End of Season Review - Tomatoes
When it comes to tomatoes, the quintessential home garden vegetable, there is always a lot to say. To finish off the month of February, I decided to post my tomato review all in one go, instead of breaking it up into a couple of posts like I normally do...so I suggest you get comfortable ;)
As with a lot of veg I grew this year, we had an ok tomato year, but not phenomenal. This bothered me quite a bit as we had some prime tomato growing weather this past summer & I feel as if I failed to take advantage of it.
Mid-August tomato harvest
The tomatoes in 2015 were behind right from the start. They should have been sown in the 2nd week of April, but that happened to be the week before our vacation. Since I didn’t want to start the seeds & then leave them to fend for themselves while we were away, I decided to delay sowing until we got back. In the end, they were sown over 3 weeks later than in the prior year which made a huge difference:
|Tomatoes mid-July 2015 (seeds started April 29th)|
|Tomato mid-July 2014 (seeds started April 4th)|
The other change this past season was in how I laid out the beds. Last year, I planted a double row of tomatoes down one side of the bed with a double row of peppers along the other side. This time round, I decided to try 3 rows of tomatoes in each bed spaced 24” apart with 16" between rows. This layout didn’t work out very well. Trellising the plants in the middle row was a huge pain and I also think they ended up being too shaded.
And lastly, blight reared it’s ugly head again this year. I started seeing telltale signs on the lower leaves of many plants at the end of June and by August it was spreading throughout the beds. Some varieties were affected more than others, with Costoluto Genovese & Yellow Pear being the worst of the bunch.
I did keep on top of picking blightly leaves and fruit in an effort to extend the harvest, which continued until October 15th. Of course, these late pickings were also due to our incredibly mild fall. Our first frost date is October 3rd and, even though they say this means that there is a 50% chance that we will have a frost by that date, I would peg that number at closer to 80% as we almost always seem to have a hard frost by then.
Varieties grown: Yellow Pear, Sungold, Chadwick Cherry, Aunt Ruby's Yellow Cherry
This is Yellow Pear's third year in the garden & once again it developed Septoria Leaf Spot. My initial suspicion was that the seeds were to blame, so I purchased them from a different supplier this time round. Since the plants were once again infected, I'm now convinced that it's not the seed but the variety - it may simply be particularly susceptible to it.
|Aunt Ruby's Yellow Cherry|
This past year, I reduced the number of cherry tomato plants to 6 and I think that the overall quantity we harvested was just right (even though it was far less than it should have been, what with the late sowing, bad bed layout & inadequate irrigation). We harvested plenty of cherry tomatoes for fresh eating as well as for roasting. If I correct the issues I just mentioned, I should be able to reduce the number of cherry tomato plants even further & still harvest all that we need...in theory, anyhow.
Varieties grown: Bloody Butcher, Mountain Magic, Taxi
This is my 2nd year growing Bloody Butcher and it is here to stay for one very good reason - it's always one of the first to ripen in the garden. Anyone who has grown tomatoes knows how difficult it is to wait for the first ones to ripen. Bloody Butcher shaves a couple of weeks off of that wait without having to struggle with an extra early sowing. This year, it was neck and neck with Sungold, but you can't make a salad from one or two cherry tomatoes now, can you? And yes, it does taste great, in case you were wondering :)
I loved all 3 varieties I grew...each made a distinct & valuable contribution to the tomato patch. I did plan on including one more variety last season - Orange Blossom - but it never made it into the garden as I had germination issues, so I'll be giving that one another go this year.
Varieties grown: Speckled Roman, Amish Paste, Opalka, Juliet
Speckled Roman was the only variety of paste tomato I grew back in 2014. It made a comeback because it is tasty, meaty and the tomatoes themselves are not only large but beautiful with those yellow striations.
|First harvest of Opalka's - Every single tomato had BER|
Harvested just as they are starting to change colour
in order to keep ahead of blight
When it came to BER, I’m fairly certain that lack of adequate irrigation had a lot to do with it. Particularly telling in this respect was that the one variety I also grew in 2014 – Speckled Roman – had no BER whatsoever that year whereas this year, several of the fruits developed it.
