Archive for the ‘Tomatoes’ Category

2013 Tomato Seedling List

I’m a bad blogger. I know. You know that too though. I’ll be posting again as soon as I have the energy. Lately, We’ve been working on potting up our 1000 seedlings. Yeah. I know I have issues. These seedlings are now for sale for $3 each. If you click on the list below, you will be able to see my excel spreadsheet with my carefully chosen varieties. I specifically chose many of these varieties to do well in the bay area climate and a few are great for container gardening. Everything is 100% organic. If I made any money at this, I would certify them as such but I don’t so I won’t. On a side note, these are the nicest seedlings I have ever grown. I made some changes to how I start seedlings this year and I think I will end up with an even better crop. I’m excited to see what the final product is like. If you would like some seedlings, call me 831-566-3425.

Please? I really need to get rid of some of these.  -Marsha

2013 Seedling List

P.S. I also have a handful of eggplant, peppers, melons (specially chosen for coastal climates) and squash but I don’t have a list for them. You will have to trust me when I say, they are going to be awesome.

Tomato Review 2012

 As you may have read yesterday, I did not start any of my own seedlings this year, unless they were direct sown things like greens and herbs and squash and cucumbers and flowers and carrots and radishes and…Ok, what I really mean is I didn’t start any tomato seeds this year. They are my pride and joy whose absence from my life left a big gaping hole. It turned out, I couldn’t bear the summer without those tastiest of summer fruits, so I bought a few plants from Love Apple Farm’s plant sale. The varieties I planted were, Amish Paste, Green Giant, Orange Russian 116, Anna Russian, Royal Plum, Michael Pollan, Paul Robison and White Oxheart. Then on a whim, Jules and I brought home a “Juliette” tomato from the Cabrillo plant sale, just because we loved the name. Alright, it was really because I’m an addict and I can’t stop buying plants but the name was a convenient excuse.  

Unfortunately, I did not get photos of the tomatoes or manage to weight or measure them. I’ve been busy. It was all I could do to eat them. To make up for this, I have provided links to people who spend more time than me, immersed in the world of the tomato. They have better photos and descriptions, anyway.

Amish Gold– This is the second year I’ve grown these and they continue to be spectacular. I expect I will grow these every year. This is a cross between a Sun Gold and an Amish Paste. If you have grown either, I have your attention now. This is a small, paste shaped tomato, in a brilliant shade of Hare Krishna orange. Krishna means supreme or all-attractive, so I suppose that’s fitting. These can be eaten off the vine (they are my go to garden snack) or cooked up into a great sauce. As you may well be aware, I detest the modern San Marzanos as flavorless usurpers to the real paste tomatoes. Amish Paste is the real deal. They do have seeds (because that’s how we get baby tomatoes!) but the skins are thin and easy to eat, even when cooked. Yay! No peeling tomatoes! They are the first tomato to ripen in the garden and the last one still bearing fruit at the end of the season. They survived last year’s awful tomato weather. They thrived in the year’s 90 degree heat wave. They are a winner.

Green Giant– I was worried about this plant. It looked pretty scraggly and sparse for a long time but I think that may just be its nature. The plants didn’t produce a whole lot of fruit but the tomatoes were big and delicious. They were acidic and sweet like ripe, green tomatoes should be and had a nice texture. They were excellent slicers and every tomato on the plant ripened. My biggest beef with this beefsteak is that they are very susceptible to sun scald. Knowing that, if I were to grow them again, I would prune them less and add a shade cover (I’m lazy and cheap so I usually just use a light weight frost blanket. We also don’t usually get as many very sunny warm days as we did this summer. I don’t know who this plant will produce during one of our foggier summers. It was a little late ripening, so I don’t hold out too much hope for it.

Orange Russian 117– I’ve been trying to grow these for three years but due to the mix-ups and mishaps with the tomato labeling, I don’t think I ever did. I’m glad I tried it one more time. These tomatoes were awesome. Lots of fruit from the plant. They were a fun dual orange striped color. I’m guessing by the size that they would do fine during a foggier summer but I also don’t think the fruit I got are typical of the variety. My fruit seemed smaller and not as heart-shaped as the ones at Tomato Fest. They had little to no sun scald and the vine itself was very hardy. The fruit ranged in size from a standard beefsteak to a smaller, slightly larger than golf ball size fruit. Due to the amount of tomatoes this vine produced, they were a popular gift. I won’t grow these next year just because there are too many types I want to try but I may grow them again, in the future.

