Tomato Varieties We Tried in our Hoophouse

Hoophouse squash between beds of tomatoes in July.
Photo Alexis Yamashita

Each year we grow two 96′ (29 m) beds of early tomatoes in our hoophouse. We plant them mid-March, start harvesting at the end of May, and pull them up at the end of July or beginning of August. By that point the plants have reached as high as we can go and the outdoor plants have started producing large amounts, so we don’t need to ask more of the hoophouse plants. Each year we grow varieties that we’ve had years of success with, plus a few new ones.

Cherry Bomb tomato.
Photo Johnnys Selected Seeds

Last year I wrote My favorite tomato varieties, about the four we trialed then: Pink Boar, Geronimo, Cherry Bomb and Estiva. We decided to grow Pink Boar and Cherry Bomb again, but somehow we didn’t! Pink Boar developed more splits and more disease in the last few weeks as the season reached its end. Cherry Bomb was out of stock when we placed our seed orders, so we tried another red cherry, Sakura.

Sakura red cherry tomatoes from Johnny’s

Sakura is a 55 day indeterminate red cherry. It did well, resisted disease. But when I checked why it didn’t seem very productive, I discovered that a confused planter had planted only one Sakura and an extra Black Cherry instead! Next year, maybe we’ll try Cherry Bomb again, or try really planting two Sakura!

We stopped growing Stupice, a 62 day indeterminate red, in favor of

Mountain Magic tomatoes in mid-July.
photo Pam Dawling

more Mountain Magic, 66 day indeterminate reds. A plan is just a plan. Somehow, a bunch of Black Cherry (64-75 day indeterminate purple) got substituted for some  Mountain Magic and some Garden Peach at planting time, due to more worker confusion. We love Black Cherry, but they take longer to pick than larger tomatoes. Some might argue that Mountain Magic at 2 oz (56 g) are not that much bigger then Black Cherry at ½-1 oz (14-28 g), but as you see, they are at least twice as heavy. The disease-resistance of Mountain Magic, Glacier and Garden Peach was medium this year.

None of us missed the Stupice, with their green/yellow shoulder problem. As I noted last year, the lack of red lycopene in the shoulders might be due to too much heat. We did try not pruning the Glacier (56 day determinate red) at all this year, and we got less of a green shoulder problem with those, so that’s worth remembering. We’d like to keep that one, as it is so fast at ripening. Sungold is still faster, though catalogs claim Glacier should be one day ahead.

Tropic tomato in mid-July. Photo Pam Dawling

This year, I wanted to try several large red round fast-maturing tomatoes, and a couple of different colors. To be chosen for our hoophouse crops, tomatoes have to mature in 80 days or less. Our main red is Tropic (80 day indeterminate red). It’s good at setting in heat and has a good flavor, but this year had a lot of disease. This summer has been peculiarly mild, up until mid-August, so not a good test of heat-setting tomatoes.

Skyway tomatoes from Johnny’s

We tried two plants each of Skyway (78 day 8-12 oz (112-168 g) indeterminate red) and, for the second year, Estiva (70 day indeterminate red). Both looked impressive: big shiny unblemished fruit. But no flavor worth reporting. Estiva had good disease-resistance, and split resistance, but was slower to fruit than the 70 day claim.

Estiva tomatoes from Johnny’s

We planned to try Premio (60 day 4 oz (56 g) indeterminate red), but didn’t get any seed. Maybe next year?

Mountain Fresh Plus tomatoes from Johnny’s

We did try Mountain Fresh Plus (75 day determinate large 8-10 oz (112-224 g) red, short plants) for a second time. “The most widely-grown market tomato in the East and Midwest” Johnny’s Selected Seeds. We are a fan of many of Randy Gardner’s “Mountain” series of tomatoes, but not this one. It wasn’t very productive, and the flavor wasn’t exciting.


Tropic remains our main red slicer.


Jubilee tomato in our hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Jubilee (80 day indeterminate orange) is our main orange slicer, and that did very well, with medium disease resistance this year. The fruit looked a little different this year. Possibly we were still sowing seed we bought during the pandemic, which came labelled “Probably Jubilee”. It’s also called Golden Jubilee.

