Is tomato time again! Time to pick out the best tomatoes of the year ... which heirlooms performed best, tasted best and handled our crazy weather best, this summer?
I grew/sold between 40 and 50 varieties of heirloom tomato seedlings again this year.
I always try to keep one of each variety for myself, whether I have grown it in years prior, or not. This helps me determine which ones really thrive in our locale and which ones are a total bust. I grow them all, on average, two years running to give them a fair kick at the can. As there are about 1200 or more heirloom tomatoes in the world, is clear that not all can be the perfect one for our little region of the planet, so trial and error is crucial. I grow my faves year after year. Some years they make it on the top ten list, some years they do not, but they always stay on my must-grow list.
This year was a wild, crazy, scorcher of a summer on the west coast. Was really hot, with no rain from May through September. While it is true that tomatoes generally like heat, even they needed a reprieve from the wicked drought and sunshine this year.
So, which tomatoes thrived in the heat? and the drought?
Here, in no particular order, as always, are my favourites, my top ten tomatoes for the summer of 2015.
I know, I know... in the world of tomatoes, especially heirloom tomatoes, round and red is about as boring as it gets.
However, there are a few that simply must be on the list this year, as they performed so well, with little to no BER (Blossom End Rot), loads of fruit, and best of all, really great flavour, too!
Many gardeners had issues with BER this year, but luckily for me, I did not ... so the tomatoes on this list were all terrific! (More on preventing BER at the end of the list)
#1 Camp Joy (aka Chadwick Cherry)
Indeterminate (vining), Cherry tomato
What a terrific little red cherry, or actually terrific big red cherry. Produced really, really well, even in the hot and sunny greenhouse.
Best cherry tomato this year! Cherry tomatoes are not usually my thing, I tend to love the big beefy guys, but this little guy is a keeper and will likely be in the top ten for many years to come.
Is sweet, but with a hint of tang to keep it really tasty. Kept right on producing, and producing, and producing through the summer.
#2 Sweet Pea
Indeterminate (vining), Currant tomato
I cannot say enough good things about this wee currant tomato. As you can see, it produces like mad, making loads and loads of these wee sweet treats.
These tomatoes are picked by the cluster, rather than by the tomato... Grab a bunch and pluck like grapes as you go about your garden chores. So sweet and juicy, too... how does all that goodness fit into that wee little tomato?
Truly a terrific addition to your garden. If you had to pick only one cherry/currant type, this is the one that I would recommend.
Determinate (bush), Paste tomato (Roma kind)
This would have to be my very favourite, top tomato this year. If I could only grow one variety, this would be the one.
The Ropreco was one of the earliest tomatoes to start producing and kept on giving right to the very end of the season... Best producer that I have ever grown, for two years running.
This paste tomato is amazing, meaty, with thin skins, and tastes like a Roma style tomato should. Not grainy, always yummy. Great for fresh eating, sauces, whatever you need it for, it delivers.
Determinate (vining), small Slicer tomato
I shared this tomato around with many this year, and they all agreed. The best tasting tomato of them all. I know, how can that be? Is so simple and boring looking ... red, small, and round, with no lumps, no bumps, no ribs... However, the flavour of this one trumps them all. Is sweet yet has that great hint of tang that makes it taste just like a tomato should. Does not need salt to bring out the goodness, it just simply is.
Production was fabulous! As with the Ropreco, this one started very early in the season and just kept on making more all summer long. Was one of the last tomatoes pulled from the garden, as it just kept on making more and more fruits. Highly recommend this tomato and it will certainly be found in my garden next year and forever more!
#5 Chianti Rose
Indeterminate (vining), Beefsteak tomato
This lovely, meaty beefsteak was on my faves list in 2012, and then, sadly, I was unable to source the seeds for a few years. Tried to buy some seed locally, at Seedy Saturday, and was led astray, told that the Bern Rose was the same tomato... oh boy, it surely is not, not even close.
Learnt my lesson, will stick to Chianti Rose for a truly great producer of lovely, big, pink beefsteaks, or not at all... the substitutes are sub-par.
As you see from the pic, it makes clusters of these large, lovely, pink tomatoes. They taste terrific and have thin skins. While most beefs are late season crops, this one is ready about 2 weeks earlier than all the rest. Even it wasn't, it would be worth waiting for ; )
Indeterminate, sprawling vine, Large Slicer tomato
From the town of Obeyeyie, Ghana.
The name means 'All Shall Be Well'
Though not quite as productive as last year, for me, it still did exceptionally well. The difference this year, is that I grew it in a pot in the hoophouse, rather than outside in the garden bed. The hoophouse has little to no air flow, despite the open wall and open door, so will not be used to grow tomatoes again next year, simply too stale and hot.
But on to the tomato ... the flavour is truly wonderful, one of the very, very best tasting tomatoes I have ever eaten. Is prolific, likes to sprawl out in a bed, and does not mind heat or humidity. This heirloom is a must grow! Is on my to-grow list forever more!
If you tend to like sweeter tomatoes, really nice and big and juicy, then the bi-colour beefsteaks are for you! These guys make a fantastic fresh salsa, chunky, meaty yet juicy, and sweeter than most, so they mesh wonderfully with the cilantro, salt, and fresh herbs of a fresh salsa.
