Monday, 19 September 2016

Tanja's Top Twelve Heirloom Tomatoes 2016

I usually only rate the top ten tomatoes of the year, but as this year was an exceptional tomato year, have decided to pick the top 3 tomatoes in each of the four categories; cherries, slicers, pastes/plums (aka Roma style tomatoes), and beefsteaks.

Even at that, I had a hard time narrowing it down to just three of each.


Perfect little poppers! 


1. My favourite tomato in the entire garden this year was, by far, the Elfin grape tomato.

Everything about this tomato was excellent (growth, productivity), but it truly won number one status due to its fantastic flavour. Elfin was the best tasting tomato in the garden this year.    

A small, red grape or pear shaped tomato. The shape varied a wee bit, some were kind of pointy, while most were blunt at the bottom, as in the picture above.  

Elfin is a determinate (bush type), not a big plant, so can easily be grown in pots or in the garden. Is a good producer of sweet, thin skinned tomatoes that grow in clusters, perfect for popping right in your mouth. They never made it indoors.

Black Cherry 

2. Black Cherry 

Yes, again! What can I say? This tomato always produces like crazy, and tastes great, too!

Is considered the top heirloom cherry in the world, so really not surprising that it makes the best-of list year after year ; )

Black Cherry is a vining type, an indeterminate, and gets huge! This super duper sized vine needed an extra large cage, plus two stakes, to keep it upright.  

Fargo;s Yellow Pear

3.  Fargo's Yellow Pear

Was really, really hard to decide who was going to be number 3, as so many varieties did so well this year. Should I go with Camp Joy, another red one that just produced like mad? Or Brown Berry, a great dark coloured cherry that has been tops on the list before? Or Grappoli D'Iverno, a red drying cherry tomato?

In the end, I went with Fargo, mostly because she produced earliest of them all. These pear shaped tomatoes were big and juicy, flavourful, and abundant. My mother-in-law loved them in salads and on their own, as did my mom. I am not a yellow tomato lover usually, but must say, these were actually pretty amazing this year!

Fargo is a bush type, a determinate, stays compact, so is great for small spaces, pots and garden beds, too. The bush was loaded with tomatoes from mid-July on till the end of summer.


Abundant growers of mid-sized tomatoes, good for use anywhere and anyhow!

Boxcar Willie

1, Boxcar Willie -  A fantastic tomato. 

Great size, great productivity, and most of all, great flavour. Sweet, yet a bit of tang, that good old-fashioned tomato taste.

Wondering why it took me so long to try this well known heirloom, as it certainly lives up the it's reputation. Will be in my garden next year, to be sure. The perfect sandwich tomato, but one can also make it into great ketchup ; )

Paul Robeson - wow, just wow! 

2. Paul Robeson

The taste is the determining factor with this one. Has a deep, rich, smoky flavour, sweet yet tangy. My favourite black tomato this year.  

Paul is a vining tomato, great on a stake or a spiral, or a large cage. Produced lots and lots of these gorgeous big, black tomatoes from mid to late summer. Is almost big enough to qualify as a beefsteak tomato, though is juicier than most beefs.  

Early Annie 

3. Early Annie - has been a couple of years since this one was last on the list, but once again, was a great year for Annie. 

Early Annie starts making tomatoes early in the year and keeps on giving to the very end. The bush is compact, so easy to grow in a pot or garden, and loaded with fruits all summer long. Great tomato for anything, really. On sandwiches, in salads, and enough left over for roasting, freezing or canning, too.

Ludmilla's Plum is a classic Roma style tomato.
Though it did not make the top twelve list this year, it is a fantastic real Italian-style tomato! 

PASTES & PLUMS (aka Roma's)

These are the meaty ones, grown for canning and processing. 
Lots of meat, less pulp.

1. Ernie's Plump Plum - This was the prettiest tomato and oh so prolific! The plant was just loaded with dozens and dozens of these beauties. I wish I had a better picture of it, but I thought I had more time before the fall rains came ; )

These tomatoes blew my mind this year with their productivity and meatiness. Was my first time trying this one, but Ernie is truly the perfect plum. Big, plump, meaty, perfect for saucing, canning, salsas, and paste making. Comparable to the Italian Pear, but a much, much better producer.

