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The Great Cherry Tomato Challenge of 2018

This year, at our Victory Gardener grow out patch, we decided to grow a bunch of different types of cherry tomatoes and see which was the best. We chose the cultivars based on experience and reviews. Most people choose their cherry tomatoes for several reasons:

  • It is most often an indeterminate, so they put out small yummy tomatoes all summer.
  • They come in all sorts of colors and sizes to add texture and fun to salads and recipes.
  • Kids will often eat them right off the plant opening the door to possible wider food choices and good eating habits.

The Cherry tomato makes it into most people’s garden, however they become overwhelming if not picked regularly. Most people only need a plant or two in their garden unless they truly enjoy the cherry tomato. Cherries don’t have much meat, so they are not much use in sauce or stews as by the time they are pealed there is not much left. Cherry’s also have lots of juice and seeds which adds flavor but does not add meat. Even with all this said, cherry tomatoes are often our largest seller as plants at our market booth in Columbia Missouri. Cherries are also in high demand in our online seed store. Everyone wants to try at least type.


We planted the following 6 Cherry type varieties this year. 

  • Egg Yolk
  • Blue Berry
  • Indigo Apple
  • Yellow Pear
  • 10 Finger of Naples
  • Minibell

Results from Worst to Best:   

10 Fingers of Naples: This plant did well in the garden, it put out a decent yield of Roma shaped cherry tomatoes. They taste good and have a nice pink tone to them.They are mildly acidic.   

Minibell: These patio tomatoes turned out to be the small plants at less than a foot high. They did well in a container on the porch and put out a cute little yield. The taste was OK but not great. This was a fun ornamental, but I would not depend on it for much food.

Yellow Pear:  This was a yummy, low acid tomato that put out a good show and then mysteriously just started to die. It was not a nutrient thing, as the leaves just went limp and died while I was out of town.  I got a decent yield off it before it gave died, but I was hoping for a longer showing on this one. 

Indigo Apple: This was a Wild Boar Farm Tomato seed. The tomatoes were a little larger than cherries. They came in clusters like cherries and were used like cherries in cooking and eating.  The plant did well but like many darker tomatoes they took longer to mature and gain flavor.


Blue Berry: This was a Wild Boar Farm Tomato. This tomato was one of my first cherries to bloom and put out fruit. The fruit was tart and acidic.The plant put out a lot of beautiful and colorful tomatoes. The cherries were each red with a dusting of purple on top.They were very beautiful and made a nice splash in the salad. This tomato was a runner up and I would not hesitate to grow it again. 


Egg Yolk: This year’s winner of the great Cherry Challenge of 2018 was the Egg Yolk. This tomato was so wonderful. Not only did it put out a very large yield of lovely yellow cherries, the taste was out of this world. They were so yummy that every time I walked by this plant I had to grab some and pop them into my mouth.The Egg Yolk had very little acid and lots of delicious taste. The plant itself was rather lanky has spread its branches over other tomato plants leaving a lovely spray of yellow cherries as it grew.     

This year has brought some new tomato cultivars into my garden and I am very happy to have discovered the Egg Yolk and the Blue Berry. They will both be included in the 2018 seed collection on-line, in our plant nursery farmers market booth, and in our own suburban garden. 

Stay tuned for The Great Colorful Tomato Challenge of 2018.

The Great Colorful Tomato Challenge of 2018

This year we grew out a bunch of colorful tomatoes in our Victory Gardener grow out patch. We decided to grow a bunch of different types of colorful tomatoes and see which one was the best. we chose the cultivars based on experience, rumor, name and look.


Colorful tomatoes are a new comer to the game. They are being created as fast as they can be. People like the variety, the look and the effect these colorful tomatoes have on the plate. 

  • Colorful tomatoes look fantastic in a salad and in most dishes.
  • Colorful tomatoes come in all sorts of sizes and shapes to compliment your cooking.
  • Kids like to see the colors and it encourages them to try the fruit.

