Compared to many New England (and East Coast) residents, I am very thankful that except for some water in the basement and a large ash tree that uprooted and fell almost surrealistically in the narrow space between the chicken coop and my three bin composter, we survived Tropical Storm Irene pretty much unscathed.
A lot of my flowers toppled over and that is a bit unfortunate as our local Garden Club holds a flower show every year on Olde Home Day (Labor Day). All members create several floral arrangements, from backyard flower beds and borders, and usually visitors are greeted by several hundred flower arrangements set up in the basement of the Charlton Federated Church. Visitors enthusiastically comment on the veritable explosion of colors, creativity, scents and floral inspirations each year. While we gardeners/floral arrangers are quite resourceful, Irene may have us scrambling a bit this year for ideas!
The day before Irene was predicted to hit our area, I collected as many tomatoes as I could figuring any I left would be blown off the vine or cracked because of the excessive water. All 14 tomato plants had some ripe or near ripe fruit so this also gave me an opportunity to sample and compare the 10 varieties I grew this year.
Cherry tomatoes always rank high as they are most prolific plants, can be snacked on like candy, used in green salads, and also added to any number of hot or cold dishes. ‘Sungold’ tops my list with its sweet, golden-orange, 1-inch fruits. The tomatoes begin to ripen about 57 days after transplanting. Its only fault is that it is thin-skinned so pick all fruits, orange or yellow, before any severe rain event. Despite this minor defect, my garden would not be complete without this most delicious of all cherry tomatoes!
Two other must have cherry tomatoes are ‘Sweet Million’ and ‘Yellow Jelly Bean’. These two, along with ‘Sungold’ not only taste terrific but are just so beautiful grouped together in salads. Also these three varieties are indeterminate in growth habit, which means they just keep growing and producing tomatoes until stopped by a hard frost. Last year I was picking cherry tomatoes well into October. They do have some typical tomato disease problems but because of their indeterminate growth habits, they usually manage to outgrow diseases like early blight, septoria, and anthracnose as long as you can routinely remove any diseased lower leaves. Spraying routinely with a sulfur or copper based, natural fungicide would be prudent as well in our humid, disease-promoting summers.
A new cherry tomato I tried this year is ‘Green Grape’. How lovely, I thought to have orange, yellow, red and green tomatoes in my daily summer salads! These tomato plants are determinate in growth habit, meaning they reach a certain growth stage, set flowers and fruit, and stop growing. At first they seemed immune to most tomato diseases. But then, they seemed to get this one disease that turns the leaves black and kills them. No spotting diseases, like septoria and early blight, for this variety! I thought this was good until I picked off about half of its leaves that were blackened and dead before Irene hit while collecting any potentially ripe fruit. I still can’t quite figure out which fruit are ripe as even the ones that look like they might be are still quite tart. I did notice some fruit changing to a more yellowish-chartreuse color and they tasted more pleasant.
Four small, early to medium, midseason tomatoes I harvested some fruit from were ‘Polfast’, ‘Marglobe’, ‘Champion Hybrid’ and ‘Golden Girl’. In general, the yellow or gold tomatoes are less acidic but still have a pleasing mild, tomato taste. I thought ‘Golden Girl’ was juicy and enjoyable and a nice salad addition and since she is indeterminate in growth habit with a typical maturity of 80 days, I am hoping for a continued harvest for the next month or so.
‘Polfast’ and ‘Marglobe’ have small to medium-sized red tomatoes on determinate plants. ‘Marglobe’ has been around for quite a while because of its sumptuous tomato flavor and disease resistance. The fruits of both of these varieties are most enjoyable and I have used them fresh and skewered with chicken on the grill and as an ingredient in tomato-zucchini casseroles. I will definitely consider growing both again.
‘Champion Hybrid’ gave me about a half dozen tomatoes before Irene and because it is indeterminate in growth habit, I am hoping for a dozen or so more. ‘Champion’ has been producing about one-half pound fruit which are solid and meaty and so far rank number one for my family for BLT’s which we have been indulging in on a regular basis this time of year.
For my canned tomatoes and chili sauce, I am anticipating a decent harvest of ‘Cuore di Bue’ and some unknown plum tomatoes that just sprang up in my watermelon patch. I think these ‘oxheart’ tomatoes, whether of Italian, Russian or other nationality are the absolute best canning tomatoes. They are quite ‘bottom heavy’ with ridges, and range, depending on the variety, from 4 to 8 inches or more across. Oxhearts are meaty, don’t contain many seeds, and are my favorite sauce tomatoes.
All the the oxhearts I am familiar with are indeterminate heirlooms. In fact, I was first introduced to them back in the mid 80’s while working as a horticulturist in a Massachusetts County Cooperative Extension Center. One of my clients had some questions and among them was whether or not I had tried growing a Russian oxheart tomato. When I said no, he promptly brought me one of his plants that he had started from seed brought over decades ago from his native country by his relatives! For many years I saved seed and continued growing this tomato. With time, it seemed to cross with other tomato varieties and the fruits were smaller and the plants more prone to tomato diseases. Now I tend to purchase new seed for different oxheart tomato varieties from various seed houses trying to find a close match. ‘Cuore di Bue’ tastes quite similar but the fruits are smaller. I will continue to grow this one but keep up my search for the original Russian oxheart that was gifted to me.
Aside from being an ardent tomato grower, I also am an ardent composter and you are welcome to join me along with other staff and volunteers at the 1st Annual Fall Compost and Garden Fair. Check it out at http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu!