Karen Cambre, Sharpe, Kenneth W.
News article for March 18, 2019:
March is what we think of as spring in south Louisiana, but frost is the part of winter that lingers and can be a problem for vegetable gardeners.
If you look at historical data over time for our area you will find you have a 30% chance of having a 32˚F night if you plant on March 7, it goes down to 20% on March 12th and you have only a 10% chance by March 19th.But even if you wait, be diligent to keep up with weather predictions as you can get a frost above 32˚F. The gardening traditionalist knows that typically we have an Easter cold snap and Easter is late this year.
Tomatoes are usually high on the list of crops to plant. Even people who do not grow a traditional garden will plant a few tomato plants in the flower bed or on the patio.
Old and retro are in vogue these days and in gardening that means heirloom plants. I have heard lots of definitions, but it is safe to say that heirlooms are varieties that have been around for at least 50 years. Heirlooms are open pollinated plants that you can collect seeds from and still get a true variety if done so in a controlled environment.
The allure to heirlooms is usually taste. The older varieties were developed with taste in mind, but they do not have many of the disease resistance traits and yield performance of the modern varieties.
If you want to plant heirloom tomatoes you will need to get them planted in the early part of spring. Heirloom tomatoes are soft and cannot take the intense heat of our summer. They also will not get that large size they are noted for if temperatures are soaring during production. You would ideally like to get your heirloom tomatoes harvested by mid-June.
Everyone has their own opinion of heirloom tomatoes, but we grew a number of varieties a few years ago for evaluation and taste. Some of our favorites were Cherokee Purple, which will yield a purple exterior color at maturity but is very flavorful and productive. We also liked Red and Pink Brandywine, German Pink and Mortgage Lifter. I usually like traditional red tomatoes, but I enjoyed the flavor of Persimmon which is a yellow tomato.
For those who like the traditional tomatoes Celebrity is hard to beat when it comes to taste. It does tend to crack more than most and does not have a lot of disease resistance, but it wins all the blind taste tests. A rival to Celebrity would be Bella Rosa. It does have a lot of disease resistance but still has that good acid tomato taste that most people seek.
If you want to plant a patio tomato I would try Juliet. It is grape cluster type tomato that has a lot of taste and very productive.
Space tomato transplants 18 -24 inches apart within a row. Be sure to side dress with 2 pounds of calcium nitrate fertilizer/ 100 foot of row when the first fruit are marble sized. Tomatoes will be ready to harvest in 60-70 days from planting depending on variety and provided they are in full sun.
Other favorites for the garden would include bell peppers and I like Jupiter as an open pollinated variety and Aristotle as a big hybrid. Try Santana as a purple eggplant or Black Beauty as an heirloom. For cucumbers try Dasher II, General Lee, Thunder or Lightning. Squash varieties include Multipik as a straight neck yellow or Benning’s Green Tint as an heirloom patty squash.
You can find a complete list of recommended vegetable varieties and planting dates by getting a copy of the Louisiana Vegetable Planting Guide, publication 1980, from our website at www.lsuagcenter.com.