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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Amish paste tomato needs large pot, sturdy stake

Amish paste is a large, vigorous, staking tomato that will produce well in a large container and in a potting mix that has plenty of substance.

Dear Helen: Even though I have only a balcony garden, I want to try growing Roma (paste) tomatoes for making seedless sauce. I find the Romas yield a meatier pulp and they are easier to de-seed than the usual types of tomatoes. At my local Seedy Saturday event I bought a package of Amish Paste, a Roma that was recommended to me. Will it do well in containers on my balcony?

B.P.

Amish paste is a large, vigorous, staking tomato that will grow and produce well only in a large container, ideally 30 to 45 cm deep, and in a potting mix that has plenty of substance. Each plant will need a sturdy stake.

Most commercial potting mixes are lightweight and do not, on their own, sustain plants well over a growing season, but they can fairly easily be endowed with added “staying power.”

Though product availability fluctuates, in recent years I’ve used as a base for my potting mixes Pro-Mix BX (for “basic”) and then, for increased heft, I add about one-third as much (as the Pro-Mix) of a sterilized, all-purpose potting soil of some weight and substance.

I usually mix in some coir (coconut fibre) as well, for its buffering ability against temperature extremes and added moisture retention.

Another useful addition is a slow-release fertilizer. I use a natural-source blend that I mix, but for a few containers look for natural-source blends at garden centres and farm supply stores.

In hot weather potted tomatoes need watering every day. I set my patio tomato pots in trays, and water into the trays after I’ve watered the soil.

Dear Helen: Should I be doing anything with my compost heaps now? I have several, still covered for the winter.

T.G.

When the sun begins delivering a little warmth in late winter or early spring, I “wake up” the compost enclosure contents by fluffing them up to introduce air, which is needed for the decomposition process.

Mixing in high-nitrogen material(s) will help to activate decomposition. Use alfalfa, canola or other seed meals, finely chopped green plant materials like young weeds (and grass clippings later, when lawns begin growing), composted manure, or/and used coffee grounds and tea leaves in moderation.

Make sure the heap is modestly moist and cover it loosely with clear plastic to concentrate the sun’s warmth as deeply as possible into the composting materials.

Dear Helen: What plants are pruned this month?

A.S.

Prune fruit trees and roses at the first sign of swelling in the growth buds. I prune the apple trees lightly at this time, to avoid watersprout (suckering) growth. Light bouts of pruning in summer helps to keep the trees compact.

Remove old flower clusters on big-leaf hydrangeas, making cuts right above a set of fat buds below the old flowers. Wait until spring-flowering shrubs, such as forsythia and lilac, have finished flowering before pruning them.

Prune on a dry day with above-freezing temperatures.

Dear Helen: I have been shopping for tomato seeds and do not understand some of the terminology on the packets. What does “Ind.” mean?

F.P.

“Ind.” is short for “Indeterminate” to denote that the tomato variety’s growth is not “determined” or limited. The plants will develop vines that keep on growing and flowering until cold weather.

In other words, an indeterminate variety is a tomato that needs staking. It blooms and produces fruit over an extended period, but is best “topped” in August to direct the pant’s energies into ripening already formed fruits instead of continuing to produce flowers and more little tomatoes that have no chance of ripening.

“Determinate” varieties are leafy bush-form tomatoes with a “determined” or limited plant size and period of production.

GARDEN EVENTS

Qualicum meeting. The Qualicum Beach Garden Club will meet this evening at 7:30 p.m. in the QB Civic Centre, 747 Jones St. Bonnie Zand will speak about Integrated Pest Management and strategies for managing garden pests while conserving beneficial insects living in the garden. qualicumbeachgardenclub.ca.

Pruning demonstration. Dinter Nursery, 2205 Phipps Rd. in Duncan, is presenting a demonstration of basic of fruit tree and small fruit pruning with Bernie Dinter on Saturday, from 10 to 11 a.m. The demonstration is free of charge. No registration is required. It will take place outdoors. Please dress warmly.

hchesnut@bcsupernet.com