Monday, September 14, 2009

2009 hits, misses and definite keepers: the Tomatoes

Despite the less than ideal weather conditions in spring, I'd have to say that this year's tomato crop was a success. The harvest may not have been as great, but what few we did get were satisfactory enough in quality to decide whether we'll grow them again or not. The one thing I've learned most about tomatoes is that they need sun. I've grown them in containers, in good amended soil, in lousy mixed clay, and in all sorts of places in my yard and garden, but the ones that did best were those that were exposed to a sunny spot for at least 6 hours a day. The ones that did better were the ones grown in amended soil (manure/compost) or where I had previously grown fava plants. I still remember the neighbor who once said that we couldn't grow anything in this tough mountain clay, but I think he just didn't believe us city folk to possess so much determination to succeed. I can't live without tomatoes, so let's begin!

Pink Brandywine

Pink Brandywine tomatoes

Pink brandywine halvesIn 2008, a shaded corner in the yard was the only space I had for these and while they grew and grew and yielded beautiful, oddly-shaped and enormous tomatoes, the lack of abundant sunshine took its toll. The monsters stayed green, all the way into late October, which is when I told my husband to collect them before it got too cold (I was away) and allow them to ripen indoors on their own. They did turn color, but the flavor was definitely lacking. This year they earned a prime spot in the garden, in soil where fava beans had previously grown. The 5 plants are still reaching for the stars and producing flowers like they were on a mission. What fruit we've already tasted has been an excellent balance of acid/sweet (so good in a caprese salad) that I will be growing these again.

Ananas Noire

Ananas Noire - top view

Ananas Noire halvesIn the end, color does make a difference, and I should have known better than to pick this the day that I did. But after reading Ananas Noir: Hanna’s Tomato Tastings, waiting it out another few days was just not going to happen for me. Like she says, this tomato is sweet, even if it doesn't taste like any pineapple I've ever eaten, or even a tomato at that. It tasted of a fruit that likes the novel idea of being called a tomato, but is probably more in love with its exotic name. Black Pineapple. Ananas Noire...[for a moment there, an image of Gomez flashed in my mind, he obviously going nuts on Caroline's arm.] There's no doubt that Ananas Noire would have been sweeter had I let it blush a little more at the bottom and relied on the old "squeeze test", that is, soft and yielding but not squishy. The interior, when ripened properly, is supposed to be a green, yellow and purple mix. I guess it sounded much more attractive in print? Since this is not your typical red tomato, you may need to hone in on your touchy/feely skills as well. I won't be growing it next year.

Growing notes: going against all gardening logic, I started these from seed on April 2nd just for the heck of it. Six weeks later the seedlings were stuck in the only remaining space in the garden - a hole dug into clay dirt - along with some potting soil and a little helping of bat guano. The 3 plants bravely weathered wind, rain and hail, but in the end only one would grow strong enough to produce anything. Well actually it produced only 2 - this one here at a decent 10 oz. (they are said to grow up to 1.5 lbs), and another that I promise not to pick until it passes the squeeze test.

Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple halvesLast year I grew these both in a container and mixed clay soil and they did so-so. Small harvest, but really great fruit, and my husband saved seeds as an experiment for this year's planting. That said, I started Cherokee Purples in mid-March with the sole intention of seeing if his seed-saving experiment would work. Of course it did, and managed to produce 2 tomatoes on a 3-foot tall plant. They tasted as wonderful as they had in 2008, but again, were victims of spring's bad weather — the plants didn't grow as big as they should have. The tomatoes have a smoky, sweet/tart flavor and again Hanna saves my day with her Cherokee Purple Tomato Tastings 2009. Bless that woman! I'll be growing these in a prime spot next year.



Marmande halvesAt Baker Creek where I purchased the seeds from, the description of Marmande was too tempting to resist:

Scarlet, lightly ribbed fruit, have the full rich flavor that is so enjoyed in Europe. Medium-large size fruit are produced even in cool weather.