The Colorful tomatoes are making a big splash with all sorts of different ones available. Each year I hear about more colorful tomatoes that are supposed to be the best.  Some of them are variegated containing several colors in one tomato. Other colorful tomatoes are dominated by one color that is out of the ordinary. I find that deep colored tomatoes can take a while to reach their full color and maturity. If it is your first time growing a colorful tomato it might be hard to know when it is ripe. Getting it right with colorful tomatoes takes time and effort. Hopefully this review will help you know a little more about some of them. 

We planted the following 7 Colorful Tomatoes this year: 

  • Hillbilly
  • Berkeley Tie Dye
  • Blue Berry
  • Indigo Apple
  • Black Beauty
  • White Tomesol
  • Green Zebra

Results from Worst to Best:   

Green Zebra: Unfortunately, our Green Zebra did not make it to fruit. It seemed to be doing really well from seed to plant. Upon transplant it took off and put out some good foliage. Then it just died.  It just gave it up and died rather quickly. Not sure what killed it, but we did not get a single tomato.

Berkeley Tie Dye: I had high hopes for this tomato due to its name and the color variations it was supposed to have. However, unfortunately this plant did not do well. It grew into an interesting small tight bush. It got lots of curling big leaves and seemed to be doing well. Then it just died. We did not get to taste it. I will try them again next year. 

Indigo Apple: This was a Wild Boar Farm Tomato seed. The tomatoes were a little larger than a cherry. They came in clusters like cherries and were used like cherries in cooking and eating. The plant did well but like many darker tomatoes they took longer to mature and gain flavor. It put out a medium yield.


White Tomesol: This was my first time growing a white tomato. They started green and then seem to just be drained of their color and fade away to a pail yellow cream tone. The tomatoes once ripe were tasty if not a little acidic. The thing about this tomato, is once picked the fruit lasted longer than any other tomato before going bad. It did not matter if I put them in the fridge or on the counter, the White Tomesol wins the Longest Shelf Life Award this year. 

Black Beauty: I had never grown the black beauty tomato before. This tomato was a very deep color. It took a good about of time to come to their full color. But when they did the outside was positively black. The plant was exceedingly lanky. It escaped its cage almost immediately and keep going across the lawn. It did want to be contained at all. Next year I will grow this one going up a 8 foot cattle panel and use ties to keep it in line. 

Blue Berry: This was a Wild Boar Farm Tomato. This tomato was one of my first cherries to bloom and put out fruit. The fruit was tart and acidic. The plant put out a lot of beautiful and colorful tomatoes. The cherries were each red with a dusting of purple on top. They were very beautiful and made a nice splash in the salad. This tomato was a great offset to my other cherries offering color and style.   


Hillbilly: This year’s winner is the Hillbilly. This tomato is wonderful. It puts out a lot of beautiful variegated tomatoes with yellow and red coloring. The tomatoes range in size from big to medium.  The flavor is fantastic. They are the low acid of a yellow tomato with the added taste of a red. They are great for eating fresh, sauces or canning.

This year has brought some new colorful tomato cultivars into my garden and I am very happy to have discovered the Hillbilly, Black Beauty and the Blue Berry Cherry. They will be included in the 2018 seed collection on-line, in our plant nursery farmers market booth, and in our own suburban garden. 

The Great Roma Tomato Challenge of 2018


This year I decided to grow a bunch of different types of Roma tomatoes in my suburban garden and see which was the best. I chose the cultivars based on experience and legend.  Most people choose their Roma’s for several reasons:

  • It is most often a determinate, which means it puts out a lot of tomatoes at once.
  • It has little seed and juice which makes it good for canning.
  • It has a dense meaty texture good for making sauces and stews.

These three factors make people who like to preserve food very happy.  They want a lot of tomatoes at once, so they can do a big batch of canning. They want little juice and seeds to keep their tomatoes dense in the cans. They also want a good texture for the eventual use in cooking.  

I planted the following 6 Roma type varieties this year. 

