Monday, July 05, 2010

The great tomato race

After last year's disastrous bout of Late Blight Fungus, I decided that this year all of our tomatoes would be grown from seed. I started two groups of seeds: an "indeterminate" variety of Rutgers in small terra cotta pots on the windowsill of my mom's house, and a Lee Valley Seed Starter half-full of "determinate" Marglobes. (For those unfamiliar with these terms, see here.)

The windowsill Rutgers tomatoes took off well ahead of the Marglobes, which grew under a 100-Watt equivalent brightness compact fluorescent bulb on a timer. The Rutgers have stayed ahead of the Marglobes in every way measurable. This even applies to the Rutgers that had its neck broken in a tragic fall; I repotted it in potting soil, burying it up to the first true leaves so it would form new roots along the stem, and it is doing well so far.

In late May, I transferred some of the seedlings to larger pots on the west-facing front porch using (John Jeavons forgive me) store-bought potting soil. A few weeks later I selected the healthiest and most advanced of each type for transfer into Topsy-Turvy upside-down tomato planters, which I hung from the crossbeam of a clothespole in a sunny location. About a week later I decided to repot another Rutgers into a large pot on the ground below and between these two. I then set upon a regular schedule of watering all of these plants, including the seedlings still on the front porch nursery.

The results can be seen above. (This picture was taken just before sunset. This location and the one below get direct sunlight all morning and part of the early afternoon; this location also gets late-afternoon sunlight, while the one below gets direct sunlight until mid-afternoon.) Rutgers are on the left and in the center; Marglobe is on the right. The Rutgers in the part is larger and darker than either of the hanging tomatoes, both of which have craned their necks to aim their leaves at the sun. (Background plants include dill, immediately behind and to the left if the pot; a bolting Double Delight rose, which regularly throws up numerous long straight canes that do not bear roses; a neighbor's peach tree on the middle right; and a dwarf cherry tree - now well over twelve feet tall - in the background on the left.)

I repotted a second group of tomatoes in containers for comparison just a few weeks ago. In this picture Marglobes are on the left and in the green pot in the foreground, while Rutgers are on the right and in the pinkish pot in the back. Again, the Rutgers are outpacing the Marglobes (which were one of the parent plants of the Rutgers variety), the potted plants are outpacing the hanging plants, and the hanging plants have twisted their stems so they are growing upright. (Please don't ask what those hanging plants are hanging from. The answer is a very bad idea.)

I still have two more Topsy-Turvy planters, though I don't think I will use them this year. I also have several more large pots and quite a bit of unused garden space. Two more Rutgers are in large pots on the front porch, and several more Rutgers and Marglobes are destined for repotting soon. In addition, I have half a dozen indeterminate Beefsteaks that I started when I briefly thought that both Rutgers and Marglobe were determinates. (Rutgers comes in both varieties, and I happened to pick the indeterminate type, though I did not know that until after I re-located the seed packet.) The Beefsteaks and the rest of the Rutgers and Marglobes will either be repotted, planted directly in the ground, shared with friends and neighbors, or held in reserve against some future disaster.

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