This trial garden update comes from Deke Jackson, Bonnie Plants Field Representative in Canterbury, New Hampshire, where planting begins in May and the summer harvest starts now, in July. Deke offers advice for fellow gardeners in cooler climates.
We just started picking tomatoes from the garden last week. Checking my records from last year, it is the same week. This year, Husky Cherry was the first cherry to be ready, and Better Bush was the first slicer. I picked one Husky Cherry the last week of June but it only made it two feet from the plant before it was eaten!
I saw at the local farmers market that tomatoes from the hoop houses are also just coming to market. I don’t think you need a greenhouse to have early tomatoes. You need a good sunny spot. Use a large pot or use black plastic mulch. This will help heat up the soil for early growth. You will need a good sturdy transplant, too. Choose an early determinate variety. I like Better Bush, Bush Goliath, or Bush Early Girl. This way you can be picking tomatoes while your neighbors are just starting to see green fruit.
When you plant your garden, put in a variety of tomatoes. A bush for early fruit. A heavy mid-season producer such as Rutgers, Marion, Jet Star, or Big Boy. Plant a cherry type for the salads. And then plant some heirlooms for the colors and flavors that will mature late in the season.
To avoid the tomato hornworms this year, I applied Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) to the plants when they first started blooming. The nice thing about Bt is that it is naturally occurring and it affects caterpillars only. Hornworms are about the only caterpillar that munches on tomatoes. Knock on wood…I have not seen a hornworm yet.
This year we are evaluating 110 tomato varieties and 80 pepper varieties in the New Hampshire garden. This makes for a lot of harvest to share. My son and I just made our first delivery to the local food bank. There were lots of smiles from the volunteers because they know that this is only the beginning of a harvest that will feed many families. It is a good feeling being able to give back to our community.