Mountain Spirit tomato from Fedco

We also trialed Mountain Spirit (77 day indeterminate large yellow/red) and Purple Boy (80 day indeterminate large purple, Park Seeds). Neither of these wowed us much. Production was low and flavor was only so-so. We had hoped Purple Boy would be a good substitute for Cherokee Purple, which splits and yields poorly in our hoophouse. Mountain Spirit had a mushy texture.

I’m concluding (provisionally!) that large fruited tomatoes are not such a good idea for us. We do better with more productive, more modest sized tomatoes.

We came up with an idea to reduce the chance of misplanting in future. We didn’t want to write labels for every single potted tomato, so we have been labeling just the rows of 3 or 6 in a standard 1020 flat, which holds 18 pots. This means we often have more than one variety in a flat. We have small numbers of purple, brown and green pots, so we can use those for particular varieties. Mostly we have the standard black pots. Our new idea is colored dot stickers, which are often to be found in our office is oddly large numbers. I wonder if anyone else ever uses them?

Tomato seedlings potted up in the greenhouse.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

Book Review: The Seed Underground: Growing a Revolution to Save Seeds by Janisse Ray

The Seed Underground: Growing a Revolution to Save Seeds
by Janisse Ray, published by Chelsea Green, June 2012

A few years ago, I read and enjoyed Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, so I was already primed for excitement when I heard of The Seed Underground. That, plus also being a believer in keeping the genetic diversity of vegetable varieties alive and in the hands of growers.

I found this book inspiring, validating, enthusiastic, thoughtful and entertaining. It has the power to pull us out of any inclination to wallow in hopelessness about our food supply, by providing many ideas, many examples of what we can do to improve the state of agriculture by acting locally to help and support people developing and preserving regionally adapted vegetable varieties.

Janisse exudes a sense of wonder, of fun and of appreciation for those who have been leading the way. And she recognizes that it is her turn to step forward and teach and encourage others. Her central message is to save seeds and not let the big acquisitive corporations control our food supply and therefore the length and quality of our lives.

The book contains stories from her life and stories of farmers, gardeners and organizations who have saved certain seeds: the conch cowpea, preacher beans, keener corn, various sweet potato and tomato varieties, mustaprovince pumpkins, Stanley corn.

Our seed supply is in crisis – when we do not control our own seed supply, we do not control food supply. There is a corporate robbery of the commons (publicly owned, publicly used resources). As the first verse 17th century English protest poem against common land enclosure, The Goose and the Common, goes:
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
The last verse is:
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.
In other words, we need to cultivate a working system for propagating, preserving and distributing seeds, so that corporately “owned” seed varieties become irrelevant.

The rate of loss of vegetable and grain varieties is very worrying – 43% of all food eaten everywhere across the world consists of just three grains, wheat, maize and rice. A dearth of crops leads to vulnerability, both in the fields and in the body. A crop disease can wipe out an entire variety – think of the Lumper potato in Ireland, the Cavendish banana. Modern wheat is associated with a sharp rise in gluten intolerance and obesity – it isn’t well suited to our needs. My favorite chapter title is “A rind is a terrible thing to waste.” Janisse points out that if we have to peel our apples to reduce the pesticide level before we eat them, it’s bad news.

This book tells tales of the author’s travels to meet various seed growers, breeders and savers as well as seed swap groups. The cast of characters is variously passionate, inspiring, quirky, nerdy and eccentric. New varieties are being breed to grow under organic conditions in particular regions. What are the ethics of profits in this situation? There are stories of seed banks and vaults, with discussion of public access and ownership.

There’s also basic information on how to select good plants, isolate from other varieties, hand pollinate and save seeds. And examples of farmers who banded together to get legislation passed to protect their property rights over their land, plants and seeds. Of course Monsanto should be responsible for their genetic drift when GMO pollen pollutes other plants! The book includes a list of “What you can do” and an eight-page small-print collection of resources.

Hope is valuable, but not essential before action is taken – no-one feeds a child because of what kind of future they hope that child will have. Love leads to determination to strive for what we value, and gives us courage. Don’t use lack of hope as an excuse for lack of action.

Her closing words are “Look around, so many people have put their shoulders into the load. You. Find a place to push. Pick up a tool.” Become a local hero, increase your circle of influence. Claim food sovereignty, preserve local seeds. “Have the courage to live the life you dream. There is nothing greater than this.”