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Give Your Tomatoes A Little Milk

Every day is a gardening day — learning, listening, doing! In this column I’ve got more tomato talk and seed sources coming up. I begin with a highly recommended hybrid tomato variety by Vicky Berg, manager of the garden seed department at Early’s Farm & Garden Centre in Saskatoon. The variety is called Primo Red. After listening to Vicky praise this new hybrid, I jotted down what I call a baker’s dozen of her words. She describes Primo Red as: “Nicely shaped, smooth, extra-large size, very firm, compact, bushy, similar to Heartland.”

She says Primo Red also has “excellent interior quality and great taste.” I agree when she says “personal experience in the garden counts for a lot.”

Something else to appreciate about Primo Red is its earliness — 65 days to maturity after setting out transplants. It boasts resistance to several diseases, including tolerance to tomato spotted wilt virus. Need I say more?

Both Primo Red and Heartland tomato seeds are available from Early’s. Get a copy of their 2010 Everything For the Gardener catalogue by writing them at 2615 Lorne Ave., Saskatoon, Sask. S7J 0S5. Or you can phone toll free 1-800-667-1159.

STEERING IN THE DIRECTION

…of a few named old-timers and where to get seeds. They are commonly referred to as pioneer or heirloom tomatoes. Hundreds upon hundreds of varieties exist. If you’re looking for a dependable heritage tomato, think of Mule Team… one of the best. The very name of this disease-resistant, blemish-free and productive staking variety says a lot. Red globe tomatoes are 300 to 345 grams (10 to 12 ounces) each. They come in clusters of three to five tangy-tasting fruits with exceptional old-time tomato flavour. In a good growing season, you can begin harvesting about 75 days after setting out transplants.

There’s a medium-size tomato called Trophy that was first introduced a way back in 1870. Can you imagine paying five bucks for a packet of tomato seeds 140 years ago? Nearly every seed catalogue was listing Trophy a year later, in an effort to entice gardeners to grow this outstanding, sweet and early red-fruited tomato.

To get Mule Team, Trophy and dozens of other hard-to-come-by heritage tomato seeds you’ll find nowhere else, contact David Ackerman, Upper Canada Seeds, 44 Macklingate Court, Toronto, Ont. M1V 1A1. Phone 416-447-5321 or email: [email protected]

TWO KINDS OF BISON

We’re all aware of bison that once roamed the Canadian Prairies. There’s also an old-fashioned tomato that bears said name and it carried a lot of hype. Back in 1937, a McFayden Seed catalogue listed Bison tomato and described it as self-pruning, tasty, productive, and an outstanding new introduction for dryland soils. There was a lot of home canning in those days and Bison’s medium-small fruits were perfect for that purpose. Fruits ripened quite early (65 days) and turned red all at once.

McFayden is still a Canadian stalwart and continues to issue a catalogue. Their 2010 edition marks a century of service to gardeners across this great land. As an anniversary special, McFayden’s is featuring Mortgage Lifter tomato, a unique and historical variety with a humble beginning. One slice literally makes a tomato sandwich. A packet of about six dozen Mortgage Lifter seeds is just $1. For a catalogue, write to McFayden, 1000 Parker Blvd., Brandon, Man. R7A 6N4. Phone 1-800-205-7111 or email [email protected]com.

By the way…Bison tomato seeds and numerous other old-timers, many originating from far-flung regions of the world, are also available from Tanya Stefanec, Heritage Harvest Seed, Box 40, RR 3, Carman, Man. R0G 0J0. Phone 204-745-6489 or email [email protected] ageharvestseed.com.

PLANT ‘EM DEEP

When tomato seedlings are about four weeks old, there’s an advantage to transplanting them into individual pots such as cut-down juice, milk and cream cartons. By the time they’re seven to eight weeks old, you can plant them deeper and expect more fruit and bigger tomatoes as a result. How is this possible?

Take a look at all the fine hairs that project along a tall tomato stem. They create additional roots when buried deep down. This results in a robust and stronger root system. Just make sure bottom leaves are not touching soil surface. All that’s needed is at least four sets of leaves at the top. You can pinch out any lower leaves that are too close to the ground.

THE MILK TREATMENT

Come late May or early June we’re at the point when well-hardened off tomato plants can usually be set out in the open garden. The weather more or less confirms when the time is right.

First off, let tomato roots sit for 20 to 30 minutes in pure liquid skim milk. Meantime, stir a tablespoonful of dry powdered skim milk into the bottom of each prepared planting hole. Dip your fingers frequently in skim milk during handling and planting. Skim milk creates a hostile environment against disease spores and viruses and slows their progress and transmission.

Other “skim milk finger-dips-to-do” include each time you tie a tomato plant to a stake and whenever you prune tomatoes or pinch off any suspicious-looking leaves.

There’s an old saying: “Give ’em air when a person faints.” Well tomatoes may not faint, but they can wilt. Blight and other diseases thrive when tomatoes are crowded and airflow is stagnant. Tomato plants require good air movement. Keeping their leaves dry (although not always possible) is critical to disease prevention.

When not raining and when air is still, take a small portable fan to the garden and let it circulate airflow among your tomato plants for an hour daily. Otherwise, grab each plant at the main stem and give it a gentle shake for a few seconds.

Water wisely means give your tomatoes an early-morning, daily drink (when not raining) to maintain even moisture. Always apply at the base of the plant so foliage remains nice and dry. Avoid working among tomato plants when soil is wet as this can spread disease.

CANADIAN GARDENERS LOVE TO WIN

…especially if it’s something connected to the garden. True, it’s the luck of the draw. Grainews readers are invited to take a chance at winning something in my arsenal of giveaways that range from credit voucher certificates to seed potatoes and Bluebell grape plants.

Prizes are provided by Early’s Farm & Garden Centre, Saskatoon; McFayden (since 1910), Brandon; T & T Seeds, Winnipeg; Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes, Bowden, Alta.; and Corn Hill Nursery, Corn Hill, N. B. To get in on a good thing, send your name and mailing address to: SINGING GARDENER Draws, c/o Grainews, 1666 Dublin Ave., Winnipeg, Man. R3H 0H1.

THROUGH THE MIND OF A CHILD

A youngster in a small town stood patiently waiting for his mother while she finished grocery shopping. Shortly, along came a preacher wearing a white collar. “Young man,” he said, “Can you tell me where to find the post office?”

“Sure,” the boy replied. “Keep walking straight down this street for one block to Saskatchewan Avenue and then turn left.”

“Thank you,” the man replied. “Oh, by the way, I’m the new pastor in town. Do you think you could come to church on Sunday and I’ll tell you how to get to heaven?”

The youngster replied with a smile. “How can you tell me the way to get to heaven when you don’t even know the way to the post office?”

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener & Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. The happiest people don’t always have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything they have. A Chinese proverb says: Life is an echo. What you send out comes back. My email address is [email protected]

About the author

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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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