I had planned to do tomato specific canning, to see if there was a big difference in taste between the various paste varieties, but that didn’t end up materializing and the majority of them were frozen instead. Hopefully I'll get to do that this coming season.
Varieties: Brandywine, Costoluto Genovese
What can I say about Brandywine - it's one of the best tasting tomatoes in my garden. 'Nuff said.
I ended up replacing one of the missing plants with an extra Brandywine seedling for a total of five plants in this category. I could probably cut this down to 4 and still have enough for our needs, but I view that as both a good and bad thing - good in that it frees up bed space for other types; bad because that limits me in terms of the number of different slicer varieties I can try.
Overall Impressions and Plan for Next Year
Considering the late seeding, inadequate irrigation, blight & bed layout fail, I’m not too disappointed with my tomato harvests this year.
One of my goals is to find the right balance between all of the different types. I’m not there yet, but this year was definitely a step in the right direction compared to last year (when I was inundated with cherry & salad tomatoes, but only had 2 paste tomato plants).
I still had more than enough to put up for the winter, which is my primary concern. Even though I didn’t get around to canning, excess tomatoes were frozen, some whole and some skinned, seeded & chopped in individual bags. In fact, I may just have enough to take us through until the next harvest.
This coming season, I will be going back to what I did in 2014 – sowing seeds in early April (although I will add that extra week & sow in the 2nd instead of the 1st week of the month) & transplanting them in 2 rows down one side of the bed. I’m undecided as to what I will be growing down the other side of the bed, although I do know it won’t be peppers – they didn’t grow that well when paired with the tomatoes. I’m also hoping that with an automated drip system, my issues with blossom end rot will be minimized this coming year.
As for varieties, I’ve decided to get rid of Chadwick Cherry. In my quest to try out different varieties, it’s awkward size is enough of an excuse to drop it in lieu of something new. I'll also set aside the Yellow Pear seeds for now - it would be nice to have a year or two without Septoria Leaf Spot.
I’ll be growing all of the other varieties and adding a few more which will require a bit of juggling in terms of how many of each variety I grow. I think that 24 tomato plants is more than enough for our needs so that will remain the same, but I will be doing some fine tuning when it comes to the proportion of each type. And like peppers, I'll probably limit most varieties to 1 or 2 plants.
This marks the end of my 2015 season reviews. And just because you can never have too many beautiful tomato photos, I’ll leave you with one of my favourites from the past season:
|THAT'S what I call summer goodness!|
I will have to get Taxi to try it this year (my favorite yellow is Azoychka) and I hope you get Cherokee Purple as it's really great slicer. I also LOVE black Brandy :)ReplyDelete
I grew Cherokee Purple 2 years ago and quite liked it, even though it wasn't a great producer for me. I'm hoping to take much better care of my seedlings this year and not lose any like I did last year!Delete
I hear so many people say how they love Sungold, I've only grown it once and I wasn't impressed, just goes to show how we all have different tastes. I've always grown Gardener's Delight, a very reliable cherry tomato but even that has fallen by the wayside since I've found Maskotka. I grew Bloody Butcher for the first time last year and I'm very impressed with it, so much so that this year I've decided to grow only one variety of cherry tomato (Maskotka) and one salad variety which I've decided will be Bloody Butcher. I think it's lots of fun trying all different kinds of tomatoes, there's so many out there, but I really need to simplify things this year. Last year was my best tomato year ever so I'm hoping I can replicate it this year.ReplyDelete
Hurray for Bloody Butcher! Rather an unfortunate name, but I'll live with it so long as it keeps deliviering the delicious, early tomatoes!
So much can affect tomato flavour, including the soil, that sometimes it's hard to tell if it's the tomato itself or simply our personal preference that results in a thumbs up or down. Gardens and gardeners are all so different, thank goodness that there are so many varieties to choose from. One is bound to be perfect no matter who you are or where you live!
