champion Heirloom tomato grower. We decided to try anyway.
We planted the tomatoes in two raised beds (four feet by eight feet). We used mushroom compost and manure soil from our local nursery. We planted in a sunny location (the area gets sun about 5 to 6 hours of the day). Each plant is on a dripper.
Two weeks after planting, the tomatoes doubled in size. Now, in late-July, they are seven to eight feet tall. All are producing tomatoes. We have harvested from the Green Zebra, Green Grape, Japanese, Cherokee and Siberian plants. We have many large green tomatoes on the edge of ripening. We only lost one plant (the Red Zebra), in June, due to a cold snap. We put some other heirloom seedling in its place and they are doing well.
Our neighbors and friends have been astounded. Theirs are three feet tall and have produced limited fruit. We did do some things differently.
- Once the plants reached two feet tall, I cut off all the branches from the bottom third that were not producing fruit. As the plants reached six feet in height, I continued to prune. I removed most of the non-fruit bearing branches.
- All the tomatoes are on a dripper. Aside from being in good soil and getting sun, they get watered six times a day. In total, they get an hour of watering a day. I notice the top branches can get a little limp at noon but they always recover at night.
- Early on, I pollinated the flowers with my finger–especially when I didn’t see a lot of bees in the garden. I do so less now becasue they are tool tall and becuase the bees are doing their job.
Vendors at the Farmer’s Market have encouraged me to sell these. We expect to produce hundreds. With heirlooms at $6 per pound, we could make a healthy profit. However, this is not really my thing. We plant to freeze and can starting in August.
Another thing to note is that we worked hard to keep out critters. We have a fence around the whole garden to keep out deer and racoon. We have fabric and aviary wire under the raised beds to keep out moles and goffers. Lastly, we found the Jays started drilling holes in some of the green tomatoes. We ended up having to cover the area with a light netting.
Do you have any tomoto growing secrets you’d like to share?