  • Heinz
  • Martino’s Roma
  • San Marzano
  • Red Italian Pear
  • Amish Paste
  • 10 Fingers of Naples

It is now midsummer, and the results are in.  Roma’s mature quickly so even though the summer is still going the results are in.  As short maturing tomatoes they are about done their production in my neck of the woods.    


Results from Worst to Best:   

San Marzano:  This is a legendary tomato.  Most people have heard of this one and some very talented Italian chefs I know swear by them.  Unfortunately, this plant put out some nice green leaves and then quickly got a disease and died.   I was rather sad to see it go because I really wanted to see how it did. I may try it again next year just to see if this was a fluke. 

Red Italian Pears: This tomato was a big favorite of mine last year.  This year’s plant did not do anywhere near as well as last year’s.  I know it was partly location in the garden, but I was disappointed with the overall yield.  Last year it seemed to do very well and put out a nice great big Roma style tomato.  This tomato will be worth another try.

10 Fingers of Naples: This plant did well in the garden, but the problem is that it is a cherry tomato. It put out some nice Roma’s, but the size is just too small to make a real dent in your canning needs.   They taste lovely and have a nice show but are better suited for salads.

Amish Paste: The Amish Paste is a hardy tomato and one that does well in my microclimate.  It is also an indeterminate, so it puts out tomatoes slowly over the season. While the tomatoes are tasty they are not as useful for a large canning effort.  I enjoy them and appreciate how hardy they are. 

Heinz: This tomato took a while to come on. Three of the four plants did not make it.  The final plant did make it and put out a decent size yield as it matured. It was a small bush with smallish fruit.  The meat was dense and there was very low seed count.  Once it got established it did well and put out a decent tomato.

Martino’s Roma: This is the big winner of this years Roma Challenge.  I planted two of these great tomatoes in my garden. We got the seeds from ‘Seeds of Italy’ and the plants grew strong and well.  I put the plants in very nice spot in the garden.  This Roma grew different from any tomato I have seen before.  Most tomatoes have a main stock and have lots of off shoots from that main stock.  This tomato seemed to flatten out at the bottom and shoot up four equal shoots each spiraling up as they grew. The plant took on a tower shape instead of a lanky bush.  The tomatoes were so abundant that I was scared for the weight on the limbs.  But they spiral seemed to give it great strength. 

The bushes put out the hugest yield of Roma’s I had ever grown.   It took the plant about a month to turn all it’s tomatoes red.  The flavor was good, and they canned up very well.  They created a dense meat and filled many jars.  The Martino’s Roma was a great discovery and was be a vital part of my tomato yield.

This year’s Roma Challenge ended with the Martino’s Roma as the winner and my canning cupboard getting a hardy boost.   This tomato will get an automatic spot in my seed collection, my online seed store, our plant nursery farmers market booth and my future suburban gardens.

Stay tuned for the results of the cherry tomato Challenge coming soon.   




Picking Heirloom Tomato Varieties to Rescue

Picking a Winning Tomato to Rescue

Picking the tomatoes to try to rescue is an involved process. I have worked to save several cultivars and in doing so I am blown away by the variety out there. Tomato alone are said to have over 10,000 varieties and more are crossed, hybridized and evolve all the time. Many disappear without a trace but for the memories of a taste, yield, or the yarns of family stories.

Many people know me from Victory Gardeners and the Ivan Tomato Rescue Project where I have worked for three years to save the Ivan Tomato, a Mid-Missouri heirloom.  I sell seeds online and market plants in the Mid-Missouri area.

Helping save rare seed varieties is a central premise of what I do. I sell seeds and plants that cover the normal to the rare, but the ones I put extra energy into are local heirlooms that have great yields and are sustainable in our micro-climate.

This year we are adding several new seeds to the market and are so excited about them.  These plants all satisfy the requirements of being great producers and having some capacity to make it through Missouri’s irrational weather. We get hot, dry, wet, windy, cold, and high humidity sometimes all in the same week. So here are the ones I have deemed as worthy of some extra effort to Rescue.

