Friday, June 29, 2012

What Tomatoes can I plant early in the season?

Cool Start Tomatoes
We planted up some (what we thought were) very early Tomatoes to use as display plants this year. I thought it was too early to dispatch them last week, despite their being a perfect size. What real difference was a week here or there going to make anyway? Then I visited Vasili's Garden Centre in Coburg. Vasili took me completely by surprise when he not only showed me the first Tomato plants he had but demanded to know when ours would be available. ???? We are just now sowing the first of our punnet Tomatoes for release in mid-late August, and we are due to pot our first early season plants next week.  Good thing we have those few really early plants.

Vasili's customers include those die hard gardeners who compete with their neighbors to see who can have the earliest Tomato crop each year. While I'm personally of the opinion that unless you have a heated green house with bright sodium lamps planting early will not produce ripe fruit any earlier than plantings made in the peak planting season between early October and Melbourne Cup day, who am I to argue with the keenest of vegie gardeners?

Because I am uncomfortable with planting Tomatoes so far out of season we have selected 4 "Cool Start" varieties bred specifically to cope with cold early conditions:
Apollo, a hybrid "slicing" Tomato bred in France. Apollo is one of the most popular varieties for vigour and flavour grown in Melbourne and has been for a good 30 years.

Riesentraube, small fruit but not cherry sized and vaguely Roma shaped with a distinctive point at the base. They are very sweet and the name Riesentraube from their native Germany means "huge bunches of grapes". At the nursery they have a bushy compact shape in their pots and in the garden they grow tall and need staking. We have found they live up to their reputation being both flavoursome and prolific and they bare fruit over a really long season, amongst the first and last to ripen fruit.

Russian Red: despite the name this compact growing Tomato is from New Zealand. Bred for production in the 1940's it never caught on as a commercial market garden variety because the fruit is medium sized at best, but Kiwi home gardeners loved it because is it tough when the nights are cold and produces very tasty, bright red fruit. The compact habit makes Russian Red an ideal container variety.

Siberian: Oh, yes from chilly Siberia. This plant looks like I would imagine a Tomato from Siberia should look. It is scrappy, tough and scrambling. No need for staking here. Fruit is small to medium and strongly Tomato! 

So if you are ready for Tomato season, we are... just.  Try our Cool Start Tomatoes, each variety has it's own Point of Sale poster and a good reason to get it started early.

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