Tomato Varieties Planning for Spring

Tomato Varieties

It seems too early to begin planning for what tomato varieties you want to grow next year.  Businesses are thinking about it and you should too.  Keeping records of what you grow and how successful you are is important to future success. Growing too many tomato varieties will become overwhelming. You will be more successful with fewer varieties. You can give each one more attention.

tomato varieties

Start Small

For the novice or beginner, select five types to start with.  Two or three for eating and two for preserving.  And maybe one or two to experiment with.  If you consider two varieties as experiments you will not have high expectations and will learn much more.  We experiment with more varieties every year now.  We have a desired outcome.  In our top five are ‘Sun Gold‘ from Johnny’s, ‘Big Beef‘ also from Johnny’s  , and one more from Johnny’sPink Beauty‘.

Seed Quality

For years we used seed from different sources. Using seed from a reliable source is important because you don’t want to waste your time.  To be successful, model success.  We use Johnny’s almost exclusively now because of reliability.  Quantity discounts are considerable as well.  Using seed from prior years give marginal results as we have found and generally discard any unused seed.  We have kept seeds from our favorite varieties to grow the following year.

Plant Location

Plant location is important so think about it now.  We have grown tomatoes in the same area two years in a row but most would not recommend it.  We take other precautions so we do not think we are affected as greatly.  Consider sun availability, drainage, wind direction and breaks, and nuisance animals for your location.  We had to fence off our main growing area as deer trample anything in their path.

Quantity Considerations

Too many plants are always started on FiveDollarFarm.  We end up selling or giving many away. It is better to have too many than not enough in our opinion.  We have plenty of room in our greenhouse so we generally don’t worry about how many plants we are starting.  As they grow and continue to need more room, transplanting will quickly take up a significant amount of space.  We go from seed trays to 4 inch pots after about 2-3 weeks.  This gives us a nice hardy plant when it’s time to harden off and plant out.

spring greenhouse

Keep Notes

Until recently I never kept notes on what we were doing in our garden.  Now I write extensively about my observations.  As my friend Tony says, “A life worth living is a life worth documenting.”  Experiment, play, have fun, and be joyous in the harvest that is given to you.

Peace, love, and farming.

Top Ten Winter Vegetables

Swiss Chard

winter vegetables
Swiss Chard

White-stemmed forms tend to be hardier than their red counterparts, so expect the latter to turn to mush in harsh frosts (but if you’re lucky they’ll re-sprout a crop of new leaves in spring before running to seed). I’m never without a row or two of Swiss chard. The ‘Bright Lights’ selection (Johnny’s ) is a cheery mix of whites, yellows and reds. The best chard I’ve found for eating quality is red-stemmed ‘Fantasy’ (Thompson & Morgan) – if anyone’s got any experience of how robust this is, I’d love to know as I sowed it in a mild winter. A tunnel cloche of fleece is handy.

Leeks

Leeks are an absolute must on a winter plot, as they’re great for combining with, for example, potato for soup, chicken for pies, a rich cheese sauce – they’re also excellent just sweated off with butter and black pepper. If rust is a problem in your area (it tends to be more problematic in mild, moist autumns) choose a variety showing strong resistance such as ‘Oarsman’ (Marshalls). Leek moth is more widespread these days (it used to be just confined to the south), so if it’s known in your neighborhood, cover plants with fine mesh netting. Purple-leaved varieties tend to be hardier, such as the French classic ‘Bleu de Solaise’ (Real Seeds) and the British bred ‘Northern Lights’ (Dobies).

Kale

winter vegetables
Kale

A row of black Tuscan kale (such as ‘Nero di Toscana’, from Real Seeds, who have a mouth-watering selection of kale varieties) is a welcome treat on any plot. The leaves are of the darkest bottle green and the taste is as robust as the vegetable itself – great with liver and bacon or a hearty lamb stew. Grow yourself some sturdy plants by autumn, and they stand there, proud as you like, till they run to seed in spring. By that time you’ll have had multiple winter harvests from them.

Cabbage

I like Johnny’s Storage No. 4. I’m sure there are other great winter cabbages available, but there’s something incredibly appetizing about those deep green crinkly leaves. The outer foliage may well get ravaged by caterpillars and dirtied by soil, but the tightly-packed heart will escape unharmed, ready to be sliced, lightly boiled or steamed and dressed with butter and black pepper – casserole fodder like no other. Winter-cropping plants are incredibly forgiving, as long as they’re given the chance to build up a strong root system in summer. Good-sized heads will naturally follow. ‘Storage No. 4’ (Johnny’s ) is a favorite of mine because it’s compact and stands incredibly well through the winter. It’s an F1 hybrid.

