Ramblings from an eclectic gardener
The key to tomato success — soilless mix, good fertilizer diluted in each watering, pollinating every day.
Tomatoes have been on my mind since Jo Holm introduced me to Red Robin cherry tomatoes. Actually I’ve always had tomato thoughts.
When I didn’t feel good my Mom made tomato “pudding:” white bread, stewed tomatoes, scoop of sugar. That was during the depression when sugar was limited. Tomato pudding still makes me think of Mom’s Love.
RR is a determinate tomato. It has a maximum growth rather than grow forever as indeterminate.
Determinate produce most of their fruit at one time. The Campbell soup growers we lived near in Ohio used determinate tomatoes.
As harvest time came the whole area smelled like tomato soup — my favorite. When the company wanted to harvest, they took out the whole field at one time, then plowed down the field for the second crop.
RR produced several yummy fruit, but I sacrificed two little red jewels to squeeze out their seeds onto paper towel. (That technique is called Rag Doll, I don’t know why.) The seeds came out with enough juice to moisten the towel.
I had cut the towel to a size that would fit perfectly on a small tray filled with soilless mix and perlite. I covered the towel with an identical towel and added enough additional moisture to bond the two towel pieces together.
The towels were then laid on the soilless mix, slipped into a plastic bag and set on top of a warm air register. It was December. The plants grew through the toweling.
I had germination of about 85% within three days. The fresh commercial package of cucumber seeds I just planted yielded only 14 of 40 or about 35% germination.
After seeds are encased in the moist towel, it is placed inside a plastic bag. Seed germination can easily be seen. Seeds can be viable for 5 or more years, but this method allows checking seed before planting.
In addition to starting more plants from seed, I started plants from suckers I removed from the mother plants. Tomatoes readily start with suckers, those branches that form on stems where leaves emerge.
Growing tomatoes indoors, all winter, has required constant care, but it’s a yummy payoff 132 days from planting. Tomato blossoms are self -fertile but need help with pollination.
Outdoors that would be bumblebee, inside I pretend to be one by using a pencil to “tickle” each blossom two to three times per day. The tiny tomato forms in just a couple of days.
Some days are too cold for bees, too much rain, and too much wind. This bee thing has worked so well on tomatoes I’ve been tickling pepper blossoms and now peppers are forming. Peppers and tomatoes are in the same family of vegetables and both are self -fertile with help.
Today my RR are hanging heavy with fruit just like the tempting pictures in a catalog.
What have I learned — soilless mix, good fertilizer diluted in each watering, pollinating every day.
Patience pays off. So many plants, so little time.