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The conditions this year were just such that I am now experiencing more megablooms than I’ve ever seen on more tomato varieties than ever. Even my parents got one on a potted tomato plant.

Megabloom on Red Brandywine

Megabloom on Malachite Box tomato

If I remember correctly, the weather was a cold, delayed early Spring; followed by a very wet, rainy late Spring; followed by a rather hot early Summer, with a cold snap that lasted a week or two; followed by the normal hot, dry Summer. One or more of these weather conditions made my tomato plants decide to put out some monster blooms. I’m excited about that though, as I get to watch the mega tomatoes growing and ripening. I’ll be picking them probably in 6 weeks!

The varieties that put out the megablooms were:

  • Malachite Box
  • Red Brandywine
  • Green Giant
  • Purple Calabash
  • plus Cherokee Purple (parents’ plant)

For more information about Megablooms, read my previous post here! 

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I’ve always said if you’re going to plant a tree, why not plant a fruiting tree? It’s a carryover from my philosophy about gardening. If you’re not vegetable gardening, than you’re not “really” gardening. Sure flowers are pretty, but can you eat them? Well, there are exceptions to that…

Anyway, 0ut by my compost pile is a landscaping hole. There are a row of arbor vitaeacross the width of our property with a 6 to 10 foot gap at the end. I always said I wanted to plant a tree there. But I never got around to it: the ground there needs a lot of prep work.

The red circle is where the tree is. It is still young and rather open so it's hard to see.

So 3 years ago already I noticed a tree growing spontaneously in that spot. I promptly cut it down as a weed. But the next year, it grew back with a twin trunk instead of a single. It grew too fast for me to cut it down again. And now in it’s 3rd year it’s back and is making … (wait for it) … fruit! Surprise! The tree I didn’t plant is a Mulberry and is making small mulberries fit to eat!

First clue: the leaves are variable in shape. Some are lobed like mittens, others are unlobed. But both have serated edges. They aren’t very glossy but are subtlely hairy. Next, the bark is smooth and light colored. Then there are the berries which resemble small black berries and start out white and turn to red then berry-black (aubergine).

While the tree is a White Mulberry, the fruit ripens to berry black. Notice how the stems get left on.

And finally, one branch was completely cocooned in silk and was full of 1 cm long green worms. Silk worms. Gross, but there it is.

Conclusion: God planted me a White Mulberry tree! I haven’t heard of that variety growing wild in these parts, usually it’s a standard Red Mulberry. But I’ll take it! Now we’ll have 2 Mulberry trees as I actually paid for and planted one as part of our tree order this spring. That variety is a Russian Morus Alba, also a White Mulberry.

I pruned off the silk worm branch, and did some other pruning too. And I picked off all the ripe berries. When I combined those with my raspberry pickings for the day, I got about a cup’s worth of mixed berries. Yum!

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In the world of tomato growing, there are many types to choose from. Sometimes it takes a few years to decide on you and your family’s favorite. There are cherries, grapes, saladettes, globes, tiny currants, and the beefsteaks. I’ve grown more of these than not and have decided the following:

Cherries or Grapes: Good if you like to eat tomatoes out of hand or in salads. Or if you like to sun-dry tomatoes. Good also if you like to make fresh tomato juice. But I don’t like to do any of those things. Basically they are very prolific over a long season so you’ll get lots. They tend to have thicker skin, lots of juice, and not much “meat” to actually chew on. An exploding tomato in my mouth is not something I particularly enjoy. Sorry.

Saladettes: These are usually small globes or plum shaped tomatoes. Green Zebra is a great example. Too big to be a Cherry, but too small usually for slicing up for sandwiches. These are not Paste tomatoes, as they are bred to be eaten fresh out of hand, so they have more juice and a more balanced flavor profile. Why don’t I like them? I don’t eat tomatoes in salads. And again, I don’t take a bite out of a fresh-picked tomato and enjoy it.

Paste: These are usually small plum shaped tomatoes but are grown on determinate (short) plants and have less juice for faster cooking times when making delicious sauces or salsas. Flavor profiles vary widely but they aren’t usually as balanced, tending to need the extra help of cooking to develop good flavors. They are also “supposed” to make ripe tomatoes all at once to get an extra large harvest. In my experience, the tomatoes are more susceptible to blossom-end-rot and mine never (ever) make ripe tomatoes all at once. Such a shame. And then you have to peel all those tiny tomatoes individually once you get enough to actually cook with.