Anna Russian– Now this, THIS is what a past tomato should be. Quick, throw out your hard, tasteless San Marzanos and embrace the Anna Russian. I’ve grown this every year and it just impresses me. The plants are early producers of medium to largish, heart-shaped fruit (with some little ones thrown in for good measure) with big taste. This is the plant my sister-in-law most often raided in my garden. Can you say that about San Marzanos? No. The last time I ate a San Marzano off the vine I spat it out and vowed they from the place where the sun now stands, I will grow no more, forever. Why why WHY do we continue to grow these inferior fruits when we could eat Anna Russians (or a number of other tasty tomatoes.) I have heard the argument that once they are canned, they taste fine but if you’ve had canned sauce from tomato with taste, you will understand why I will not even answer to that ridiculous statement. Crap in, crap out. Like its inferior but popular relative, Anna Russian has lots of meat and virtually no seeds. It’s not super juicy but it has enough that the tomato has a proper texture. We eat them on salads, we eat them like apples. I think the fruit I got from Love Apple’s plants are smaller than the fruit from the seeds I get from Tomato Fest but that tends to happen with seeds sourced from different growers. *Anna Russian seeds are on sale now at Tomato Fest! Eeeeeeee!*

Plum Royal- I assume that this is a hybrid variety, based on how the plants grew. They were not marked as a hybrid, which kind of irritates me but buyer beware, I suppose. In their defense,  did not pick up their extensive info sheet, which may have listed this variety as a hybrid. The plants are bright green, determinate bushes, with lots and lots of fruit. I was excited when I saw how loaded with fruit these plants were. The fruit grew early and reached full size quickly. Then, they stopped. They turned a mild shade of red but they never fully ripened. I pulled 20 lbs of unripe fruit two weeks ago and all of it tasted terrible. These tomatoes are exactly what you find in the grocery store. They look good but they taste awful. Needless to say, I won’t be growing these again. I have no link to these as I couldn’t find any good info on the internet.

Michael Pollan– I bought this variety because I love Michael Pollan like 10-year-old girls love Justin Beiber. He makes me swoon. I don’t always agree with him but his writing is terrific. Tomato Mania had said some good things to say about the plants. How the tomato tastes, I will never know. The spindly little Charley Brown plant reached 1.5 feet, had six leaves and produced one tiny, withering fruit, which caused the plant to slump against the side of its cage, where it gasped its dying words, “Tell Michael I’m sorry.” And then it was gone. I guess it was just a bum plant but I’m not willing to try again next year. Did anyone else get a chance to try this variety this year? If you did, give me a shout out and let me know how it tasted.

Juliette– I’m glad we got this little gem. This plant produced copious amounts of bright, red fruit, growing in bunches. The fruit was delicious and I did quite a bit of snacking on it while working in the garden. The small size fruit matured early and produced all summer long. It is a hybrid but I knew that when I got it. I won’t grow it again because I can’t save seeds but I would recommend it to beginner tomato growers. With some pruning, this would be an awesome balcony or porch plant, though it’s probably too big for most window gardens.

White Oxheart– I give up. I have tried to grow White Oxheart every year since I have been growing tomatoes and I have yet to be successful. I’ve been growing through all sorts of conditions so I have to say, it’s not them, it’s me. The Oxheart went the way of the Michael Pollan, but didn’t go as quickly. I tortured it for a long time. I think I will not continue to take up space in my garden with this plant. There are lots of great tomatoes out there that want to live with me.

