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OPINION: Black Krims, Tiny Tims and other tomato talk

It seems rather fitting that the arrival of summer has brought with it warmer temperatures in this week’s forecast.

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for most of B.C., with temperatures expected to reach the upper 20C’s and low 30C’s from this weekend until early next week.

This will be a bit of a shock for some plants and gardens as we have barely seen temperatures crest the mid 20’s this spring.

Hopefully, like me, you’ve been harvesting some of this glorious rainwater.

Plants like tomatoes and peppers will be very happy about this heat, however. So, let’s talk a little bit about tomatoes, shall we?

This year I am growing several different varieties: Tiny Tim, which are miniature plants (they only grow 12 to 18 inches tall), and produce an abundance of lovely cherry tomatoes. Tims are perfect for container and raised bed gardens.

Then there’s Black Krim, which grow large heirloom tomatoes that have complex sweet and smoky flavours and a dark skin.

We’ve also planted a few varieties of Roma tomatoes (Juliet and Supremo) as well as Beefsteak and Sungold. Sungold are very popular with growers as the plants are vigorous producers of fruity, cherry tomatoes. This will be my first time growing Sungold and I am looking forward to their fruit.

Some of our tomatoes are planted in our 20’ by 10’ greenhouse, and we are using a system called ‘lower and lean’ for trellising. This method is best for indeterminate tomatoes because it allows the plants to grow indefinitely, leaning the stems as they grow.

There are thousands of varieties of tomato plants, but they are put into two distinct categories: determinate and indeterminate. Essentially, indeterminate tomatoes have no predetermined height and will continue to grow and produce fruit as long as growing conditions are ideal. Determinate tomatoes are bushier plants that grow to a specific height, usually under four feet, producing only a certain amount of fruit in a certain amount of time.

So, our indeterminate tomatoes have been planted in our (unheated) greenhouse and will grow as long as Mother Nature allows.

Part of maintaining indeterminate plants involves pinching off some of the ’sucker’ stems to ensure plants stay healthy and don’t get too crowded. Suckers are secondary stems that grow in the proverbial armpit between the stem and the sun leaves (leaves that don’t produce). Suckers will produce flowers and fruit, so they don’t necessarily need to be pinched off, but it does help with keeping indeterminate plants more manageable, I have found anyway.

Suckers that are fairly large (and not yet producing flowers or fruit) can actually be trimmed or snapped off, placed in water for a few days, and they will grow white, hairy roots. Once the roots are a few inches the stem can be placed into soil and voila, an entirely new tomato plant. Some of our healthiest plants last year were actually just suckers that we propagated.

Perhaps I am the only person that finds tomato plants this fascinating, so I digress. But I hope if you have planted tomatoes that they have lasted through this cold spring and that they begin to thrive in this warm weather.

Stay cool during this oncoming heat and make sure your plants and yourselves are hydrated.