Q&A with Dorota Basiura, Tomato Farmer
World Tomato Society: What is the reason you started growing tomatoes? How long have you been growing them?
Dorota Basiura: In general, I started growing vegetables myself because I wanted to have healthy, organic produce for my son and my whole family. Tomatoes have always been in our garden. My father has grown them since I can remember as well as other vegetables too. Over time, my father stopped planting tomatoes because there were problems with disease—especially late blight—which damaged the crop. I decided to try growing them myself, and that’s how it started!
WTS: Can you tell us a little bit about your setup?
DB: I grow tomatoes both in open ground and in a greenhouse. This year, I grew 80 plants in the greenhouse and about 400 in the open ground. In total, I had about 200 heirloom and open-pollinated varieties and 200 crosses in different generations. Some of them are my own crosses, and some are from other breeders in Poland and other countries. I grow very few other vegetables due to the limited space I have. I plant peppers, chili, Chinese greens, lettuce, cucumbers, beans, zucchini, sometimes pumpkins and beets, and lots of herbs.
Poland is mostly located in the climate zones 6b and 6a. Only a small area of my country is zone 7 and 5. The soil in my garden is very sandy and poor.
WTS: What mistakes did you make starting out, and how did you learn from them?
DB: I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. One is that when I first planted my tomatoes in the greenhouse, I crowded it with too many plants. When the plants grew, it became a real “jungle,” and it was so hard to do anything there. I had to regularly trim a lot of leaves to prevent the plants from getting sick.
WTS: What is your favorite variety and why?
DB: Unfortunately, it’s very difficult for me to point to one favorite variety! I really like Amish Rose, Stump of the World, Ananas Zebra, the whole family of Brandywine tomatoes, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Cherokee Purple, Green Giant, Absinthe. I also love many breeding lines from the Polish breeder Kozula. And, of course, I love all types of colorful cherry tomatoes!
WTS: What is your favorite tomato dish to make?
DB: Most of all, I love fresh tomatoes straight from the vine. I also find a wide variety of fresh salsas quite tasty as well. When it comes to cooked tomato dishes, I especially like different types of tomato soups and this spaghetti recipe.
WTS: What advice would you give a beginner tomato grower? Are there any varieties that are easier to grow than others?
DB: I believe that hybrid varieties are easier to grow due to their higher disease resistance. If someone would like to start their adventure with tomatoes, they should plant at least a few resistant plants in order to not be disappointed and to be able to enjoy their own fruits in the first year of growing.
WTS: What is the best way to transplant tomato plants? And when is it necessary?
DB: I start the production of seedlings about six to seven weeks before the planned planting date. This ensures that the plants have time to grow without getting too big and old to be transplanted. In my area, I find the first greenhouse plants can be planted during the first 10 days of April, and then in open ground after May 15. It is important to plant your tomato plants deeper than they previously were growing. Doing so strengthens their root system as this method causes the tomatoes to put out additional roots.
WTS: Do you have any tips for growing tomatoes on a patio? Maybe certain varieties?
DB: The varieties that work best on the patio are the dwarf, micro-dwarf, and basket varieties. Their size allows for trouble-free cultivation in pots—but be sure to learn about proper fertilization and remember to water regularly. Poorly fed plants in pots will not yield a good harvest, and without enough water, they will lose flowers and fruit. The fruit may also even begin to show blossom end rot, or, if not fertilized, they may not even bloom at all!
WTS: What are your most common pest problems?
DB: The main pest problem in my garden are cabbage worms.
WTS: What treatments have you found effective for cabbage worms?
DB: Since the infestation is not typically severe, I do not use any treatments other than manually picking them off the plants.
WTS: What are the most common disease issues you have dealt with?
DB: The disease that most threatens my tomatoes is late blight.
WTS: What treatments have you found effective for them?
DB: In an attempt to prevent late blight, I distance my plants with enough space where they do not touch each other, allowing them to quickly dry after rain. I also mulch the soil and water only enough for the plants to grow well—try not to overwater.
WTS: Are there any insects you welcome in your garden?
DB: I most frequently enjoy seeing pollinating insects in my garden, such as various species of bees and bumblebees. These insects actively pass pollen from one flower to another. Because of this increased pollination, I can count on better fruiting and abundant yields from the garden. Ladybugs are also helpful, as they reduce the number of aphids, as well as scales or spider mites. When cultivating the soil, I also try to be careful with earthworms, which are very useful in any garden!
WTS: What do you do to avoid harming them or to create a welcoming environment for them?
DB: In order to not destroy beneficial insects, I never use insecticides in my garden. I also plant honey plants, which I have found to attract natural pollinators.
WTS: Are there any crops you like to plant near tomatoes that have a positive effect on the tomatoes?
DB: There are a lot of plants that I like to grow as companion plants for tomatoes! I find that marigolds repel pests and reduce root-knot nematodes in the soil. Some plants can repel insects. Basil is thought to be effective against mosquitoes, flies, and even fruit flies, while borage reduces tomato hornworm activity. Both plants also tend to improve growth and enhance the flavor in my tomatoes. You can also plant amaranth to attract predatory beneficial insects. Garlic repels red spider mites, but also, as a bonus, sprays made from garlic can help control late blight! I like to enhance my tomatoes’ flavors even more by having plenty of herbs, such as bee balm, chives, mint, lemon balm, and parsley—they even improve the health of my garden!