Can you imagine home-grown tomatoes for Christmas dinner? It's now possible -- in fact, many had them last Christmas. Although the taste and texture were not as good as the juicy ones vine-ripened during the summer, they were much better than those available at markets in late fall and winter.
The name of the tomato is Long-Keeper. After years of testing, the seeds are listed in the catalogue of Burpee Seeds, Warminster, Pennsylvania 18991, which will be sent free upon request.
The most important thing to remember about Long Keeper is that its skin will never turn bright red when ripe. You can tell when it's ready to eat because its skin will have turned a light golden orange-red.
Cut the tomato open and you'll be pleasantly surprised to see that the interior meat is an attractive medium-red color.
Depending on the length of your growing season, Burpee suggests that you sow Long-keeper seeds two or three weeks later than other varieties. Fruits will then be starting to turn color prior to the first frost. If you live in northern or other short-season areas, start the seeds at the same time as main-crop tomatoes to give Long Keepers enough time to bear fruit.
Start seeds indoors. Give seedlings full sun or use plant lights to promote healthy, stocky growth. About a week before planting the seedlings in the garden, move them outdoors during the day to accustom them to weather conditions, and bring them back inside at night.
When danger of frost is over and the weather stays warm, plant the Long Keeper seedlings 2 to 2 1/2 feet apart each way. Burpee recommends growing them in cages or tied to stakes. Mulch with sawdust, wood chips, straw, buckwheat hulls or something similar.
Ripe Long Keepers with a golden orange-red skin can stay on the vines for three weeks or longer, but it's best to harvest them immediately to avoid sunscald or other weather or insect damage. They may be stored or eaten as you wish.
Harvest the rest of the fruit just before frost or when night temperatures consistently drop below 50 degrees F. Select only blemish-free tomatoes to store.
Wipe them clean if dirty.They store best in shallow containers in single layers without touching one another. Temperatures from 60 degrees to 70 degrees are best. Check for ripe tomatoes every few days and discard any that show signs of spoiling. They usually will keep for three months or longer. Q: The past three seasons, after the red berries on our pyracantha were well ripened the squirrels moved in and soon the berries were all gone. Do you know how I might prevent it next year? A: Birds, not squirrels, usually devour the berries; they can clean off a bush in a day or two. Damage usually occurs on plants with large, mealy fruit. The only way to prevent it is to cover the fruit with plastic netting. A relatively new orange-red variety, Navaho, with firm berries is seldom bothered by birds, usually retains good fruit color until midwinter, depending on the severity of the temperature and the persistence of moisture, which induces fruit decay. Q: When should I prune by red raspberries? They bear fruit in early summer and in the fall. A: New shoots of red raspberries grow vigorously during the summer, initiate flower buds in the fall, and bear fruit the following season. The canes then gradually dry up, drying shortly after harvest in late summer or early fall. As soon as the crop is harvested in late summer or fall, remove the old canes; this provides more room for the new ones. In late winter cut back the new canes to a height of approximately five feet, leaving six to eight canes to a hill. Q: I have a tall apple tree in my back yard, and the sprayer I have is not powerful enough to reach its upper parts. A more powerful one is too expensive for me. Can you suggest a solution? A: Why not spray as much of the tree as you can and let the rest go? The fruit that is sprayed will be all right and the rest will be spoiled by insects -- but even if it were good it would be most difficult to harvest. Q: I keep my Irish potatoes in a cool, dark room but there is a big loss due to sprouting. Is there anything I can do about it? A: These potatoes should be stored at 40 degrees F. and 85 to 90 percent humidity. Research has shown that if you put an apple in a 10-pound paper bag of potatoes, and close the bag, the ethylene gas formed by the apple will prevent sprouting. A material called maleic hydrazide, applied to the plants in the field just before harvest, also will prevent sprouting. Other materials sold as Dormatone and Fusarex can be applied to the potatoes just before storing to prevent sprouting. Q: We have a rose bush planted in the wrong place. Can we move it now, or should we wait until spring? A: Early spring is the best time. It should not be attempted until the soil is dry enough for digging it and for preparing the hole for planting it. Cut the bush back to 12 to 18 inches and dig it with a ball of dirt around the roots. Q: I have a Chinese evergreen and a dracaena that need to be repotted. When is the best time to do it? What kind of potting soil should I use? A: The best time is early spring just before the plants start to make new growth. At that time new roots will soon penetrate the fresh soil. The potting soil sold at most garden centers is adequate. Q: We plan to put in an asparagus bed this coming spring. Is it better to buy crowns or should we start with seed? A: Planted as early in spring as possible, crowns will provide spears for the table a year sooner than those started from seed. Starting with seed is less expensive, but if you don't have a pretty good idea how to do it you may be disappointed with results. Q: I have seen a flower arrangement with poinsettia stems in it. It looked stunning. Do they need special treatment when used for this purpose? A: Cut poinsettias can be used in all sorts of floral design work. Usually they last 14 days at room temperature after being cut -- longer if the leaves are removed. They require no special treatment.