Welcome to NakedTomatoes

All about tomatoes, heirloom and home grown.
With a bit extra thrown in about Brugs and bread, growing and baking, and other semi-relevant thoughts. And maybe a few recipes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Choosing the right tomato - Part One

First of all, I don't know if there is such a thing. Everyone's taste is subjective, and the right tomato for Tom could be the wrong tomato for Fred. Having said that, the type of tomato you want to grow will depend on what you want out of that tomato. Are you looking for the perfect BLT sandwich tomato? Cute and tasty little plums for salads? Good canners and salsas and pastes? Lots of meat, lots of juice, lots of seeds, no seeds, etc. There are literally thousands of varieties to chose from, and of course every nursery catalog that lists seeds will tell you every tomato seed they sell is terrific. So how do you choose? And are you willing to put up with the imperfections of growing heirlooms? If not, then maybe you should grow some of the hybrids on the market and stick to the same old same old! But if you want to take a chance on something different and have some fun growing tomatoes, then heirlooms are for you.

There is nothing inherently wrong with hybrids but I prefer heirlooms/open-pollinated for a number of reasons. I like growing yellow tomatoes, and orange tomatoes, and black tomatoes. I like the little itty-bitty ones and the big beefsteaks. I guess I like variety. I should clarify at this point that I class heirlooms and open-pollinated (OP) together, while many others do not. There is no clear definition, and experts will argue the point till they're blue in the face. For simplicity, I put them in the same group because you can save the seeds, and they will grow true year after year. Others will say it is not an heirloom if it hasn't been around for one hundred years, or if it's not endangered, etc...What's in a definition?

I like the fact that you can save the seeds from this year's crop and as long as there has been no cross-pollination, then you are guaranteed to get the same tomato year after year. (There are different ways to prevent cross-pollination, a topic for another post.)

And I love the idea that I am doing my little bit to save rare varieties that we are in danger of losing forever. The big seed companies have no interest in preserving the old varieties, there is no money in it. They want you to buy the hybrids, because you have to keep buying them year after year. There is little point in saving those seeds, because they will not grow true. I am also very opposed to GMO's, and that seems to be the direction most big seed companies and food producers are heading towards with everything that we grow and/or eat. Tomatoes have been genetically modified and sold, although with limited success. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before the supermarket tomato is grown not only with pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, but will also be genetically modified and successfully sold to the unsuspecting consumer. That is not something I want to eat, nor feed my family. So I am trying to do my part in saving and promoting heirlooms. GMO give me the willies, to be honest.

So at this point, you're wondering where I'm going with this. Here goes:

What type of tomatoes do you want?

How important is production?

How long is your growing season?

What do you want to use the tomato for? (sandwiches, salsa, salads, etc)

How much effort do you want to put in?

Do you want to save seeds?

Keep these thoughts in mind when you're looking through the catalogs. There are lots of places to choose from, but my favorite so far is BakerCreek. I also have a few tomato growing buddies that have shared seed with me, and that is another great way to get them at low/no cost. I've got seeds saved myself, ready to share (hint, hint). As a Canadian, ordering from US companies is perfectly fine, with no problems with customs. I'm not 100% sure, but I think it is fine going the other way as well. Would have to double check.

There are a quite few valuable places to look for seeds, to get ideas, and to find advice. Seeds of Diversity is a living Canadian seed bank for heirlooms, Gardenweb has an excellent tomato forum with tons of advice and opinions. There are lots of good books out there as well.

Well, there is a starting point. I will work on Part Two soon. Lots more to come.

Here is a partial list of what I grew this summer that I will grow again next summer. These are some that I would consider outstanding must grows. Days refers to the number of days from transplanting in the garden until you see fruit.

1. Galina’s Yellow - a delicious yellow cherry, fairly prolific, one of Meg’s favorite Indeterminate, 70 - 75 days. (Siberia/Russian origin)

2. Black Cherry - a tangy, almost smoky, flavorful cherry, another favorite Indeterminate, 65 days.

3. Zigan - black slicing tomato (more of a dark purple, kind of uneven color), smoky flavor, very distinct, medium size Indeterminate, 75 days (Zigan means Gypsy, Russian heirloom)

4 . Stupice - red slicing tomato, small , about the size of a golf ball, but very prolific and early, this was the best tomato in my yard Indeterminate, 50 days. (Czech heirloom)

5. Vova Yellow - smooth, yellow slicer, almost plum shaped, another good producer, nice flavor Indeterminate, 65 days (also know as Uncle Vova’s, Russian heirloom)

6 . Orange Jubilee - another gorgeous orange tomato, baseball sized, good production, good flavor, Indeterminate, 65-70 days

7. Giant Italian Paste - this is the biggest paste tomato I’ve grown, outclassed and outperformed all the other pastes. Indeterminate, 70 days.

