Despite its name, we cannot promise you home-grown tomatoes at Christmas, unless of course you happen to live in Australia. We can, however, promise you a good crop of small, scarlet fruits with a splendidly rich, old fashioned tomato flavour from this indeterminate variety.
Tomato ‘Christmas Grapes’ is an old heritage variety, the name almost certainly referring to the fact that the fruits are produced continually through the season and into late autumn. The gorgeous bunches of sweet cherry tomatoes are produced in dense clusters just like bunches of grapes.
Highly productive, easy-to-grow and very ornamental, Christmas Grapes is a rewarding variety that produces 40 to 50 gram (1 ½ to 2oz) bright scarlet-red fruits clustered in grape-like bunches. The trusses ripen evenly and can hold 12 to 20 fruits.
The plants grow to a height of around 180cm (6ft). The fruits are very sweet at first bite, followed by strong tomato flavour. At 2.5cm (1in) in diameter, they are perfectly sized for plucking right off the vine for a snack or tossing into a leafy salad. Enjoy a bountiful harvest that begins about 67 days from the time of transplanting.
As they cannot tolerate any degree of frost the timing for sowing and planting outside is key to successfully growing tomatoes. Where the seeds are sown under cover or indoors, aim to sow the seeds so that they reach the stage to be transplanted outside three weeks after the last frost date. Tomato plants take roughly seven weeks from sowing to reach the transplanting stage. For example, if your last frost date is early May, the seeds should be planted in early April to allow transplanting at the end of May.
Tomatoes require a full sun position. Two or three weeks before planting, dig the soil over and incorporate as much organic matter as possible.
The best soil used for containers is half potting compost and half a soil-based type loam: this gives some weight to the soil.
Plant about 3mm (1/8in) deep, in small pots using seed starting compost. Water lightly and keep consistently moist until germination occurs. Tomato seeds usually germinate within 5 to 10 days when kept in the optimum temperature range of 21 to 27°C (70 to 80°F). As soon as they emerge, place them in a location that receives a lot of light and a cooler temperature (60 to 70°F); a south-facing window should work.
When the plants develop their first true leaves, and before they become root bound, they should be transplanted into larger into 20cm (4in) pots. Young plants are very tender and susceptible to frost damage, as well as sunburn. I protect my young plants by placing a large plastic milk jug, with the bottom removed, to form a miniature greenhouse.
Depending on the components of your compost, you may need to begin fertilising. If you do fertilise, do it very, very sparingly with a weak dilution. Transplant into their final positions when they are about 15cm (6in) high. Two to three weeks prior to this, the plants should be hardened off.
Just before transplanting the tomato plants to their final position drive a strong stake into the ground 5cm (2in) from the planting position. The stake should be at least 30cm (1ft) deep in the ground and 1.2m (4ft) above ground level - the further into the ground the better the support. As the plant grows, tie in the main stem to the support stake - check previous ties to ensure that they do not cut into the stem as the plant grows. Dig a hole 45cm (18in) apart in the bed to the same depth as the pot and water if conditions are at all dry. Ease the plant out of the pot, keeping the root ball as undisturbed as far as possible. Place it in the hole and fill around the plant with soil. The soil should be a little higher than it was in the pot. Loosely tie the plant's stem to the support stake using soft garden twine –allow some slack for future growth.
A constant supply of moisture is essential, dry periods significantly increase the risk of the fruit splitting. Feed with a liquid tomato fertiliser (high in potash) starting when the first fruits start to form, and every two or three weeks up to the end of August. In September, feed with a general fertiliser (higher in nitrogen) in order to help the plant support it's foliage. Over watering may help to produce larger fruit, but flavour may be reduced. Additionally, splitting and cracking can result from uneven and excessive watering.
When the first fruits begin to form, pinch out the side shoots between the main stem. Also remove lower leaves which show any signs of yellowing to avoid infection.
Pick as soon as the fruits are ripe, this also encourages the production of more fruit. Harvest all the fruit as soon as frost threatens and ripen on a window sill.
Heirloom, also known as Heritage varieties are just what their name implies. They have been handed down, through generations of farmers and gardeners, from family member to family member. Many of these tomato varieties are known to have thrived since the 1800's. Unlike hybrids, they are not selectively bred for taste or appearance. They are open-pollinated, growing 'true to type' plants, like their predecessors, from seed.
Although heirloom tomatoes are indeed delicious, you won't find them in super markets for several reasons:
- Long time to maturity - Heirloom tomatoes, generally speaking, take longer to mature than varieties that were bred for commercial production. This means that they are more expensive to grow because they require a longer residency in the field and therefore more resources before a farmer can harvest and recoup his investment.
- Not good shippers - Many heirlooms were not bred to be shipped and because of their thinner skins do not transport well. For any supermarket that relies on nationwide supply chains this is an obvious problem as it means that there is a high likelihood that produce may arrive at market in a condition that cannot be sold.
- Indeterminacy - this means that the tomatoes mature slowly over time and do not ripen all at once. Most commercial tomato production (99%+ of what is grown for retail chain sale) are produced from determinate plants since these can be machine harvested. Indeterminate tomatoes must be hand harvested so again you end up with a very expensive tomato to produce. Indeterminate tomatoes also occupy a field for a longer period of time (since they do not all ripen at once) which means that even if you have low cost labour available for hand harvesting, your harvesters will need to be working the fields for many weeks, rather than days, making the tomatoes again more expensive to produce.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 20 Seeds Common Name Cherry Tomato, Heritage
Vine / Cordon (Indeterminate)
Family Solanaceae Genus Solanum Species lycopersicum Cultivar Christmas Grapes Hardiness Half Hardy Annual Height 180cm (6ft) Spacing 60cm (24in) Season Mid-Season Time to Sow Sow early indoors from early April to the end of May Time to Harvest 70 to 80 days from transplant.