Since I have begun talking about seeds and showing photos of my little seedlings, people have been writing in to ask me what I’m growing. I have been purposefully avoiding saying too much about my choices this year because a large number of the varieties I am growing are new-to-me. I have a tendency to avoid promoting anything until I am certain I like it.
Because so many of you are looking for some direction in making your seed choices, I thought I’d put together a list of varieties I do love. I set out to give a general overview of vegetables and discovered that a post about tomatoes alone was much too long. So I’m beginning with the plant we are all most eager to get growing and will follow up in the future with other edibles. Note that all varieties are open-pollinated heirloom varieties unless indicated.
Tomatoes for Containers
Most of these tomatoes are determinates (aka the bushing tomatoes). Keep in mind that some determinates can grow to be a few feet tall, requiring containers that are at least a foot and a half deep.
Sunrise III growing in a broken watering can.
- Black Seaman – A fantastic, early, black heirloom that does well in mid-sized containers, producing good-sized tomatoes. Read my full review here.
- ‘Silver Fir Tree’ – Another mid-sized determinate with fist-sized, red fruit. Most tomato plants themselves are a bit boring but this variety is particularly stunning with ferny, delicate foliage that sometimes takes on a slight silver tone. This was my first favourite determinate until ‘Black Seaman’ came along and knocked it back to second. Keep in mind that I am a huge fan of black tomatoes — no red variety can ever compare!
- ‘Golden Delight’ – Another mid-sized determinate with good-sized fruit. I was not in love with this variety and wouldn’t grow it again but I am also biased since I am not a fan of low-acid, yellow tomatoes. I grew mine in a large metal bucket surrounded by ‘Purple Ruffles’ basil.
- ‘Sunrise III’ – Probably the only hybrid I will ever promote, we fell in love with this variety’s cute egg shape and delicious, juicy flavor. This is a true determinate that is prolific, with a low bush habit that cascades a little over the edges of a 12″ pot. I have taken to growing mine in a broken watering can.
- ‘Black Plum’ – With rich plum-shaped fruit that carry an almost roasted flavour straight off the vine, this is my absolute favourite plum variety hands-down. No contest. Regardless of space, I ALWAYS make room for at least one ‘Black Plum’ plant. While this is an indeterminate (vining tomato), I have included it here because I have always had such great success with it in very large garbage bins. Some indeterminate varieties put out a much smaller batch of fruit when grown in even the largest bins, but ‘Black Plum’ has always stepped up to the plate with a good harvest.
- ‘Green Sausage’ – If you love ‘Green Zebra’, you’ll love ‘Green Sausage.’ This variety produces a ton of really pretty, stripey, elongated fruits that are good for sauces and chutneys. I have grown them as an experiment but will never grow them again since I am one of the few who do not like green tomatoes, period.
- ‘Principe Borghese’ – I would consider this a large determinate variety. I grew this in the same garbage bins I use for indeterminate plants and would not suggest something smaller. It was very prolific producing lots of small, red fruit that are supposed to be good for sun drying. We opted for oven drying and were not disappointed.
These are the vining type. They can be grown in containers just be sure to use the biggest container you can find — I use garbage bins — growing one tomato plant per container only! Growing a few basil plants around the edges will use up that extra surface space.
- Black Pear – Last year’s new favourite. Mine were not terribly prolific in containers. I would suggest growing in-ground if you can. See what it looks like inside.
- ‘Black Krim’ or ‘Cherokee Purple’ – I can’t tell the difference between these two black varieties and have taken to thinking of them as interchangeable. I am still sitting on the fence as to whether I prefer them to new-comer ‘Black Pear.’
- ‘Purple Prince’ – I don’t want this to become the black tomato show, but I wanted to throw in one more variety that could not be left off the list. Also known as ‘Black Prince’, this variety has been successful in large bins and produces very round, dense fruit that are delicious on sandwiches. The squirrels love it so it must be good!
- ‘Broad Ripple Yellow Currant’ – Proof positive that large tomatoes don’t always grow on large plants and vice-versa. This large, trailing plant produces the cutest, tiniest, translucent tomatoes that are low-acid yet deliciously sweet and juicy — perfect for popping in your mouth while walking around the garden. And because I love a good story, it is very hard to resist a variety that was discovered growing in a sidewalk crack. A true urban heirloom. If it can grow there, it can grow anywhere!
- ‘Black Cherry’ – I really liked this cherry variety but found it did not produce well in even the largest containers. I will likely grow this in-ground at my community plot in the future. The future being this year of course. I was interested to note that what were tiny, round, cherry-sized fruit were much larger on Amy’s plants. She either has super soil, or got the wrong variety. They looked a lot alike with the same translucent skin, it’s just that hers were much larger!
