Grow Many Types of Tomatoes

Connecticut man grows 145 types of tomatoes in his home garden.

| November/December 1983

  • Seasons of the Gardens
    Give thanks for the year's bounty, and draw close to the fire as winter's first flakes fall from the sky.
  • Tomatoes
    These high-yielding plum tomatoes are one of many varieties of tomatoes that you can grow in your own backyard.
    Photo by Fotolia/Fladyslav Siaber

  • Seasons of the Gardens
  • Tomatoes
Crunching on bright, tart apples, children scuffle through heaps of fall crisped leaves . . . dreaming of the snowdrifts soon to come. The harvest is in, the pantry and root cellar are full and the garden begins its long winter's sleep.

Give thanks together for the year's bounty and draw close to the fire as winter's first flakes fall from the sky.

How many types of tomatoes do you grow? One? Two? If you're adventurous, perhaps you raise as many as five or ten. Well, prepare to stand in awe of Lance Ladd, the owner of an eastern Connecticut nursery. This year, Ladd grew not 25 . . . not 50 . . . not even 100 . . . but 145 different tomato cultivars!

You see, Lance's business sponsors an annual weeklong tomato festival in Windham, Connecticut. The event, held in late August, brings together 'mater lovers from all over New England. Originally conceived of as a means of publicizing the family nursery (Ladd, 26, returned the horticultural enterprise to family ownership some 20 years after his grandfather had sold it), the festival has taken on a life of its own. It includes, in addition to a tour of the gardens, a taste testing of all the varieties and a vote to establish which is the most delicious tomato. Also, prizes are awarded for the biggest and smallest fruits, for the most strangely shaped ones, and for the most uniform cluster from a single plant.

But the stars of the show are still the 145 test plantings. Ladd started three years ago with fewer than 50 varieties. This year he's almost tripled that first planting, and for 1984, well, 200 would be a nice, round number. . . .

The test garden occupies about an acre, and is divided into sections containing early, mid season, and late cultivars, both determinate and indeterminate . . . cherry and other small varieties . . . and plum and paste tomatoes. At least six plants of every cultivar are set out, and some of each are mulched with hay. Once the seedlings are in place, Ladd practices modified benign neglect: He provides no water or irrigation, and he uses no fungicides or pesticides. Some 5-10-10 fertilizer is incorporated into the soil when the field is prepared, but no additional fertilizer is applied. In fact, about the only attention the test planting receives is an occasional hoeing and — time permitting — handpicking of insects.

This year's tomato test was instructive in a number of ways. Connecticut, along with much of the rest of the nation, suffered from a succession of hot, dry days all summer long. Under these scorching near-drought conditions, the value of mulching showed very clearly: Mulched and unmulched plantings located side by side dramatized how well the hay helped hold moisture in the soil. The differences among the varieties Ladd grew were clear, too. Plants with poor heat or disease resistance curled up and died, while resistant varieties braved the heat and set quantities of fruit.

David J. Ellis
9/25/2008 4:41:14 PM

The article about sphagnum moss accredited to Ameircan Horticulturist must have been published years ago, because all the information is out of date. The American Horticultural Society's magazine name changed to The American Gardener in 1997. The correct address for the Society is: 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, VA 22308. The website is Membership is now $35 a year.

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