The varieties we planted were Brandywine, Pink Cherry, Beefmaster, Rutgers, and Tomato Berry, which is supposed to be an early producer but thus far is on par with most of the other plants. Since we were uncertain as to where we would be living for the early months of 2010, we bought plants that had been started and did not start any from seed. All of them seem to be relatively happy, except for the Beefmaster, a hybrid (i.e., engineered) variety. In the photo, the Beef Master is that scrawny thing in between the Brandywine on the right and the Rutgers on the left. It has made me question the value of planting hybrid versus heirloom varieties of any plant.
The heirloom Brandywine took off almost immediately and began producing flowers right away. Some of these flowers I plucked off the plant when it was very young so it would be able to concentrate on growing strong vines before it began worrying about producing fruit. The other varieties caught up quickly, except for the Beefmaster. Tomatoes with the name “beef” anything are supposed to produce lots of big, red fruits that are the delight of summertime. I either bought runts, or these are slow and can’t compete with the heirlooms. A couple days ago I amended the soil with composted manure. We’ll see if that gives them a little jump start.
Another beef I have with the hybrid variety is that you cannot save the seeds to start seedlings the next spring, whereas with heirloom varieties, you can. My six-year-old nephew, who knows more about gardening than I do, said it rather succinctly: “Hybrid seeds are a money-making scheme for The Man.” I love that kid. Supposedly, hybrids are more disease resistant and prettier, but thus far, I’ve had problems with leaf wilt in both heirloom and hybrid varieties. Another factor to consider when choosing a tomato variety is whether they are determinate or indeterminate. Indeterminate varieties, such as the Brandywine, produce more sporadically, making it difficult to collect a large bunch of tomatoes when you are ready to can them.
A mistake I made a couple years ago was planting tomatoes in the same spot I had the previous year. This is a gardening no-no, even if you amend the soil with compost, which you need to do every year since any plant robs the soil of nutrients. One thing I have done correctly over the years, however, is planting marigolds with my tomato plants. This is called companion planting, and the combination of the two roots systems emits something that helps keep pests away. Because of this, I don't have many problems with bugs destroying my tomato plants.
I know this post comes a little late since most people have already planted gardens. However, if you'd like to add marigolds or other companion plants (such as basil), it's not too late; just be sure to water them every day until they're established.