Canada Long paste tomatoes

2. Canada Long - These have long been a favourite tomato of mine, but must admit that this year was a better than ever, fantastic year for them. They all grew and grew and grew, into these huge, long tomatoes and the vines were loaded!

We are all paste tomato lovers at our house (what you all call Roma's), so we grow more plums and pastes than any other type of tomato. We tend to prefer tomatoes with less juice and pulp and more meat. They are sliced onto sandwiches, chopped into salads, or sauced at the end of the year.

Canada Longs are indeterminate's, long vining types that do best grown up a string or stake. Support them well  or they will soon be crawling all over the ground!

San Marzano

3. This last one is always the toughest one to choose. so many great tomatoes, but one can only pick a few for the top twelve. Therefore, decided to go with the San Marzano. 

The San Marzano is the ultimate Italian 'Roma' style plum tomato, used for all their canning and cooking purposes.

A blocky, meaty, yummy, and prolific indeterminate tomato, truly the ideal tomato!  

Psst, close runner up was the Purple Russian! Started early, made loads of these blocky tomatoes.. but kind of slowed down production towards the end of the year, while the others made more and more.


The big, meaty tomatoes, 1 to 2 lbs in size! 

A variety of great big beefy tomatoes... 

Beefsteaks fascinate me. To be able to grow such massive and meaty beauties, when one single slice of tomato covers the entire sandwich ... heaven.   

Pretty in Pink ~ Chianti Rose 

1. Chianti Rose - big, pink, meaty, and wonderful.

I have been thrown off track a couple of times when looking for the seeds for this tomato. If someone offers you seeds that have the word 'Rose' in it, but no Chianti, do not buy them (such as Rose of Berne). They are not the same tomato, not even close .

Chianti Rose is in a class of it's own, it is that good. The tomatoes are medium to very large in size. The flesh is smooth and creamy, meaty not pulpy. The flavour is oh so good, sweet and mild with little tang. Very similar to a Brandywine... just better ; )

Is an indeterminate type, a vining tomato. Grows fantastic on a stake or a large cage. Have it well anchored, as the tomatoes are heavy, and there will be lots of them on the vine!  

2. Aunt Ginny's Purple

Look at the size of these guys! Incredible. This was a new beefsteak variety for me this year, and has become a new favourite. Is meaty yet a bit juicy, has fantastic flavour,  great for sandwiches! Considered one of the very best heirloom tomatoes.

A vining type, an indeterminate, make sure to stake them well!   

3. Bullsheart

Again, a tough decision... do I choose Ananas Noir with it's sweet, delicious flavour and unique colouring? The deep and smoky Chocolate Cherokee? Or German Pink, which is as stunning as the Chianti Rose?

Instead I chose the Bullsheart, an oxheart type that originates from Russia. Big, chunky and meaty, perfect for sandwiches and salsas.

Chosen for productivity, taste ... and looks, too ; ) I know, so odd, eh? But it is such a lovely tomato, the shape combined with that pink creamy hue. Gorgeous!

This one is also a vining type of tomato, I think all the beefsteaks are. As they are all so big and heavy and prolific, pound in that stake really well! I had this one growing up a spiral this year, which worked really well.

Big and beautiful tomatoes were the norm this year! 

This year was not a fantastic gardening year, despite the fact that my tomatoes grew so big and beautiful. It was a summer full of worry.

June was so cold and grey and damp, I was very, very concerned about early blight. Tomatoes need heat and lots of sunshine, which did not arrive until well into the month of July. We had six very long weeks of cool and grey days.

Luckily, all went well. The tomatoes all had good spacing at 2 to 2.5 feet apart from each other and were still young and small, so had good air flow between them. They were watered at ground level only, never on the foliage. With a whole lot of luck, a bit of forethought, and lots of nail biting, they hung in there till summer finally arrived.

