WHO KNOWS WHAT these Royston tomatoes will taste like when they're ripe? Maybe we should have a tomato-tasting party and find out.

With the autumnal equinox comes tomatoes

Tomatoes are coming along faster now. John is valiantly trying to stay on top of them with his daily toasted tomato sandwiches.

The autumnal equinox is almost here.

Sept. 22 at 7:49 a.m. PDT to be exact. Thankfully, this recent stretch of wonderful sunshine is helping to postpone the inevitable end of another gardening season.

So much to be done right now in the garden. Top of the list…trying to keep up with the harvest and collecting seeds. Tomatoes are coming along faster now. John is valiantly trying to stay on top of them with his daily toasted tomato sandwiches.

His favourite is ‘Early Girl’. This is the only F1 variety we are growing this year and because it is a hybrid, we will not be saving any seeds from it. It will not come true.

I will be interested in his taste test on two of the six new varieties I am growing: ‘Sophie’s Choice’ and ‘Silvery Fir’. (The other four are all cherry tomatoes…my kind of tomato, John says.) So far, I have not been successful in weaning him away from ‘Early Girl’.

As a plant, ‘Sophie’s Choice’ has really impressed me for its size. The catalogue stated it was a three foot tall bush variety. Its actual height is 14-18 inches, both in the ground and in two gallon pots.

I was a little surprised at the height, especially since the soil was amended in the raised bed and for the pots. But the plants are all healthy and have produced surprisingly large fruit at 4-5 inches in diameter. A very good size for such a short plant.

This is definitely one variety to keep in mind if you have only a small garden or a balcony for growing plants. An open-pollinated variety, I will be saving seeds from this one.

‘Silvery Fir’ was also listed as a three foot tall bush tomato but has only reached 18-20 inches in the ground and in two gallon pots. Another good one for small gardening spaces. I like this one for its profusion of fern-like leaves. Its fruits are a little smaller at 3-4 inches in diameter. It is open-pollinated too, so will be saving seeds for next year.

Mind you…they both have to pass the taste test before saving any seeds.

Tomato parties are the rage in many cities and towns around the country…even in schools. Such a wonderful way to introduce the diversity that is available to us. And we do not have to restrict ourselves to just tomatoes at our taste-testing party. The varieties within other vegetable groups should definitely be explored as well.

If you are collecting seeds for next year, first be sure the species are an open-pollinated variety. Next, you must consider the growing distance if you are collecting from two varieties. Plants are very promiscuous in the garden with lots of help from pollinators.

For the home gardener, beans, peas, lettuce and tomatoes are self-pollinating. Theoretically speaking, the perfect flowers (both male and female parts on same flower) in these species do not open until pollination has already occurred. Cross-pollination is possible, but rare so it is fairly safe to say you can collect seeds from different varieties that are growing quite closely together.

However, for the more serious seed savers amongst us…pea varieties should be separated by a distance of 50 feet; beans by 150 feet; lettuce by at least 20 feet. Tomatoes should be separated by at least 100 feet and have another flowering crop planted in-between.

For more seed saving information, check out my website at www.duchessofdirt.ca. And check back frequently as I will be regularly adding new posts to my blog and plant information pages of what we grow in our garden.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her column appears every second Friday.

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