It's interesting how tomatoes vary in different climates. The vaunted flavor of Brandywine tomatoes just doesn't develop in my garden, probably because it doesn't get hot enough. Yet Amish Paste tomatoes do wonderfully well here. I actually quit growing Sungold tomatoes years ago because they were too vigorous and productive, I got tired of harvesting them. Good luck with your tomatoes this year. I suspect that you will be refining your plans year after year, I have been and continue to do so!ReplyDelete
Oh, you make me laugh! I can't imagine getting tired of harvesting tomatoes - processing them maybe, but not harvesting ;)Delete
I think you are right, I'll likely never stop trying new things and fine tuning others. That's what makes gardening so exciting, even in light of the occasional failures.
Great tomatoes review. I too love Speckled Roman, so pretty in the garden, and yes, tasty and meaty, makes great sauce.ReplyDelete
Thanks Norma - I'm always happy when a looker, like Speckled Roman, tastes good. It's always sad when a gorgeous veg doesn't live up to it's good looks in the taste department.Delete
I love sungold tomatoes but didn't care much for the larger yellow tomatoes I grew. Could use a nice red home grown sliced tomato about this time of year!! NancyReplyDelete
Oh, couldn't we all, Nancy! Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) the only homegrown tomato favour we have now comes from our freezer.Delete
wow! I thought that we grew lots of different varieties of tomatoes, but you beat us hands down. I was pleased to hear good reports of Mountsin Magic as that is onr we will be growling this year. I wonder how many different varieties of tomatoes are available. There always seems to be lots and lots that I've never heard of.ReplyDelete
I'm always amazed at how many tomato varieties there are out there too. If you really want to fall out of your chair (not literally, mind you ;), check outDelete
They sell over 650(!) heirloom tomato varieties - it's mind boggling, really.
Margaret - that's where I get my supply of seeds! 35+ varieties and many more to try :)Delete
I ordered from them a couple of years ago too...talk about having to show restraint when ordering!!Delete
Oh Margaret--that bottom photo makes me SWOON! So so so pretty.ReplyDelete
I'm trying SunGold for the first time this year as everyone who reviews it loves it!
And I'm glad for your recommendation on an early tomato that tastes good--my season is SO short that I rarely get any of the larger tomatoes. And the one time I tried a local favorite (Lakeside), yea-it ripened but the way it tasted ---well, let's just say the compost pile got a LOT of additions that summer--haha.
Thanks Sue! Each year I do a box photo with as many different varieties as possible and it usually ends up being my favourite tomato pic.Delete
Sungold was amazing...I had never tasted a tomato quite like it & I hope that you are as impressed as I was when you try it.
I remember my first year growing tomatoes and I picked up a couple of transplants from a local nursery. They were standard hybrids & I don't even think they had variety names but simply "Beefsteak" or "Cherry" (hate when they do that!). I was over the moon when I harvested them, but wasn't bowled over by their flavour - I actually thought it may be me in that my taste buds were just appreciating them enough. Looking back now, after savouring many "proper" tomatoes, I understand why I wasn't that impressed. If those plants found their way into my garden today, they would have also have a face to face with my compost bin fairly quickly.
I've never had huge success with tomatoes, but it looks like you've had loads of success. Well done.ReplyDelete
Thank you Kelli! Tomatoes can be a tough go as they fruit for a relatively short period of time and then there is the arms length list of pests and diseases to contend with. But when you bite into a freshly picked, fully flavoured tom, all of those issues seem to take a back seat :)Delete
I also love that picture - all colours and shapes and sizes!ReplyDelete
I do love brandywine myself and those taxi tomatoes almost make me want to grow a lot of tomatoes again ... but no. I've given up for a few years to focus on other crops that I'm better at (ok well, when I say I've given up, I just mean I'll grow 10-12 instead of 30-40).
You started the post by stating you had not taken full advantage of the great summer we had, but I beg to differ.
Oh, that's so nice of you to say :) Sometimes it's nice to take a bit of a break from a difficult veg - those hard ones can really zap your enthusiasm.Delete
And 10-12 plants...umm...that still MORE than counts in my book & should keep you plenty busy in the tomato patch!
