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Branching Out For A New Favorite Tomato To Plant This Spring

Red tomatoes against green in the background.
It's seed starting time, and why not try some new tomato varieties?

Each week, Charlie Nardozzi joins VPR’s Weekend Edition host Mary Engisch for a conversation about gardening, and to answer your questions about what you're seeing in the natural world. This week: Tomatoes!

You can start seeds now, and even explore some new varieties. Here's some cool new ones to try:

Early Resilience

New Roma-type canning tomato that grows in a bush form, no staking needed. Good for containers, and resists blight and rot.


This is a green-maturing cherry tomato. It has a tangy, sweet flavor, and you know it's ripe when the skin gets a yellow tinge.

Bronze Torch

Small plum-shaped eating tomato, with brick red and bronze stripes on the skin.

Cherokee Carbon

New heirloom/hybrid cross that looks and tastes like a Cherokee Purple, but has crack resistance and the yield of a Carbon hybrid. There are many new cross-hybrid varieties like this. Another favorite is Big Brandy, a hybrid variety of Big Dwarf crossed with Brandywine.

Tomato seed-starting tips

  • Start four to six weeks before planting outside
  • Plant two seeds per 2-inch diameter pot
  • Thin out and leave the strongest seedling
  • Grow under grow lights

Keep the seeds watered, and move the grow lights up as seedlings grow, keeping the lights 4-6 inches above plants.
Brush plants daily, back and forth 10 times. This exercises the stems and keeps them strong and stocky. When the height of tomato is three times the pot diameter, repot the plant into a 4-inch diameter pot.

Lastly, harden them off before planting outside.

Q: The only non-shady part of my yard is my septic mound. Can I install a vegetable garden (either conventional or raised bed) there without interfering with the functioning of the mound? I also have to install a fence, as we are overrun with rabbits and deer. — Lenore, in Hinesburg

It is not recommended to plant any kind of edible garden on a septic mound. The trouble is two-fold: The garden may interfere with the mound, but the bigger issue is that if the mound fails, the septic could contaminate the soil.

You can still grow your tomatoes in the yard this year by creating a raised bed on some legs. They are elevated raised-beds, and you can make them to whatever height you desire, just as long as it is off the ground above the septic mound.

Keep in mind that tomatoes like a long root system, so aim for a box at least a foot deep, and drill some holes in the bottom of the box to allow for drainage. Plus, having the raised bed up on legs means the bunnies, woodchucks and shorter deer will not be able to reach your plants!

The other option is to use containers. You could grow dwarf varieties of tomatoes and they would grow really well.

Q: We used to enjoy a few stalks of milkweed for the butterflies. Last summer, milkweed was everywhere, and we spent most of the season pulling it out and fighting it back. What's the best way to get rid of milkweed, and is it possible to still keep some stalks in the garden? — Kate

As many farmers know, common milkweed is profilic and very invasive. If you plant intend to milkweed for the Monarch butterflies, it won't be long before the whole area is overrun with milkweed!

Here is how to handle it: Rip it all out, early in the season. You can dig the root system out as best as you can, and then keep cutting the plants back. After it is pulled out, plant some milkweed relatives. There are some native varieties, like swamp milkweed or purple milkweed. They are native plants and less invasive, and will still attract and help feed those butterflies!

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All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums (and pictures!), and Charlie will answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

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