Paul Robison– This variety is gaining in popularity, thanks to its listing in the Ark of Taste, so I almost didn’t grow it. I did it for the experience and to see if it really is as good as they say. Whomever they are. I’m hoping one day this variety will be the variety people ask if I grow instead of Purple Cherokee. If I had a nickel for every time someone finds out if I grow heirlooms and asks if I grow Purple Cherokee, I would be a rich woman. It takes all of my will not to scream, “That’s a commercial variety. You can do better! You can grow better!” Instead I calmly educate the unsuspecting shopper on the thousands of varieties of heirloom tomatoes which exist and how we have a responsibility to maintain genetic diversity. Then I tell them that there are better tasting and more fun tomatoes out there, Paul Robison being one of them. The fruits are a nice size for salads and they fit perfectly over slices of buffalo mozzarella in caprese salad. The plants were super easy to maintain and I had little to no problems with them. The taste really is all that. Man, were they good. Their listing with Slowfood is not undeserved. I won’t grow these again and not because they aren’t amazing. They are. I won’t be growing these because there are a lot of other varieties that need support. Paul Robison’s listing on the Ark of Taste assures its survival as a variety but for every variety that becomes popular, ten more varieties disappear.

January is the time to start shopping for and planting your tomato seeds. If you haven’t already bought all of the seeds you need, think about growing something totally different this year. Something you haven’t heard of before. Something you have to look up on the internet every time you type its name, because you can’t remember how to spell it.

If you can’t bear to buy a whole pack of seeds for one plant, feel free to stop by our seed swap and cocktails on February 9, at 2:00pm. We can plant a seed in a Dixie cup for you to raise on your balcony. You will not be sorry.

 

Tomato Review- Spoon

According to the literature, Spoon tomatoes are an ancient form of tomato, related to the earliest tomatoes, from Peru. I say they are tiny, micro-currant sized bits of tomato goodness. They have perfect tomato flavor and I will NEVER grow them again. OK, maybe that’s a bit strong but here’s the deal…

Spoon tomatoes of tiny.

Sorry that’s not in focus. The kids are still working out when to use the macro setting on the camera. The red tomatoes in this photo are Spoons. You can see (sort of, if you haven’t fallen down dizzy yet) that they are very, very small. They are smaller than cherry tomatoes, by far. Sometimes it takes three spoons to equal one cherry. No worries, what they lack in size they make up for in production. These plants are prolific producers. I mean prolific.

Have you ever seen so many tomatoes in such a small area? I mean there were tons of these little tiny fruits on the plants. They were the first ripe tomatoes in the garden, thanks to their small size.

The plants themselves were amazing. They were impervious to disease. They had no problems with the early season wet weather than gave all of the other plants speck. I made the mistake of trying to cage the plants in my regular five-foot, concrete reinforcing wire cages. These wild tomato cousins do not want to be caged. The plants want to be bushy and free. The cages turned into little jungles and made it impossible to get to fruit in the middle of the plants however, that hardly mattered because there was so much fruit on the outside of the plants, I didn’t need the stuff in the middle. In fact, the plant is still fruiting. And the fruit has a really long hang time. It never rots on the vine.

In all that fruit lies my big problem with this wild plant. I simply don’t have the attention span to pick that fruit. It’s tiny. It’s everywhere. I have two plants and 90% of the fruit is still on the vine. The only use I have for the fruit is when I’m in the garden doing something else and I graze from the Spoon plants. The fruit is delicious, no doubt about it. Its little bursts of tomato flavor, like tomato caviar (ooohhhh, idea!) The fruit is a good mix of acid and sweet. They even manage to be juicy!

So who would like this variety?  I think if I were to grow this again, I would grow just one and I would put it in a sunny spot near where we sit (perhaps a front porch, if we had a front porch) and I would use it for grazing from while lounging. I would pick tiny tomatoes while chatting. If nothing else, it’s a beautiful ornamental with its chartreuse leaves and bright red fruit. People with kids might like it, since kids are attracted to tiny foods (I don’t know why.) Professional chefs would like this variety since it’s different and tasty. Those guys always seem to have time to dissect tiny foods into even tinier pieces. Obsessive compulsive people would also like this variety. the intricacies of picking all that tiny fruit, seems like a productive way to focus their energy. So the ultimate lover of this variety would be an OCD, seven-year-old chef. If you know one of those, they can get their seeds from TomatoFest.

