Saturday, February 5, 2011

Early propagation of tomatoes

Finally it's February, and according to most garden calendars I can now start propagating tomatoes from seeds. Last year I didn't start until March, and that was a little late for our warm area here in the Rhine-Neckar delta of Southern Germany. By starting early, I'll have very sturdy plants by April, when they'll go into large pots along the warm south wall of my allotment cottage.

This year I decided to purchase windowsill propagation sets from the garden center, rather than just planting seeds in a hodgepodge of yogurt cups and fruit trays on the windowsill. It's not really a luxury, since they are incredibly cheap. Here are the two I bought, including biodegradable cells, propagating soil mix, covers, and even some seeds (radishes, dill and sunflowers). I decided not to go for electric heating, since we have some very warm windowsills.

A friend who has been growing tomatoes for years gave me some seeds year before last. For over twenty years she has removed the seeds from the choicest fruits of her best plants and saved them for the subsequent year. Following her example, I harvested seeds from my three favorites of the plants I grew from her seeds. The seeds along with their gelatinous surrounding substance are placed on aluminum foil, allowed to dry (making them stick on), labeled, folded to keep out the light, and stored. I don't know the correct names of the original varieties, and after so many years of selection and propagation, the plants may not even conform to them anymore.

We call them "paprika", "peach", and "oxheart" tomatoes. The peach tomatoes are large and yellow (even their seeds, in the lower left-hand corner of the foil above, look yellow), the oxhearts are huge and meaty, and the paprika tomatoes are long, pointed and firm-fleshed. From last year's harvest:

peach and oxheart tomatoes from last year's harvest

sliced peach tomato - delicious!
paprika tomato
So I'll be propagating these three again. However, later in the summer most of my oxheart tomatoes developed some kind of blight, as did my neighbors' tomatoes as well. Since I have my tomatoes in pots under an overhanging roof, meaning they don't get rained on and have no contact with garden earth, I was less affected than others, but some of my tomatoes still looked like this:

For this reason I want to try some allegedly resistant hybrids this year, in addition to our own "heritage" tomatoes. This hybrid, Delizia F1, claims to be resistant to tomato tobacco mosaic virus (TMC) and to fusarium wilt, two widespread tomato diseases.

I've also ordered bush tomato seeds (Balkonstar, Lycopersicon esculentum) from Dreschflegel, a cooperative of 14 farms that produces and markets organic seeds. Many thanks to Sisah's blog for introducing me to this link, even though I ended up ordering more than I'll probably be able to plant (besides the tomato also paprika, pumpkin, zucchini, and lentil seeds, something I've always wanted to try).

Does anyone have any experience with disease resistant hybrid tomatoes?


  1. Dear Barbara, How wonderful to know that somewhere in the world someone is propagating tomatoes ... we are deep in snow and ice, but you make me think that spring cannot be so very far away! Those peach tomatoes look delicious!

    Thank you for your kind wishes prior to my hospital stay! I am home now and feeling well. I'll post soon. P x

  2. Good luck with the tomato seedlings. That yellow selection in particular looks delicious!

  3. LOL, when I get my Dreschflegel-Katalog I always end up ordering more than I can need, but I am lucky..this year I 'll grow some vegetables with my pupils in a 'Gartenarbeitsschule', so there will be more space as in my small garden.
    Ich wünsche dir viel Glück bei deinen Toamten, ich glaube du wirst es brauchen. Vielleicht sind ja die nachgezogenen Toamten deiner Gartenfreundin resistent, gegen Braunfäule.Sie sehen so wunderbar gesund und schmackhaft aus, sollten sie das sein, bettle ich hiermit um ein paar Samen. Als ich hier im Fließtal anfing zu gärtnern hatten wir wunderbare Tomatenernten, inzwischen hat die Braunfäule Einzug gehalten. Und seit Jahren suche ich nach resistenten Sorten:

  4. Liebe Barbara!
    Ich habe bis jetzt noch nie F1-Hybriden angebaut, da wir im Folienhaus und unter dem Dachvorsprung genug Platz haben alle Pflanzen geschützt aufzustellen. Bei uns gibt es vor allem Probleme mit der Braunfäule. Letztes Jahr, aufgrund des vielen Regens, trat auch gehäuft Mehltau auf, sogar an den Tomaten, das hatte ich bis jetzt noch nie.
    Samen kaufe ich auch sehr gerne ein. Heuer habe ich einige über Ebay bei einer professionellen Händlerin bestellt. Freue mich schon sehr darauf, wenn sie endlich hier sind. Eigentlich wollte ich nur ein paar neue Sachen kaufen, jetzt sind es 20 Sorten oder mehr geworden und ich muss mir gut überlegen, wo ich die alle unterbringen werde.

    lg kathrin

  5. Blight is carried on the wind so maybe it still managed to get at your plants. We have awful trouble with blight if we grow outside on the plot. Too many people grwoing tomatoes close together.

    We'll be waiting another month before we sow our seeds or they will be ready to go out before the temperatures are high enough in our unheated greenhouse.

  6. Dear Barbara, Gosh, tomatoes from seed....I know that I should never have the patience and the skill to achieve this remarkable feat. And, what amazing looking tomatoes...definitely a step up from the insipid, watery, tasteless excuses for tomatoes that seem to grace every shop in England!

  7. I grow many chilly pepper plants for fun (and hot sauce).
    Chillies can get the same diseases as tomatoes, so i hope the virus will not reach this garden.
    And hope that you'll have many nice tomatoes this year.

  8. I've never saved tomato seeds. Perhaps I should - or perhaps I shouldn't if blight might be taken from one season to the next. Ah! Decisions!


  9. Thank you for all your comments!

    Pam: Spring comes much earlier here than in Pennsylvania. Although now that I've said that it'll probably start to snow again.

    College gardener: the yellow tomatoes were my favorite, and since they ripen relatively early, we had a good harvest before the blight set in.

    Sisah: I've answered some of your comment on your blog. I haven't been growing from our own seeds for long enough to make a definite statement on whether our tomatoes are more resistant than others to blight, but this year they seemed to be. The ones we call "paprika" tomatoes didn't get it at all.

    Green Lane: You're right, and that's one problem of being in the midst of so many other gardens. Sheltering the tomatoes under the roof overhang did seem to help, though.

    Edith, those are exactly the reasons for growing your own, and it's pretty easy as far as vegetables go.

    Hare: I'm trying chilis for the first time this year. Good luck with yours.

    Esther: I don't know whether the blight can actually be carried from one generation to the next by seeds. Gosh I hope not. This year I can do an exact comparison between my purchased and self-propagated seeds.

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  11. I see you are getting ready to get those hands dirty too Barbara. It feels good to be growing something again. Nothing tastes so good as home grown tomatoes. Yummy.

  12. Uiiii, Barbara, Du machst das ja alles sehr professionell! Ich kaufe bei den Tomaten immer die Pflänzchen beim Gemüseladen meines Vertrauens;-)) Letztes Jahr hatte ich 4 verschiedene Sorten a 2 Stöcke. Sie gediehen einfach traumaft, da es wirklich ausreichend naß war. Kurz vor der Endreife bekamen sie dann alle wieder diese blöde Krautfäule und ich konnte sie entsorgen:-(((( Das ist mir nun schon so oft passiert, dass ich keine Lust mehr auf Tomaten habe. Ich kenne auch den Trick mit dem Dach drüber, damit sie einen trockenen Kopf behalten, aber das ist mir dann zuviel. Da lobe ich mir doch meine schönen Dahlien, denen das Wetter so gut wie nichts anhaben kann. Liebe Grüße von Luzia.

  13. Hi Barbara,

    a comment on drying seeds: I always dry them on kitchen tissue, taking care to spreach them out a bit. That way I have my own "Samenbaender" (seeding strips?)

    The following year I cut up the tissue into pieces, place them in pots and cover them with a bit of soil.

    This year I will try wild tomatoes. They are small like raisins but the plant gets very bushy and yields a lot of fruit.

    Once the plants are big enough, I plant them into large pots which are placed at the house wall under the roof. This means I have to water them a lot, but, so far they stayed healthy till autumn.

    See you again soon.