More Tomato Reviews:
I could go on and on for days since there are so many amazing heirlooms around, with access to a growing number of varieties getting easier every year. Deciding on what to start from seed was particularly difficult for me this year.
Jennifer Perkins of the famous Naughty Secretary Club just reposted this interview we did… a whole bunch of years ago. I have to admit that when I saw her message in my inbox my first thought was, “Oh [insert expletive here], what did I say to embarrass myself?” Thankfully there is no blackmail material in there. I do find it odd however that I said I was not a vegetable gardener and then went on to list all of the vegetables I had grown. I think I must have still been carrying a touch of that thing where I felt like I wasn’t completely valid as a gardener because I was growing in containers on a rooftop. It’s hard for me to believe I felt that way at one time since I almost exclusively talk and do workshops on growing edibles and consider edible urban gardening my passion and specialty. Go figure!
In other news You Grow Girl was featured in this month’s Sierra Club Magazine (pg 26 of print version). I did a phone interview with the writer a few months back and was disappointed it didn’t make it into the article — it was one of the best interviews I have ever done! She asked me questions about topics I’ve been itching to talk about from my thoughts on city living to urban agriculture, to ecology and beyond. Interviewers always ask me how to garden, they rarely ask me what I think about it or why I do it! It’s about time I started writing more about these issues here. All in due time.
And because I couldn’t resist….
First look at Gayla’s tomato bump! They live! It really is amazing isn’t it? Go seedlings go!
Seed-starting season is in full swing in these parts. I’ve been getting loads of questions about it via email and figured it was time to put together a seed-starting recap here on the site.
I started my own tomato, pepper, and tomatillo seeds this weekend and put in orders with two seed companies to complete my 2007 Scary Mega Plant List. This last order totalled about 25 packs of seeds coming in at roughly $75 US. When you take into account that this does not include the transplants I will get in early June… well now you know why it’s the “Scary Mega Plant List.” I don’t want to scare anyone off and give the impression that gardening has to be this expensive. I do not fall into the norm since I consider my garden to be an experiment and a BIG, BIG part of my job. I grow as many new varieties as possible every year in search of beautiful, drought tolerant, delicious, and container-suitable plants to share with you. Most people do not grow 5 different pea varieties on their urban rooftop!
First I’ll show you my plan for this year. In my last post I gave a review of the Windowsill Seed Starter. What I did not mention is that I managed to snag the larger version at a garage sale for $3! The larger version is much more reliable with larger pockets that will keep your seedlings healthy for a more reasonable length of time — the downside being that it will not fit on a windowsill.
Because I am short on space I have a crazy plan based on last year’s experiment in which I moved my final repotted transplants to a window in the hallway of our apartment building to live out their final days before heading outside. By the time they were large enough to repot, the hallway was warm enough to accomodate them. It also made a nice transition from cushy to slightly-less-cushy. I’m pretending that was one stage in the hardening-off process. When faced with obstacles it helps to wrap them in a thin veneer of positivity.
Here you can see the little tags I made using toothpicks, sticker paper, and indelible ink. The other major downside to this kit is that it is too tall to work with my beloved heating mat. It’s been unseasonably warm so I think I’ll be fine without it.
These are the ratios I prefer. If you don’t need a huge batch you can use this as a basis for choosing a store-bought seed-starting mix. Always read the label and look for an ingredients list. Most popular brands have chemical fertilizers added that are both unneccesary, but will defeat the purpose of growing organically. Instead, buy a basic mix and add in your own organic materials. I suggest adding a touch of vermicompost and watering your plants with a diluted sea-kelp mix. To be clear, seeds do not require any fertilizers until they produce their first set of “true leaves”. In basic terms this means the second set of leaves you will see. The first leaves that appear are called “seed leaves” and feed the seedling until the first “true leaves” appear.
- 1 part peat or coir (Coir is a sustainable peat substitute made from coconut husks. Peat is mined from marshland, destroying natural habitats. When you can, use coir.)
- 1 part perlite (popped volcanic ash that creates good drainage.)
- 1 part vermiculite (water absorbing material made from the mineral mica)
Last spring the world aligned in such a way leading to what I can only describe as a collapse in judgement wherein I purchased an actual device to start my seeds in. Firstly, I am a gluttonous gardener and had compiled a frightening collection of seeds to grow, and then Lee Valley had the gall to open a store in downtown Toronto, luring me into their crack den of nearly useless gadgetry and fancy door locks.