The Pink Sweet:

heirloom tomato 'the pink sweet'

Came to us via a farmer in the Salisbury Missouri Area. He gave us the seeds in the fall of 2016 and we planted them in the spring of 2017. They were the largest of our starts with big wide leaves. People pick them up quickly from our market booth and we planted a bed of them in our suburban garden.

They grew fast, putting on vegetation and early tomatoes. The tomatoes were like grapes hanging in clusters of ovals just over 1” long. They turned a lovely dark pink and ripened rather quickly putting out a very large yield. They did take a hit during a ridiculously hot week, but came back for a second showing later in the summer.

The bowls in this picture shows you how many there were at once. We were very happy to get that kind of productivity the first year out. The flavor was sweet and juicy, winning a place in my garden and in my list of must haves. The Pink Sweet satisfies the need for a sweet cherry. It outperformed all other cherries we grew.

The Balkonzauber:

The Balkonzauber came to me by way of a customer in Germany. I sent her the Ivan seeds and she sent me back some of her favorite tomatoes. I did not know what to expect. I put it in a spot in the middle of a bed and waiting and watched. It produced the cutest small plant that did not get over 2 feet tall. It took up a nice small spot and produced a lot of these medium, round tomatoes. They were a dark red and yummy and rather early.

It is hard to get an early tomato with full favor. Sometimes the heat is needed to really put the sweetness in your tomatoes. But the Balkenzauber did just fine early on. It is a determinate tomato, so it gave me a large yield of early, yummy tomatoes and then died off.  Balkonzauber means Balcony Magic in German.  This tomato would be ideal for containers and porch growers and earns a place in my garden as an yearly high yield yummy tomato.

The Fred:

heirloom tomato 'the fred'

The Fred came to us by way of a fellow market vendor at the Columbia Farmers Market in Columbia Missouri.  The Farmer said he had been growing this tomato since the 1950’s and had loved the flavor and used it for canning. He said it produced larger than normal roma/oxheart type tomatoes with little seed and lots of meat. 

We tested them in the summer of 2017 and found them to be a very unusual plant. The plant was large and lanky with these slim leaves and branches that looked like they could hardly support the tomatoes.  The tomatoes were large, meaty and great for canning.  They did not have a lot of seed and were everything the farmer told us it would be.  The Fred is an indeterminate tomato producing a little later than some.

The story behind the Fred is that it was developed in 1950’s by a Missouri Outreach and Extension Officer that was looking for a tomato that could withstand Missouri weather changes.  The Fred was named after the agent that developed the cultivar.  The tomato still exists today because of the family that continued to grow in and passed us the seeds for posterity. 

We have several that we are testing this summer and if they produce well they may join our rescue program for next year. So, when picking tomatoes to save you have to ask yourself… are all Tomatoes created equal.? The answer is not really. They will vary in resilience and in yield and you must find the best ones for your needs, gardening sytle, micro-climate and taste buds. 

Harvest the Food Not Bought

Harvest starting

The "Food Not Bought" pledge is a commitment to use all the food that you grow from your garden. This means one must eat it, preserve it, or give it away. The pledge doesn’t allow one to let excess harvest rot on the counter. The pledge seems like great fun in the spring when I am planting starts and looking at my garden with the joy of a child. It is great when you are eating a fresh garden salad or picking some vegetables for dinner. It becomes a little more difficult when you look at a pear tree that will yield several hundred pears all at the same time.

We are now in the glutton of the harvest. Between my back-yard garden and the garden at the farm we are swimming in produce. Keeping up with processing the food takes time and effort. The "Food Not Bought" pledge has been quite difficult this year with the added garden space; however, I remain committed. 

On any given day, I find myself swimming in tomatoes, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, beans, okra, apples and herbs. We have started selling our tomatoes and peppers at the local farmers market, which takes away a little pressure. However, we do not sell many varieties of plants that we grow. We grow this food for ourselves and for preservation for the winter. So, the "Food Not Bought" pledge must be implemented for this food. 


