compiled by Vern Grubinger, University of Vermont Extension
(802) 257-7967 ext. 13, or

(David Handley, UMaine Extension)

Highbush blueberries should be pruned every year to keep them producing high yields of quality fruit. Prune the plants when they are fully dormant, during the late winter or early spring. For the first two years after planting, simply remove any dead branches and all weak, spindly growth.

For established plants follow these steps: Prune out any weak, low-growing or diseased canes. Prune out all canes that are over six years old (these are usually the thickest canes, which are gray in color with peeling bark). Blueberry canes tend to be less productive once they get more than six years old and should be pruned out in favor of younger, more productive canes. Cut the old canes to the ground level unless new cane growth has been sparse, in which case leave a 4- to 8-inch stub above the ground. New canes may sprout from these stubs. Thin the remaining canes, leaving those with the most vigorous shoot growth (long, thick branches with fruit buds). Leave six to seven vigorous two- to five-year-old canes and two or three one-year-old canes per bush.

A mature blueberry plant should have 6 to10 healthy canes varying in age from 1 to 6 years old. Remove any weak fruiting branches on the remaining canes, especially those under 6  inches in length. Most fruit is produced on vigorous one-year-old shoots on healthy two- to five-year-old canes. The fruit buds on these shoots are large and tear-drop-shaped. Each bud will produce a cluster of 5 to 8 flowers. The shoots also have smaller, pointed buds that will produce leaves.

(Ed Person, Ledgewood Farm Greenhouse Frames, NH)

I would like to add a couple of comments to the article about greenhouse location. The most important factor in locating a greenhouse is making sure that they fit the site most conveniently. Given the diffusing ability of new covering materials and using pipe rather than wood for rafters has reduced the value of north to south siting. In fact, for winter production it is best to orient west to east so the low sun angle strikes the long side of the greenhouse and not the gable end. Just in case some of your readers take last month’s information as the only way to orient houses.

(adapted from an article by Amy LeBlanc, Whitehill Farm, East Wilton ME, in the 2003 New England Vegetable and Berry Conference Proceedings )

Heirloom tomatoes have been in the news for years, and with good reason. But after all the conversations about genetic diversity, the history and stories, it all boils down to one word - flavor. The home gardener is growing heirlooms for their flavor. The market customer comes back again and again for the “good old tomato flavor” provided by heirlooms.

Sometimes the subject of heirlooms and poor disease resistance comes up. In my experience, most heirlooms can be grown well and will be disease free if good conditions are provided.  Ample spacing to provide plenty of air drainage, mulch to prevent splash from the soil, steady moisture, appropriate support, and minimal pruning will all contribute to a good harvest. Other folks maintain that heirlooms may bear fewer fruits than hybrids. In some cases this IS true, but in my experience well grown plants will bear well as a general rule.

And it IS true that some heirloom tomatoes will crack on the shoulders. One of the factors that makes the heirloom tomato so appreciated is the tenderness of the skin. And it is that tenderness that makes many heirlooms vulnerable to cracking. The “secret” to limiting cracking is providing even moisture.  Since the skins lose a lot of their elasticity as they approach maturity, a heavy rain (or drip irrigation left on too long) will swell the fruits and cause cracking. With heavy rain in the forecast it is sometimes wise to pick ripe and almost ripe fruits to protect them!

Market growers sometimes experience the “it looks funny” reaction to some heirlooms, but a tasting plate will take care of doubters!  From a practical standpoint, a great market display should have a good mix of hybrids, standards, and heirlooms. There will always be the customer who can’t possibly eat a tomato that isn’t round and red! But that’s where the tasting plate comes in - even dyed-in-the-wool red tomato folks can be challenged to try something new! In addition to direct market sales, the connection to chefs and fine restaurants provides another valuable outlet for an unusual and beautiful crop.

Trials of heirloom tomatoes can be a real adventure. I try to plan at least three years for a realistic trial, as the results I need are complex. I need to know if the variety will produce at all in my niche of New England. I need to know how the variety will produce in the widely varying growing seasons in New England. I need to know the growth habits of the plant. It is amazing what differences of opinion there are when describing “healthy”, “sprawling”, compact”, or “vining” plants!  I also need to know if the variety is sensitive to particular micro-climates on my property. I need to know when I can expect the first ripe fruits. I need to satisfy the question of whether this  variety is actually unique. And last but not least, I need to know if it tastes good! So my trials include several widely spaced plantings of at least 3 to 4  plants each as well as side-by-side plantings with suspiciously similar varieties. The true test comes in the second and third years when I grow out seedlings from saved seed. I carefully select fruit that meets the description and save seed to see if the variety will breed true.

The following is a list of some of my personal recommendations of heirloom tomato varieties.  This list is based on both spring seedling sales and farmer’s market sales later in the season.

* Box Car Willie (80 days-Indeterminate)  Abundant crop of medium to large size globes. Named after the country singer, Box Car Willie, who regrettably passed away in 1999. Not just the hobos favorite tomato,  market customers will come back for these!

