A simple primer for people living in Canada’s northwest, as inspired by a question from my niece: Yes, if you want to plant tomato seeds, definitely do them now, the sooner the better. They need a ton of time before you can set them outside. Get some little peat pellets and soak them in water, and then sow the seeds in the pellets. You should put the pellets in a growing tray: one of those plastic greenhouse domes with built in trays works best because then you have a cover, but you can also just buy the trays separately, or use peat pots. Then the trick is to not let the seedlings dampen off – that’s a huge problem. They’ll reach a certain size and you’ll be all happy and then suddenly they fall over and rot. Don’t water too much but don’t let them dry out – it’s a crap shoot sometimes. Keep the seedlings in a warm light location but not blisteringly hot (not a south window). Once the seedlings get large enough, you will have to transplant them to larger grower pots (just the cheap green plastic ones) in dirt, this time, not peat (use a potting mix with a tiny amount of fertilizer added – Miracle Grow makes a good soil, so does Scott’s and Schultz. Get one that says “starter” or “seeding” mix if at all possible, but sometimes you can’t get that, so just use the regular stuff). And then when the weather gets warm enough, take the pots out for the warmest part of the day and bring them in at night – do this for about a week, or even two weeks. THEN put them in the garden or transplant them to large containers to leave outside.
OR you can go the very simple route and buy tomatoes from a greenhouse – seedlings in 4″ pots usually run around two or three dollars and you can go all the way to 3 gallon pots for around twenty bucks (these ones should be bearing fruit by the time you buy them and you won’t be able to get them until at least July). If you get the little 4″ ones, you’ll have to harden them off (gradually adjust them to the great outdoors) just like your own seedlings but they should grow enough that you’ll have fruit in late summer. You’ll need to transplant them once or twice throughout the season. Tomatoes like the sun, so put them in a warm spot with lots of light.
If you want great cherry tomatoes, pick up tumblers (the very best) or Tiny Tim…Sweet Million and Sweet One Hundred are great, too. Larger, hardier ones include one of the best for our cold weather, Manitoba, and there are of course the early producers like Early Girl and Better Boy. There are yellow (“Lemon”) tomatoes and countless others that will work, but of course due to our cold climate and short growing season, many won’t produce except in a greenhouse. You’ll need to fertilize throughout the season with a high phosphorus fertilizer (middle number); you can get specific tomato fertilizers. They need special treatment because it takes them a ton of energy to make fruit.
Of course there are the passionate tomato growers who can give a lot more specific information than this, who can talk about pollination and fruit set and heirloom varieties and diseases etc. etc. and I absolutely defer to their knowledge. Check the ‘net or the wealth of gardening books in the local library for some really great tips. Most of all, have fun experimenting…that’s what gardening is all about!
And because I’m such a huge fan of tomatoes, here’s a simply divine salad that combines them with another favourite veggie, the ubiquitous potato. There are no measurements because you should do this up to your taste, not mine:
Boil several scrubbed, unpeeled potatoes (new reds are best but use whatever you enjoy most) in enough water to cover – this takes awhile if the potatoes are large, and you may have to top up the water to ensure the potatoes are always covered. At the same time, boil two or three eggs to the hard boil stage in another pot; once they are finished, take them out of the water and put them in the fridge to cool slightly. When the potatoes are fully cooked (test with a fork), drain and put them in the fridge. Let sit for awhile until slightly cooled. I like to eat this salad when it is warm, so I usually cook it up fairly shortly before the meal, but you can chill it completely and eat it cold as well.
Take the potatoes out of the fridge and either peel them if the potatoes are a winter crop or the peelings are tough, or leave the peelings on if they are new. Cut into small chunks and place in a bowl. Likewise peel and slice up the eggs. Then add small slices of garlic pickles, as well as however many fresh tomatoes you wish. Add salt and pepper to taste. Finally, mix up a “dressing” of mayonnaise (or Miracle Whip) and vinegar – more mayo than vinegar, of course, and mix it all together. Serve immediately. Be sure to put any uneaten portions in the fridge as soon as possible, and use up within a day. Variations include adding small pieces of cooked bacon, or you can put in herbs such as fresh parsley or fresh basil.