Getting ready for tomato season

Here in Vermont we cannot plant tomatoes until mid-May at the very earliest, but if starting your own transplants, the process is well along by now.

This is the first year I've had solid success with my own tomato starts. See the pictures below. These are Amish Paste for sauce, which I will supplement with local purchases of "fresh eating" tomatoes. I also have a few pepper starts (not shown) offering a mix of mild, medium, and hot flavors.

In past years my own starts have been little scraggly things that produced little or nothing, and were completely outclassed by those purchased from local greenhouses. I was unable to start peppers at all.

I planted them in larger containers this year, using aluminum bread pans and leftover food containers instead of the standard commercial blocks of black plastic you see everywhere.

But the biggest change was switching from a fluorescent tube light that just wasn't powerful enough, to an 2-tube LED grow light intended for growing plants. The light looks like a strange red-purple color, but plants absolutely thrive under it.

With prices of everything going up, it's great to know that I can successfully start my own tomatoes and hot peppers at home.

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Comments

  • kbmbillups1
    kbmbillups1 Posts: 1,372 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Those are looking good! I hope you get a lot of tomatoes this year!!

    My seedlings are a little smaller but I have a couple plants I bought at a growers outlet. I figure I'll stagger them since ours can grow into September or October depending on the weather and blight.

    Good luck!!

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @kbmbillups1 I can easily grow tomatoes through September, but October is pushing it. It's possible if the weather stays warm longer than usual, covering the tomatoes with a row cover or tarp for the occasion light frost.

    I'm hoping to get a lot of paste tomatoes this year and make sauce and salsa in quantity. We eat a lot of both, so it would help the food budget.

    I've made tomato sauce successfully, but haven't tried salsa. My neighbors gave me some of their own homemade salsa last year, and it was excellent.

  • kbmbillups1
    kbmbillups1 Posts: 1,372 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Making tomato paste and salsa both sound like good ideas. I have a friend who cans tomato sauce every summer. If I get a good number I might try it. But I'd have to invest in some jars. Anything to help with food costs is a good idea!

  • Michelle D
    Michelle D Posts: 1,465 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy those are looking good. Mine are a bit behind yours.

    I have the same plan, growing a few for fresh but mostly lots of paste tomatoes to preserve. We eat a lot of salsa, tomato based sauces, chili, etc. If I can stock the pantry with my own tomatoes that will be great for the budget and a huge step towards my goal of not needing grocery stores.

    I have made salsa before but I think I will search for a different recipe this year. The last one was good but a bit milder than I prefer.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @kbmbillups1 Jars and lids are always a good investment. They are starting to appear on shelves again, though not reliably. I picked up another box of quart jars and a box of pint jars, plus more lids. When you see them, grab them; they may not be there next week.

    @Michelle D We make homemade pizza crusts, but have been using Prego as the sauce for lack of homemade sauce. A couple years ago we had a good tomato year and the sauce was excellent, but there wasn't nearly enough. Last year I didn't have enough tomatoes to make sauce at all.

    It's easy to spice up your salsa if you are growing hot peppers. :-)

  • SuperC
    SuperC Posts: 945 ✭✭✭✭

    I just love reading what others do with tomatoes and how their growing processes are going. For me, I use tomatoe substitutes like Tamarind paste and Plum Sauce.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Are you growing your own tamarind? I would be very interested in hearing about that.

    I cook Asian dishes, so I have some store-bought tamarind paste, but don't use it much.

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,102 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @SuperC I don't think I have ever heard of having a tomato substitute or tamarind paste. I have made my own sauce before but it has always been with purchased tomatoes never had enough of my own at one time. The I found out you can freeze the whole tomatoes until you have enough so hopefully this year we will produce enough of our own to make some. Love having a good supply of fresh homemade food.

  • bookworm
    bookworm Posts: 35 ✭✭✭

    Last year, our neighbor gave us a start of a different tomatoe. Sweet Pea - The tiniest tomatoes you've ever seen in your pot or garden | My desired home They did produce a lot, but were a pain to pick, they were so small. I did not notice an outstanding flavor. We only grow heirloom tomatoes, and I really cannot remember saving the seeds. As I age, my gardening is slowing down, so far peas, and the rest is berries. I used to can about 800 qt. a yr. of things we ate. My hubby gave away most of my jars, canner, etc. a few yr. ago when I was very ill. I will trust in the Lord to provide what we cannot.

