If winter ever relents, new tomatoes will be tested

Since spring apparently can’t kick winter off the calendar, most of the gardening I’ve been doing is in the basement. With the potted trees and tropical plants moved into our greenhouse, the old laundry room is filled with seedlings and flats of seeds. I’ve got lots of the usual suspects, but also a lot of tomatoes this year.

For many years, I only grew cherry tomatoes. My city gardens have been home to more squirrels and chipmunks than our dogs can intimidate, and I discovered it hurt much less to discover a cherry tomato sampled by the critters than to find a huge slicing tomato discarded after a single chomp. But a couple of years ago I decided to expand our tomato repertoire — we were canning lots of produce, so adding a few jars of plum tomatoes didn’t seem like much of a stretch.

I learned a lot about plum tomatoes, mostly that they weren’t worth the effort for me. I tried some from the nursery but had to deal with blossom-end rot that is a common problem for plum tomatoes. Then I learned about ‘San Marzano de Torta’ plums, which are rot-free. I had a wonderful harvest, but then discovered I’d rather eat fresh tomatoes in season, and with my limited space I wasn’t going to devote room to plums anymore. 

This decision led to hours of catalog study. After a lot of pondering, I decided I’m still not ready to feed full-sized tomatoes to the vermin, so I selected a few interesting prospects for this year’s garden.

There’s still our favorite cherry tomato, ‘Sunsugar.’ I usually have a bowl of these sitting on the counter in the kitchen because they’re so sweet we eat them like candy. The vines grow all season, and by the end of the summer I sometimes have to use a step ladder to harvest them. 

I shouldn’t need a ladder with two of my other choices. Both ‘Little Sicily’ and ‘Rosy Finch’ were developed for containers. ‘Rosy Finch’ is a pink cherry tomato small enough for hanging baskets. It’s one of the Birdie Series, along with ‘Yellow Canary’ and ‘Red Robin.’  Some nurseries may be selling the three planted together in a single basket. 

‘Little Sicily,’ another mini selection, is a little taller, topping out at 24 inches, so it may need a short trellis. It produces slightly larger fruits that are supposed to be big enough to slice.

My last selection is ‘Pretty in Pink,’ which actually is slicing size. It ripens a couple of weeks later than the others. I’m hoping ‘Pink’s’ lighter color will deter chipmunks used to eating bright red fruit.

All of our tomatoes grow in pots on the driveway where it’s sunny and hot. We try to arrange our container garden so any raiding critters have to cross at least 12 feet of open space before they can reach a plant. That gives the dogs a clear area to patrol. Any squirrel or chipmunk that can run the gauntlet and escape with a tomato deserves its reward.

Last year the critters were too busy stealing blueberries, kiwis and figs to eat their vegetables. But that’s my husband’s problem to solve. I’ll find out if pink tomatoes are the key to vegetable bliss — that’s if winter ever says goodbye. 

O’Connell and her husband Tom Hudson garden at their historic home on Grand Avenue in Port Washington and are members of the Port Washington Garden Club. Comments or questions may be e-mailed to mail@portgardenclub. org.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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