Summer 2010 Tomato Report

Tomato season began inauspiciously with unseasonably cold weather for Southern California. I simply couldn’t get any seeds to germinate. Thankfully, Craig of came to the rescue with a couple of seedlings for us. Here’s a recap of our tomato successes and failures:

Red Pear. I’ve grown this one before. It’s a plump, ribbed, meaty tomato. It’s flavorful and amazing both fresh and made into sauce. Craig concurs that this is a must grow variety.

Napoli. A paste variety with a short bushy growth pattern. Like San Marzanos this vine cranks out a ton of fruit. Did not taste great fresh but made the best canned tomatoes I’ve ever grown–I’m guessing this variety is bred for canning.

St. Pierre: not much to say about it. O.K., but not all that exciting.

Yellow pear. This small cherry tomato sprouted out of the compost. It’s kinda bland, but we got a ton of them. I borrowed some time in neighbors Anne and Bill’s dehydrator and dried them.

Sun Gold. Mrs. Homegrown stuck a Sun Gold tomato in the backyard which I failed to care for properly. Nevertheless, it still produced a decent crop.Very sweet and prolific.

Failures. I had three vines fail on me due to a combination of not transplanting soon enough and not paying attention to them–mainly, I think they got root bound in their pots.

This year I took the watering advice of tomato guru Steve Goto of  Gotomato. Goto suggested a thick layer of mulch and a very deep watering when transplanting. The next watering comes when the plant droops in the morning–a whole month for me. Thereafter you water deeply only when the plant droops again in the morning, which worked out to be about once a week. You ignore any droopiness during midday and only water in the morning. I used in-line drip emitter tubing and all seemed to go well. Goto has tomato growing instructions you can download here.

Another big lesson is that even in sunny Southern California you need a cold frame to get good germination in the spring. We’ll blog about the cold frame I just added to our back patio soon.

So how did your tomatoes do this year? Drop us a comment with your geographical location and the tomato varieties you liked the most/least.

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  1. We grew a variety of heirloom tomatoes up in the cold, crazy, unpredictable climate of Southern Alberta.

    We picked several varieties at Seedy Saturday from an excellent tomato grower around here ( )

    We stated late, probably around mid-April, and things came up slow-ish. Our kitchen was just jam packed with seedlings (over 140 of ’em) including Chocolate Cherries, Mountain Princess, Early Siberian, Jelly Beans(?), JD’s Special C-tex, Cherokee Chocolate, Vorlon, Neves Azorean and a few others I can’t recall.

    It was June before they all went into the ground. Then, we went away for about three months. It was warm where we were, but unusually cold in Southern Alberta. Friends, family, the rain barrell and the rainclouds looked after the garden.

    When we got back all the plants were rather bushy and wild looking, but all the tomatoes were green.

    We’ve been picking some, bringing them inside and they’re getting nice and colorful and tasty! This is mid October, after a cold summer, a period of warm Autmun weather graced the region, which is just now starting to fade away. There’s a few tomatoes ripening on the vines now, but last year in August we had tons of big juicy tomatoes. This has been a cold, slow year…

    Just snapped a harvest pic the other day:

  2. It seems we somehow grew one of the only thriving crop of tomatoes in Seattle. We started them in our closet with a grow light and moved them into a (slightly overkill) raised bed when it finally got warm enough. The raised bed is almost three feet high, and had a good amount of compost in it, so the soil was significantly hotter than even the cold frames.

    Our black cherry was the real overachiever, growing almost 6ft high and producing an obscene amount of delicious little flavor bombs, I mean hundreds of them. They are great to dry. Oregon Springs were much less prolific, but ripened weeks before anything else, which spaced out our harvest and gave us some much needed time to start processing and canning. Our Brandywines were the only variety that ended up with a worm problem, so most of them went into sauces. The crowd favorites, though, were definitely the Persimmons. They’re a lovely orange color, as is the delicious pasta sauce we made out of the bigger ones.