Black Plum had twisty foliage for most all of the summer.
Did not affect the fruiting, but was an odd (and ugly) sight to see. 

The early tomatoes all had a bit of cat-facing, caused by those cool days at pollination time. However, after the sunshine came, and stayed, the rest of the tomatoes grew and grew and grew, were just perfect.

Sadly, tomato season not only started late, but ended early, too. The rains came in early September, so then one had to start worrying about late blight! Yikes!

I honestly have no idea why the tomatoes grew as big as they did this year, or produced as well as they did. Perhaps they were afraid they were going to die and go extinct, so fruited like crazy to compensate for the crazy weather?

A bushel basket full of heirloom tomatoes

I harvested like a mad woman, froze ours for ketchup making later on, and gave away over 100 lbs of tomatoes. Due to the late August wedding, which is prime harvest time, we have not yet canned anything this year. Not one single tomato, cuke or zuke!

The garden is now bare of tomatoes, phew! I had two tomato beds this year, so 120 feet (55 plants) of tomatoes have been harvested, frozen, and donated, while the fall rains come daily. No more worrying about blight for me.. this year.

Happy Harvesting! 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

September Garden Ramblings

I can hardly believe is September already. August just fairly flew by as I prepped for the garden tour and wedding, and here we are with summer near over!

Lots to do in the garden this month with the harvest season upon us!

Late Flat Dutch Cabbage

What to do this month?

September is the one of the busiest months of the year for gardeners. Fall harvest, canning, freezing, drying, storing, and fall planting, too.

What to harvest...

Tomatoes - They are ripening before our very eyes this month. Freeze them, dry them, sauce or salsa them for canning, and slow roast the rest.

You may find yourself with splitting tomatoes with all this rain we've had lately. Splitting fruit is just the meat of the tomato growing faster than the skin can keep up with. They are fully edible, just will not store well... and are terrific for stewing ; )

Green tomatoes can be made into a lovely Chow Chow, a green tomato relish that tastes fantastic. I know that a lot of places will recommend that you ripen green tomatoes in boxes, under your bed, on the windowsill, etc... however, they become pretty tasteless, just like winter time, grocery store tomatoes. Vine ripened in sunshine is always the best. Hence the green chow chow recipe, something to make with any left overs that still tastes really good!

Healthy vines can be composted, or tossed into garden waste pick up, should you be lucky enough to have that in your area. Blossom end rot is purely physiological and not a disease, so not to worry, both fruits and vines can be composted.
Blighted vines need to go out with the garbage though, so as not to spread those spores around.

Peppers - Will continue to ripen from now through till November.  Harvest at any stage, green or red, you do not need to wait. Hot ones are hot at all stages.

Toss plants into the compost bin when done. I grow my peppers in pots, so will tip the soil onto the garden beds, but they can also be dumped in the compost if you need more 'browns' to start things cooking down faster.

What to do with all those peppers? We use the sweets in salsa and sauces, or just raw. I eat them like apples as I work in the garden ; )

 Crushed Hot Peppers

We grow more hots than sweets though, as hubby likes to dry them for blended spice mixes. The cayenne and paprika peppers get ground into powders, as do some of the chili's. The others are mostly dehydrated and made into hot crushed pepper mixes. You can also make some great hot sauces! 

Mini Jacks

Squash - Leave your squash plants until the fruits are fully ripened, even if the leaves are mildewed. 

How to know when to harvest squash? Push your thumbnail into the side. If you can easily puncture the skin, it is not yet ready to pick. When you can no longer push your nail through the skin, lift them to cure. All squash except acorns will store well and for a long time. For more information about curing squash, see last years post HERE!

After harvesting your squash, toss the vines into the compost bin, even if they are mildewed. Chop into short pieces if you want faster compost.  

Tri-coloured bush beans

Beans and cucumbers should be harvested weekly, or even more often. The more you pick, the more they make. As the vines stop producing and begin to look peaked, pull them out and toss into the compost. 