Canning Tomato Perfeci

Let me just throw out the disclaimer that I am no canning expert. There are men and women who have spent a lifetime canning. There are Master Canners out there, who look at our canning recipes and translate them into something that won’t kill everyone we feed. I am not one of those. I’m not even close. I’m the kind of person who mostly follows the recipes and hopes for the best. Sometimes I forget to put the citric acid in the bottom of the jars. None the less, I now consider myself an intermediate canner. I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous and that means I’m ready to start forging out on my own. Don’t worry, I’m still following the recipes. I’m not going to kill you with Christmas goodies…hopefully! I’m going to go the gardeners route and start perfecting the ingredients that I put into the jars, starting with your favorite and mine, the tomato.I am seeking the perfect canning tomato.

My perfect canning tomato is the following:

1. Above all else, it has excellent flavor. This should need no further discussion. You reap what you sow in the kitchen.

2. It has few seeds but is not virtually seedless. Seedless foods never taste as good as the seeded varieties. I give you seedless watermelons as my proof. I also want to save seed from my best varieties and share them with my loved ones. It’s hard to do that when you only have six seeds from your best fruit.I also don’t want to hunt all over the tomato when I’m de-seeding it, Like I would have to with a beefsteak variety.

3. It has some juice. The San Marzanos (here I go again, hating on the San Marzanos) have very little juice and are therefore, mealy and tinny in flavor. It’s also hard to make bloody mary mix from them and at the end of the canning day, a girl needs a cocktail.

4. It has a high flesh to skin ratio. For those of you science nerds, that would be a high mass to surface area ratio. For those of you who are not science nerds (that’s OK, I still like you) I want a lot of flesh for every tomato I peel. I hate, hate, HATE peeling lots of tomatoes. It’s what takes the longest when making sauce. The kids will also appreciate this trait since I have started making them help on tomato canning day. They hate peeling, too though admittedly, it is more fun with company.

5. The plants produce a large amount of fruit. Again, a no brainer. I want some bang for my buck. I want enough fruit to make canning worth it. 20 lbs of fruit per plant would be ideal but I doubt many pants can reach their full potential in Prunedale.

I’m working on choosing next year’s varieties. Since I didn’t do any winter gardening, I have lots of time to dream about spring. besides, we’re just three months from when I like to start seeds, although I think I’ll start them in February this year. Stand-by for the 2012 tomato list. I’m sure I’ll have some to sell this year (since I have no self-control.) I have plans for a fall shindig next year when we can all get together and can together. In the event that the perfect tomato doesn’t manifest next year, I’m going to want some company while I skin all those tiny tomatoes.

Tomato Review- Cream Sausage

Next year my tomato madness is going to be all about canning varieties. As it turns out, that’s really what I enjoy most about tomatoes. True, there is no more divine experience than walking through the garden and eating tomatoes fresh off the vine but so many of those varieties go bad so fast. I was gone during the most productive days of the season this year and missed the majority of the eating varieties. It was tragic. We were not the only people who were affected by my ill-timed work project and vacation. Danielle in NYC, was affected. In fact, I think I sealed the envelope on her development of scurvy. The check is in the mail. You see, there is no fresh produce in all of NYC. That market you saw on Sesame Street, with apples and oranges piled high, is a lie. That produce was made out of Muppet fur. I had promised Danielle tomatoes that were made of…well, whatever they are really made of, when it’s not polyester and wire but while I was gone, all of the vine tomatoes went bad. At the end of the sad tale was this:

A bunch of un-watered dead tomato plants but the Cream Sausage tomatoes were still kicking out new fruit. All of the other tomatoes had rotted, molded, shriveled up and died but the Cream Sausage soldiered on. This variety was resistant to every bad thing the Garden of Good and Evil has to offer. They don’t sunburn. They don’t crack. They don’t care about rain or sun or sleet or hail. They are the U.S. Postal Service of tomatoes.

This next photo was taken in the last moments of my garden, as I was tearing out tomatoes and stripping the plants of all of the rest of their usable fruit.

That’s a really big basket and at the end, it was mostly filled with Cream Sausage tomatoes. For reference, the basket is this big:

So there you go. Proof that the plants produce enough to fill a 10-year-old boy. They also produced through the full season, which was admittedly short this year. They were amongst the first to ripen and clearly, the last tomatoes standing. I pruned the heck out of my plants this year to try to save them from the fog and rain. I had to take off a lot of foliage that had been affected with various types of bacterial speck, fungus and whatever else can afflict a tomato. Most of the early varieties were cat faced and the later tomatoes were sun burned because there weren’t enough leaves.  Cream sausage suffered not a bit. They continued to ripen in batches, making them easy to collect and process. The green fruit that I pulled from the vine ripened quickly, spoiling my plan to make pickled green tomatoes but the ripe ones were a lovely addition to the ketchup and tomato juice.