Given the huge number of tomato varieties, it's interesting to see which you chose to grow. I like the flavor of Sungold but splitting was too big a problem. Opalka suffered from BER and I thought the taste was mediocre. I consider Juliet a big grape tomato, not a paste. It's first and last tomato in the garden, BER and crack resistant, and pretty disease resistant. And the answer to too many cherry tomatoes is to throw them in the high speed blender with anything thing else in excess on the counter and make tomato sauce.ReplyDelete
I didn't do a side by side taste test with the paste tomatoes this year figuring that I'd do that with the sauces instead. But since I'm making the sauces individually from the frozen tomatoes as I go along, it's almost impossible to compare as the differences are often so subtle, especially when you add other ingredients. Oh well, there's always next year.Delete
As for Juliet, I think it has a split personality - I see it listed as both a large grape and small Roma. Since Romas are one of the most useful tomatoes in the kichen, I figured I would put them in that group as that is the only category where I have no "limit" - which means that it doesn't encroach on my cherry tomato varieties ;)
And I would love one of those high speed blenders. I just have a regular old one, which I doubt I'll be replacing until it conks out - I'm one of those "use it till it dies" type people :)
Goodness, you have a productive garden, Margaret! I can't imagine a garden without Tomatoes. Even though my garden is severely sun-challenged, I still grow at least a couple of Tomato plants. There is nothing like a fresh-picked, organic Tomato sliced into a BLT sandwich. Best food ever. Good gardening wishes for the coming growing season!ReplyDelete
Thank you Beth! If everyone had to choose only one veg to grow, I have a feeling that most gardeners would choose tomatoes. They are just so delicious & versatile (and gorgeous, obviously!).Delete
It's hard to believe that we are so close to spring when we just had a huge dump of snow yesterday. But I now have seedlings under the lights & for me, they are the true sign that spring is near. All the best for your gardening season as well - I'm so looking forward to meeting up again in July & catching up!
Ah tomatoes, a subject near and dear to my heart. I'm right there with you on Brandywine, such a delicious tomato and in a good year it can be a very heavy producer in my climate.ReplyDelete
I love that you planted 8 cherry tomatoes and harvested 35 pounds of them in 2014. I'm on a quest to find early cherry tomatoes and have 3 new varieties to try this year including Sungold.
My Brandywine plants haven't been that productive so far, but those few tomatoes I do get are more than worth the room that I give them. I'm glad that so many people are trying Sungold this year - I always enjoy seeing what others impressions are, especially when it comes to varieties that I grow in my own garden. Nothing is more fun than comparing veggie notes!Delete
I really appreciate your wonderfully thorough review of tomatoes! I love the tables where you recorded your data too. I will take a page out of your book and try your strategies this year. I have so many issues with tomatoes, but want them so desperately to grow in my garden. I think perhaps I am not keeping a careful enough accounting of what is going on with mine to know what is working and what isn't.ReplyDelete
Your tomatoes were really beautiful. Good luck with the best tomato harvest this year! :)
Thank you Audrey! I tell you, I would be lost without my notes. They are a godsend when it comes to figuring out what worked and what didn't for everything from sowing techniques to spacing to pests & diseases...you name it! It's not uncommon for me to think about doing things in a certain way and then remember...hey - I think I tried that 2 years ago. And more often than not, I'll save myself re-doing a technique that proved ineffective. I'm looking forward to seeing how your garden progresses this season - every year is an adventure!Delete
I think your approach to growing tomatoes is like mine - try as many varieties as possible. If one under-performs, another is bound to do well. They are so photogenic too! I am very fond of the big "ugly" ones, but they are usually the most difficult to grow well. My number one favourite of all tomatoes is now "Maskotka".ReplyDelete
Yes, I do find the large, ugly ones like Brandywine, to be the tastiest but also more challenging to get a good harvest from.Delete
I see Maskotka mentioned a lot on UK blogs; sort of like Juliet around here. It doesn't seem to be readily available in North America, but I'm sure that's bound to change.
