January in the Midwest has few redeeming values, in my mind, other than it signals garden planning. Throughout the month, I grumpily turn my back on my snow-filled yard and reach for my gardening notebook. I review my previous growing season’s notes, and decide what I’ll grow again this year, as well as what new goodies I’ll add to the mix from the new seed catalogs.
My favorite crop, first and foremost, is the tomato crop, and I linger over this list longer than necessary. I [heart] heirloom tomatoes. I love their variety. I love their colors, their crazy shapes. But most of all, I love their flavors. There’s no hybrid that can match an heirloom. Heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad with basil? Yes, please.
The Heirloom Tomatoes
Here are some notes about the varieties I grew in 2009. (I buy my tomato seeds from Tomatofest.com, in case you’re interested.) It was a great tomato year. All plants produced, and took their time succumbing to the inevitable wilt that plagues heirloom tomatoes. Which made SoupAddict very happy.
A very nice roma tomato, Amish Paste was beautiful on the vine, delicious in both sauces and salads. I have nothing bad to say about this tomato, but for 2010, I’ll be going back to the Long Tom variety I grew in 2008. Just a personal preference.
Probably my all-around favorite tomato. I’m a huge fan of the purple/black family of tomatoes, with their complex, smokey flavors. The Black Cherry is a lot of tomato goodness in a small package. About the size of a quarter, these tomatoes are blemish-free with a gorgeous deep red color inside and out, topped off with green shoulders. Like most heirlooms, this plant is prone to wilt diseases, but somehow still manages to keep producing well into the end of the growing season.
This photo (and the photo of the Flamme below) cracks me up. I took this early in the season, when I had delusions of grand tomato photography for 2009. At this point, I had a total of two ripe tomatoes, and nothing else (save a few stray radishes from the Spring crop). Then August hit full force and there was barely time for even the minimal record-keeping photography (which you see on this page), much less elaborate tomato voguing. The Black Krim is awfully pretty, though. And mighty, mighty tasty – one of the best of the black tomatoes
There’s a reason why Brandywine has such an exulted reputation: It’s perfection on a branch. If it has any flaws at all, it’s that it’s a fairly low producer. Or maybe I’m simply Brandywine-greedy.
Ah, Dona, Dona, Dona. The tomato of my youth. My much-older brothers grew heirloom tomatoes at our parents’. They were in college; I was in junior high. I have a distinct memory of devouring an English muffin slathered with mayo, a slice of cheese, and many, many slices of a Dona tomato. The tomato gets a thumbs-up, but the plant did not do very well, due to my stubborn unwillingness to accept that my tomato plants grow 15 feet tall by 6 feet wide. Dona ended up crammed in a corner, fighting for elbow room. Poor Dona, she deserved better.
I adore this tomato. Behaving like a cherry, this plant keeps on going and going and going, producing lovely heart-shaped, bright orange fruit right through October. And the flavor is just scrumptious. Acidic like a red tomato, but slightly more fruity, providing a wonderful counterbalance in tomato salads.
Flamme produced its first mature tomato just before the Black Krim (above) and was a participant in the Grand Delusion photography experiment. I have this picture framed, by the way, because I love tomatoes and I’m weird like that.
If you’re a fan of the mild yellow tomato, this one’s for you. Producing lovely, medium-sized, perfectly tomato-shaped tomatoes, Limony was a pleasant surprise, even though it had several things going against it. First, the seed sprouted late, and I decided only at the last minute to keep it. Second, I planted it in my plot at the local community garden, which is only two years old and therefore does not have the benefit of the über-rich soil in my own gardens.
Matt’s Wild Cherry
Meet the world’s most aptly named tomato. See this plant, people? This photo was not taken in September. This photo was not taken in October. No, people. This photo was taken in August. Early August. See that gutter on the left? That’s 15 feet up (see how it dwarfs the air conditioning unit?). I literally couldn’t take a picture of the plant later in the season because I lacked a wide angle lens (and the gumption to splice two pictures together). By the time I tore the plant down, that window was completely obscured by branches reaching nearly the second level roof.
However, if you have the proper equipment to allow the plant to trail, controlled, over a low trellis or across the ground, it does produce some wonderfully flavored little tomatoes. I’d always wander back to that plant while gardening, just to pluck some jewels right off the vine and pop ’em in my mouth. They were always perfect, unblemished, and uncracked.
This was one interesting experiment. The pictures of this tomato were so pretty on TomatoFest.com, about twice the size of a strawberry and a gentle shade of yellow-orange. The plant, however, took off like a shot once in the ground. As promised the young tomatoes were a pretty strawberry shape and looked so elegant hanging on the vine. But then, something kicked in and they grew. And grew. And grew. And grew. The tomato pictured here was almost a pound-and-a-half. It filled my entire palm.
This was all well and good, but the plant wasn’t really bred to support one-pound tomatoes. Even though I staked the plant with metal cages and wooden supports, the weight of the plant soon bent it in half, splintering the wooden stakes. The lesson here is that if you obsess over the state of your soil (as I do), the plants are going to love it, so be prepared to take byzantine measures to support the plants. (And I do, having a caging and support plan that can easily accommodate 15 foot plants). You’ll have to trust me when I say that this plant was a monster.
Like most yellow tomatoes, the flavor of the Orange Strawberry is mild and sweet. Before cutting down the plant, I pulled the green tomatoes, and wow, did they make awesome fried green tomatoes (especially fried green tomato BLTs – the tomatoes were so huge that one slice filled the sandwich).
All of these varieties made the “will grow again” list, but the keepers for 2010 are the Black Cherry, Black Krim, Brandywine, and Flamme. And back from 2008’s crop will be Aunt Ginny’s Purple and Long Tom. I can’t wait!