A Plant a Day till Spring” will highlight one plant a day, starting on the winter solstice (December 21, 2013)… And ending on the vernal equinox (March 20, 2014)… If all goes to plan I will be starting with old Snowdrop photos from 2013… And ending with new photos of Snowdrops in 2014…
3 Days to Go
Allow me to start this off by saying I am working on a series of posts dedicated to tomatoes… It was originally intended to be just a single post but has blossomed into so much information I have no choice but to break it up… Consider this post a teaser…
Tomatoes are the most popular garden plant grown today… In fact… I think it is safe to assume that if you have ever grown a vegetable garden… You have grown… Or attempted to grow tomatoes… Currently “heirloom” and “grafted” varieties are trending… Heirloom varieties in particular were at one time only available from specific seed catalogs and specialty nurseries… Now I regularly see them at the big box stores… Furthermore… I find them in the discount box stores… And I have to admit… They are relatively decent plants given the fact that they are ALWAYS cared for by inexperienced people who don’t give a damn about the plant…
Which brings me to my first two points… Heirloom or Conventional?.. And the much more recent option… Own-root or grafted?..
To answer the first question there are a few misconceptions I must answer… Heirloom varieties are touted for being available in cool colors and sizes… And they come in many variations of texture and flavor… And personally I will admit… As anyone with experience in heirloom tomatoes will tell you… The flavor of a vine ripened heirloom tomato like “Cherokee Purple”… Or my absolute favorite “Brandywine” is unequalled by any of the “standard” variety tomatoes available today…
Heirloom variety seeds were often handed down through generations until they were at some point discovered by horticulturists… These seeds were collected and studied until they eventually became available to the public… Some varieties have skipped the science step and have gone from grandmas cupboard to the seed catalogs rather hastily…
There is just one little problem with many of these varieties… The most common issue you will run into is many heirloom varieties are not heavy producers… I am currently thinking of the variety “Cherokee Purple”… Although this variety grows some of the most incredible tasting tomatoes you will ever eat… It only grows a few tomatoes in a season… Albeit they are very high-quality tomatoes…
This brings me to my next question and point… Own-root or grafted?.. For this I am going to again reference my “Cherokee Purple”… The purpose of the rootstock is to make the plant more vigorous… And Honestly… This is a “non-problem”… I don’t know about you… But I don’t have a problem with my tomato plants not growing fast enough… Or vigorous enough… In my own experience the grafted varieties grow really fast… But they are often attached to heirloom varieties that do not produce a ton of fruit… So what you often end up with is an extremely green and large plant… But it will still only grow as many fruit as the same variety on its original root… Grafted varieties tend to get unruly faster than own-root plants…
So to sum that up… I am anti-grafted tomato plants… I believe they are trendy… That’s all they are now and that is all they will be… Don’t waste your money… Heirloom varieties on the other hand I am all for… I will say this… Do some research… Do not go to the nursery without an idea of what you want… It is easy to get lost when you are surrounded in varieties…
The nursery at the end of my street sells over 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes… If you don’t know a thing about the specific nuances of a variety you will end up buying plants you don’t want… Make a list and go prepared… Otherwise… You may end up with the plants that aren’t selling well… And trust me… Out of the hundred varieties available up the street… I would say only 10 are true stars among the crowd… If that…
Another very serious issue associated with heirloom variety tomatoes is the lack of blight resistance in many varieties… Blight has become increasingly common in my neck of the woods… So much so in fact that last year we experienced a mortality rate of nearly 100%… Not to say we didn’t get our hands on a few here and there… But by the end of the summer almost every tomato plant I saw looked like the plant in the photograph above…
I predicted this would happen a few years ago… The problem being caused by the nursery up the street… Now… It’s important to mention that I am not saying they caused the blight… What I am saying is the availability of tomato plants in my neighborhood has meant that everyone has at least a few… A side product of the love of organic gardening is the love of composting… Again… Not really an issue… But when an inexperienced gardeners plants die of blight they often have no clue what it is… Or how to deal with the dead plant… They very often throw it in the compost heap where the disease festers for the winter… The next year the disease is already present in the yard… And as a result late blight is a guarantee…
Plants that have late blight should be pulled immediately… Once you see signs it is too late… The plants should be disposed of as opposed to composted… This should be done in bright sunlight because apparently the spores are killed by UV light… Never handle blight infected plants in the rain… Again… Bright-sunshine only…
I have so much more information… And I owe much of it to the fact that over 100 varieties are available right up the street… For those interested… The name of the place is – Garden Dreams Urban Farm and Nursery – If you happen to go please tell them I sent you…
This post has gotten out of hand… Sorry… I will start releasing my larger series closer to tomato season…
plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello
If you want some science – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomato
These “Plant a Day Till Spring” posts are simply intended to kill time until spring when I start writing more… My source (where applicable) is Wikipedia.org… The photography is all my own… And I am adding my own information…
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Chris, I have been searching for the perfect tomato all my adult life and haven’t found any that taste like they did in my childhood. I haven’t had a vegetable garden since college but am planting tomatoes this summer. So many of our friends give homegrowns to us we’ve never felt the need to plant them. But none of them have the flavor I’m searching for. So I finally decided to plant my own. And here you feature exactly what I need. This series arrived just in time. I’m searching for taste over quantity and this post and your top five are a huge help. I look forward to the rest. Thank you!
what kind of tomato flavor do you like?