Globes: These are probably the most popular shaped tomatoes and they are very versatile. You can slice them for sandwiches, dice them for salads, peel and cook them for sauces, dry them, or whatever. These come in every color and many different flavor profiles. So why don’t I prefer to grow these? For whatever reason I haven’t yet discovered, these don’t get very big in my garden. My favorite size for a tomato is 8 ounces. The maximum size a globe tomato will get in my garden is 8 ounces. So most of them are smaller. And since the fruit gradually get smaller as the season progresses, some only get to be 2 or 3 ounces. In other words, I want every tomato in my garden to be big enough to make it worth growing. 2 or 3 ounce globes aren’t worth it.

Beefsteaks: Yes! These are it for me! Since tomatoes gradually get smaller as the season progresses, and these varieties start out huge, by the time Fall rolls around and I bring in all the unripe green fruits, they are still big enough to do something with (such as my favorite, Fried Green Tomato Parmesan; or put in a paper bag and let ripen gradually before I cook them up into sauce). That is the main reason I grow mostly Beefsteak shaped tomatoes. Plus I love seeing how big they can be in the beginning of the season. Large, misshapen tomatoes make me smile! Plus the real only way I eat a raw tomato is in a sandwich (BLTs, duh!), or a hamburger. Fajitas are excellent too. Occasionally I’ll add some to a pasta salad. It’s extra fun when your huge 1 pound tomato makes enough slices to fill 4 or more sandwiches. And I love cooking with beefsteaks as peeling them is a cinch, you only need 3 or 4 to make a batch of sauce, and you don’t have to cook them that much longer than the much smaller Paste tomatoes.

In conclusion, gardening for your own pleasure means learning as you go. After a couple years experience, I’ve learned what I like. I don’t like cherry tomatoes, or peeling small paste tomatoes. I do like picking the first pounder of the year and making a delicious juicy sandwich. I can’t wait!

P.S. I’m not talking about the variety of tomato called “Beefsteak” in this post. Sorry for any confusion. Although in my opinion, calling a tomato “Beefsteak” is like naming your boy child “Guy” or your kitten “Kitty”, etc. Boring and obvious!

 

 

 

 

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See Part 1 of this topic here.

In the previous post, I went over how to cross reference seed catalogs with some great outside sources both paper and online. Now let’s pretend we’re on a hunt for a juicy slicing tomato that’ll be great in sandwiches for the summer. We’re going to stick to traditional types here and just look at pink or red tomatoes that look a lot like those at the grocery store, so globe shaped. Also, we’ll be growing in the ground so we can look at indeterminate varieties. And we don’t have any disease problems, so we don’t need to restrict the search to disease-resistant types.

We’ll start with Tomato Grower’s Supply catalog. Here are a couple that jump out at me and why:

Fireworks #6002 (30 seeds) $2.65
What makes this variety really special is that it is one of the largest, earliest red slicing tomatoes available, and it has excellent flavor. This combination of size, earliness, and good taste is truly uncommon, but Fireworks is an exceptional variety. Its bright red fruit are 6 to 8 ozs., round with a pointed tip, and borne quite heavily on vigorous plants. Indeterminate. 60 days.

Positive traits: indeterminate, early, still a decent size for slicing, and good taste.
The Skeptic in me says: early tomatoes, even if indeterminate usually have bland flavor. And the size listed is almost always the maximum size, not the average size, so I would guess you’d get tomatoes closer to 4 oz.
Cross references:
* Tatiana’s Tomato Base says: 4-8 oz and only “good” flavor, which isn’t great.
* Dave’s Plant Files says: 2 positive reviews, 2 negative and 1 neutral. In this case, even the positive reviews say the flavor is average.
Bottom Line Decision: keep on the list, but move from the “Grow” list to the “Maybe” list.

Costoluto Fiorentino #4974 (30 seeds) $2.75
This Italian heirloom variety from the Tuscany region produces loads of bright red tomatoes with terrific flavor. Tomatoes are typically about 8 ounces, but may be larger, with a smooth shape rather than the heavily ribbed shape typical of Costoluto Genovese. The flavor is high in sugar, but also high in acid, making for outstanding taste that’s wonderful fresh or made into sauces. Indeterminate. 80 days.