If you are growing drying beans, leave them on the vine till yellow and dry, then pick, crack open and store the beans.


Asparagus - Cut down the fronds down to the ground when they have turned brown/yellow. Top dress with manure or compost.

Sunflowers... How to know when to harvest your sunflowers?

They will have lost their flower petals, and the backs will have changed to golden instead of green.

Most importantly, the seeds will be black when you run your fingers across the front of the flower. 

These seeds are not yet ready to harvest as they are still white

Harvest your finished flowers, cure them to feed the birds, your gerbils, hamsters, or rabbits. Apparently chickens like them, too. 

What to leave in the garden ...   

Not all veggies need to be lifted now though, many will easily store all winter in the garden, to be harvested as needed. 

 Lacinato aka Dinosaur Kale 

Which veggies can you leave without fear in the beds all winter long? 

Kale, all kinds. Needs no cover, even in snow, will be fine all winter long. Harvest leaves as needed. Maybe toss in a few extra plants this fall if you want lots of leaves to take you through the winter.

Kale will bolt in early spring, to be replaced with new starters plants or seeds. If you let it go to seed, you will have perennial kale and never have to plant again. 

Brussels sprouts - You should have lovely sprouts starting to grow now, to be harvest at Thanksgiving and all winter long. Provide supports for tall and heavy plants so they do not topple in winter. 

Carrots - Harvest throughout the fall and winter, needs no cover. Try to use them all up by spring or they will get woody, stringy, and start to go to seed. 

Beets - Taste better small, of course, but can be left in the garden and harvested as needed. Try to use beetroots up before winter hits, but they will be fine all fall. Plant new starters now for many months of fresh beet greens.  

Turnips, kohlrabi, rutabagas - These guys can handle some pretty severe frost, as well, though turnips are the least hardy of the three and may go soft in hard frosts. Harvest as needed.   

Broccoli - The winter ones will be harvested in February/March next year, while fall ones are harvested this year as they make heads. 

Cabbage - To keep the big ones you have in the garden now from splitting in the rain, please give them a quarter turn. Just enough to uproot the feeder roots a wee bit. New starter plants will continue to size up till late fall. 

Leeks - Harvest as you need, these guys are tough and need no cover. Try to use them up by late spring though, or they get kind of woody and unappealing. 

Onions - If you planted over-wintering onions (Walla Walla's, scallions, or bunching) they will do great in the garden all winter. I would cover with white frost fabric or low hoops. Lift summer onions when the tops start to fold over.

Peas- Fall peas should be starting to produce soon. They will keep going till winter. Chop up their vines into the garden or compost afterwards. 

'Lettuce Bowl' of mixed greens

What to plant now from seed?

Most fall and winter crops needed to be seeded in July or August. However, you can still get away with some of the fast growers, like ...
- Arugula
- Mache
- Lettuce
- Radicchio
- Spinach
- Scallions, bunching onions, and shallots
- Oriental greens like Pak Choi, Bok Choi...
- Radishes


 What to plant from starter plants?
- Spinach
- Lettuce
- Kale
- Rutabagas
- Turnips
- Beets
- Leeks
- Celery
- Broccoli
- Cauliflower
- Cabbage
- Swiss Chard

... and GARLIC, of course!

As garlic is planted between mid-September and late October on the west coast, we have lots of time yet to clean out our beds and amend the soil.

Garlic is a heavy feeder. If you want fabulous bulbs, you need fabulous soil.

If your soil is already really fantastic, add a bit of compost or manure and lightly scratch it into the top few inches. If you are not sure, this is a great time to do a soil test.

If your soil is a bit tired and depleted, scratch in compost or manure, plus nitrogen and phosphorous. The nitrogen feeds the green top growth to help your plant grow well, while phosphorous feeds the bulb. I use bloodmeal and bonemeal, but you can also use alfalfa meal and rock phosphates, too.

If possible, add your amendments 2 to 3 weeks before planting. For garlic planting instructions, please see HERE!

Ivy geranium

Happy gardening!
... and harvesting! 

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