Monday, July 12, 2010

Brandywine is a Champion Tomato

Each season I grow a combination of tomatoes that includes both beloved heirlooms and newer varieties that have been bred for either disease resistance or a specific trait, such as determinate (limited) growth (Better Bush) , higher lycopene and lower acid (Health Kick) or fewer seeds -- just to see, you know?  In the past, I've had serious problems with wilt and disease in the old varieties that were popular before Early Blight and Southern Blight became more common.

I learned some great tomato tricks from our friend, Gil Gillespie - one of the best gardeners in Hampton Roads.  His suggestions include being very strict about watering, keeping to a very close regimen with the same amount of water each day and week.  That, and adding Cal-Mag (calcium-magnesium) supplements, made a huge difference in the number of cracked tomatoes we harvest.  In addition, I've begun removing all sprouts and foliage below the first blossom cluster.  This gives the plant a clean bottom stem and keeps leaves up and away from drops splashing from the ground to the leaves as you water (the main transfer of diseases in tomatoes). In addition, we mulched the raised beds well, both to keep the ground evenly moist and to prevent soil-borne bacteria from splashing up onto the plants.  We eliminated the wave-the-wand watering habits of my loving spouse... all watering is done carefully at the base of the plants unless we are deliberately power-spraying aphids or other intruders.  Well pruned and well-staked, my little tomato patch is starting to crank out some seriously impressive tomatoes!

HOW GOOD is it doing?? Check out the 1 pound 11 ounce Brandywine tomato harvested yesterday - one of several huge tomatoes on the same plant! In past years, Brandywine (an heirloom available from ) was one of the old varieties that didn't make it past June in our raised beds.  Looks like the new tomato care regimen is working well!

FYI - A lot of gardeners ask about all those letters you read on the back of the tomato seed packets, at least on the new hybrids. These are disease resistance identification codes and here are the diseases the plant should be able to resist:

V - Verticillium Wilt
F - Fusarium Wilt
N - Nematodes
T - Tobacco Mosaic Virus
A - Alternaria Stem Canker
St - Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot
TSWV - Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

Time for making gazpacho and some BLTs!
Happy harvesting!


  1. Sybil,
    Great looking tomato! This is all great information. I've been growing heirloom tomatoes (Newport News, VA) for about 5 years now with good results using the same techniques above. Organic fertilizer (and not alot of it), thick layers of straw mulch, pruning the lower branches to keep a clean plant and aid in circulation, and watering the ground instead of the plant. I've also give each plant about 9 square feet of space. Seems silly at first but they spread to soak it all up. This year's results have been outstanding! Black from Tula, German Johnson, German Giant, Black Cherry, Eva's Purple Ball are in the ground this year.

    I met you and Rob a few years back when you were holding your final closeout sale at Paradise, and then a few weekends later at the farmers market in Williamsburg, VA. You guys inspired me to grow all kinds of vegetables, fruits, and of course FIGS! I'd love to send you some pics. Please e-mail me (

  2. Hi, Dave!

    How nice to get your comment on the Useful Gardens blog! It's always great when someone tells us that we (and Paradise Nursery) had a positive impact on their gardening. Sounds like you are going to town on the edibles - do send photos!!!


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