If considering something like green beans, the production continues through harvest season all the way to the first frost. I could go out each day and pick beans, yet I can’t possibly eat beans every day. So, how do I deal with these beans? It is an issue of supply and demand. When do the plants supply the food? When do I want to eat the food? 

My answer for this dilemma is Micro-Batching. So, what does Micro-Batching mean? I take the produce and do small batches of canning, dehydrating or freezing. This process respects the flow of nature in your garden. The batches of preserved food add up to a lot of food not bought. Each time you miss out on one of those opportunities to preserve your harvest you are losing food and missing the plants peak flavor and yield. You are missing out on food that you could be using later when your plants are long dead and the winter has set in.

Let’s go back to the green bean scenario. If I go out in the garden and I get a few handfuls of beans, I go ahead and can as much as I picked. I like beans pickled and they are great to bring to parties. Dilly beans, as they are often called, are great as a garnish, on their own, or cut up in salads. I have even been known to put them in Bloody Mary drinks. While it may seem easier to do 12 jars of dilly beans at once the reality is that my plants will product them slowly over the season. I may end up with 12 jars, yet they will have been canned in groups of two or three at a time.

IMG_5879 (1)

You may wonder how I have time to run these Micro-Batches of food. It does not take much to boil up a little brine and water bath a few jars while I am preparing dinner for my family. I try to multitask and use time that I would normally be in the kitchen anyway. I keep a good supply of preserving options ready to go. I keep jars, lids and rings for canning. I keep my dehydrator clean and ready to go. And I keep some good thick zip lock bags for freezing. I keep the necessary things ready so I have no excuse to miss out on any of this food not bought.

Here is a blog I wrote about this back in 2015, if you want to know more. It is about preserving as the harvest comes in.

I challenge you to take the "Food Not Bought" pledge and see how much food you can get out of your garden. You very well may be pleasantly surprised with all of the wonderful uses for your harvest.

Check out our Facebook and website for more information on our efforts to save food, cultivars and bring heirlooms back into the food chain.

Adventures at the Amish Plant Auction


My First Amish Plant Auction

There are times when you learn lessons easy and there are those that you learn by fire.  My first plant auction was a learning experience by fire.  Last year was the first year we did a market booth and we purchased many of our plants as plugs.  Thus, the auction was the main source of our plants rather than our own seeds.  

I had heard about this Auction from Becky who owned the green house we used and was the daughter of the original Ivan family.   Her family frequented this auction over the years to get plants for their business.   Unfortunately, Becky could not join me the first time I went down and I had decided to go it alone. 

I had only been to one other auction before and it was a University of Missouri surplus action where they sold old desks and computer pieces. I had purchased two $5 desks and left without anything extra. That action had been about 20 years ago. 

It was mid February 2016, I was headed to the auction with every intention of just watching and maybe getting a few herbs.  I knew it was early in the season and that they would be having auctions all spring long.  I was driving my Minivan and needed to stop off at Morgan County Seed to pick up soil for transplanting our Ivan Tomato starts.  

I drove down to the Central Missouri Produce Auction and found my way easy enough with the use of Google Maps ( http://agebb.missouri.edu/hort/auction/central.htm).  It was about an hour and a half drive and I was so excited without really having a clue about what I was doing or what to expect. 

A Fish Out of Water

When I got there, I realized I was in a territory I knew nothing about. There were as many cars as there were horse and buggies.  There were more Amish folks than not.  I was completely out of place in my city clothing. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my flowy dress, stylish sweater, phone, and modern gear. The connectivity had dropped off a few miles before I reached the place so it really felt like I was back in time.

When I walked into the place the first thing I saw was a central office with windows all around and line ups as people were registering for their auction numbers.  I also noticed a lot of boxes, that under closer look, turned out to be cases of farm fresh eggs.  On the other side of the office there were rack after rack after rack of plants.   I walked around a little bit, with my mouth hanging open, gathering flies, I am sure. 

