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2017 Garden Plans: Beds 5 & 6 – Tomatoes

Several years ago, when tomato grafting was a relatively new technique, we did try out the grafting method in the demo garden. However, that turned out to be 2011, when it got hot so early and stayed hot for so long that pretty much no one had any tomatoes to speak of for the whole year. Needless to say, all we really learned was that the grafted plants were healthier.

This year, because of our rotations, we needed to put the tomatoes in the shorter beds, beds 5 and 6. Since we have the two smaller beds, we thought it would be a good opportunity to try a comparison of Grafted vs Non-Grafted tomatoes again.

What is tomato grafting? This is a process where the variety you want is grafted (fused) to a root system of a variety that has other characteristics you may want, such as disease resistance. This is one way to be able to grow heirloom tomatoes without the necessity of lots of rotation. Grafting has also been shown to increase the vigor and yield potential of most varieties.

We are trying 3 different varieties – ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Momotaro,’ and ‘Legend.’ We will have 2 grafted plants of each variety in one bed and 2 non-grafted plants of each variety in the other bed. In one bed, we had a little bit more space, so we opted to try a plant that is grafted to have 2 varieties on the same plant. This plan will be half ‘San Marzano’ and half ‘Cuore di Bue.’

‘Cherokee Purple’ is probably one of the most common and popular heirloom varieties. It is a purple skinned and fleshed variety with excellent flavor and decent yield.

‘Momotaro’ is a Japanese variety with dark pink skin and flesh. It is a hybrid slicer variety that has a reputation for excellent flavor.

‘Legend’ is a determinate red slicer that has late blight resistance. Not that we ever have an issue with late blight. It is also early producing and is also reputed to have great flavor.

‘San Marzano’ and ‘Cuore di Bue’ are both heirloom paste tomatoes. The ‘San Marzano’ is a more traditional Roma and the ‘Cuore di Bue’ is a no heart type.

Tomatoes: What Did Well, What Did Not

I’ve heard from a lot of gardeners this year that they had a poor tomato year. On one hand, I know that some of my tomato plants at home struggled as well. On the other hand, most of our plants in the Demo Garden did very well. My theory is that due to our rainfall this year, most average gardens were constantly losing nitrogen to leaching and the plants showed it. My plants at home were never as vigorous and lush as I would expect, and I blame it on lack of fertility.

Why did our Demo Garden tomatoes thrive? I think the fact that we incorporated 3-5″ of compost into the beds in the spring played an important role. We didn’t even add additional fertilizer, and the plants looked good all year long. I suspect that had we NOT had a rainy year, we would have had poor production due to excess nitrogen.

All that aside, we still had some obvious differences in our varieties this year.

Easy Winners

Esterina

29262598361_a797c5790aI know I’ve mentioned this variety multiple times over the summer, so it can’t be much of a surprise that it turns up as an easy winner. The flavor is like eating candy, the plants were vigorous and prolific, and the fruit didn’t crack no matter what the weather did. If you like sweet cherry tomatoes, I can’t recommend this variety highly enough. 

Good Performers

Beefy Boy

This is the second year that we had Beefy Boy in the garden. It performed well again this year. The fruit were good sized and the yield was also good. Again this year, there was some significant cracking. But…almost everything cracked this year, as most years. 

Tiren

The Tiren tomatoes are the ones that are in the front, slightly to the right of center. Overall, I really liked this tomato. For a large-fruited roma, it was quite prolific and, in fact, still had fruit on it until late this fall. The fruit had very little seed gel, and the flavor was very good for a modern, hybrid roma. (Believe me, many hybrid romas are not so tasty!) The fruit shape was a little odd. The biggest complaint I have with the variety is that almost all the fruit had a small spot of blossom end rot. Now, this could be largely related to this year’s weather. Or it could be a common, every year occurrence. I didn’t hold it against the variety this year, but if it were to be the same or worse in other seasons, I would probably become less keen on the variety. 

Orange Slice

This variety is another orange slicer, similar to the Chef’s Choice Orange that we grew last year. For whatever reason, I don’t have any good pictures of this variety. The tomato in the upper right corner of the above picture is one of the Orange Slice fruit, although not a fully ripe example. 

