(See how sneakily I got the date into that title? This old gal still has a few tricks up her tomato vines-stained sleeve!)
EVERY SUMMER, as I stand in my crowded tomato rows picking tomatoes, I think deeply about the varieties that I planted this year. Analytically. Critically. Well . . . maybe not deeply . . . but I do think about them a lot. I assess. After all, next year’s garden starts with this year’s tomato analysis.
I just made that up. (I like it!) Let’s say that again, just for fun.
(But this post is not about garden planning.) Every fall I pick a few varieties that really impress me, and I share my thoughts (for what they are worth!) about them with you, gentle reader.
Here’s my post from two years ago on this subject. Aaaannd here are three more:
Shoot, I should probably organize these somehow . . . maybe write a little brochure or something. (But this post is not about new brochures.)
Oh boy. The pressure. I know how many wheels are poised for action, as so many tomato growers wait for this post. 🙂 I hear that Mother Earth News is waiting for this post before they reveal their top heirloom tomato recommendations for next year. Undoubtedly the staff members of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company (from whom I buy most of my seeds) are sitting at their collective digital devices, pushing “refresh” again and again . . . waiting for this iconic blog post from your gentle (and humble) blogger.
This, in fact, was overheard in the offices of Baker Creek this week:
We’re behind on choosing the cover art for next spring’s catalog, but we can’t get serious about it until we’ve found out what Amy’s favorites are this year . . . after all, those will be our big sellers next year . . .
And from Mother Earth News:
We can’t publish the year-end article about the best heirloom tomatoes of 2018 until we see the much-ballyhooed vomitingchicken.com list! Dash it all! WHEN WILL SHE POST THAT BLOG???
Not to be outdone by all those folks in the Midwest, a memo apparently floating about through the offices of the New York Times:
Our feature on the most popular heirloom tomato varieties of 2018 isn’t complete until that vomiting chicken lady publishes her “best of” list! Why, oh why, must this humble lady of inestimable influence live clear out in flyover country?
Ha! I’ve always had (misplaced) visions of grandeur. When I was a girl, in fact, speaking of swimming 🙂 I spent a lot of time in the town pool, pretending that I was a mermaid. (I still astonish myself, at least, on how long I am able to swim underwater. Personally? I think I can do it because it is ABSOLUTELY THE ONLY QUIET SPOT IN MY ENTIRE WORLD. Underwater? *sigh* So. Quiet. Absolutely true. Try it, Mamas.)
I knew that my swimming was so lovely and so sylph-like that everyone around me stopped what they were doing, just to watch me glide by (in open-mouthed astonishment!).
Mermaids must be real . . . I just saw one swim past me, right here in the Nelson pool! More beautiful, in fact, than I ever could have imagined . . !
Did you see that beautiful long golden hair, hiding her–upper extremities? Gosh. If I were a mermaid, I would want to look like that one!
Okay, back on Planet Earth, and not all the way to the swimming pool, either. Or the ocean, where the real mermaids reside. (This post is not about mermaids, or fantasies of greatness. No, ma’ams. And sirs.)
Back to my garden, where I raised more tomato plants this year than I had cages for. I had to open up more garden space, as a matter of fact, to make room for them. I had them in my hoop house, in my first garden, and in the newly-opened-to-the-public third garden, as well. SO MANY TOMATOES.
In general, it has been a very good tomato year out here in flyover country. Other farmers have said as much; it wasn’t just me. A few varieties really stood out. Aaaaand (shameless plug here to subscribe, and to come back) I did a few things differently in planting and growing my heirloom tomatoes that did seem to make a big difference in the health and productivity of my tomato plants.
Another brochure in the works, folks, word to the wise gentle reader.
So anyway, without further ado, here are my favorite heirloom varieties from this year’s garden (with the sources for seed, also: bonus!).
Green Gage* (Baker Creek)
A real winner in the small yellow tomato category, Green Gage is bigger than a cherry tomato, smaller than tennis ball. Bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a baseball. Bigger than a shooter marble . . . you get the idea! Sweet and prolific. I pick them by the handfuls, not singly. That’s how crowded with fruit the plants are. It’s a very early producer, too, I think these were the first ripe tomatoes I picked. (Why are these taxi-cab-yellow tomatoes called GREEN Gage, though? Anybody?)