I eventually got in line to get my auction number registered. The Amish woman at the counter looked at me and said, “You’re not from around here, are ya?”  I stammered, “No, I am not.”  She then came back with the proclamation, “That’s what we all thought.”   I kind of self-consciously asked what I needed to do and followed her directions to get Victory Gardeners registered to buy plants. 

I looked around and about half the folks were dressed in the modest and old fashion dress of the Amish, with the other half hearing baseball caps and jeans.   I was wearing a floor length burgundy sweater with a purple skirt and a V neck t-shirt.  I was looking the part of mother earth meets Lane Bryant.

Picking the plants I wanted

I walked around, open mouthed, looking at rack after rack of the coolest looking plants I had ever seen.  The lady had warned me that you buy plant in lots.  If you bid on a lot of 6 trays at $10 you would be on the hook to pay $60. The prices you bid were price per tray for the entire lot.  Most lots included a minimum of 6 trays of plants.  I looked at these collections with respect.  I also realized I had to fit it all into the back of my van.   

One of the plants that caught my eye was beautiful purple wave petunias.  I knew I usually paid at least $8 for a four pack of wave petunias.  I always bought a few four packs to put in my back garden.  I loved the purple blooms and the waves that would flow down my raised beds from all the corners.  I knew I would use some of those. Depending on the price it might be cheaper to buy them here just considering how much I needed for my beds.  Yet, you had to buy an entire lot and that was a lot of petunias. In fact, that was at least 244 wave petunias.  I figured I would sell them. People like petunias, right?  I wrote down the lot # with wave petunias.

I looked on and noticed several great lots of herbs.  We could use some herbs and sell some herbs.  There were at least 10 different lots of worthy herbs.  I knew which herbs I used, but I did not know which one other people would want to buy. They all smelled so good.  They seemed to come in trays of 36 and had about 10 trays per lot.  I wrote down the lot numbers with good looking herb collections.

They also offered great looking sweet potato vines.  I wanted to grow sweet potatoes. There were so many types and they were growing so strong.  I had never grown them before, yet a neighbor of mine brought in a bumper crop of sweet potatoes the year before. I figured how could I go wrong on sweet potatoes?  People will want to grow them. They produce food, right?  I started writing down the lots that had good looking sweet potato vines. 

There were so many things that looked so lovely.  They had a product called licorices that looked like nice edging plants.  A nice selection of flowers from annuals to perennials were also available.   There were hanging baskets, trays of bedding plants, wooden planters, succulents and more.   The amount of selections was a bit overwhelming.

Another area had eggs.  They had boxes and boxes of eggs. Each box had 24 dozen in it.  Some of the boxes were marked organic, while others were marked with family farm names. I was very impressed by this side of the room. 

The Auction Starts

The auction was about to start.  I got a seat and watched in wonder as the bantering began.   At times, there were two auctioneers going at the same time.  The fast, nasal drone of the prices going up and deals being made could be heard coming from both sides of the front area.  This required me to jump up and down checking out what was coming up on both sides.  

At first I watched and saw what people were interested in paying for the plants I was interested in buying.  If someone won an auction and there were several identical lots available the buyer could choose to get as many lots as they like.  I saw people buy huge quantities of plants for large scale nursery sales. 

I started to bid on plant lots tentatively.  Just testing the water.  Then suddenly I won a lot.  It was the ornamentals. They were just so pretty and only $3 a tray.  I couldn’t resist.  Oh my, what had I just done.  Oh well, I was sure they would sell.  People like ornamentals.  I swore I was going to be more careful.

Then came the petunias.  I tried bidding on a few of these. I figured it was cheaper than getting them at the stores in my town.  I did not get the first few lots. People really wanted the petunias.  I figured there must be a reason for this.  They must know how much people love petunias.  I kept bidding and finally won a lot of 6 trays of petunias.   I was very excited. 