This picture from the tasting day shows the bright orange color much better. It was the clear winner in our tasting with the Master Gardeners. 

While it had good production, large fruit, and the same tendency to crack as most of the other varieties, I think I would probably prefer the Chef’s Choice Orange over this one. It’s hard to say when comparing one year to the next, but I think the Chef’s Choice was more prolific. Still, this was a good tomato. 

Goliath Original

This is one of the “Goliath” series tomatoes, the Original, as you may have guessed. It typically has large fruit, about 16 oz. I would say that it performed very comparably to Orange Slice and Beefy Boy. From a flavor standpoint, I thought it was a little sweeter and less acidic than some of the other red varieties. 

Worth Another Try, Sometime

Purple Bumblebee

This cherry tomato variety is part of the Artisan tomato series. It has a pink to maroon color with green stripes. For whatever reason, this plant was exceptionally vigorous (maybe too much compost?) and seemed to be not as productive for its size as you might wish. The flavor got mixed reviews. It was much more acidic and less sweet than others. I think the less-than-perfectly-ripe fruit were not as tasty, definitely. Still, it was a fun variety to try growing. 

Lucky Tiger Cherry

I had high hopes for this variety, another in the Artisan series. Naturally, it was a bit disappointing. The Lucky Tiger Cherry was green with a red blush when ripe. Unfortunately, the result was ugly rather than attractive. This variety also cracked terribly and the plants succumbed to disease when most of the others did not. The yield was pretty good, but the flavor also left something to be desired. Highly acidic flavor, but not much else. 

Verona

Verona was marketed as a tomato that was similar to Juliet but even tastier. Without having a true, side-by-side comparison, it is difficult to say for sure. However, Juliet rarely cracks. This variety cracked constantly. Not a good sign! The flavor was nice, but I would be hard pressed to say that it was better than a Juliet. The yield was good, but not the exceptional yield I expect from a Juliet. So…I wouldn’t call this variety the new, improved Juliet! 

Not Worth It

Black Beauty

The only picture I have of this plant is from when it was newly transplanted. This variety set almost no fruit, the fruit set was late, and what fruit it did set was cracked and rotten before we could harvest or taste it. There is the chance that the excess compost played a role in the lack of productivity, but I’m going to be hard pressed to want to try this one again. 

Early Doll

Another one with no pictures! This was supposed to be an improved variety of Early Girl, with an early days to maturity of 52 days. This plant didn’t have ripe fruit until well after most of the other varieties were producing. Could this have been a weather issue? Yes. So try it if you like, but I’m not overly keen to try it again. 

Those are my thoughts on our regular garden tomatoes for this year. I’ll have another post to discuss the container varieties. 

Friday PhotoEssay – September 2, 2016

It’s hard to believe that it is somehow September. I associate September with fall, and the nights are certainly getting cooler, but the garden still looks like a summer jungle.

29307739796_b3a214cf03_z

I both really enjoy this garden season – when everything is still mostly lush and overgrown – and get really annoyed by it! Primarily I get annoyed when I have to try to get from one end of the garden to the other, as many of the paths are encroached upon by plants that have gotten floppy.

28720451223_1d888b5404Speaking of floppy, lush, and overgrown, the ‘Esterina’ cherry tomato continues to impress. It had a couple weeks of slower production (probably coinciding with earlier hot temps), but has bounced back with a vengeance. The plants themselves are not overly attractive anymore, but who cares when you have this many scrumptious tomatoes to eat?!?

29307916766_ef455eb214In the “overgrown” category, we found this bean hiding amongst all the leaves and vines on the trellises in the Oriental Garden. It is one of our Winged Beans that we gave up on months ago and planted the Chinese Long Beans. Apparently at least one of the plants survived and has finally started producing a few pods. If you think it looks like a green bean or pea pod with green feathers sticking out the corners, you would be right.

29054224990_6bddaa81d9Yet another case of both lush and overgrown, the purple pole beans on the trellis in the purple garden are quite jungle-ish and have finally starting producing in the last week.