Positive traits: indeterminate, heirloom, 8 oz sounds like an average size, good flavor
The Skeptic in me says: is it consistently good or does it depend on growing conditions?
Cross references:
* Tatiana’s tomato base says: high yield and “excellent” flavor
* Dave’s Plant Files says: 1 negative and 1 neutral. Complaints that the tomatoes were undersized, mushy and bland.
Bottom Line Decision: keep on the list, but bear in mind flavor and output may be dependent on growing conditions more than variety genetics.

Let’s move on to the Baker Creek Catalog:

Arkansas Traveler Tomato
A medium-size pink tomato that is smooth and a beautiful rose color. An excellent heirloom from Arkansas, tolerant to heat and humidity; crack and disease resistant. Good flavor; an excellent Hillbilly favorite.

Positive traits: indeterminate, heirloom, tolerant of different growing conditions
The Skeptic in me says: how big is medium, and what is the days to maturity?
Cross references:
* Tatiana’s tomato base says: 80 days and “very good” flavor
* Dave’s Plant Files says: 12 positives and 2 neutrals, wow! Consensus says size is variable but overall a heavy producer of pretty good tasting tomatoes.
Bottom Line Decision: Baker Creek’s own reviewers were glowing about it being disease-tolerant. I’d keep this one on the “Grow” list for sure.

Depp’s Pink Firefly
An historical Kentucky heirloom that dates to 1890 in Glasgow, KY. One-pound fruit are deep pink, creamy and full-flavored: sweet and tangy. Named for the fruit’s iridescence that can sparkle in the light, reminiscent of fireflies on a summer night, and the Depp family who preserved the seed. Vigorous potato leaf vines produce well. Quite rare. $2.50

Positive traits: indeterminate, heirloom, full-flavored
The Skeptic in me says: Baker Creek is notorious for omitting the days to maturity in their descriptions, also this is a potato leaved plant famous for making great tasting tomatoes, but more susceptible to disease in my garden. I think it’s also a beefsteak more than a globe tomato.
Cross references:
* Tatiana’s tomato base says: 80-85 days, with excellent flavor, 12 to 16 oz each beefsteak shaped fruits.
* Dave’s Plant Files says: 1 positve, 1 neutral reviews, both complaining of slow ripening (late variety).
Bottom Line Decision: This is on my personal “Grow” list for the future, despite it being a later potato leaved variety. For the example here though, for wanting a summer slicing tomato I’d cross it off altogether as maturing too late in the season. How many people want to eat BLT sandwiches in September or later?

The Bottom Line:
Looks like we’ll be growing Arkansas Traveler for sure, and possibly getting Fireworks. If we really want an early variety, our best bet would be to get a determinate but with the knowledge that the flavor isn’t always up to par with other, later types. If I only wanted to order from one company to save on shipping, sorting through Baker Creek is a harder job as the tomatoes are sorted solely by color, forcing the gardener to read through each description to find the medium-sized globes and determinate varieties.

But that’s what all of winter is for, right? Studying up on the catalogs like you’re preparing for your final exam in tomatoes. And if you pick the “wrong” types this year, there’s plenty more to choose from for next year! And don’t forget that swapping varieties with other gardeners through online forums can really save on cash and shipping, plus you get the first-hand account of how the varieties grew in their gardens.

Have fun!

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When I was first starting out selecting tomato varieties, I was overwhelmed by the catalogs glowing descriptions. How could every tomato be this good? How is someone supposed to choose honestly amidst all the positive descriptions and pick something that is the best for them? How do you narrow it down when the seed company’s job is to sell you seed packets?

After a few years pouring over glossy seed catalogs, I think I’ve discovered a non-biased way of reading between the adjectives and picking the very best tomato varieties for me.

Important information:

  • determinate or indeterminate (or growth habit)
  • hybrid or heirloom
  • best use (paste or cooking, salad, or slicing)
  • color
  • taste (subjective but key words to look for are: balanced, sweet or tart, fruity, old fashioned–see this post)

Cross references:
These are my secret weapons in the search for non-biased information about varieties. I try to check as many as I can, usually sticking with online resources as they are only a few clicks away and can be looked up quickly. The books are more limited in their selection, but can be quite detailed. Some seed catalogs have online reviews by customers, but those are really hit or miss.
Amy Goldman’s The Heirloom Tomato
Carolyn Male’s 100 Heirloom Tomatoes
Tatiana’s Tomato Base
Dave’s Garden Plant Files: Tomatoes
Baker Creek Customer Reviews (very limited)