I broke down and purchased Lee Valley’s Styrofoam Windowsill Seed Starter last season knowing it would be problematic but having been sold on a few key features: it’s just the right size to fit my narrow old-school window ledge, and it’s self-watering. While you can get your seeds started in just about any old yoghurt container or milk carton, gardeners who are short on space will empathize with my dilemma, How do I grow the maximum number of seedlings in the tiniest amount of space? The answer, like most quandaries in life comes down to finding a system that presents the least number of problems… or growing less seeds. Not going to happen. In fact my list for this year has increased!
Here’s what I wrote last year:
I pay $20 for Styrofoam so you don’t have to. [ed. Here's where I convince myself I am doing this all for you.] The first problem I noticed was no tagging system. I fixed that by fashioning tiny tags that don’t interfere with the dome using toothpicks, sticker paper, and an indelible marker. So far I don’t mind it as it fits perfectly on my narrow windowsill and I haven’t had to even think about watering for days. However, seedlings are only just starting to emerge and my suspicion is that the real challenge will come as they near transplant size.
The challenge I am referring to is the starter’s tiny cell size. Sure you can start a lot of seeds in a small space but what happens when those tiny seedlings start to grow? Lee Valley’s write-up on their website suggests using the starter for slow-growing plants such as broccoli and lettuce. Now, lettuce is a cold crop that does not require a start indoors, and I don’t know about you but I would hedge a bet that people with small indoor spaces often have small outdoor spaces. What percentage of those people intend to grow more broccoli in that small space than tomatoes? Just saying.
So here’s what my plants looked like about three-quarters of the way to planting time:
You can see that the plants are a bit leggy (tall and thin). This is the reality of windowsill growing. My window is south-facing and gets good light but it’s just not as ideal as an artificial lighting set-up.
A massive tangle of roots was created causing some stress on transplant. You know, what with all of the ripping and the tearing. Hint: Seedlings hate that.
Purple colour on the underside of tomato leaves is a sign of potassium deficiency. I transplanted these seedlings to recycled transplant containers shortly after taking this photo. The seedlings came around and lost that purple tinge once they had some room to spread their roots and take up nutrients. I watered regularly with sea kelp and added a bit of vermicompost to each pot at transplant time.
In the end is all of the fuss worth it? The advice I always give and stick by is to save your pennies and employ transplant-sized, reusable containers to get the job done. Starting with appropriately-sized containers that will take you from seed to transplant means less work in the long-run and prevents any desperate late-spring juggling acts to find enough light for all of your much-larger-than-anticipated seedlings. But of course if you’re like me and you’ve got bigger dreams than seed-starting space I would suggest saving your tomatoes for regular-sized containers and trying hot peppers, annual flowers, and just about anything else in the windowsill starter. Or if you’ve got to have those extra tomatoes you can do what I will probably do, give it a go now, panic later.
Another Seedy Saturday has come and gone and as usual I went in with big ideas but didn’t quite make it to all the booths. However, this year I can proudly say that I made a list and mostly stuck to it! What’s more, most of my items were trades — a staggering four packs were purchases! Making a list and planning really does make a difference. Who knew?
Here’s a list of what I did get. Of course, you should see the number of items that remain on the list. Scary!
- Calendula ‘Triangle Flashback’ – An acid reference if I ever heard one (not really but I like to pretend).
- Cucumber ‘Mini White’
- Romaine Lettuce ‘Forellenschluss’
- Bush Beans ‘Dragon’s Tongue’
- Pepper Cress
- PEI Wild Roses – From Lorraine Johnson
- Nicotiana ‘Aztec’ – The trader was unsure about this variety. I am partial to height in nicotiana and find the short varieties to be kind of underwhelming. However I was won over by the promise of jasmine-like fragrance. Turns out this plant grows to around 3 feet tall which makes it a keeper!
- Pole Bean ‘Violet Trionfo’ – Confusing because I have known these as ‘Trionfo Violetto’ but… okay I’ll go with it.
- West Indian Gherkin
- Tomato ‘Whipper Snapper’
- Tomato ‘Sophie’s Choice’
- Tomato ‘Mirabelle Multiflora’ – These last three were from forum member, “Sorellina.” Her little boy is quite a gardener in the making, impressing me with a very convincing and sophisticated critique of ‘Whipper Snapper.’
- Radish ‘Cherry Belle’
- Cilantro – Sure it self-seeds in the garden but since I’m one of those genetically predisposed to liking it I find I can never turn down a free pack of seeds.
- Bush Bean ‘Trail of Tears’ – I know these as ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ but again… lazy naming or confusion?
- Lettuce ‘Lolla Rossa’ – Have also seen this called "Lollo Rossa" however ‘Lolla" has stuck.
Here I am at our table wearing our newest t-shirt design, “Aphids Suck.”
See last year’s event here.