Monthly Archives: September 2010

Google Reader Folks!

Just a heads up for all you Google Reader followers…Some of these posts that have lots of pictures are truly ghastly when they show up in Google Reader. I’m open to suggestions on how to fix it. Otherwise, either please bear with me or click through to read the posts on the blog, where the formatting isn’t so terrible. Thank you!

How Did the Tomatoes Do?

We had 14 different tomato varieties and one tomatillo in the Demo Garden this summer. (Yes, they’re still growing, but I don’t think my analysis is going to change in the next month.) Some of them were clear winners, others had good and bad points. Of course, because we only had one plant of each variety, this is a very anecdotal analysis and not remotely close to scientific research. You can take this with a grain of salt when determining what you want to plant next year.

Celebrity – Actually, I was really disappointed in Celebrity. It cracks terribly…it was much worse about cracking than the heirlooms, which is pretty impressive! We lost a number of tomatoes because they were so badly cracked that they rotted on the plant while not even close to ripe. Yuck! Yield was decent. Flavor was decent. The plant is pretty healthy, so it is blooming again and setting new tomatoes for the fall, which is a plus.

Brandywine – While the flavor of this heirloom was good, the 4 or 5 tomatoes we got was not super impressive. It was also very late producing and the first plant to get any Early Blight. It is still alive and I think there are some flowers on it, but I’m not holding my breath for more tomatoes. Cracking wasn’t bad, maybe because it was dry by the time it started ripening fruit.

Orange Blossom

Orange Blossom – VERY early producer, but horrible cracking! Terrible! Worse than Celebrity! Fruit were on the small side, and the orange fruit were mild, almost bland. After the initial production, there weren’t any fruit for the rest of the summer, although there are a few flowers again now.

Sweet Seedless – Surprisingly, this one had a decent yield of moderate to small tomatoes that actually tasted quite

Sweet Seedless

good. I don’t recall any cracking (remember how scientific I said this all was?), and of course it sports no seeds in the locular gel. (Um, yeah…”locular gel” is the jelly-like part that the seeds are in. It’s one of those terms that we horticulture folk like to trot out occasionally.) It has pretty much petered out on the production.

JTO-99197 – This variety’s claim to fame is that it is supposedly resistant to Early Blight, one of our biggest foliar disease issues. It didn’t have a bad case of Early Blight, but that doesn’t mean much, since only the Brandywine had enough Early Blight to be an issue. We really didn’t have enough disease this year to make it a decent test. It was also a later producer, which isn’t necessarily bad if you plant some earlier producers too. I wouldn’t consider the yield spectacular and the tomatoes didn’t seem to crack much. They were pretty hard – uh, firm, and I don’t think I managed to taste one of these when I actually knew for sure which variety it was.

Sunmaster – This is one of two varieties we tried that supposedly can set fruit under high heat conditions. While we

Sunmaster (Top) & 2 Solar Fire (Bottom)

had plenty of high heat conditions this summer, the problem is that this is a determinate variety. Meaning it grew, then flowered and set fruit, and then all the tomatoes ripened. It wasn’t actually trying to set tomatoes during our interminable weeks of hot weather, so it doesn’t have any tomatoes on it now, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have set during the heat, just that it finished that phase of its life before that trait was needed. All that said, it had good yield and definitely the largest fruit of the hybrid varieties. Very firm, no cracking. Average flavor. Later producing.

Solar Fire – Other heat set variety, same as above but with slightly smaller tomatoes. (More like Celebrity in size.) Later producing.

Brandymaster & Rose

Brandymaster Red – Hybrid version of Brandywine. Much earlier, in fact, one of the earliest varieties. However, it cracked horribly (not quite as bad as Celebrity, but close). Although the plant grew like an indeterminate, it produced more like a determinate, with lots of tomatoes early, and none since then. I didn’t care though, because the tomatoes weren’t that tasty.  I would rather have 5 Brandywine tomatoes all summer than 15 of these.

Rose – Another heirloom that was reputed to be very similar to Brandywine. Later than the earlier hybrids, but about the same as JTO99197, Solar Fire, and Sunmaster. Much earlier than Brandywine, but with the same pretty pink color. These were slightly smaller than the Brandywine tomatoes and they didn’t exhibit any catfacing (the twisted, contorted shapes on the blossom end that many heirlooms exhibit), which I was surprised by. The fruit didn’t crack either, which was a pleasant surprise. This was also the clear winner in flavor this year. Yum! Yield was decent for an heirloom – I think 8 tomatoes on a single plant.

Sweet Cluster

Sweet Cluster – This is a smaller “cluster” tomato (think the ones you get “on the vine” at the grocery store). It was pretty early to start producing and is still producing. It was pretty consistent in having a few tomatoes every week. The tomatoes were quite small, and only the first couple weeks did we have easily definable “clusters.” No cracking and above average to good flavor.

Chocolate Cherry

Chocolate Cherry – We had this purple/brown cherry tomato last year, and it was excellent both years. Heavy production on a single plant, tomatoes didn’t get smaller through the season, no breaks in production, no cracking, great flavor. I’m a huge fan of this tomato.