First Steps before diving into the Seed Catalogs:

  1. What is your intended use for the tomato? If you mainly just want to make marinara sauce to last through a delicious Italian-themed winter, you shouldn’t waste your time reading about beefsteak varieties. Stick to the Paste section. If you think you want to have a couple BLT sandwiches over summer as well, then you should plant more than one variety, a paste (or a couple of paste types) and either a beefsteak or a globe tomato.
  2. How will you grow the tomato? If you are planting in the ground, space isn’t as much of an issue and you can try and get the biggest tomato plants you want. But if you are limited to containers, you’ll want to stick to determinate varieties or short indeterminates.
  3. How long is your growing season? If you live in zone 7 and have a long season, you can afford to look at varieties with maturity dates of 90 days. But if you are like me and live in zone 5, you’ll want to stick to tomatoes that mature in 80 days or less. This will assure you’ll actually get some tomatoes (and possibly a second flush of tomatoes) before frost.
  4. Are you open to non-traditional types like fun colors or potato-leaved foliage?Then have fun exploring the tomato descriptions for white, yellow, orange, and green fleshed varieties as well as striped, spotted, and ones with variegated leaves.  Otherwise, you could just stick with red or pink globes.To be Continued in Part 2!

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A bowl of Tomatoes: cherry, paste, salad, and slicing.

A tomato is actually a complex combination of tastes that stimulate the tongue in 3 key areas: sweet, sour, and savory. A good tomato will have all three flavors working in combination that explode in a medley called “balanced.”

Seed catalogs commonly use these adjectives to describe a tomato with more of one flavor over the others:

  • More Sour: tangy, tart, acidic, old-fashioned, “tomatoey,” assertive, bold, citrus flavor
  • More Sweet: sweet, fruity, tropical, mild, refreshing, sugary, low-acid
  • More Savory: earthy, rich, complex, meaty, salty, spicy
  • A Balanced taste may be described as: balanced, complex, excellent, exceptional, intense, delicious, outstanding, flavorful.

These flavors can be charted in a grid, with low acid and high acid on one side and low sugar and high sugar on the other side. (Thanks to Amy Goldman for this explanation in her book.)

High Acid Poor/Tart Good/Balanced
Low Acid Poor/Tasteless Fair/Bland
Low Sugar High Sugar
  • Tomatoes with both low acid and low sugar are tasteless and of poor quality.
  • Tomatoes with low sugar and high acid are of poor quality and taste too tart. [See Lime Green Salad]
  • Tomatoes with high sugar but low acid can taste bland but are of fair quality. [See Bicolor, Salsa]
  • And tomatoes with both high sugar and high acid are considered both sweet and tart and are of good quality. [See Pruden’s Purple]
  • A tomato with high sugar, high acid, plus that something extra (the inclusion of a savory taste) are considered excellent quality both rich and complex.

A good tomato will also have good juice and good texture or mouth feel. Canning or paste tomatoes are often mealy in texture and naturally have less juice for reduced cooking times. Favorite slicing tomatoes will have a smooth mouth feel and be fairly juicy.

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It’s inevitable: as soon as a new friend finds out that I have a vegetable garden, they immediately want to come over and “see” it, as well as get hints and tips even if they are currently renting and have no land available to grow anything. I guess a fascination with growing things is instinctual in most people.

The only problem is that my garden is, well, embarrassing! Yes, I spend hours tending it, preparing the ground with manure, have an active compost pile, and am usually out there for at least a few minutes every day. But it is u-g-l-y and I ain’t got no alibi. How can I ever say “Yes” to any new friends when I’ve got:

  • weeds,
  • untrimmed grass,
  • straw for mulch,
  • a floating “deck” that just sits in the yard abandoned,
  • more weeds,
  • an obstacle course to navigate to the hose faucet,
  • a rusty a/c unit,
  • a massive pile of wood chips covering the patio,
  • piles of unused bags of manure and topsoil,
  • even more weeds,
  • unused ladders and chicken wire leaning against the house,
  • a gross algae-covered birdbath,
  • a three foot high tree stump,
  • firewood that never got piled neatly,
  • not to mention our yard backs up to the highway,
  • etc.

The list goes on and on. Unsightly! I’d rather present my friend with a small basket of delicious produce and pretend that my garden looks like those you see in magazines or fancy parks. Keep the mystery alive, right?

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