Planning for Tomatoes

We may have two feet of snow on the ground, but the early tomato seedlings have germinated.

I do like to pick my first tomatoes in June, so I plant a few seedling in late January. They germinate in early February, and I keep up-potting them into bigger pots until it is time to plant them out. I will put a couple in a cold frame come April, and I may this year – space allowing – plant some in the hoophouse.

What are those super early babies? Wetsel Red Cherry. I love cherry tomatoes for salad, fresh salsa (especially mixed with other veggies or fruit like this Grilled Peach Salsa) and for drying. Dry cherry tomatoes are simply wonderful tossed in a green winter salad – a burst of sweet-acid tomato taste. Of course, it’s also easy to freeze bagfuls of fresh cherry tomatoes.

Cherry tomato start to produce earlier than the big ones, and by starting them in January, and keeping them happy (that’s the key), I will have tomato in June. My earliest is June 14, and that was prior to the hoophouse. Can I beat that?


So can’t say I am “dreaming” of tomatoes – after all I am consuming plenty in the form of soup, sauce, paste, confit etc from last summer canning. But I am certainly planning my tomato crop. This year I am getting more of the non-red tomatoes, and I am planting more of the canning tomatoes too. That is, those tomatoes that were bred for little pulp so that they would not give off too much liquid. They are also called paste tomatoes, processing tomatoes or sometime Italian tomatoes.

Last year I had three different paste cultivars: Amish Paste (at noon in the picture – new to me then), Roma (at 4:00) & San Marzano Sel el Redorte (at 8:00). Amish Paste is very meaty and some were longer than my hand (it was a dry summer and I don’t water that much so the specimens below were not that large). Great for sauce and paste. Roma, which I decided to try again – was fine for crushed tomatoes. San Marzano was good also for sauce and paste, to can whole and to make tomato confit – and Tomato Tatin.


Those, as well as the slicing tomatoes and more cherry, I will be starting from late February through mid-March. Trying to time the determinate paste tomato harvest for September, you know… so the ambient temperature is a little more conducive to canning.

What are your tomato plans this year? Any you can’t do without? and why?

PS: the first pepper seedlings have been emerging over the last few days. Hot pepperts up first, followed by Round of Hungary. Still waiting for the bell and Italian…

18 thoughts on “Planning for Tomatoes”

  • Oh my goodness, you’ve already started your tomatoes?? Now I feel like I gotta start mine! Maybe that will be one of my tasks for the weekend. But I notice you are only starting certain varieties right now. Should I hold off on planting, say, my Purple Cherokee until a bit later?


  • And because you speak about pepper too, do you have any tips Sylvie for bell pepper ?
    J’ai lu qu’il fallait ôter les premiers poivrons pour s’assurer qu’il donne tout le long de l’été, est-ce vrai ? Je veille au grain et espère pouvoir en manger bientôt !

  • Amelia – I just start a few, those I want to harvest super early. The biggest issue to consider is to be sure you’ll have enough room (with plenty of light) to keep the plants growing well. By the time I plant those out, they’ll be two foot tall in a 2 gallon container in the (heated) greenhouse. I can’t do that with more than 1/2 dozen plants. But it’s worth it. Just pick the cultivar you want to harvest early. Cherokee Purple would certainly be such one. So tasty… maybe I should go start some now.

    Vanille – Mid-February for you is equivalent to mid-August for us. That’s pepper harvesting time, so if you have fruit on your plants now, let them be. They do take a while to develop. The only time I would recommend to get rid of fruit would be in very early spring if the plant is not well developed – so it has a chance to put energy in growing itself as opposed to growing fruit. In hot summer areas, where the nights remain warm (over 86F/ 30C) pepper plants often drop blooms or immature fruit – it’s too hot for them. For me in Virginia, it means I want my plants to be strong and covered with blooms in June/early July before its gets so hot, so the fruit formed before the heat have a chance to develop in the summer. Then when the weather cools off in late summer, I get a second waive of fruit. I don’t think your climate gets that hot, so you should expect continuous production (although be warned, some bell pepper cultivars don’t yield as well as others). Try to find a veggie gardener in your area: that’s the best source of advice, because it’ll be adapted to your local conditions and climate. Bonne chance!

