Musings on The Garden March 2023


As I write this it’s the end of January and the overnight temperature was minus 4ºF. There is a 2 to 3-inch layer of snow on the ground. That should come as no surprise in Iowa during the middle of winter.

Garden catalogs—which arrive earlier every year—are beginning to pile up on my dining room table (so far … SEEDS ‘N Such, Totally Tomatoes, Chief River® Nursery Co. Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and JUNG SEEDS & PLANTS). While paging through them, thoughts of starts and planting in the garden begin. This is the time when I begin to ponder what varieties should be planted this garden season. Should I stay with the proven varieties I’ve planted over the past years or consider something different? Usually, I will at least try some new varieties that are often offered as a “free gift” when ordering from seed catalogs.

I have many favorite vegetables I plant but this can change from season to season. Lately, tomatoes and peppers have been favored probably because of their versatility, stunning colors, and unmatched flavors. This month I’m going to focus on tomatoes as they play such a central role in so, so many food dishes and there is such a wide-ranging number of types, varieties, and colors!!

For ten or so years, or more, I’ve settled on a regular group of tomato types and varieties. This is out of necessity and need for quality and dependability.

My tomato types are divided into these categories (see next page for table): 1) beefsteak, 2) slicers, 3) Roma-type (also referred to as sauce tomatoes), and 4) Plum-type (a small tomato great for drying/roasting). My preferred varieties are summarized in the table with my comments about their characteristics. There is a yellow beefsteak tomato not included in the table that I save seeds from and plant every year but unfortunately we didn’t record the varietal name years back so I can’t tell you what it is! I usually plant 16-20 tomato plants knowing that we will have extra produce. Anything we don’t use will be given to friends and/or donated to local food pantries.

Every growing season has its own personality As the daylight lengthens and temperature slowly warms I’m looking forward to, as I always do, the approaching growing season. With luck and a new season my tomatoes won’t be knocked down from herbicide drift and we’ll have plenty for canning, giving to friends, and donating!

A table depicting "Doug's Favorite Tomato Varieties & Characteristics". 

Beefsteak: Variety: Delicious": Beefsteak type that can get very large;
some ribbing & cracking does occur.
Beefsteak: Variety: "Big Beef" (hybrid): Beefsteak type that has limited cracking
& ribbing; now available in a hybrid with added disease resistance. Indeterminate. 

Slicer: Variety "Celebrity (hybrid)": Slicer; medium size, very smooth
and little cracking; now available as a
hybrid with added disease resistance.

Romas: Variety "San Marzano": Very popular Roma-type. Great for
sauces and roasting. Indeterminate.
Romas: Variety "Yaqui": Roma-type also great for sauces. Gets quite large for a roma-type. Determinate.
Romas: Variety "Viva Italia": Also a popular Roma-type. Tomato is
long with a pointed end. Great for sauces and roasting. Seems to get end-blossom rot more that some. Determinate.

Plum-type for Roasting/Drying: Variety "Principé borghese": Small, meaty mid-size tomato. Great for drying. One of my earliest to fruit (might give Early Girl competition). Determinate.