The holidays are over and the decorations are once again in the attic. If you are staring out the window in between watering your houseplants and dreaming about spring, the time has come to check the mailbox. Right now is when seed companies start to post their stock, send out catalogs and prepare for springtime shipping. By planning now, you can have your seeds ready in time for starting them indoors.
Most gardeners start their seed 6 to 8 weeks before the last average frost date so that the seedlings are perfect for transplanting. However, container gardeners have the flexibility of moving their seedlings indoors during frost-filled nights and then taking them back out again on sunny days. This means that even in northern climates, you can start your plants as early as February.
If you have a heated garage and an abundance of light from sun lamps or big windows, you might be enjoying tomatoes sooner than any of your neighbors.
Some horticulturists claim that heirloom tomatoes don’t make good container plants, but this statement is not accurate. You can grow any plant in a container provided that the pot is the right size. Heirloom tomatoes need at least a 5 gallon pot in order to develop a root system that is large enough to produce fruit.
Miniature tomatoes such as cherry tomatoes will do well in smaller pots and hanging baskets. According to my seed catalog from Renee’s garden, for 2012 the newest heirloom cherry tomato on the market is known as Isis Candy. This tomato has rose-red fruit with yellow gold marbling and has a sweet, fruity flavor.
Other varieties to look for include Small Fry, Sweet 100 Patio, Pixie, Micro Tom, Tumbling Tom, Tiny Tim, Saladette, Florida Basket, Toy Boy, Patio Prize, Floragold Basket Stokesalaska and Gem State. Larger varieties such as the indeterminate Indian Stripe or determinate types such as Bradley will grow well in containers with minimal care. Old standbys such as Better Boy VFN also do well in patio containers.
Another darling in the tomato world that is receiving attention right now is the ‘ugly’ tomato. These tomatoes are commercially grown hybrids created by crossing several heirloom tomatoes. Ugly tomatoes are called such because the fruit is misshapen, which runs counter to USDA guidelines for commercially sold tomatoes. Growers of ugly tomatoes claim that the fruit tastes more like a heirloom tomato than most other varieties on the market.
Even if you plan to wait and order seedlings or just buy them from your local garden center, receiving seed catalogs can be fun. It is always nice to know what new varieties of tomato are going to be available this year. And you can always look at the pictures and dream about what you would like to grow in a few months.