  • Sylvie, thank you for your expert advice. It’s true, we never get really hot Summer here in Wellington and the plant did grow quiet well at the beginning. I’m just worried because it looks like it stopped to grow… Patience donc !

  • I like your idea of growing them early so that you will be harvesting some fresh tomatoes in June. I can’t beat your earliest ones but we did have a few ripening in early July last year…cherry tomatoes that is.

    We will once again be growing the Amish paste as they did fairly well for us last summer. Our goal is to grow fewer varieties this season as we went a little crazy last year.

  • I tried Amish Paste last year with mixed results. My favorite canning and sauce tomato last season was the Polish Linguisa – absolutely huge sausage shaped tomates, very prolific, terrific flavor fresh and excellent canned or frozen. Love your blog – I’ve been lurking for months.

  • Mary – glad you came out of lurking. and thank you for the kind words. There are so many good tomatoes out there, yet so little space, so I am always glad to hear what cultivars do well in our area for others (I am guessing you are in the greater Washington DC area). I am going to try a lot more cherries this year, because there are wonderful dry. But I know the canning cattle will still be going on (if only for the canning classes I’ll be teaching this summer & fall). I’ll remember Polish Linguisa….

    PS: My husband used to work at the same firm as you (as per your e-mail address) years ago.

  • Hello mangocheeks. Oh… it’s still freezing here too. Although today was sunny, the ground is still covered with snow. Our last frost is on average in late April/early May. Those tomato seedlings are started inside under light, and then moved to the greenhouse as soon as they have their first true leaves. And then they’ll be constantly up-potted and hardened off so they are BIG plants in early May when I set them out. So I can have – hopefully – tomatoes in June. Yes, I do like my tomatoes.

  • Wow, I’ve never even considered starting tomatoes in January, but if I could harvest some in June by doing it that way then I need to change my thinking.

    I’ve been growing Striped Roman (or Speckled Roman) paste tomatoes for the past several years. I love the flavor of that one, but I’m always looking to try new ones. Opalka seems to be mentioned frequently as a favorite. I haven’t yet finalized the list for this year.

  • Entangled – as long as you can lavish care on those super early tomatoes, and give them lots of light, some warmth and large pots as they grow, go for it!

  • Hey!
    I had a question, I’ve been starting the majority of my seeds with the soil blocker. Is it wise to start tomatoes in the soil blocker, then transfer to a larger pot, or should I just start them in larger pot at the get go.

    Also, what have you found to be the best soil mixture for seed starting. I noticed in your photograph the top of the soil looked like it had some sort of gray shale or oyster shell.


  • Seth – I have never used the soil blocker. But I do start my tomatoes in small cell packs, and move them up to bigger and bigger pots, planting them deeper than they were everytime I transplant. This deep transplanting encourages lots of root growth (and BTW, that’s a specialty of tomatoes, don’t deep transpalnt other vegetables). As far as some mix, when I start the seed I use home-mix of peat moss (2 parts), perlite (1 part) and vermiculite (1 part), making sure it has abosrbed plenty of water before sowing. I cover the seeds with a layer of vermiculite and crushed granite “starter” size (you can find at feed store, it’s used for poultry). I use the granite to “hold” down my potting medium, since it is so light. I did try crushed oyster shells which is easier to find here , but I don’t like it quite as much as the granite. They clump too much. Once the seedling have true leaves I transplant to bigger pots using my home mix (1 part) and fine compost (1 part). All of the measurements are really approximate. Sometime I don’t have vermiculite so I omit; when i have leaf mould, I use that instead of the peat.

    It is my understanding that you need actual soil for the soil blocker, so I don’t know if my formula – which results in a very light mix – would work for you.

    Keep us posted on those soil blocks. I have been meaning to check them out, but the price sorts of stopped me.

  • Aron, with all the wonderful farmers’ markets in NYC, you can get some wonderful tomatoes. As I was transplanting some yesterday my mind was – already – going through dishes I wanted to make with them! While I am enjoying the coolness of spring, tomatoes are one reason to like summer.

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