Friday, March 16, 2012

Choosing Tomatoes for Central Wisconsin

My tomato seedlings last spring on April 5, 2012. I think I started them March 1. See how big they were on April 5? They would not get transplanted outdoors until the end of May, two months later.

Typically, I start my tomatoes on March 15. I am always itching to start them sooner, but experience has shown me that to do so invites disaster to your garden plan. They just get too big before I feel any safety setting them out into the unforgiving climate of central Wisconsin.

There are a few annuals, I might start before, or some unusual veggies (two years now I have attempted artichokes, not to have a single one germinate!) But peppers, followed by tomatoes, basil, and eggplant, and then tomatoes is pretty much the way I roll.

Not this year.

Yesterday was another beautiful day. I couldn't help it. I put out some red onion sets, planted a small patch of lettuce, and planted a couple rows of peas.

I planted some outdoor cool season crops BEFORE I planted my tomato transplants.

Last year, we had a great tomato crop. More than enough for canning, eating, freezing drying; it was a successful season. I was worried. There was a lot of rain, I kept thinking we would have blight. We didn't. It was not particularly warm, but August was nice, not a lot of rain, enough. Not a lot of heat, but the overnight temperatures were above 50 degrees (F), the daytime temperatures above 70.

Last year, I planted all the tomato seed I had saved for a number of years. The newer seed, as you would expect sprouted much more reliably than older seed, but I did get some from all my seed packets.

Last year, I chose 'Siberian', 'Bloody Butcher', 'Sweet 100', "Roma', and 'Olpaka'.

A popular tomato grown successfully last year in this area was 'Celebrity' as evidenced by the blue ribbon entries at the county fair.

I saved seed from last year. I purchased some 'Celebrity' hybrid seed and 'Better Boy', as well. I also missed having any golden, low acid tomatoes and thought it might be fun to dry some for their beautiful golden color to add to an oil along with basil and garlic for pizza and for a sweet jelly. I chose 'Taxi' and a tomato called 'Amana Orange'.
'Taxi' is a small 1 1/2" round, yellow tomato.

As for 'Amana Orange', Tomatofest says, "Huge heirloom beefsteak tomato named for the Amana Colonies in Iowa. These organic tomato seeds produce big, regular leaf plants that produce above average amounts of beautiful light-orange, irregular shaped (fluted) heirloom tomatoes that can grow to 2 pounds or more, with an average diameter of 5 inches. Excellent sweet, almost tropical fruit flavors. This tomato variety has been included in my tomato garden for more than 20 years. A winner!"

At 90 days from transplant, I might not see a lot of fruit, but the promise of a large tropical-flavored fruit convinced me.

Yesterday, I picked up some 'Chocolate Cherry' tomatoes. I also saw the tomato 'Mountain Princess' listed with a 45-53 days from transplant to harvest date. Short harvest dates are decidedly a good thing with the unpredictable weather of central WI. Plus, I like the Mountain series. It is predictable. The fruit are of a uniform size, and it was recommended to me as the best tomato for our local area by a garden stand grower.

I won't delude myself that I could transplant tomatoes into the garden a month early; even so, central Wisconsin gardeners, like me, it is time to start your tomatoes!

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