    Even with a pretty happy crop, we still ended up with a fair amount of green little tomatolettes when it came time to clear the bed. We cut up the larger ones, left the smallest ones whole and pickled them all in a couple different brines. It’s really fun eating tiny, pumpkin-shaped pickles, and they take to it well. One fun way to process anything that just never quite got there….

  3. Some people don’t understand, and think I am not planting tomatoes right. But, I deliberately buy leggy plants or let the ones I germinate grow too tall and leggy. Then, I strip all but the top two or three leaves. Then, place the plant in a hole as deep as the plant is tall. I put a little uncomposted kitchen waste in the bottom of the hole, add a bit of dirt,place the plant in the hole, and fill with dirt up to the little leaves left on top. Alternately, instead of digging a deep hole, dig a trench, lay the plant in that, allowing the top few leaves to remain above the surface. Many roots will develop where the leaves were. The plant gets more water this way. Maybe you already do this, too?

  4. I’m in the East Bay, further inland than Oakland, and my tomatoes didn’t do well at all. I had a mystery set of heirlooms that barely fruited; only one actually ripened. Then I had a bunch of more common varieties. Unfortunately the weather was very hot and I had to rely on others to water a great deal of the summer, so things just didn’t work out very well. My boyfriend in San Francisco grew just three tomato plants, but they far surpassed my 13. One of his plants appears to be taking up at least six square feet of space. He keeps losing tomatoes in the middle of the jungle….

    My favorite this year was Lemon Boy. I had another one with great color as well, but I can’t remember the name and I’m too tired to go look it up.

    I also grew Yellow Pear, but I grow it every year. There’s something about popping them into my mouth while I’m working in the garden which just hasn’t gotten old. I think it’s because I’ve literally had them in the garden since childhood. Tradition and all that.

    If anyone cares to share a tomato pickle recipe I would be really interested!

  5. My tomatoes have FINALLY come through, after a dismal late start (planted transplants out of the cold frame in MID JUNE!). Favorite this year was “Black Prince,” though it does not fare as well in the rain and the cold/hot fluctuation that we got in late summer this year.

    My yellow pairs were perfect when I didn’t want something too tomato-y. GREAT as goodie bags for friends who love them. Definitely prolific.

    My rainbow, pink, yellow, and pineapple hybrids all worked out (mostly from Parkseed). The rainbows were huge beefsteaks that taste delicious– one weighing in over 1.5 lbs.

    But the Black Princes, by far. Taste was very delicious. Rich and sweet, but not sugary. Not too seedy; just right. And the color is amazing. Purple to red to green.

    None of my cherokee purples took off. Disappointing.

    As a note, I started all my tomatoes from seed. Come mid-June, I found myself with 50 plants, no takers (for giving away– folks had theirs already), and I did not want to toss perfectly good plants. So the size of the tomato patch grew! Luckily, the homemade tomato cages did too.

  6. All my tomatoes were in pots next to each other with one exception. We’re in Silverlake, Los Angeles.

    I treated them all the same, so it’s a mystery to me why the black zebra grew out of its cage and was crazy prolific while its neighboring pineapple never fruited. The kellog came on very slowly but eventually gave us huge, tasty yellow tomatoes. This one is a keeper. The Japanese plum and sweet 100s were tasty and prolific.

    My one exception was a second pineapple that I planted late, in the shade, didn’t stake or pinch – basically neglected. It fruited late, prolifically and deliciously. Will consider going free range again.

    What did I learn? Tomatoes have a mind of their own.

  7. I’m in Seattle, and we had the same problem a lot of Seattlelites had this year which is that our tomatoes generally just didn’t ripen. We had a good crop, just a lot stayed green. But I tried a couple of different fried green tomato recipes and those were INCREDIBLE! It was our first summer gardening here, as we had just bought our house last winter and it took us a couple try’s to find the best spot for our raised bed, and we didn’t get any grow lights up in time, so we were a little late and planted all bought seedlings this year.

    Our best crop was our chocolate cherry tomatoes. Those never even make it in the house. They just get gobbled right off the vine. Especially by our two-year old. She loves tomatoes so much she asked to be one for Halloween this year!

