Early jump on tomatoes for Duchess of Dirt

I grow tomatoes in pots mainly to see how well they will perform...with a focus on growth habit in a limited space...

A variety of vegetables can be grown in pots, such as eggplant.

A variety of vegetables can be grown in pots, such as eggplant.

Wow! The tomato seedlings got planted in the greenhouse by May 18! Well ahead of schedule. In fact, this year is the earliest we have ever planted them. The cooler temperatures last year pushed us back…a full 29 days later than this year. What a difference!

Have also potted up my tomato seedlings for growing in my front garden. Earliest I have gotten this done too.

I grow tomatoes in pots mainly to see how well they will perform…with a focus on growth habit in a limited space. Many people just have a tiny garden, patio or balcony to work in so being able to grow some veggies in pots is doable for them…and still have room for a chair or two.

Another criteria for me is the ability to save seed in order to grow more plants the following year. This means I have to grow open-pollinated varieties.

In order to save uncontaminated seed I have to adhere to spacing distances between the different varieties. There is much promiscuity that goes on in a garden, you know. Flowers are all about sex.

Like a kid turned loose in a candy store, pollinators will visit as many flowers to collect as much nectar as their little bodies can hold. That is okay as long as you are not planning on collecting and saving seeds. Not so good if you are.

Thankfully, tomatoes are largely self-pollinating. But crosses have been known to happen through sheer exuberance by the pollinators. So I grow tomatoes on my driveway and in other spots around the garden, well away from the ones we grow in the greenhouse.

However, growing tomatoes in pots out in the open puts the plants at risk of contracting late blight. This is caused by a single-celled organism, Phytophthora infestans, which is not a virus, bacteria or a fungus…although it is often referred to as a fungus. Late blight will destroy the entire plant along with all of the fruit.

It is a roll of the dice. But I gamble because I want to know which, if any, tomato varieties may be resistant. Some are tougher than others.

Ultimately, I trial tomatoes and other veggies in pots in order to judge how well they will work in the school gardens at the six elementary schools I work with. Garden space is limited in which to grow enough food for all the students to enjoy. And of necessity, the plants have to be reasonably easy to care for. So definitely, size matters…and disease resistance.

But this year, I am doing a trial purely for me and my own curiosity. I have been reading a number of articles over the last couple of years about the latest tomato growing fad…grafted plants.

Just like grafted roses, tree peonies and fruit trees…a growing tip of a particularly fine tomato variety is grafted onto the stem of another tomato which has a stronger growth habit.

It is an extremely delicate procedure because the propagators are working with delicate tissue rather than the sturdier softwood cuttings of roses, etc. Amazing really.

From all accounts, these grafted tomato plants are proclaimed to be fabulous producers. Indeed, one of my favourite garden writers is thrilled with them. She grows her plants outside on her balcony and patio. And…she lives in the Pacific Northwest, albeit south of the border a short way.

Her enthusiasm was enough to convince me to try growing one. But I have run out of space now so stay tuned for more about this grafted tomato plant next column….

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Thursday in the Record.

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