Like many gardeners, I love my tomatoes and, I love to try new plants, especially novel vegetable varieties and cultivars – always looking for that culinary adventure I guess. Aside from my basic red staple tomatoes, I grow or have grown orange ‘Sungold’, ‘Yellow Treasure’, ‘Brown Betty’, ‘German Pink’, ‘Green Grape’, ‘Great White’ and ‘Mr. Stripey’. But until now, I had not tried a blue one. This year a good friend of mine gave me 2 blue varieties, ‘Fahrenheit Blues’ and ‘Indigo Rose’.
I just picked my first ripe ‘Fahrenheit Blues’ and took a quick picture before popping it in my mouth. Very juicy and tasty with a definite tomatoey flavor. Blue tomatoes are not actually blue like the sky. They are more purplish-blue, like an eggplant. They start off green and turn a dark purple, almost black as they mature. Part of my tomato had some red and it and that is because the leaves prevented the sun from reaching that part of the tomato. If you cut one open, the flesh looks similar to a red tomato although I think it is a little more darker and vibrant.
So where did blue tomatoes come from? I believe the first one was bred by Dr. Jim Myers at Oregon State University. He was looking to produce luscious, dark-colored fruits that have high levels of an antioxidant called anthrocyanin, the pigment that gives blueberries and black raspberries their color. He used traditional plant breeding techniques crossing domestic varieties with wild tomatoes having the anthrocyanin gene. His first release in 2012 was ‘Indigo Rose’. Clusters of 6 to 8 two-inch or so tomatoes are covering my plant now which is indeterminate and does need staking. In fact both of the varieties I am growing need to be staked.
Several other breeders have also produced blue tomatoes, some through conventional breeding and others by incorporating genes from another plant like a snapdragon.
While ‘Indigo Rose’ is supposed to be fairly disease resistant, all of my tomatoes are showing signs of septoria leaf spot. I just went through and removed all the diseased foliage this past weekend.
The hardest thing about the blue tomatoes is telling when they are ripe. The fruits go from a shiny eggplant purple to a dull purple-brown color. Or you can cheat and just look at the bottom which is not exposed to the sun. It should be a ripe red color.
When I was out grooming the plants, I noticed one tomato with really sparse foliage when just a few days before it looked healthy and bushy. Upon closer inspection were two large tomato hornworms. One was very happily munching on my tomato leaves and stems and the other was in slow decline as he (or she) had the cocoons of a braconid wasp on its back. The wasp lays eggs under the skin of the caterpillar which hatch and feed on the insides of the hornworm before chewing their way out through the skin. They then create these cocoons to pupate in and emerge from the cocoons as adult wasps ready to seek out another meal.
Now if only a natural enemy of those cross-striped cabbageworms would show up in my garden!