The Brandywine varieties are some of the most popular heirloom tomatoes grown in North America. They are known for their huge size, great taste, and pumpkin-like ridges. Many color options are also available in the Brandywine family, including red, pink, orange, yellow and even black tomatoes. Their distinctive potato-plant-like leaves set them apart from most other varieties of tomato.
There are both determinate and indeterminate varieties, but most people associate Brandywine with the indeterminate, vining heirlooms. It’s not known exactly how old these heirlooms are, but it’s believed they came to America with the Amish and are some of the first types to appear in seed catalogs.
Tomatoes require a long growing season, and are best started indoors 6 weeks before the anticipated transplanting date (after the final frost of the spring). For best results, sow seeds ½” deep in a well-drained, soilless starting mix. Seeds require warm soil between roughly 65-90 degrees F. Warmer soils will promote faster germination. Keep soil moist, but not soggy while awaiting germination. Moderate watering slightly once seedlings break through the soil.
SOIL & GROWING NEEDS
Tomato plants prefer well-drained, fertile soil, high in organic matter. Fertile clays and loams produce the highest yields, but lighter soils that drain and warm quickly can produce earlier harvests. It can tolerate slightly acidic soils, and is most productive with pH 6.0 to 6.8.
Tomato is a heavy feeder and should be fertilized with an organic blend rich in phosphorus and potassium, and containing moderate nitrogen.
Tomatoes need at least 8 hours of direct sun daily, and will develop faster with increased exposure. If possible, grow on a slight slope with southern or southeastern exposure. Tomatoes are native to tropical regions, and have the greatest light needs of any standard garden vegetable.
Staked and pruned plants can grow to well over 6 feet tall in favorable growing seasons, can be trained to narrow spreads. If space is limiting, use smaller determinate varieties.
Tomato is very labor intensive if you stake, prune or use plastic mulch and row covers.
TRANSPLANTING YOUR STARTS OUTSIDE
Once the last frost has passed and temperatures do not drop below approximately 50 degrees F at night, you can begin to consider transplanting. Don’t rush to transplant. Cold soil and air temperatures can stress plants. Wait at least a week or two after the last frost. When considering candidates for transplanting, look for sturdy, short, dark green plants. Avoid plants that are tall, leggy, or yellowish, or have started flowering. Transplants that are too mature often stall after transplanting while younger, smaller plants pass them by, producing earlier and more fruit.
Harden off plants before transplanting by reducing water and fertilizer, not by exposing to cold temperatures, which can stress them and stunt growth. Transplants exposed to cold temperatures (60 F to 65 F day and 50 F to 60 F night) are more prone to catfacing. This (misshapen, deformed fruit) is caused by incomplete pollination, usually due to cold weather. Don’t rush to transplant until weather has stabilized and soil is warm.
Unlike most plants, tomatoes do better if planted deeper than they were grown in containers. Set them in the ground so that the soil level is just below the lowest leaves. Roots will form along the buried stem, establishing a stronger root system.
To reduce root disease risk, don’t plant on soils that have recently grown tomatoes, potatoes, peppers or eggplant for at least two years.Use black plastic mulch to warm soil and/or row covers, hot caps or other protection to keep plants warm early in the season. Remove covers whenever temperatures exceed 85 F.
SPACING & COMPANION PLANTING CONSIDERATIONS
Depending on the nature of your starts, recommendation on spacing vary slightly:
- 12 to 24 inches apart for determinate varieties
- 14 to 20 inches apart for staked indeterminate varieties
- 24 to 36 inches apart for unstaked indeterminate varieties
Tomatoes can be cultivated in close proximity to carrots, onions, chives, garlic, asparagus, roses, and nettle. In some cases, tomatoes will help to deter parasites or other harmful conditions to the above-mentioned plants.
Avoid planting tomatoes near cabbage, kale, horseradish, broccoli, turnip, rutabega, arugula, cress, radish, mustard, kohlrabi, cauliflower, or any other members of the Brassicaceae family. Also keep tomatoes away from corn, potatoes and fennel herb.
MULCHING, STAKING & PRUNING TOMATO PLANTS
Mulch plants after the soil has warmed up to maintain soil moisture and suppress weeds. A reflective mulch, such as red plastic that will reflect light, can be help to promote more complete development if light conditions are not ideal. Tomatoes need a consistent supply of moisture. If it rains less than 1 inch per week, water to make up the difference.
Many factors (in addition to your choice of variety) affect total yield, first harvest and fruit quality. Raised beds, black plastic mulch and providing consistent moisture by watering or through drip irrigation are good ways to improve all three.
How you provide support to plants can also affect performance. Determinate varieties do not need staking. But staking and pruning indeterminate varieties can hasten first harvest by a week or more, improve fruit quality, keep fruit cleaner, and make harvest easier. Staking and pruning usually reduces total yield, but fruits will tend to be larger. Staked and pruned plants are also more susceptible to blossom end rot and sunscald. Allowing indeterminate varieties to sprawl reduces labor, but takes up more space and plants are more prone to disease.
Wooden tomato stakes are typically about 6 feet long and 1 ½ inch square, but you can use similar materials. Drive stakes at least 8 to 10 inches deep at or soon after transplanting so as not to damage roots.
Prune tomatoes to one or two vigorous stems by snapping off “suckers” (stems growing from where leaf stems meet the main stem) when they are 2 to 4 inches long. Tie stems to stake with soft string, twine or cloth, forming a figure-8 with the stem in one loop and the stake in the other. This gives the stem room to expand without being constricted. Start about 8 to 12 inches above the ground and continue to tie at similar intervals as the plant grows. As an alternative to using individual stakes, grow several plants in a row between heavy-duty stakes or posts spaced about 4 feet apart, and use twine to weave in and out around posts and plants.
Growing tomatoes in cages is a good compromise between labor-intensive staking and just letting them sprawl. You can purchase tomato cages at your local garden center, or simply bend a 6-foot-long piece of 4- to 6-inch wire mesh into a cylinder about 22 inches in diameter. (Cattle fencing or concrete reinforcing wire mesh work well for this.) Place cage around plants soon after transplanting and anchor with stakes.
FERTILIZING & WATERING TOMATOES
Avoid excessive N applications, which can cause excessive foliage and poor fruit set. Also avoid using fresh manure or high nitrogen fertilizers (those with three or more times nitrogen than phosphorus or potassium). Poor fruit set can also be caused by heavy rainfall or temperatures that are either too high (above 90 F) or too low (below 55 F).
On most soils, you can sidedress about 1/2 cup of 5-10-5 per plant and work shallowly into the top inch of soil when fruits are about 1 inch in diameter and again when harvest begins.
Keep soil evenly moist to prevent blossom end rot. This can also help prevent cracking when fruit absorbs water too fast after heavy rain following dry conditions.