Produce they did, but I didn't care much for the higher ratio of seeds to flesh as you can see here in the photo. Not a keeper.

Black Krim

Black Krims

What more can I say about this tomato? Love its flavor, its juiciness and its color. I loved it so much that I even stripped it down naked to prove to myself that sometimes, beauty is not only skin deep. A definite keeper.

Rouge d'Irak

Rouge D'Irak

The seeds for these were from another seed-saving experiment that my husband did last year. I didn't grow them for production (they did fantastic in 2008), but just as a test to see how they'd do in the soil (mixed clay) in our back garden. As you can see, Rouge d'Iraks came through with flying colors, even with the wet weather in spring, so I will grow these again in 2010. For production purposes this time.

Japanese Black Trifele

Black Trifele Harvest

My only big disappointment for 2009. Baker Creek described them in this way:

Attractive tomatoes are the shape and size of a Bartlett pear with a beautiful purplish-brick color. The flavor is absolutely sublime, having all the richness of fine chocolate.

Well mine were perhaps, the size of half a pear. Color-wise they looked like the above for the whole season. And fine chocolate? Not in the least bit...for me anyway. But I'm cutting Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes some slack because they were on the front line when it was cold and rainy, stuck at the top of the garden slope where it's more exposed to the elements. They also got nailed by hail, poor things, and didn't stand a chance when the slugs came along. If I can manage a free spot in the garden next year, I'll grow at least two plants to see how they do again.

Average daytime temperature: 19°C / 66°F
Snow has already been reported at higher elevations in the region of Trentino!


  1. I've bought some heirloom seeds from US and am now wondering how I'm going to grow heirloom tomatoes at home, hahahaha (I don't have a garden)

  2. Rowena, I can't agree with you more on the Brandywine. We've grown it for four years now and love them exceedingly. Another that we love is our Black Russian, grown now two years in a row with excellent results. They look sooooooo much like your Black Krim. You can't beat the heirlooms for the flavor. I do appreciate you trying all the varieties and sharing with us.

  3. wow! I never even knew these many varieties existed!

  4. There's something to be said for homemade compost and manure (I like poultry). Your tomatoes revel in it ! Do you mail order the seeds?

  5. KennyT - in large planting containers! The results may not be as superb (the larger the planter the better) but growing tomatoes in this way is possible. Just don't crowd them together.

    Gail - oh yes, I'm with heirlooms all the way, and it was a good learning experience in trying several types to share them here. I also haven't forgotten that you wanted to see a photo of the inside of those Collective Farm Woman melons, so I'm addressing the rest of the garden trials in a following post.

    Kat - it is just...mindblowing, to say the least. 'Make scade' whenever I dare to visit the seed supply websites.

    Scintilla - yes I mail order from the US, and up until recently, never had any problems with the dogana confiscating them. Unfortunately, my luck has run out (temporarily, because I can't stop ordering them) ^-^

  6. THIS is very,very helpful.
    Do you always grow your tomatoes from seed?

  7. Maybelline - always. My dad was "old school" and I still remember his collection that he would keep for years!

  8. Thank you so much for taking the time to describe your experience with each tomato type, this is very, very helpful! The pics are beautiful also!

  9. GetSoiled - I'm glad you appreciated this tomato post, and thank you for the compliment! I remember when I first started getting into heirlooms, and how frustrating it was to choose from the hundreds of varieties in the catalogs! It wasn't enough to glean info from the product description - I needed firsthand experience from the people who grew tomatoes for themselves. I think with tomatoes, a photo does speak for itself!

  10. I don't have a green thumb so I wanted to ask... how come it was great for grapes, but bad for the garden this year? (coming from a guy who has trouble keeping plastic plants alive!)

  11. Peter - in a nutshell, location. We live 700 metri s.l.m. and we really got SOAKED this spring and early summer. I haven't seen the water level of Lake Como so high. Each day that it rained, I did my best at hand-pollinating the zucchini and pumpkins but apparently it wasn't enough. We lacked sun!


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