29341700315_a71a085517There was a point earlier in the season where I didn’t think the hops were going to reach their full potential this year. Clearly I was wrong on that count! In the past few weeks they went from barely covering the tomato cage to having grown all the way up, and then back down.

29054135690_a42e8f55faWith so many peppers in the garden this year, I sometimes feel like I’m doing Friday Pepper-Essays. Just one pepper picture this week! This is the Tabasco pepper plant. The peppers start green, fade to pale green, then turn orange, then red. I’ve started looking up homemade hot sauce recipes!

Have a great Labor Day weekend!

Garden Recipe Roundup

When we have some less common veggies in the garden, I always try to cook something with a few of them to show how they might be used and to give them a fair taste test. Many of you know that I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, but I decided that I should give an eggplant dish a try anyway. I also made stewed okra and tomatoes, because I’ve never really cooked with okra before and wanted to try it in a form other than breaded and fried.

First up: Thai Fried Eggplant with Basil

I like Thai food, and we had all the recipe and sauce ingredients on hand, so it worked out well. I used the green Oriental eggplant, the yellow ‘Escamillo’ sweet peppers and one of the purple sweet peppers, one of the Round Purple Asian eggplants, a red onion from my home garden, and a couple ‘Gong Bao’ peppers from my home garden in place of the serranos. I also used Thai basil rather than regular sweet basil.

I found the sauce to be a little heavy, flavor-wise. It probably needed a bit more acid, maybe some lime juice. Overall, it wasn’t bad (for eggplant). The texture still isn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t completely distasteful.

Next up: Stewed Okra and Tomatoes

I used the okra and tomatoes from the garden, including some of the big okra that is larger than would typically be ideal. The ‘Ladyfinger’ okra that we are growing is supposed to be tender and usable even at larger sizes, so I wanted to test that out. I would say that it was nice and tender after the stewing, up to about 10″ long. After that, the pieces were still a bit fibrous and woody. I doubt a longer cook time would have solved the problem.

Both recipes were fairly easy, did a nice job featuring the vegetables, and were tasty. If you are looking for a recipe to use for eggplant or okra, give these a try!

Friday PhotoEssay – August 19, 2016

We have been busily harvesting a number of vegetables – especially peppers and tomatoes. I’m pretty pleased with most of our tomato varieties. Although some have had cracking issues, most of them have been yielding pretty consistently.

28473952483_f027a32dc6_zEvery week the garden feels more and more like a jungle. For better or for worse, not much has really started dying off yet. Usually by this point in the season, there are things that are clearly going downhill. At the moment, everything just continues to encroach on the aisles.

28804424280_fbcf140afcThe first flush of peppers on the ‘Escamillo’ sweet pepper plants has finally ripened to the golden yellow color. The plants had a very good initial yield. I hope they can set and ripen another flush of fruit before it gets too cold this fall.

28985916812_e8e9e9145cWe harvested a whole bag full of the ‘Fushimi’ peppers from the Oriental garden. These peppers are not supposed to be hot (despite their appearance), and they are often sauteed in oil and sprinkled with salt as an appetizer. I’m hoping to have time to try that recipe out soon!

28804461070_091415e232If I’m honest, the ‘Lucky Tiger’ cherry tomatoes still look a bit sickly in color to me. The plant all of a sudden had tons of ripe fruit. Despite this pile, at least this many were thrown away due to significant cracks.

28903498346_666f294e70We harvested the first of the Korean Golden Honey Melons last week. They are very cute! They do taste exactly like you expect an Asian melon to taste like (if you’ve had the opportunity to try them before). Meaning, don’t expect the sweet cantaloupe or watermelon flavor we are used to! Most Asian melons are a little crunchy and have a flavor more like a sweet cucumber than a melon. The flavor is often a little floral and mildly sweet, compared to the high sugar content of an American melon.

28830400612_919e28407cWe’ve harvested the first handful of the hot paprika peppers (‘Leutschauer’) and they have taken up residence on my office table to dry. They will dry naturally if they have reached the point where they are starting to get just a little bit soft and wrinkly on the plant AND if there is no damage to the fruit that will let decay get started. The best thing to do would be to put them in a dehydratro, which I may do if we have enough at one time.

Have a great weekend!