#7 Ananas Noir
Indeterminate (vining), Beefsteak tomato
This 'Black Pineapple' is one of the most interesting looking beefsteak tomatoes. The skin almost looks bruised with all different hues of green, purple, orange, and yellow ... and when you slice it open, you find gorgeous bright green flesh with bursts of red and yellow that will definitely add intrigue to your vegetable platter or open-faced sandwich.
The flavour starts out sweet and ends with the perfect amount of zip. Is juicy, and yields really well.
#8 Pink Berkely Tie-Dye
Indeterminate (vining), Beefsteak tomato
Most of the tomatoes were the size of a baseball, the tomato on the right.. but I got one or two of these super duper doozies, too!
I received a lot of great feedback about this tomato... everyone who grew it, loved it! Is prolific, is tasty, and it loved all the heat! Rave reviews from everyone for production and the super yummy taste. It is also so pretty to look at, a worthy addition to your tomato bed.
If you are a die hard, only grow heirloom type, this is not the one for you. Yes, it is open pollinated so you can save the seed, it will come true year after year, but as it is not a pre-WWII tomato, is not an heirloom.
My list would not be complete without the blacks/purples.
They are my personal favourites, bar none, as the flavour cannot be beat.
#9 Purple Russian
Indeterminate (vining), Plum tomato
I would never have thought that I would find a new black/purple that would trump the Black Plum and the Black Prince, but sure enough... along came the Purple Russian.
This one was raring to go right from the start. The vine took off and grew like crazy in the 5 inch fibre pots that I sell my tomatoes in. It was soon taller than the rest, and flowering, too, saying to everyone 'pick me, pick me'. Completely amazing.
It kept up that growth and production all season, not phased by the heat at all. The Purple Russian produces early, produces long into the season, produces lots, and tastes terrific. These round-ish plums grow in clusters and make fruits that are really meaty, and a bit juicy, too. The taste has been likened to bacon, I kid you not. Flavour is deep and rich and smoky. The only drawback I found is that it cracked easily with inconsistent watering.
#10 Brown Berry
Indeterminate (vining), Cherry tomato
Again this year, the Brown Berry made the top ten list ...
Also, yet again this year, I liked this one better than I did the famous Black Cherry ... for both flavour and productivity. Don't get me wrong, I will always grow both and like both, but if I had to choose my fave, which I did for this post, the Brown Berry is truly the better bet.
This orange-y brown berry has a true tomato taste, is sweet with a zing, and has a thinner skin than the Black (so important in cherry tomatoes). It also has that real rich, deep, dark, sweet flavour of 'black' tomatoes.
Some other terrific tomatoes of note...
The Plum Lemon/Lemon Plum
This beauty is a giver! It is always loaded with fruit! An absolutely beautiful tomato to grow, with huge clusters of pretty, lemon shaped, canary yellow fruits hanging from 6 foot vines.
The flavour is mild, with a hint of sweetness, and the flesh is good and meaty. Perfect for chopping into a chunky fresh salsa, a yellow sauce, or a sandwich topper!
More about Blossom End Rot (BER) and how to prevent it during next years hot and dry summer ....
BER is a rot that occurs at the blossom end of the fruit, caused by a calcium deficiency in the tomato plant (or pepper, or squash). However, the answer, surprisingly enough, is not to add more calcium to the soil, but rather is all about how you water ... Watering techniques determine the plants ability to uptake the calcium from the soil
Due to this hot, dry spring and summer, if you had BER, you were not alone. It was the most asked about issue this year! A whole lot of gardeners here on the island were trying to determine when, how much, and how often to water ... and BER prevailed in many a garden.
Luckily for me, I had little to no BER this year, so little that it was not even an issue on my radar. Not on the peppers, not on the tomatoes, not even on the pastes (Roma's) which tend to be the most affected, and not on my squash. Think I have this watering thing perfected! Fingers crossed. Stink bugs, though, were a whole other issue! ...but will leave that for another time.
The main key to preventing BER is consistent and deep watering, yet not over-watering. Too much water will give you BER in no time. This is what happened to so many this year, they felt that they had to water, water and water some more, due to the hot and dry conditions.
A good, deep watering just once or twice a week is plenty of water for garden grown tomatoes. Truly!
Plants make deep root systems when you water less often, and lots of little root hairs that go after all the water and nutrients in the soil.
When you do water, however, it HAS to be good and deep. Just wand watering each plant for a few minutes will not do. Use soaker hoses and turn them on for about 20 minutes in your tomato bed every 4th day, give or take.
If you do not have soaker hoses or drip tubes, place your hose at a slow trickle at the base of each plant for 10 minutes or more, to allow the water to sink in nice and slow and deep. Mulching would not go amiss either, to help retain the moisture.
Pots are a wee bit trickier as you don't want really dry followed by really wet, but if you keep it too wet, you will surely have BER.
In general, I water my 5 gallon pots till it flows out the bottom of the pot. I do them all and then go around one more time, till it flows out the bottom a second time. I do this once a day, or maybe every second day. If your pots are larger and not drying out daily, water every second or even third day.
If you are getting BER, it is a sign to change your watering habits! Generally less water rather than more. Deeper rather than more often and shallow.
My Green Tomato Chow-Chow fixings ....
I make sure to pick enough green tomatoes to make a batch or two annually.