  8. I live in Michigan, and have never had good luck with tomato seedlings, for some reason. This year my kids and I bought some tomato seeds (they were simply labeled “Tomato”), and planted them in a couple of big planters, not expecting much.

    I was amazed at how beautifully these plants grew! We have gotten a ton of tomatoes off them and they are still producing, even though we have had several frosts already. They are not the most flavorful tomatoes I have ever had but the kids were thrilled with how well they did.

    I have been very surprised at how these plants grew as we did not fertilize, or mulch, or transplant, or anything – just stuck the seeds in the dirt and watered them. Go gifure!

  9. I’m in SE PA, where we had an early spring. It got warm and stayed hotter than average all summer. We also had a LOT less rain than average. I grew: sungolds, Cherokee purples, pink brandywines, green zebras, and speckled Romans.

    Sungolds – split way too much even without watering, and overran the generous spacing I gave them. The taste has nothing on the peacevine, which has been my mainstay cherry tomato for over a decade. I’m going back to peacevine next year.

    Cherokee purples – did okay only towards the end of the season. A lot of damaged and split fruit went to waste. Taste was very good at its peak.

    Brandywines – see Cherokee purples, but add in a LOT of splitting.

    Green zebras – blah. A gimmick fruit in my opinion. Will not repeat this experiment.

    Speckled Romans – performed beautifully again this year. Only a moderate producer, but every fruit set came to maturity without splitting. Resisted blight last year. Great flavor, striking appearance. Looks like a paste tomato, but is a bit more juicy in the interior. I love it as a slicing tomato. Will be my primary tomato from here on out.

    I grow my seedlings indoor, starting in late March/early April. There’s no way we could germinate outdoors at that time. Radiant heat flooring gives the seeds the warmth they need.

  10. We’re in Columbia, MO, where it has been a weird tomato season. I got mine in later than I should have, then we were blessed/cursed with an overabundance of rain. Even at the farmer’s markets, tomatoes weren’t as ever-present as they normally are.

    We’re still experimenting with varieties, but this year we grew Sungold, Purple Cherokee and Roma. They’re all still producing, but it’s been slow and not super abundant. The Sungolds were awesome (and grew 10′ tall), PCs also awesome, and Romas serve their purpose as sauce tomatoes. Hopefully we’ll have a drier year next year, but considering the conditions I’m happy we got anything at all.

  11. I planted three varieties this year in Los Angeles. I bought all three at the spring plant sale at Huntington Library and Gardens.
    One tiny patio plant that gave me some great slicing tomatoes early on but never really produced much.

    A Currant tomato, that had the prettiest little orange tomatoes that were great in salad or for a snack. That plant went insane though and tried to take out everything else in my tiny plot. It was a prolific producer but we could not keep up with it and I pulled it out a few weeks ago even thought it was going strong.

    And my favorite, an heirloom called Black Krim, which produces yummy dark purple, to red, to green tomatoes. It’s still got a few going right now. It was really late producing ripe tomatoes compared to my other two and we’ve just really reaped the harvest the past few weeks.

  12. Western Massachusetts here: 2008 and 2009 were the worst tomato seasons I and all the local farmers and gardeners have ever seen. Cold, cloudy summers both, blight took over from mid July on. This year, the entire summer was a swing between hot and super-hot, and dry-dry-dry. Some local farms still managed to get their blight, but for most, if you watered below the leaves, it was a bumper crop. I’ve canned enough so that next year I will plant half the tomato plants.

    For all the folks with lots of green tomatoes at the end of the season, I have very good luck layering them in a laundry basket, each layer separated by a sheet of newspaper. I check them on the weekends, removing the red ones and the mushy ones. I usually get fresh red tomatoes into November this way.

  13. This is the last year I’ll plant a yellow tomato. Planted the yellow cherries and they had no flavor and then turned bitter. My best tomatoes were a paste tomato that sprouted in the compost in my pumpkin patch. We’ve already had a frost, but those tomatoes just keep coming and taste delicious both raw and cooked. I’m outside of Boston, where the foliage is as it’s brilliant peak and the last things in my garden are the Brussel sprouts.

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