Let’s talk physical characteristics, real quick. These are in fact sausage-shaped.

They are a lovely pale yellow, which makes them easy to locate on the vine. They are generally 2-3 inches long and about an inch in diameter, which makes them comparable in size to those inferior but popular San Marzanos. Unlike the San Marzanos, Cream Sausage is not a seedless, dry, mealy, mess inside. They do have seeds and a bit of juice, which I appreciate in a canning tomato. There is more than enough flesh to make the tedium of peeling and seeding them for sauce, worth it. I put the guts and skins through the food mill to make tomato juice, so the extra juice is a bonus. Let me see your dry, old San Marzano do that!

You may be getting the idea that I’m anti-San Marzano. You’re right. To be honest, I did buy 100 lbs of them and can them this year but not because I like them, mostly because that’s the only “canning” variety that’s widely available. If I could have found another heirloom variety, I would have taken it in a second. My biggest beef with San Marzano is the flavor, or the lack thereof. Straight off the vine, they taste like they have already been in a can. When I cook with Cream Sausage, they are so tasty, I eat the little ones as I peel the big ones. When I cook with San Marzanos, the first one I pop in my mouth is the last one. There is no tomato flavored joy. Cream Sausage however, is pure old-time tomato goodness. There is a perfect balance between sweetness and acidity. The texture is good, too, unlike their quasi-Italian cousins. There are people who will tell you that you shouldn’t eat a canning tomato because they aren’t good for eating, I ask, WHY THE HELL DO WE KEEP GROWING CANNING VARIETIES THAT TASTE BAD? Of course, in large-scale agriculture there are many reasons to grow San Marzanos: tough skin, long shelf life, they ripen all at once, they turn red when gassed, etc. All the more reason to grow your own. (Hopefully by now, you don’t need more reasons.)

Here’s what I think. (Brace yourself.) If you are interested in doing a little canning but you still want an eating variety of tomato and you don’t have room to plant several types of tomatoes, this is your variety. You can slice neat little horizontal rounds onto salads, make pretty little hors d’oeuvres, you could even stuff them with a bit of cheese and basil, to create an inside out caprese salad. This may very well be the most well-rounded, not round, variety of tomato.

Are you wondering if I will be growing this variety next year? You bet your sweet bippy, I will. Next year, I’m on a quest to find the perfect canning variety of tomato. Tomorrow, we will journey deep into my brain when I discuss what my fantasy variety of canning tomato looks like.

As always, if you’re looking for seeds, you can get them here, from TomatoFest. you can get them other places as well but I like the quality of seeds from TomatoFest and I can peruse all the other 600 varieties they sell. You know…just in case I need something new.

Tomato Review- Azoychka

This is my new series in which I taste and report on the tomatoes I think I can identify, in the garden. Since we just had our first light frost, we are at the official end of tomato season; this is my little way of drawing out the season. Today, we are talking about the Azoychka. It sounds like a noise that Scooby Doo and Shaggy would make. Zoikes, yo. Please read on:

This variety left a lasting impression on me because of the uniformity of the fruit and how prolifically the plants produced. If I wanted lots of tomatoes (and I do!) or I was going to produce them for sale, this would be a top pick. Despite the crappy weather, with the late season cold and rain, this plant produced large fruit and it lasted until, well, it’s still going, actually. I’m going to pull what’s left of the green fruit but to be honest, almost everything ripened on these plants. The photo above is one of the first fruits that came out of the whole garden. All of the other varieties were cat-faced but not Azoychka. The fruits were a gorgeous bright yellow, just shy of gold so they stand out on the sea of green, possibly making them look even more prolific!

As you know, there was the great seed debacle of 2011, in which Dave accidentally threw away all of my info on what plant were what but thanks to the fact that I numbered each row when I transplanted the seedlings, I know which plants are the same. From that, I can deduce that these seedlings were both easy to start and easy to grow. I had tons of this row number in the mix.Gardeners will love this seed.