* Delicious (77- I)  One of the early standard setters, Delicious was selected from Beefsteak a.k.a Red Ponderosa, and introduced by Burpee. Fruits are a deep red, meaty, and can easily average 1.5 to 2 pounds. Good old-fashioned flavor. A favorite among sandwich lovers.

* Mortgage Lifter (90-I)  “Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter” was named after a man who sold his tomato seedlings and the resulting crop to pay off the mortgage on his shop!  This is a wonderful firm pink/red beefsteak...great flavor...great story!

* Red Brandywine (90-I)  Scarlet red,  rounded, gourmet version of Brandywine! Regular foliage plant. Red Brandywine is a consistently good seller as both seedlings and at market.

* Cosmonaut Volkov  (72-I)  Round, slightly flattened red fruits. Prize winning fruits can weigh up to 2 lb. Named for a famous Russian cosmonaut who was killed while landing.

* Brandywine - OTV Strain (78-I)  Dr. Carolyn Male, tomato specialist, researcher, and author of “100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden”, has selected seed from an old strain of  Brandywine which she believes to be the sweetest and creamiest of all. The fruits are a rich pink/red with an orange undertone. Fruits are 12 to16 oz. Very productive and more heat tolerant than other strains.

* Cherokee Purple (80-I) Cherokee Indian origin, introduced in Tennessee. Bears 10 to12 oz. dusky rose/purple fruits that are delicate and a true taste treat. Vines should not be pruned as the delicate fruits sunburn easily. The flavor is excellent and makes the effort to take good fruits to market well worth the time. Customers will come back for more!

* German Johnson (pink) (70-I) Pennsylvania Dutch heirloom. One of the “parents” of Mortgage Lifter, this is a deep pink, rich-tasting, medium sized tomato. Large yields.

* Earl of Edgecombe (golden) (73-I)  This tomato came from New Zealand with a sheep farmer who went to England to claim his title as the 7th Earl of Edgecombe!  The round fruits are firm, absolutely smooth and defect free, and have a well-balanced sweet/tart flavor. Better flavor than Golden Boy, and a market favorite.

* Hillbilly (yellow/red) (85-I)  Heirloom from West Virginia. Large beefsteak type fruits average from 1 to 2#!  Unique orange and yellow flesh streaked with red and pink. Flesh is firm, meaty and juicy! Rivals Pineapple!

* Pineapple (85-I)  Unique red and yellow striped huge fruits. The rich, fruity,  sweet flavor, and dense juicy flesh make this an exquisite salad tomato.

* Black Brandywine  (80-I) Large, oval, well-formed fruits are DARK, almost black and full-flavored. Regular foliage.

* Black Krim  (80-I) This is a medium sized slicer, with dark maroon to black flesh and distinctive green-black shoulders! Originally from Krymsk, on the Black Sea. Seed was originally smuggled to the US before the breakup of the Soviet Union.

* Black Prince  (70-I) An old-fashioned slicer saved in Irkutsk, Siberia. Garnet-red outside and red to chestnut-brown on the inside. Some strains of these oval fruits will crack in rings on the top but a strain that doesn’t crack is available from The flavor is a complex mix of sweet and acid with mellow overtones. Customers need to taste these to be convinced - and then they come back for more!

* Broad Ripple Yellow (75-I) This little gem was literally found growing in a sidewalk crack in Indianapolis! A Seed Savers Exchange member saved the seed!  A VERY prolific plant, bearing hundreds of 1/2” round, incredibly tasty pale yellow fruits.

* Matt’s Wild Cherry (60-I)  Incredibly high sugar content gives this little cherry tomato a wallop of flavor! From the Hidalgo region in Eastern Mexico, where they are found growing wild.   Great for fresh eating and salsas. Will self seed!

* Tommy Toe (70-I) Hundreds of apricot-sized bright red fruits per plant, bearing right till frost. Very sturdy plants are disease resistant. Tommy Toe won taste tests in Australia and  at the Rodale Institute.

* Amish Paste (74-I) This one has been handed down for generations in Amish families. It  is recommended as a “perfect” paste tomato! Good tasting too, so it can double as a slicer.  Averages 7 to 8 ozs.

* Corne de Bouc (mid)  Stunning and delicious! The flavor is almost as fine as Hogheart, but the fruits ripen much earlier (long before the Common Ground Fair!) and are virtually blemish-free!  5 inches long, fat sausage shape and intensely red/orange.

* Hogheart (75-I) This is originally from Italy, and for my money, the best paste tomato going!  These are huge, often 12 oz!  They can make twin fruits, really heart shaped!

*  San Marzano (80-I) Sets the standard for sauce tomatoes!  Rectangular pear shaped, red, meaty, and averaging 3 1/2 inches. From the San Marzano region in Italy where the San Marzano tomato is a heritage!

(sent in by Dorothy Whittaker, Brunswick VT)

Clearing up my paper piles and found your Farming magazine article on the history of pumpkins from last October. Thought you would enjoy this quote I got years ago in Early American Life magazine: “We have pumpkins at morning, pumpkins at noon, if it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon” and a further reference about eating stewed pumpkin: “It provokes urin extremely and is very windy.”