I am guessing maybe “old time flavor”? But do you also like things a bit more sweet or acidic, or a good balance? Do you like smoky or complex flavors?
Usually the white and yellow tomatoes are a bit more perceptually sweet (there are exceptions) than other types, if that is what you like.
If you like complex flavors, you may find a love affair with dark tomatoes (the purple, black, burgundy, brick and mahogany and dark greens, etc).
here, there are many things written on taste, so here is a shortcut for me:
Besides the varieties Chris listed, here are a few off the cuff from my 2014 growout that may be of interest to you:
Box Car Willie –
Aker’s West Virginia
any of the Brandywine colors, or family-line versions or the one from Croatia, etc
okay, so my picks lean towards more dark tomatoes, but this should give you a good bit to start your search with. Not all are heirloom, per se, but some come from natural or intentional crosses. Keep in mind, not all crosses or breeding projects focus on uniform color and size and thick skin and other traits of market tomatoes that have bred out taste and texture.
consult tatiana’s site to read up on each variety:
or any other database on tomato cultivars (some are more comprehensive but are not native english)
tatiana’s also has links to known vendors and seed banks for any variety listed, and keeps indexes of who sold it in the past.
Saw this comment in my email and had to fast track it… A good list…
i have never used any rootstock for grafting, but I think for serious competitors in growing giants, those trying for the 4, 5, 6, 7 or going for 8 pounders, I can see some validity to such a practice.
top photo: maybe Striped Roman?
or perhaps a Tom Wagner breeding project?
Even in blight…beauty. Thanks for sharing, Chris.
I mentioned before that I’m a newby gardener. I used to plant my tomatoes, which gave me a fair crop, in the backyard, in the veggie garden. The plants did well for a while, gave me a few tomatoes, and then they all perished for no apparent reason. I got new seedlings and one landed in the front garden amongst the lilies. I’ve even forgotten that I put one there. It grew out of propotion, produces so many tomatoes I can’t eat them all. I’ve let the plant sprawl along the ground as it seemed happy that way. The others I made struts for and the branches kept breaking. It seems to be developing roots along the branches so it might spread even more. At this stage I could live of one plant only. I already made jam and am now hunting tomato relish recipes for the rest. I hate wasting them! They’re just tomatoes, I had no idea there were so many varieties. It’s the ‘usual’ squat red fruit.
But as an artist I personally believe you know more about gardening than most gardeners.
That’s sheer encouragement. Thanks. Am planning an enclosure for a proper veggie patch, with mesh wire, to keep the monkeys out. They’ve discovered pumpkins are eatable too. For some reason they don’t eat tomatoes. Then I can have beans, peas, carrots, brinjals … will be nice.
Really looking forward to the series. Will you give a sneak peak and reveal top producing heirlooms now? Honestly, I have only had heirlooms purchased from a high-quality grower at the farmer’s market. I have got to say that they have not approached the flavor of my dad’s hybrid Jetstars. If I ever have time, I will develop the Jetstar hybrid to F5 or F6 so that it is reliable.
Sure… I’ll give my top five…
1. Brandywine – Only produces one or two fruit per plant but they are well worth it… Large red tomato with a slight purple tinge… More sweet than acid…
2. Sungold cherry tomato – The first heirloom variety I ever tried… Bright orange nickel sized fruit that are so sweet they could be a desert… A single plant will produce enough for a family… Fruit is prone to cracking the moment they are past ripe… So eat as many as you can…
3. Cherokee Purple – Another variety that focuses on size and quality as opposed to quantity… But oh so worth it… The flavor is described as smokey… To emphasize my point… One of my favorite meals in the summer is tomato, basil, mayo and bacon sandwiches… Brandywine and CP heirloom tomatoes have made me omit the bacon… Because it takes away from the flavor of the tomato… Now if that’s not an endorsement… Nothing is…
4. Garden Peach – There’s no other way to describe this tomato than a fresh peach… This is a peach sized yellow-peach colored tomato that is kinda fuzzy… You guessed it… Like a peach… The flavor is sweet… As far as using it for stuff… Couldn’t tell yah… Never had one make it out of the garden alive… This plant requires a lot of sunlight or the fruit will get soft…
5. Pineapple – A large yellow tomato that reveals a rainbow when it is sliced into… The flavor is slightly acidic… Good sliced with salt and pepper… Each plant will produce one or two softball sized fruit…
Hope this helps…
🙂 I asked for top PRODUCERS and you gave me top FLAVOR. Makes me laugh. I ordered all heirloom seeds for the garden we will sell from, and I’m hoping we’ll have enough to sell. 😉 … Thanks.
I think my top producer would have to be Mortgage Lifter… Or Hillbilly Flame… I forgot you are on a working farm… Let me think about this for a day or two… I may reach out to a friend as well…
Out of curiosity… What did you order?
Thanks, Chris! We got Mortgage Lifter, Black Krim, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Eva Purple Ball, Paul Robeson, Isis Candy Cherry, Italian Heirloom, Nyagous, Speckled Roman, Gypsy, and Carbon. The soil was grass until last fall, so we have our fingers crossed: XX.