Hi Margaret, oh my goodness, this is embarrassingly hilarious! ...I just realized that a comment I had intended to post on this blog several days ago, I somehow posted onto Dave's blog Our Happy Acres. I have no idea how I accomplished that.ReplyDelete
Anyway, I have also made the mistake of planting a triple row of tomatoes and found that I had difficulty accessing that middle row. And it’s funny you mention the mystery around your Cherokee Purple tomatoes… I have never had success with that variety. I’m pretty sure that I did sow seeds and then plant seedlings, but I’ve never seen one of the tomatoes.
I've really enjoyed your end of season reviews and I'm so impressed with your meticulous attention-to-detail.
Oy...that's so funny! And you know, Jennifer, we have ALL been there, and that's even those of use that aren't sleep deprived (any more!).Delete
When it comes to growing tomatoes, there are so many different techniques, spacing recommendations, you name it. I always think that if it sounds like it would work, it's worth a go. Of course, sometimes things don't work out, but you really never know until you try it yourself. What works for one person may not work for another and vice versa. And that's hilarious about the Cherokee Purple...it's like the incredible vanishing tomato ;) I'm trying again this year...maybe the plants will actually make it out into the garden this time round :)
Ahh, so the mystery of the wayward comment is solved! ;-)ReplyDelete
Let me just say that you have harvested more Brandywine tomatoes in one year than I have gotten in my entire life. They just don't seem to like it here, so I gave up on them. And as for Opalka - it must get BER everywhere, because it did that for me here.
Some tomatoes seem to be universal though, like Juliet, Sungold and Mt Magic. I had to laugh at Michelle's comment about Sungold. I confess to not always harvesting all of mine in a good year. But I still keep growing it because of the taste, even though it cracks and splits.
And let me also say that when you get that dehydrator, and hi-speed blender, you will be using all those small tomatoes. Like SFGDave says, throw 'em in the blender and make sauce with them if nothing else.
Great review, as always!
It does seem as if Opalka is particularly prone to BER - I'll be interested to see if my experience with them is any different this coming year. I'm also hoping to do a sauce taste test with them, to test out Dave V's impression that they don't win any points on that score. If they don't add anything positive to a sauce, no point in growing them when there are so many other varieties to try!Delete
We, unfortunately, didn't have an overabundance of Sungold tomatoes - we could have definitely done with a lot more, so I'll be placing 2 of these into the plan this time.
And the dehydrator will definitely find it's way into my kitchen this year - I've already been doing a bit of scouting - and I can hardly wait!
To clarify, my comment on the taste of Opalka was based on eating them fresh. I found them mushy and bland tasting (could just be the conditions I gre them in). Never got enough for sauce because of BER, and sauce can be doctored with herbs and garlic so you can always make it tasty.Delete
Mushy & bland are definitely not attributes you want to see in a fresh eating tomato. I have so many other cherry, slicer and salad tomatoes to use fresh that the plan is save the paste tomatoes for cooking preparations, so we shall have to see how it works out on that front.Delete
I broke up with my tomatoes. There was just too much drama. No matter what I did there was some type of disease or a storm blew them over, etc. Now I just buy them at the farmers market. But yours do look amazing! :o)ReplyDelete
Thanks, Tammy - Yes, tomatoes are wonderful but they can be a challenge. By the end of August, it's not uncommon for them to have incited a few choice words out of me :)Delete
Look at all these beautiful tomatoes! And these beautiful charts - I love garden charts and I love how organized you are. There's lots of love happening here in this comment, but that's because it's tomato time! I can't wait to see what tomatoes you grow in the upcoming year. We'll be starting our seeds in a few weeks. This year we'll be changing zones so we'll be starting a bit later - either way, I'm excited!ReplyDelete
I'm holding back a lot this year & only adding a few new varieties to the mix; a hard thing to do when it comes to tomatoes, as I'm sure you know! You must be so excited to start up your garden at your new place - the later start date will likely come in handy, as I'm sure there will not be a shortage of tasks to keep you occupied!Delete