8. Rhoade’s Heirloom - a large, bi-color, very unusual looking, didn’t get a lot of the plants, but the ones we did were very nice. Indeterminate, 75 - 80 days.

9. Purple Prince/Black Prince - medium sized dark purple tomato, received one plant in a trade, but saved seeds from it. From what I understand, the same tomato goes by both names (but I could be wrong). Good production. Indeterminate, 70 days.

10. Russian Persimmon - another sweet orange tomato, almost tennis ball size, very nice flavor, Determinate, 75 days

Monday, October 29, 2007

Putting the garden to bed

Frost, and I mean real frost, has finally hit my garden. My valiant tomato plants have bit the dust. I've never had tomatoes this late before. In fact, this has been almost 6 weeks past the usual bite the dust date. Very unusual. But I knew it was coming, so over the weekend, the kids and I pulled out most of the tomato plants in the raised veggie beds, and in the front bed. Now I just have to finish weeding them completely, and I will try an overwintering adaptation of the lasagna bed technique. I used this early spring in one bed, as a trial, and it worked wonderfully. Kept the weeds out like nobody's business.

The basic idea is to smother weeds with newspaper, cardboard, other bio-degradable papers. What I did this spring was to layer compost, overwintered-soon-to-be composted leaves from the previous fall, and general garden waste in the bed, about ten inches or so. I then covered it all with about six to eight sheets thick of newspaper, and then on top of that, three to four inches of garden topsoil/composted lamb-cow-whatever manure. The idea is that the worms will pretty much eat all the garden waste, all the way up to and including the newspaper, leaving you with rich soil, and all the while smothering any weeds. Seemed to do the trick. I wasn't sure how happy the toms would be, in all that not quite composted stuff, but they didn't seem to mind at all. And when I was pulling out the plants, I saw more worms than I think I ever have. A win-win all around. I am going to try the same idea this winter in the other beds, minus the top layer of soil/compost. I'll save that for spring. I'll just add more leaves to the top to keep the newspaper from flying away, and see what it looks like come spring.

Oh, one thing I forgot to add, water the whole thing really well. Up here in Quebec, hopefully we'll get a really good snow cover, but even then, water will help the breakdown of the garden stuff (leaves, compost, etc,) and the newspapers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hello Tomato Lovers and Gardeners New and Old

I am creating this blog in the hopes of encouraging others to grow and save seeds of heirloom tomato varieties and to record and share my own experiences in my garden with tomatoes and everything else that grows in my garden, outdoors and in .

I use the word Naked as opposed to organic, non-gmo, non-hybrid, and other terms, because these are all kind of lumped together, as if they mean the same thing when they don't. I feel the word naked describes the tomato I want to grow. Pure, straightforward, old time strains of tomatoes, bursting with flavor, and all sorts of brilliant colors, these are not your hybrid perfectly round, perfectly bland supermarket tomatoes. These are tomatoes in their glory, blemishes, quirks and all. Grown with natural techniques, using no chemical fertilizing or pesticides.

I will share my growing tips and techniques, from choosing varieties and starting seeds, to lighting and watering, potting up seedlings, setting them out in the garden, bagging blossoms for pure seeds (or if you even need to bother), saving tomato seeds, soil nutrition, composting, and anything else I can think of related to gardening and success with tomatoes. Even if you've never grown a tomato plant, or started one from seed, you can follow along the process, and I bet you'll never go back to store bought tomatoes (except maybe in the dead of winter out of desperation) or buying those hybrids plants again.

I am also a Brugmansia (Angel's Trumpets) fanatic, so I will have the occasional posts and pictures of these beautiful tropical plants.

And I love to cook and bake, so I'm sure that will be there somewhere in the mix.

I hope I will get questions and comments. One thing I love about gardening is the generosity most gardeners have towards others. Walking in my neighborhood last summer, I complemented a woman who was weeding her garden on the gorgeous poppies she had growing, and she promptly cut off a few seed heads and handed them to me. I've had so many generous and kind people share little bits of their gardens and their time with me, I truly believe in the pay it forward philosophy when it comes to gardening.