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For the love of tomatoes

What’s the world’s earliest tomato? It’s Latah! Name a good storage tomato? Try Mystery Keeper! Greg Wingate of Mapple Farm in Weldon, New Brunswick has both. Latah is a distinctive tomato that has one great edge. It grows and produces ripe fruit in short-season areas where other so-called early tomatoes failed. Mystery Keeper is an outstanding storage tomato. For the love of tomatoes, read on and find out why so many gardeners are eager to grow them.

IN A BUSY WORLD

… it’s an inspiring sight to walk by a garden filled with tomato plants. Oh, but someone says, “I live in the high North where frost comes early.” Not to worry whether it be Old Crow in the Yukon, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, the northern reaches of Manitoba at Thompson and other great cities such as Yellowknife, Prince Albert, Grande Prairie, Prince George and beyond. Latah produces fruits of the vine ensuring a tomato crop throughout Canada’s short-season districts, even when seeds are sown as late as May.

Selling Latah tomato seeds is Greg Wingate’s claim to fame and he can be reached by mail at Mapple Farm at 129 Beech Hill Road, in Weldon, N.B. E4H 4N5, or send an email to [email protected]

HERE’S WHAT GREG HAS TO SAY

Over the years, he’s tried hundreds of different varieties, searching for a good early tomato. His conclusion — “Latah is in a class by itself.” It’s given thousands of Canadians who live in the upper northern sections of the nation an opportunity to grow and harvest ripe tomatoes. Greg has an uncanny way of fine tuning his harvest by selecting seeds only from those Latah tomatoes that ripen first.

Latah is a low, bushy variety that pumps out slightly flattened, good-textured fruits that are two to three inches (5.0 to 7.5 cm) in diameter (larger than a cherry tomato but smaller than a medium tomato). Transplants set outside during mid- to late June are capable of putting out harvest-ready fruits by the end of July. No pruning is required. In three words Latah is “an exceptional find.”

I, Ted, also grow Latah tomatoes even though my home turf area around Portage la Prairie is not a short-season region. Yes — I grow them to satisfy the urge for that very first taste of early vine-ripened tomatoes, while later varieties are still maturing. To all gardeners out there who are challenged with late-spring and early-autumn frosts let me say it can be done — grow some Latah tomato plants and bring in a harvest.

MYSTERY KEEPER

… is an outstanding long-keeper-type storage tomato and seeds are also available from Mapple Farm. Because it’s a storage tomato, Greg tells me Mystery Keeper “isn’t meant to be eaten in season, so there’s no pressure on the gardener to get them started and set out in the garden extra early.” The object is to pick these fruits just after their colour begins to lighten up a bit from the greenest stage. Obviously, harvest would need to be completed before a killing frost hits.

Like other storage tomatoes, Mystery Keeper ripens from the inside out. That in itself takes a bit of getting used to. The exterior skin may still be olive, orange or pink but once cut open, you’ll find ripe, red tomato flesh inside that’s a touch more acid tasting than other varieties ripened on the vine.

MILLIE’S MATRIMONIAL CAKE

In 2008, I introduced Grainews readers to a recipe called Millie’s Matrimonial Cake made with green tomato filling instead of dates or prunes. It revived memories of an email I received back then.

Dear Ted:

I grew Latah and Mystery Keeper tomatoes you wrote about and ordered seed for both and started my own plants. I would certainly grow the Latah again. They were smaller in size than I first realized when I bought the seed but they were full of tomato flavour, very juicy, and early. I had the earliest tomatoes I ever have had. Now it may have been that I had grown the plants myself and they were more mature when I planted them. I don’t know. I had tomatoes ripening by the end of July and the plants produced right through early Sept. I think they were worn out by then. I had a steady supply of Latah all summer. I ate loads of tomato sandwiches and used more of them to make juice.

When I picked my Mystery Keeper tomatoes, I had more than two boxes. Several are on the pink side but most have just started to turn colour. I haven’t sliced any open yet. I have too many of other kinds to eat up right now, and I don’t think they have ripened enough. I thought I’d wait to try them in a couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see what they taste like and how long they last. I enjoy your writings. Bye for now. J.S.

TED TOMATO TIPS

Indoor-started seedlings can quickly become leggy and weak when there’s not enough light, soil is kept too moist, or room temperature is too warm. Here’s just one of many simple secrets in my arsenal for strong and bountiful tomato plants.

Once seedlings are no more than an inch high and show their first true leaves, do this simple exercise. Brush your hands very lightly for a few seconds back and forth over tomato seedlings, touching just enough to sway the leaves. Repeat this process twice each day. Research confirms that such stimulation produces stronger and healthier plants. Even a slight breeze blown from a small fan or your breath; or brushing with a small, clean, artist brush will do the same thing. This will encourage a large return of fruit at harvest time. Keep doing this until tomato seedlings are ready to be transplanted.

TRACE MINERALS MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Experiment and prove it yourself. Most plants and especially tomatoes require over four dozen different mineral substances for optimal performance. One of the best ways to provide micronutrient supplementation is via seaweed and kelp fertilizers applied as frequent foliar sprays according to label directions. Such sea products also contain hormones, amino acids, chlorophyll and proteins. These work together to reduce plant stress during drought and coolish weather times and provide some resistance against marginal frosts.

WHEN TO SPRAY

Wait until young tomato transplants have enough leaf growth to absorb nutrients via foliage. Plants set out in the garden absorb foliar nutrients best in the morning on cloudy days, but don’t apply if rain is imminent. You can experiment with foliar feeding your tomatoes and other vining crops such as melons and squash at different stages, but the following is a good guideline. First application can begin during flowering, then at fruit set and every 10 days or so afterward, right up ’til harvest begins. You’ll see the difference. Look for products such as Organican dry or liquid seaweed concentrate, Garden Pro Organic Kelp Meal, Gaia Kelp Meal 1-0-2, Kelpman Liquid Kelp, Liquid “B” Seaweed Organic Pure Liquified B.C. kelp and other seaweed products at your local garden centre or inquire at West Coast Seeds, Delta, B.C., phone 1-888-804-8820 or Early’s Garden Centre, Saskatoon, 1-800-667-1159.

CULTIVATE PROSPERITY

… with a garden. Gardening energizes, improves optimism, adds zest for life and sustains physical and mental well-being. Don’t believe me? Then dig in and discover it for yourself. Learn how a home garden helps prune away the high cost of imported store-bought produce. Fresh local-grown food can be the purest form possible because you’re in control of what goes into the soil and on the plants. Homegrown nurtures and sustains health and provides exercise while fostering joy and happy thoughts. There’s nothing more precious in life than health and wellness of mind, body and spirit. Gardening unleashes a mighty tool that helps keep it that way.

WE CAN’T CONTROL THE WEATHER

… but at least I can sing about it while strumming on my git box. Here are some lyrics from my “Weather Song.”

In spring new life begins again,

The scenery is a delight,

Wherever we go across this land,

There are happy people left and right.

In summer we’re the land of the midnight sun,

And the temperature climbs to 35,

From north to south the mosquitoes come,

Watch out for them or be eaten alive.

After all this is Canada,

Where the winter’s cold, and the summer’s hot,

Like it or lump it, we’re gonna have weather,

Whether or not. †

About the author

Columnist

Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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