There was nothing I was interested in coming up so I decided I would walk over and check out what was happening with the eggs.  There was an entire area just dedicated to eggs.   I did not know what to do.  I watched and saw that these wonderful eggs were going for about $1.10 per dozen.  We are talking farm fresh, brown, organic eggs.  I started to bid. I did not want to pay more than the $1.10 so it took me a while to win.  However, when I won I found out that the bid was not for just one box, which would have contained 24 dozen, it was for two boxes.  Lord have mercy, I just bought 48 dozen eggs. What on earth was I going to do with all those eggs? Eggs must go bad at some point.  I hastily decided it might be safer to go sit down back in the plant area. 

As the auction wore on I ended up bidding on the Sweet Potato Vines and won 6 trays of different varieties of those.  I also won an herb lot with 11 trays of 36 plants each.  At this point I remembered that I had only so much room in the van and still had to go by Morgan County Seed to get soil and trays.  I started to wonder if I had bought too much to carry home.

I had bid for and won the following:

  • 11 half trays of herbs,
  • 10 half trays of ornamentals,
  • 6 full trays of sweet potato vines,
  • 6 full trays of wave petunias,
  • 48 dozen eggs

Post-Auction Reality Sets In

Miraculously this only summed up to about $250 dollars, I paid my bill to the shaking heads of the Amish women.  They seemed to know something that I did not.   I had to use every inch of space to get it all in my mini-van.  I laid trays everywhere, I even stacked some that looked like they could take it.  I ended up getting everything in there.  I thought I did so well. 

I started driving and very shortly found I had connectivity back.  I stopped and looked up the sweet potato vines.  Oh No!  They were not edible. WHAT?! ? They were ornamentals.  Apparently, there are many types of these vines and only a few are edible.  OH CRAP!  Well, at least I had those petunias. They would sell… Right?

I drove back to Columbia in a mix of excitement and dread.  I got to Becky’s farm and started unloading the trays into her greenhouse.  She looked at me with her patient and kind knowing eyes.  She asked me what I intended to do with the petunias.  I told her I wanted to sell them.  She told me they would all need to be transplanted into hanging baskets as they would grow like crazy over the next two months.  The first fingers of dread slipped around my neck. 

Then she saw the sweet potatoes.  I told her how I thought they were edible. She laughed but told me that people like them, however they would also need to be transplanted.  Then she saw the herbs and the ornaments.  She showed me that the herbs I bought were plugs and in substandard soil.  The herbs would need immediate transplanting if I hoped to make something of them. 

This moment was transformational for me.  I realized a couple of things. First, I realized that I should not have gone to the auction without Becky and that I had a lot to learn.  I also realized I had started my first real season as a farmer and I was so proud.  This city girl from Toronto was now the mother of a few thousand plants and was taking the Ivan Project to a new level. 

Ivan Tomato, 2nd Year: From Kitchen Window to Market Booth


The second year of the Ivan Tomato Rescue Project started as our first growing season concluded. We had a small green house in my back yard and some experience under our belts.   I began to plan out how to move forward with our second year in business while I enjoyed tending to my own garden over the summer.  I enjoyed a on a much-needed vacation; when I returned, the comfortable sight of my Ivan plants inspired me to take action.

I had planted about 11 Ivan tomatoes, in two beds in my back yard.  I saved seeds from the strongest plants and the largest tomatoes.  I constantly had jars of fermenting seeds on my back porch.  I ended up with a nice pillow of seeds and started preparing for the new season of seed sales. 


My plan was to use the revenue from the seed sales to pay the bills to get the new growing season going.  The expenses of running a nursery are many. I would need soil, seeds, plastic containers, labels, tools, booth fees, fertilizer, gas, greenhouse heat, marketing, webhosting, printing, bags, postage, envelopes and other supplies.  This all adds up to a lot of money, we were dependent on seeds sales to cover the costs.  This was a lot of pressure to put on our Brand.

I started by re-assessing the team. This year we were making this a bit more of a family business.  My husband and kids were in for helping.  I also decided to partner up with Becky, who still lived on her family farm where the Ivan got Its name.   So together Becky, Todd, the kids, and myself took on the second season. 

