First Tomato of the Season!

It’s the beginning of August and the bounty from the garden has included root vegetables such as beets, onions, and carrots; and leafy greens such as lettuce and Swiss chard. By now we are expecting to wander out to the garden and be able to pull the next mature onion or tear off the next leaves of lettuce. Almost as if by this time in the summer we are taking their production for granted. Yet we still are awaiting the crown jewel, the ripening of the fruit we’ve so lovingly protected from harsh winds and cold. We are approaching tomato season.

Celebration

Today was the day that not one, but two tomatoes matured. The first is the beefsteak variety, Brandy Boy. This particular plant was one that I planted only two weeks ahead of the rest and it really paid off for producing early. It was only a week ago that I noticed the first blush of pink. Even though I’m in the garden every day, I hadn’t noticed that it was ready to pick until Chef John asked when we’d be ready for BLTs. As I ran out to check the one fruit I knew to be ripening, I was hoping it would be close. Please, please, I begged to myself, I can’t wait for that fresh picked tomato taste!

When the deep pink color came into view as I turned the corner, I swear there was some sort of trumpeting tribute that rang out from the heavens. I examined it carefully, searching for any hint of green. I squeezed it gently and felt the soft give of prime vine-ripened fruit. Yes! The notes of the trumpets rang louder in my ears. It is officially tomato season!

A day later the Sun Gold cherry tomato plant offered its first of the season. These sweet golden cherries have become a staple in our house. I always have at least one plant stationed along the front walk. That way I can keep a closer eye on them when work prevents me from being out in the vegetable garden every day. Positioned by the door that I use whenever I come into the house means that I rarely even get these sweet gems into my salads. It is designated as the snacking plant.

Fruits of a Long Journey

Unfortunately, tomato season for me comes slowly at first with only a few fruit ripening as early as late July or early August. When did the journey start? Brandy Boy seeds went into pots on April 8th, the same day as the fennel bulb seeds. Brandy Boy is a potato-leaf variety that is a hybrid of the popular heirloom, Brandywine. Hybridizing is done to improve the disease resistance and improve other traits such as shape. The Brandy Boy hybrid has been a breeze to grow, in fact increasing in size so quickly that I had to repot it once. And I hate repotting my seedlings. I resist it until there is no other option. The two early Brandy Boys gave me no choice when they needed watering 2-3 times a day in their original tiny pots.

Brandy Boy is an indeterminate type which means it grows long vines which result in a longer fruiting season. Determinate types of tomatoes, on the other hand, have a more compact and bushy habit and bear their fruit nearly all at once. Since I’ve grown Brandy Boy before, I also knew that it does well in cold frames during the early Spring. I’ve left my tomatoes in the cold frame even if the temperatures hover around freezing or just below freezing and they survive without any ill effects. Because I can be negligent about checking the nighttime temperatures, particularly in late Spring, I’ve gone to growing some pretty tough tomatoes. And Brandy Boy fits the bill. As does Sun Gold.

The Sun Gold was planted on April 26th, a full two weeks later than the first planting of Brandy Boy. That’s the beauty of cherry tomatoes. They don’t need as much time to mature and ripen as the larger beefsteak varieties. I will always grow at least one or two cherry tomato plants in pots by the front door. This year I have three. But Sun Gold is a smaller size cherry than the other two as proven by its first fruit picked before the larger fruited variety has even started to ripen.

I also knew that Sun Gold can take the cool nights in the cold frame during the Spring weather. I consider how long my tomatoes need to stay in the cold frame and start them later than recommended so that they don’t outgrow the size of my cold frame. Those gardeners lucky enough to have a greenhouse don’t have that problem and I am quite envious. All three of the cherry tomatoes that were destined for the front walk, were repotted in their final large growing pots around the 6th of June which is when they really started to take off.

Days to Harvest

Seed packages will list time to harvest in days. For tomatoes, the countdown to harvest starts once you transplant them in the garden. For Brandy Boy, the package lists time to harvest at 75-78 days. These two larger plants, however, were already flowering when they went into the ground which cut two weeks off that time for the first harvest. Trumpet blast! The one thing to remember, though, is that the rest of the fruit on those plants are still growing and I may wait another week before the next one is ready. This would be more in line with the days to harvest stated on the seed packet, and in fact, when I picked that first fruit (ahhh that smell of victory), at least two mature fruit were showing a tinge of pink.

Sun Gold’s days to harvest are listed as 65 days. This means that it is almost exactly on schedule since I planted it the first week in June. And there are lots of fruit showing signs of ripening with more flowers coming. The 65 days to harvest is more in line with my northern, 5,000 foot elevation growing conditions. As a result, Sun Gold performs quite consistently in pots on the south-facing sidewalk to the front door and blesses our house with lots of ripe fruit before frost arrives.

More to Come

The long awaited tomato season is definitely cause for a garden party with your closest gardening friends. Ask them to add to the harvest so that you can all have tomato dishes galore. Look for more tips on growing tomatoes from The Negligent Gardener in the coming weeks. All hail the glorious tomato!

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