Purple Bumblebee (Baker Creek)
I grew three Bumblebees this year–pink, sunrise, and purple. My pinks and sunrises didn’t do well, but the couple of purple bumblebee plants that I planted have been loaded with these beauties all summer long. We’ve had a summer of extremes here in Nebraska–extreme heat, extreme dryness, extreme extremes, and in the past few weeks, extreme moisture with heavy rains, but these babies have not been prone to cracking, which is amazing to me. (Extremely amazing.) A beautiful little tomato, and very tasty, too.
Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato (Baker Creek’s pretty cover tomato this year)
Baker Creek’s catalog last year had this gorgeous photo of these new tomatoes from Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms on the cover. I think I probably had an envelope of them in my online cart so fast that the earth shook a little around our farm. I might have broken a speed record, or disturbed the time/space continuum, or something.
Smug (so often the new desirable varieties sell out quickly, but I didn’t miss out this time, no sir), the next day I talked with my son Matthew (aka the “Oracle”) who, admittedly, hasn’t grown tomatoes as long as I have (BY FAR), but still has a modicum of sense where growing them is concerned.
He said that he was tempted by the flashy catalog photo, as well, but that he was going to sit back and wait a year or two to see how other folks’ experiences with this newbie panned out.
That did give me pause.
Now here’s a question for you, gentle reader. What gives our children the right to get smarter and more insightful than us in certain areas? As I think of it, every one of my children (including 12 year old Malachi, but puh-leeeze don’t repeat me on that!) has developed areas of expertise where I must now grovel piteously and ask advice of them. It’s very humbling, and if you haven’t experienced it yet, you will. (In the immortal words of Yoda: You will.)
Boy, the family Oracle just ruined my fun with his overweening common sense. But. Since I already had a cart so full and since it filled so quickly (as if on its own!) that I was already trying to cull out varieties that it wouldn’t actually kill me not to grow, I went against my crazy impulsive tendencies and cut this tomato from my list. It caused me pain. (Actual, physical pain, Matthew.) It did. But I did it, anyway.
Time passed. I was sad.
I received my order from Baker Creek, and found that I had to place another order. But still, I resisted the alluring Brad’s Atomic. Not without effort, mind you.
More time passed. I had little tomato plants up in plug trays at this point. Still pouting, a little.
I made a couple more orders (gah! more postage!), as I realized that I had forgotten some crucial items from my first and second orders. Of course, this flashy newcomer tomato was sold out early on, I assumed . . . . I checked every time, Matthew’s words ringing through my brain (“sit back and wait a year or two–“). I was sorely tempted. But I can be as sensible as the next one. (Some say.) So I held fast. Plus . . . forking out that postage and handling fee, again and again . . . it goes against my natural tightwaddery.
Then it happened. I noticed on my latest order that I had (through some stroke of luck or a mistake in the office?) been the unwitting recipient of FREE SHIPPING. (Senior discount? Frequent ordering bonus? Pity Freebie for somebody who obviously didn’t have her act together?? Who knows?) Feverishly, I checked to see if they still had the Brad’s Atomic in stock.
*gasp* They did.
That was it. Clearly, I was intended to grow it this summer. It was MEANT TO BE.
I put BRAD’S ATOMIC GRAPE tomato seeds BACK in my cart (sorry, dear Oracle) so quickly that even my head was spinning, and I received FREE SHIPPING on it, too. 🙂 (I didn’t tell Matthew.)
Brad’s newest darling of the artisan tomato crowd? My feelings are mixed, but I’m still recommending your trying them, if you like to grow weird and different things, as I do. The tomatoes are delightfully stunning on the vine–purple and blue striped, and then when they turn ripe, they get streaks of orange and pink and rust colors. (Caveat: I didn’t get the ripe ones picked before a heavy overnight rain, and ALL the smaller ripe fruit split, but none of the larger ones did. So. There’s that. The skins are fairly tough, also, if that sort of thing offends you.)