  • Kuri and Kona
    Kuri and Kona Posts: 177 ✭✭✭

    Your tomato seedlings look so healthy! I am growing quite a few kinds, too, but I didn`t bother labeling the pots beyond 'tomato,' so I will end up being surprised with what I get. It is zone 9b here, so one of mine has green tomato on it, but the younger ones aren`t that far along. I really, really like tomato, so have newly planted seeds, and then many different stages past that. I am trying to do succession planting this year. I think I may have gone overboard with planting the tomato, but I love tomato, so that is not a bad thing.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Kuri and Kona You will likely have much more success with tomatoes in zone 9 than I ever will in zone 4. Tomatoes are a tropical plant originally from Mexico. Gardeners in temperate zones constantly struggle to produce tomato fruit in their short hot summers.

    Tomato plants can be incredibly productive under the right conditions. A couple of years after moving here, I grew a modest amount of tomato plants and left a lot of mushy tomato fruits in the bed at the end of the season without cleaning them up. The next year we had a hot, unusually long summer and mild fall, and those tomatoes reseeded themselves and produced a bumper crop.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @vickeym Yes, you can freeze whole tomatoes.

    You can also can whole tomatoes in standard water bath canning, adding enough acid to protect against botulism.

    Then you open the cans and cook the sauce when you are ready to use it, instead of making the sauce at the time you can. That also gives you the option of using the tomatoes in different ways (sauce, stew, soup, etc.) without deciding ahead of time.

    I've done this and it works well.

  • Kuri and Kona
    Kuri and Kona Posts: 177 ✭✭✭
    edited May 2022

    @VermontCathy We don`t get frost here every year, so my first year, the summer crop was still producing tomatoes in January. However, this past year (late 2021-early 2022) had frost, and the ones I didn`t pick in time got mushy on the vine. I need to be vigilant on checking the forecast for frost this year.

    I think it is awesome, though, that so many of your tomatoes that couldn`t be eaten were able to reseed themselves. You were able to get use out of them afterall.

  • Merin Porter
    Merin Porter Posts: 1,026 admin

    @VermontCathy your starts look great! Same here on the planting time, although for us, our last average frost date is June 1, so that's when I plant. Of course, I start hardening off starts before that so they're ready to stay outside once June 1 hits. I've tried Wall-O-Waters in hopes of being able to plant about a month earlier, and while the plants lived, they still didn't really "take off" until things warmed up at night. It's nice to know the WOWs work on some level, but I gave up on them because they really didn't get me tomatoes any earlier.

    I tend to mix up my tomatoes and do some heirloom and some hybrid. Primarily, I do hybrids because we have a very short growing season and by the time most heirlooms are starting to produce well, it starts freezing again at night around here. But also, I like mixing things up because if one variety doesn't produce, others probably will. So every year, I usually do at least one Early Girl or Early Boy (not my favorite for flavor, but reliable short-season producers), a couple of cherry tomato varieties, and an heirloom. Nothing beats the taste of a homegrown tomato, and my kids love participating in the watering, harvesting, and eating! :)

  • nicksamanda11
    nicksamanda11 Posts: 741 ✭✭✭✭

    I am not even going to plant tomatoes this year. I have several volunteer tomatoes that popped up and I'm thrilled to see them flourishing. I'll be surprised by what I have!

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I'm excited! Today is the day I will finally move those tomatoes into the ground! (I hardened them off last week, and it's nice and hot, well before the usual last frost date.)

  • Merin Porter
    Merin Porter Posts: 1,026 admin

    Yay! Have fun! How do you prepare your in-ground tomato beds before planting?

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Merin Porter I grow most of my garden in raised beds with soil that is a mix of purchased compost, homemade compost, peat moss, and native clay soil. So the beds are already excellent and don't need additional fertilization now.

    The main issue is to a do a thorough weeding and get rid both of opportunistic weeds and "weeds" consisting of stuff grown in that bed last year that self-seeded or resprouted! Getting all the strawberry plants out of last year's strawberry beds and into the new ones requires the most effort, followed by digging out the grass by the roots that keeps spreading under the bed walls from the gross growing outside in the pathways.