SunCherry – Another cherry tomato we had last year and again this year. It is supposed to be very early, but apparently a nutrient deficiency or something delayed production this year. Tasty, but the fruit get tiny after the midpoint of the season. I mean REALLY tiny.  It was also our only tomato plant to get spider mites this year. Not sure what that was about.

RFT-6153 – A field production variety that the Master Gardeners grew to great acclaim 3 or 4 years ago, which tons of tomatoes ripening all at once. It definitely wasn’t that good this year, but it does have nearly mature green tomatoes on it right now, which means that it set some fruit while it was still beastly hot. That is impressive. Average size, pretty firm, average flavor. Minimal cracking.

4th of July – Very popular home garden variety that is an early producer. Like Sweet Cluster, it has small fruit and it produced pretty consistently throughout the summer. Good flavor, minimal cracking.


Toma Verde Tomatillo – My first time growing a true tomatillo, and it had tons of flowers early. It took awhile to set fruit and become productive, and overall, it wasn’t as productive as I thought it should be. It tasted like a tomatillo…I’m not enough of a connoisseur to tell you anything more than that. I also thought the tomatillos were a bit on the small side for my expectations.

That’s all I have to say about our tomatoes this year! Pretty much a mixed bag this year, although the smaller-fruited varieties definitely did better than the larger-fruited varieties. Of the hybrids, if I had to pick a winner it would probably be the RFT-6153 (although I personally don’t think it compares well to some of the other common hybrids that we didn’t grow). I really liked the Rose, but I will give the heirlooms a break on yield if they taste great. As I said, I’d rather have 6 tomatoes I really enjoy than a bushel that I will only eat after making them into spaghetti sauce. (Unless my intention is to can spaghetti sauce, which is another discussion.)

What tomatoes (if any) did well for you this year?

Friday PhotoEssay

Friday sure came fast this week! That whole Labor Day Weekend thing puts quite a cramp in my blogging style. Happily, the garden is enjoying the still hot but not so ridiculous temperatures we’re experiencing. The fall veggies are going strong, promising another 2+ months of gardening.

Somehow I feel like this cantaloupe plant is confused as to what time of year it actually is. It is still blooming…in September! I haven’t dug around to see if there are any new cantaloupes set on, but just the fact that it’s still blooming is rather amazing to me. It doesn’t even seem to be fazed by any insects or diseases.

The caterpillars have abandoned our fennel plants after eating them to sticks and have turned their attention to our parsley. They are making short work of it too. I’ve also seen these caterpillars testing out grape leaves and gomphrena flowers. I think our butterfly caterpillar population might be getting out of control.

Speaking of insects getting out of control, the flea beetles are making a comeback and have found our fall radishes and Bok Choy. I sense neem oil in their future!

Our single surviving apple is starting to turn red! A couple weeks ago, I was asked if I was sure that it was supposed to be a red apple, since it was just hanging out and being green. I double checked the tag and the catalog, and ‘Crimson Spire’ is supposed to be red. It’s exciting that it is actually starting to turn red!

We have Hyacinth Beans planted out along our trellis, but they are enjoying growing on the inside of the trellis too. They have just started blooming vigorously in the last couple weeks.

The hordes of tiny grasshoppers that were enjoying the garden this spring thankfully didn’t turn into hordes of huge grasshoppers eating everything in sight this summer and fall. However, this guy is enjoying the citrus marigolds.

I guess this is the time to mention that I’m going to be out of town a lot for the next 3 weeks for various work activities. I will probably post once or twice a week, but not a lot more than that. At some point in here, I’m going to write up my comments on all the different varieties of things we’ve tried this year, so be watching for that.

Have a great weekend!

Pulling Tomatoes

At this time of the season, the inclination of most gardeners is to start pulling things out, starting with whatever looks the worst. This year (and probably most years), the tomatoes definitely win the prize for looking the worst. Well, okay, so we already pulled out the nasty squash and cucumbers. But I know the tomatoes are next on the list.

The tomato plants  truly look quite sad, even though we didn’t actually have spider mites this summer. (I have no idea why not, since it was so hot, but I’m not complaining!) They are also largely done producing the summer crop of tomatoes. Ugly plants + little to no production = getting rid of said plants, right? Well…maybe not so fast.

Look at that! It’s like they knew what was coming, and as soon as the heat broke a couple weeks ago, they went to work setting new tomatoes, daring us to tear them out with the promise of more tomatoes yet before cold weather sets in.

Look at all those flowers! How could you possibly pull out all that promise of more fruit?!? Of course, the reality is that as the days get shorter and cooler, these tomatoes will take longer and longer to mature and ripen. We’re getting to the point where it will be tight as far as the fruit even being mature green, which will ripen to red on the counter. (Not that we can’t still eat them…green tomato pie, anyone?)

What would you do? Pull them out regardless? Leave them until the bitter end? What are you doing with your tomatoes? We haven’t done a poll at all this year, so this seems like  good opportunity!

Last Chance for Lunch in the Garden!

Your last chance to attend Lunch in the Garden for this summer is tomorrow, Sept. 10th at 12:15. We will be talking about using Sage & Mint, two herbs that are usable from the garden for most of the year, but particularly during the cooler parts of the year. I think the recipe I’m using will also feature parsnips, which are a pretty uncommon vegetable, so if you want to try parsnips without having to cook them yourself, this is a great opportunity!