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