Shall I get to the part we are all interested in, the part in which I tell you how these tomatoes tasted? Hang on, let’s talk about the physical characteristics of the fruit, first. The fruit was virtually flawless despite the crappy weather. The skin is a bit thicker than I like but not as bad as the grocery store tomatoes. (Again, this would be an excellent market variety. Or you could ship it to, let’s say Danielle, in New York, who has been denied fresh fruit and may be suffering scurvy.)  This tomato is fleshy. It has very few seeds. The Tomato Fest website says this is a very rare variety and I would say that’s probably correct since it would take so many fruit to get enough seed to produce commercially. One would have to be really committed to seed saving in order to get enough seed.The fruit itself has good heft, all were uniformly a full hand size tomato. It’s everything you want from a classic beefsteak variety. They also aren’t overly juicy. I think this might actually make a good canning variety.

Now you want to hear about how it tastes? I can hear you saying, “For God’s sake just tell me how it tastes!” Alright, cranky pants. Here’s the deal: all those wonderful qualities and the tomato is well…plain. I’m not going to say disappointing because very few home-grown tomatoes are but it was certainly less exciting than I hoped. The flavor was mild, somewhat sweet but it lacked in that acidity that I really want from my tomato. I put some salt on it to see if I could coax out some better flavor and still, not that much. Is it better than a grocery store monstrosity? Definitely. Did it rock my world? Not so much.

So have I written this variety off? No, certainly not. What kind of person might enjoy this tomato? Coastal growers might really love this tomato. It’s hard, if not impossible to grow large fruit on the central coast. This is a larger variety that grew and thrived in the anti-tomato weather, which the early summer offered us. The plants produced a lot of fruit and I would even say it’s a perfectly good canning variety. If you’re canning you typically want a lot of fruit from your plants. I would grow this again but maybe not next year. I want to spend the next few years trying out as many varieties of tomatoes as I can until I find the perfect fruit for my garden. If you are interested in trying to grow Azoychka, you can find it here, on Tomato Fest’s website. You may be able to find it elsewhere but this is where I got my seeds from. They are local and their seeds are of excellent quality.

Stay tuned for more tomatoes.

Sssshhhh….I’m Blogging Again

Don’t tell anyone and please don’t make a big deal about it. I return to the blog with my head hung in shame. I’m sorry for abandoning you. I hope you will take me back. I can promise to turn a witty tale or two. I have a few somewhat stale, lightly used stories to tell, about the trials and tribulations of remodeling and gardening on a semi-pro scale. Let me catch you up on things that have happened recently.

The contractor quit. It’s for the best. We were running out of money and those guys usually want to get paid. Not to worry, a friend came to our rescue. Remember Mike, who helped up build the fence? He’s been helping put the house back together. This is where we are in the process:

I know that isn’t the most helpful photo, as far as getting the bigger picture goes but I was hoping to replace at least a thousand words. I’ll tell you more about it later but we had a little issue with things fitting inside the bathroom so we changed the floor plan again. We didn’t get the plans redone this time. Mike assures me the county won’t mind (much) and he will help us take care of the issues. We’ll see. So far, the county has been grossly uncooperative about, well, everything.

Meanwhile, in the garden of Good and evil, the tomatoes started to ripen. They started to ripen the week after I panicked and bought (picked, with Dave’s help) 100 lbs of canning tomatoes from Marquita Farms. I forced the kids into 12 hours of canning servitude. They were champs. They did all this:

Actually, they did all that and more. I was very impressed. I haven’t had the heart to make them help me again, even though we have a garden full of over-ripe tomatoes.

The bees have left. One week we had a thriving community and the next, nothing. An empty hive full of cleaned out comb is an eerie place. We’ve been a little depressed over it. I don’t fully understand why the hive swarms when it’s getting ready to die back but I know of three other local bee keepers who have suffered the same fate.

Here are the bees shortly before they left. This was also shortly before they got really upset and caused a ruckus. Dave made us buy bee suits after that. We will be getting more bees next spring.

So there you have it. The brief happenings at Redemption. Stay tuned for more.