We started by making a big list of all the plants we wanted to grow.  I rounded out the popular items with some cool varieties that looked interesting.   I also paid attention to the things people asked for last year, and got many of those old-time favorites.  I ended up with a massive list of Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, Herbs, and many vegetables. 

For Tomatoes, I wanted big slicers, medium earlies, lots of cherries, variegated coloring, classics, new trends, and of course my Ivan.  For Peppers, I wanted hot, sweet, bell shaped, banana shaped, classic, special and of course the Nepalese bell.  Eggplants also have many desirable styles and tried and true varieties.  Herbs were easier to select after the previous year of experience. 

Finally, I had to think about flowers. I was not doing any regular flowers, vines or ornaments like last year.  The only flowers I decided to offer were milkweeds for the Monarchs that migrate through our area.  Last year I had ornamentals, petunias, and lots of ornamental sweet potato vines.  I made the decision to cut out that which did not sell well last year. 

The next step that brought us to early January, was to choose where to purchase the seeds.  My top priorities were to purchase from a local company I could trust.  I decided on as many heirlooms as possible with only three hybrids in the group.  I chose two providers, Morgan County Seed Company and Baker Creek.  Of course, I supplemented this with my own stock of seeds for the plants I had been saving and using for years.  I wanted my plants to be fertile and as close to nature as possible.  I ordered some seeds online and made a trip down to Morgan County Seed Company to purchase the rest.

kitchen window

The plan was to start the process in my house, then move the starts in their 72 cell trays out to my backyard greenhouse for the first few weeks of their lives.  As space become an issue, we planned to move the plants to Becky's larger greenhouse in Ashland.  We wanted to wait as long as possible before turning on the big green house heat.   My small greenhouse was easier and cheaper to heat using an electric heater via an extension cord. 

Believe it or not, we germinated most of the seeds in my south facing sliding glass door windows.  I had two of those cheap green standing green house racks you can pick up at the hardware stores.  Each could take 8 trays of 72 plants.  The house was set at 68 and the sun heated up the little trays and brought the seed up beautifully.  Between the 13th of January and the end of February we germinated tray after tray of beautiful little potential plants.  I would mist them each morning and then watch the magic happen. 

We moved them to our little greenhouse and we monitored the green house temperature through a digital thermometer that I bought at the store.  It showed the temperature in the greenhouse and was pretty accurate.  I went through three heaters and two cords before I figured out the right combination to keep the temp where it needed to be at night.   Most days we had to open the door and let the heat out during the day and then turn on the heater at night.  We had a warm winter so it was not that hard to achieve success.   I will not lie, there were a couple of cold nights where I got up half way through and checked the temp to be sure.  

In late February, we started moving mature plants out to Becky’s place, where she had the big green house.  We began the incredible intense period of transplanting 1000’s of starts.  All those 72 trays needed to be transplanted into bigger cells.  In most of those cells we had put more than one seed just in case they did not germinate well.  We had record gemmations and ended up with a lot more plants to transplant then we expected. 

Transplanting was such a large job we ended up spending every weekend in the green house getting this herculean task done.  Todd worked filling containers with soil.  Jordan was often in charge of the washing station disinfecting the plastic and stacking it to be filled.  Becky worked getting the green house clean and organized.  Joel rotated from task to task and I worked transplanting and transplanting and transplanting.  By half way through March most of the job was done. 


Now you are up to date on the Ivan Tomato Rescue Project.   The question I know you are dying to ask is about the seed sales.  Did the seed sales successfully fund the project?  Well I can’t tell you for 100% certain as we have about five weeks until we start selling at the markets.  I can tell you though, that seed sales have paid for everything so far and we are on track to fund the entire market season.  So, to sum this up, the seeds saved from last summer’s Ivan Tomatoes and the use of my kitchen window along with our backyard greenhouse successfully got us ready for an entire market season.   The dream is real.  You can be a farmer from your own suburban back yard. 

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