Brussels Sprouts

Again, I’ve memories ingrained about standing in a large field of sprouts on freezing cold days. My brother and I were given the job of removing the lower leaves as they yellowed and would be bent over double in our oilskins, in fits of laughter, as we grabbed the leaves and threw them over our shoulders to cover whichever poor soul happened to be standing behind us (generally a parent). Childish I know, but it makes me smile whenever I pick sprouts these days. Anecdotes aside, ‘Diablo’ (Johnny’s) is always the variety we choose to grow – it’s an F1 hybrid with a deliciously mild taste. Beginner growers take note: plants need to be sown in April for a winter harvest; sprout tops are delicious, too.

Spinach

I was recently surprised how hardy annual spinach is – to me it looked quite a delicate, soft leaf but as an experiment, I left an August sowing of ‘Tetona’ (Nicky’s Nursery) over winter last year on the allotment, alongside ‘Reddy’ (Kings). Both provided pickings all through winter (uncloched) and well into spring – I’ll definitely be doing that again. ‘Tetona’ is a classic arrow-shaped green spinach; the leaves developed a beautifully meaty thickness and deep color as the weather cooled, but they remained incredibly tender. The foliage widened and hugged the ground for warmth so needed a good wash. ‘Reddy’ is a different beast altogether.  Its leaves became much more spear-like (a little like a dandelion), and the taste wasn’t as buttery, but the prolific harvests of melting foliage let me forgive that fact.

Parsnips

Coming in to a steaming bowl of curried parsnip soup is blissful after a spell out in the cold, so make sure you have a row of these hearty roots handy. There are a few things to watch for: the seed’s shelf life is short so buy fresh each year; avoid over-rich soils, as this can give excess leaf at the expense of root; don’t sow too early as germination will be poor on cold soils and it also increases the likelihood of canker disease; sow seeds in clumps in the soil, then thin to the strongest seedling. Don’t let all this put you off.  Just sow little clusters of fresh seeds in May and avoid being heavy-handed with the fertilizer. There are some great canker-resistant varieties out there: ‘Javelin’ (Johnny’s).

Jerusalem Artichokes

winter vegetables
Jerusalem Artichokes

I’ve never bought Jerusalem artichoke tubers. This is the thing with these sunflower relatives.  Once you’ve got them you’re never without them which, if you like them, is rather handy. The swollen tubers can reach deep into the soil, especially sandy ones, so despite all your digging efforts you’ll never get them all out. Plants grow tall – 6-8ft at least – so utilize this by making them into a windbreak for more delicate crops. Introduce them gradually into your diet, because they contain inulin rather than starch and once this reaches our large intestine, digestive bacteria have a bit of a party converting this into gas. Lots of gas. They’re delicious roasted, having a sweet, nutty, melting flesh a little like a mild parsnip. I’ve not tried them as a soup yet but apparently this is good, too.

Broccoli

Most of us are familiar with the purple form of this brassica (affectionately referred to as PSB).  It is one of my favorites. There is also a white form, which is underrated, prolific and delicious. This type make large plants when grown well – at least 1m tall and wide – and they need to be sown in April in order to give you crops worth waiting for. The classic season for this plant is early spring (when growing, for example, ‘Red Fire’ from Johnny’s) and such old types are reliably hardy. Improvements in spear size and expansions of seasons have led to some varieties being less hardy. So a harsh frost would knock things on the head. I’m an old stick in the mud here and like the ones I grow.

Cauliflowers

Beginner gardeners take note: winter- and spring-cropping caulis are far easier to grow than summer or autumn ones. Pop yourself a few plants in, in June or July, water well to avoid any check in growth.  The impressive curds come the cool season. Wider spacings (80-100cm) will give you larger curds – great for big families. Plant closely (20cm apart each way in a grid) for mini-curds, ideal for one person portions. ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Aalsmeer’ and ‘Mayflower’ (all Mr Fothergill’sand all with an RHS AGM) will together give a good harvest over a long period. Try ‘Clapton’ if clubroot is a problem in your area, because it shows resistance to this troublesome disease.