Thoughts on tomatoes

(Original post was the middle of July) It is getting close to the tomato part of the summer garden. I am growing six different varieties. I have Brandywine as my main season table tomato with an Italian Romanesco as a trial this year. I do a few Early Girl plants for reliable first tastes. (Update: I will grow no more Early Girls ever again. They are good for nothing … literally. No taste at all and all water. I’ll just wait a few days longer for real tomatoes next year. ) My processing tomatoes are usually Speckled Romans and this year I did two plantings of classic Romas. I know, that’s only five. I won’t say much about the Brandywines since they are well documented and I’ll let you know how the Romanescos turn out. But I wanted to say a few words about the paste types.

(About the Romanescos

Tomato Romanesco

Tomato Romanesco

… they are doing well. They are about 1-1.5 lb per tomato, relatively juicy and seedy, and have a pleasantly sharp acid taste. They make a great bread salad and do well with oil. I’ll probably save some seed and keep them going next year. )

Update 9/4/08  Here (below) is a picture of the heirloom tomato bed with the Romanescos on the right and the Brandywines on the left. The Romanescos are at 6 ft. and the Brandywines are over 8 ft. The Romanescos are more productive per sq ft but we still prefer the taste of Brandywines … and they don’t swamp us in tomatoes.

Romanescos (left) and Brandywines (right)

Romanescos (left) and Brandywines (right)

First the Speckled Romans. This is an heirloom variety that has become my standard for a great processing tomato. It is as large as a San Marzano but much better tasting (deeper tomato flavor and somewhat sweet) and not as prone to blight. More importantly, and unlike San Marzano types, it is only a moderate indeterminate and it produces uniformly over the extended season … none of the usual heavy crops followed by death to the plant. Variations in moisture in the ground don’t bother it too much either. It is fairly dry so a great canner (skinned, cored and seeded). My seeds from several vendors failed this year but low-and-behold I had a few plants self-sow in last year’s spot. If they come true to variety, I’ll save my own seed for next year. (Update: the plants that self-sowed were not Speckled Romans but a beefsteak that I had nearby. Oh well … we’ll get’em next year).

As for the Romas… I turned off of them a few years ago. They are too small for easy processing and kinda juicy for canning. The crop is too intense at one time and I always got too many bad tomatoes (black spot). But, I am trying something different this year. I have a pyramid made up of clay chimney liners … 7 on the base, 3 on the next level and 1 on top. They are filled with my own compost and each has a Roma in it. The plants are doing spectacularly well and most of them, since they are determinate, are not touching the ground. I’m hoping this will limit disease and keep the fruits from rotting. I also have a few plants traditionally planted. If we get a great crop, the wife and I are thinking of halving them, seeds and core out, and then drying them. (Update: They continue to do well but, as I remembered, it is unwise to let Romas ripen totally on the vine. If you try they will rot or attract every insect that ever tried to eat a tomato. I pick them when half ripe and ripen them in the house … much better. )

Oh … and my one Sweet 100 cherry (variety number 6) is half way up the 8 ft trellis by the deck. It is usually over the top by Labor Day.

Here in NE Ohio, I had tomatoes till late October last year and actually made it to Thanksgiving the year before. Sounds great but I am greedy. I leave them in too long and that makes it tough to prepare the garden for Winter and the coming growing season. You all know that a November tomato is not going to taste like an August tomato … but it does beat a shipped-in, store-bought tomato from most any month.

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