July Garden Update -- Tomatoes

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How does your garden grow?

Well, quite frankly, it's OFF THE HOOK! And thank you very much for asking.

It's early July in Northern California. The heat that vegetables love has finally arrived, along with abundant sunshine, long days and short nights. Sacramento is absolutely famous for its gardening conditions because you get the heat that tomato plants love, plus the cool conditions of the evening Delta Breeze. These conditions are unique to the Sacramento Valley, and it's one major reason why Campbell's Soups produces most of what they need for their canned products right here in Sacramento and Yolo Counties.

Given the right conditions, the right heat, the right amount of water and fertlizer, your tomato plants will be producing like this Celebrity plant located to your immediate left. The Celebrity, a fairly recent introduction to the hybrid world, can be enormously productive. Looks like this will be a good year for the Celebrity, as it started to fruit early and has been fruiting often. It's produced about four or five early season tomatoes, but better yet, will be producing a lot more as the summer wears on.

My 24 tomato plants are doing quite well for this time in the growing season. Some are bigger than others. Some are more productive than others. But that is to be expected. The plants that are located to the immediate right are, by far, the most successful. To the left, you'll notice a Bloody Butcher that is six feet tall and still growing. The plant to the right of that is a Costaluto Genovese. It has produced exactly one ripe tomato, but many more are growing. This was one of the most successful plants in my garden last year, and it appears to be well on its way to providing similar production this year. To the right of the Genovese, a Bill Bird heirloom favorite, the Green Zebra. It too, is loaded with early production.

While I did deal with some early blight problems during May and early June, it appears control efforts are paying off. But, while many of the heirloom plants are growing rapidly, many are also not producing much in the way of fruit. This is quite normal for heirloom plants. Most are generally late producers. This is especially true of the potato-leaf (PL) plants such as Marianna's Peace (MP), Pruden's Purple (PP) and Brandywine. Only the MP is actually producing tomatoes at this point, but it's a good two feet taller than the other two PL varieties. So, I'm hopeful that with some time and a little more growth, I'll see production from the PP and Brandywine.

One of the strangest plants in the garden this year is the Campbell's 1327. True to its name, this is a tomato variety that Campbell's Soups once used for its many varieties of canned soups. This variety was largely abandoned with the advent of genetic propogation efforts and corporate agriculture, but with most heirloom varieties, someone had the gumption to save seeds. And this old Campbell's Soups standby continues to produce in backyard gardens across America.

As I mentioned earlier, the growing habits of this plant are somewhat strange. You can clearly see the early production off this plant in the photo to the right. The Campbell's 1327 is located to the far right. I nearly lost this plant as a seedling, but it later recovered and grew quickly at plantout in late April. At one point however, I noticed the very top of this plant that produced new shoots and leaves develop a cluster of flowers. That cluster then bent to the left. And there was no more upward growth. The plant then fruited, many of the leaves turned upside down, and it just didn't look very happy. It didn't grow an inch for at least a week or two.

But, at some point, new, upward shoots did develop and this plant is now growing again. It has reached a height of about three and a half feet, and continues to produce new tomatoes. Several are starting to turn ripe and it's clear this plant will give me solid production throughout the summer season. The Campbell's 1327 produces red, round tomatoes in the 1 lb. range. It's the perfect slicer tomato for burgers or sandwiches, but also does well in salads or alone as a snack.

But, the biggest winner in the garden so far is the plant located to the left. This is the Bloody Butcher. There are two such plants in the garden. Both are six feet tall and are absolutely loaded with more tomatoes than I can count. The Bloody Butcher isn't an exceptionally large tomato. But what it lacks in size is made up in terms of production and zesty, acidic, taste. The Bloody Butcher produces fruit in clusters of four to five, with cluster sets located all over the plant.

So, the report for July is pretty darn good. With the exception of the Andrew Rahart Jumbo Red and Marianna's Peace, the large beefsteaks are not producing much fruit yet. But, I suppose that will come with time. By August, I should have a much better handle at what the garden will produce for the final two to three months of the growing season.

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