BUT I do like the taste of these tomatoes. They are juicy when ripe. And they certainly have a different coloration than any other tomatoes I’ve grown. There ya go. Mixed feelings, but I’ll still probably grow them again. Oh, another thing: they vary from being a smallish elongated cherry-sized like my old favorites Blush and Lucky Tiger, all the way to a decent plum-sized. That doesn’t bother me, but if you like consistency in your tomatoes, be aware.
Blue berries (Baker Creek)
I think this was the first variety I grew from Brad’s new tomatoes. I grow it every year and will continue to, for two reasons: it is wildly prolific, and the tomatoes are simply a treat to look at. (Hey, I’m an artist.)
The tomatoes turn a bright, shiny purple where the sun hits them, and then mature to pink, red, and maroon. One plant will be covered in clusters of fruit of all these different colors, and it is simply stunning. The taste of the tomatoes is a little sour, in my opinion, but I like them.
Midnight Snack (Ivy Garth, ask for Christopher!)
My friend Christopher at the Ivy Garth seed company talked me into trying this one. (He was polite and exceedingly patient with me even though I put him off–and off—and off–with my order, so I had to do something to make up for it, and ordering these seeds seemed it.) Midnight Snack is a 2017 AAA winner, and is touted as being a “big improvement on purple tomatoes.”
The coloration in these tomatoes comes from the accumulation of anthocyanin pigments–the same way blueberries get their color–and they contain healthy antioxidants. Midnight Snack is a bigger cherry tomato than the Blue Berries, and has a slightly sweeter taste when ripe. And any cherry tomato that I can clip off in clusters when ripe, instead of singly, is definitely a winner in my book!
I will grow this one again, thank you very much, Christopher.
Big Rainbow* (Baker Creek)
You’ve probably noticed by now that most of my new favorites are cherry tomatoes. I plant the larger and the medium-sized ones, too, but this year I went in to cherry tomatoes in a big way, as I sell a lot of them to chefs. But I did have some favorites in the big tomato category, too. Big Rainbow satisfies all my senses abundantly: it’s a fruity, flavorful, juicy tomato with gorgeous color, and the plants really produced a lot of tomatoes. Furthermore it wasn’t prone to cracking or bug damage.
Many of my Big Rainbows reached two pounds in size. It doesn’t take many of them to fill a canning jar!
Cherokee Purple (Baker Creek)
This is everybody’s favorite, I know. There’s something about the dark tomatoes that are particularly satisfying on a BLT or any other sandwich. Cherokee Purple is a winner on many gardener’s lists, I suppose, because of the excellent old-fashioned tomato taste, and it’s nearly always a reliable producer for me, too. This is my favorite purple tomato, so far, at least!
Green Doctors (Baker Creek)
I don’t know why, but there’s something oddly appealing about popping a green tomato into one’s mouth and experiencing not what you would expect–a tart crunchy green tomato taste–but a fully ripe juicy tomato taste. That little delightful surprise is what you get with these little green jewels. They are delicious, and my plants have been loaded all summer. Only one trouble: figuring out which ones are ripe enough to pick! I think I’m getting better at it, now that I’ve been harvesting them for a few weeks, but it does take me awhile to pick them. But I think they are worth it! They are truly delicious and beautiful in a mixed basket of cherry tomatoes.
BY THE WAY . . . what’s this all about:
THE YEAR OF THE YELLOW TOMATO
I don’t know why . . . it does raise serious questions in my mind. Was it the weather, my germination issues, (i.e. half of the warm weather crops–mainly peppers and tomatoes–that I tried to grow from seed during the winter didn’t even germinate) or what? I don’t know the cause, but though I planted a nice variety of red, purple, stripey, pink, and yellow tomatoes (I have a spreadsheet filled with info to prove it, thanks to my mentor Gene’s gentle–or not so gentle–insistence that I learn how to make spreadsheets) (thanks, Gene, seriously) I ended up with WAY more yellow tomato types than any other. Waaaaaay more.
Take a gander.
But enough about me and my tomato year. What about you? How did your tomatoes do this season? Any successes, failures, or anything you want to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Don’t be shy!
Thanks, as always, for popping in and for commenting, sharing, and liking my posts on Fb.
‘Til next time . . . ! 🙂
- What Marguerite has Wrought
- Good things at our place, happening in threes