Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bloging via email...

I’m locked out of my blog. That stinks. Royally.


I had wanted to go over a few things about Florida tomatoes. I have had a few questions about them and thought this was  a good time to get some answers out there.


Yes, I’ve pulled almost all of my tomato plants from my garden already. It’s rained consistently daily for several weeks now. When our daily rains show up- the diseases do, too. Besides that these plants just were not performing well. Despite being on my normal rotations they were not growing properly. I’ll take that back. My Steak Sandwich hybrids are still growing nicely – still in the garden, but not setting fruit. Only still in the garden because they are not diseased terribly yet. But, they are a hybrid so I’d expect them to last a bit longer. They are a type of Beefsteak so they are delicious and that gains them brownie points, too. ;-) Also still alive but not doing as well are the Sungold’s and Cherokee Purple. They still have fruit and I can’t quite tell if the fruit is still setting… I’m giving them another 10 days to see what’s really going on.


That brings me to some of the biggest questions about why I pull my plants and start over again. Of course disease is the very biggest reason, but also a hugely limiting factor is the heat here. Along with the rains, (Kind of what causes our rains) Our thermometer has topped  90* every day for several weeks as well. Night time temps are no longer dropping below about 78* and therefore - fruit is no longer setting. Once this happens the trend is a spiraling effect. In Fall because the humidity can cause the pollen not to distribute it can make the falling nighttime temperatures moot. But, trying to keep a tomato plant alive through that heat and daily rain? While possible it almost always leads right back to the main reason I pull the plants and restart…disease. By the time the temps cool back down the plants are ravaged. I’d rather use the space for those few months for something that is productive.


Of course living in these swampy conditions means we also live with a very large assortment of bugs. For a (mostly) organic gardener like myself this can be a massive challenge. Keeping to a rigid spraying and plucking schedule when you can hardly get to the garden to harvest is a difficult task, indeed. So choosing the plants that you have in your garden is equally important. Choosing what types of sprays and what types of organic methods you use are obviously just as important. Fungus attacks here faster that lightning bugs can flicker their little light butts on and off – so making sure you’re paying attention to your plants is probably the most important thing you can do!


Most Floridians tend to rely on greenhouse tomatoes because of these problems. To that I say a resounding, BOOOO!!!!


UGH. Is there anything worse that a gassed tomato? I mean I know that we can’t all grow every single tomato from the garden, but I’ll be darned if I don’t at least try. Those I don’t grow myself get purchased from local sources. (At least someone can grow them around here) Farmers markets are a great source for me. I know that not everyone is blessed to live in an area where tomatoes are grown year round. Heck during the winter 85% of Americas tomato consumption comes from Florida. I’m actually ashamed to admit that because they are mostly tasteless compared to what we find in our markets here. (Sorry all you North of the Florida line)


In the pots on my screened in porch I still have 1 determinate and 1 indeterminate plant. I can’t help but try to continue to grow SOME tomatoes through the summer. Besides if all I do is manage to nurse these plants into fall limping along they should set fruit as soon as the temperatures fall again. These two plants are one each of a heat tolerant heirloom and a heat tolerant hybrid.


That’s right folk’s! The University of Florida has a program out there that does nothing but devote years and years to breeding heat tolerant tomatoes. In 2010 the biggest and best headliner was the Solar Fire – Now this year the tomato that takes the cake? The Tasti-Lee. I’m not so sure how tasty this tomato really is, but most of these overbred tomatoes lose a lot of flavor in the process of picking up a lot of disease resistance and heat tolerance. The Solar Fire and it’s little brother the Solar Set supposedly will set tomatoes through temps into the 91* mark and with nighttime temps into the mid 80’s. Not a huge improvement you say? The 5 degree difference gains us up 2 months of time in the garden. With a sun screen there is the possibility that the tomato could tolerate setting at some point each week throughout the majority of the year (disregarding any freezing temps of course)


Some heirlooms are known for setting in higher temps than others – but here this far into the south we have to watch for the disease problems so even though Cherokee Purple is a wonderful (I do grow it in the Fall and occasionally spring) producer in the North it is susceptible to damping off even with larger seedlings. Good to know in our monsoons. It can also be susceptible to Bacterial Spot, Fusarium Wilt and Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl – all bad buggars in our Florida gardens – It does show some resistance to late blight though – that’s nice in an heirloom! Arkansas traveler and Sioux/Super Sioux are also on the short list of heat tolerant indeterminate varieties that do pretty well with a decent disease resistance. I have an affection for beefsteaks and will be trying Monomahk’s Hat this Fall as well.


But, I gotta tell ya – I long ago gave up only growing heirlooms. Production wise it was a lose/lose situation. I can’t NOT grow them. Because I demand a better flavor and the heirlooms give me that for out of hand eating. Bring a salt shaker into the garden and there isn’t much I won’t eat out of hand and tomatoes are one of my absolute favorites.


When it comes to keeping the tomatoes on the table though? I depend on the hybrids for that. Every year I trial some and I’m not going to tell you here which are my favorite and which are not. Why? Because every person’s taste buds are different. That’s why. What I like in a tomato may be completely different than what you like. What I will tell you is what does well around here. What I will also tell you is that as of yet – NOTHING - not one single tomato plant variety is perfect. Sometimes I think I hit the jackpot and the next season I grow them again and it’s a complete failure.


Hybrids that were specifically bred for Florida usually sound Floridian. Look for things like Floridel, Tropic, Flroidade, Florimerica or Suncoast, Sunchaser, Homestead, Gulfstream (WOW what a disease package!)

But, those plants were made to be resistant to diseases and production, not for taste tests. Win some, lose some. There are others too that do well here Lemon boy, Celebrity, Betterboy to name a few.


So- I plant some for production, and some for flavor and usually come out on top. With a good mixture of both. When I make sauces that are going to use a lot of spices, I use the less flavorful of the bunch. When I’m looking at a recipe that is wanting to really bring out the flavor of the tomato and not mask it – I’ll use the better flavored ones. I get the best of both worlds this way. Usually. Sometimes (Like this season) I only get about 10 pounds of tomatoes and I’m disappointed. But, that is the fun of having 2 seasons of tomato growing. I get to try again in a couple months!


Right now I’m thinking about which seeds to start… Time to wet some paper towels and mark the bags. It’s seed starting time!


‘Till next time!




  1. We pull our plants in July (Texas), so I am not too far behind you.

  2. Fantastic post for us Gulf Coast gardeners.