The Extreme Gardener

Experiments in permaculture and
other gardening adventures in northeastern Vermont

Posts tagged ‘tomatoes’

Two Remarkable Tomatoes

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Dan and Val McMurray, or Grunt and Grungy as they were known on the Homegrown Goodness Forum, were fellow extreme gardeners in British Columbia. Their presence is sorely missed, but many of us were gifted with seed and good gardening advice from them, and they live on in our gardens and memories.

Tomatoes were a particular passion with them. When I realized the extent of their tomato endeavours (I believe they grew hundreds of varieties) I had two questions to ask: Of all the varieties you have grown, which are the best tasting early tomatoes, and which are the longest keeping tomatoes?

Burztyn

I promptly received seed for several varieties of each category in the mail. In trialing them, two real stars emerged that adapted well to our climate and have become “must-grow-every-year” tomatoes for us.

Burztyn was aquired by Dan and Val in 2004 in a trade with someone named Jetta in Denmark. There may be another variety in the Seed Savers Exchange that goes by the same name, but is indeterminate. Our Burztyn is determinate. To add to the confusion, the word “burztyn” means amber-colored in Polish, and there are a few varieties floating around from eastern Europe and the former USSR called Amber or Amber-Colored. I may have to try to get a few seeds of the SSE’s accession to grow out to see if they are the same variety.

Burztyn a few weeks after picking

Here’s Dan and Val’s description: “60 – 70 days, det., regular leaf, blemish free amber colored fruit, 2-4 oz. Very good tomato taste, more sweet than acid. A must regrow here. 9 lbs/plant.”

We found it to be nicely early, and the flavor is such that when it’s ripe there is a tendency to ignore other ripe tomatoes. Burztyn seems to have a certain amount of disease resistance – it can stand up to late blight a little longer than some, though it’s certainly not immune. It also keeps a month or so after picking, which is very handy in our climate where frosts can strike any time after September. Burztyn can be purchased at Tatiana’s Tomato Base

Giraffe Abricot has very tall vines

The second tomato is not a luscious tomato by any stretch of the imagination, but no other tomato I know of stores as well. It’s called Giraffe Abricot (or just Giraffe), giraffe because the plants are very tall and elongated (it requires about 6 feet of vertical support), and abricot because of the apricot color (yellow blushing orange) of the ripe fruits. I don’t know exactly who Dan and Val got it from, but it is a Russian commercial variety bred at the VI Edelstein Vegetable Experimental Station.

Giraffe Abricot picked in early September
for winter storage.

Here’s more about storage tomatoes.

Now, as I write this at the end of January 2013, I still have 3 Giraffe Abricots left that were picked in September of 2011. I wouldn’t seriously plan on keeping them into a second winter as part of our food scheme, but I am amazed by their shelf longevity. Nothing was done except to pick them carefully into a flat lined with newspaper (as seen in the photo above), and put the flat on a shelf in our cold room. In all honesty, after 16 months in storage, they are not really palatable – at this point they completely lack acidity and they are rather pallid. You can see the color difference in the two photos.

Giraffe Abricot in first winter of storage.

Through the first winter, they do have enough flavor to make a positive contribution to such culinary endeavors as omelettes, sandwiches, quiches, etc., if they are thinly sliced, but forget about salads, sauces or salsa.

This tomato is about storage, not flavor. It has better disease resistance than the other long-term storage tomatoes I’ve grown. Those others have better flavor, but when it comes right down to it, the better flavor doesn’t do me any good if they are going to promptly rot out. We’ve been dealing with late blight for the past few years, and I’ve found that for Giraffe, if I pick the fruit at the first signs of LB on the plant’s foliage, the fruits escape infection. That’s how it was when I harvested this batch in September 2011. I was not paying close enough attention this past fall, and the blight got into the fruits, so I lost the entire crop.

Giraffe Abricot in second winter of storage.

So, of course it has occurred to me that maybe a cross of these two gifts from Dan and Val would result in an improved storage tomato. I think I’ll have to try it this coming season. A Burstin’ Giraffe perhaps?

Kelley’s Pixie tomato

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

LB hits

Late blight on Pixie, August 18

The summer of 2009 was a disaster for our tomato crop. It was consistently wet and cold until the end of August, and late blight showed up the first week of August. We had over 70 tomato plants, comprised of 16 different varieties. I always try a “new” variety or two, but this year I had decided to run more extensive trials for tomatoes with storage potential. (More about that another time.) Once late blight hit, I spent a lot of time “grooming” – picking off affected tomato and potato foliage, and burning the trimmings with the flame weeder. I was hoping to stave off the disease long enough to get a few tomatoes ripe of each variety to at least collect seed, and maybe get some sense of the new varieties’ storage potential. Seed for many of the varieties is not readily available.

I don’t know if my grooming efforts were really worth it. It was a lot of work. Late blight is very deadly, but we were able to get ripe fruit and therefore at least some seed from all but two varieties. On the bright side, I got to see how all these responded to every tomato and potato grower’s worst nightmare.

colander of ripe Pixie tomatoes

Colander of ripe Pixie tomatoes

The two varieties that held out the longest and were able to mature a decent amount of fruit (considering) were old friends, Kelley’s Pixie and Red Currant. Both have been evolving in our gardens for more than 15 years. Pixie produced enough, combined with the odds and ends of more heavily afflicted tomatoes, for us to can about 12 pints of thin tomato sauce, which is better than nothing. There were also enough Pixies and Red Currants for us to have a daily fresh tomato ration into November, without getting into the real storage tomatoes.

Pixie was originally a very popular hybrid released by Burpee in 1971. Burpee no longer produces it. I got the seed in 1993 from SR Kelley, a market gardener in Derby VT, on the Canadian border. He “true-lined” the Pixie hybrid, meaning he saved seed from it, and grew out successive generations so that it became a stable open pollinated variety.

colander of ripe Pixie tomatoes

There are gardeners who think hybrids are evil, but that’s a simplistic view of the issues around creating and maintaining genetic diversity in the garden. I avoid buying hybrid seed for many reasons, but I can appreciate hybrids as works of art, not to mention potential genetic material to play with.

Kelley’s Pixie has larger fruit than the catalog descriptions of the Burpee hybrid, but the same rugose leaves, and very heavy stemmed, compact plant architecture, which makes it a good candidate for container and greenhouse growing. It is determinate, cold tolerant, among the earliest, and is the best tasting very early full sized OP tomato we’ve grown. It has a nice sweet complex flavor, and tastes pretty good even in years when our lack of sun and warmth causes other tomatoes with ambrosial flavor potential to taste like cardboard.

LB hitsLB hits

Both the plants and the fruits are very uniform, and quite bullet-proof, late blight not withstanding (NOTHING is immune to late blight). Pixie has no cracking, cat-facing, or other fruiting vices. I break all the rules with them, and get away with it. I don’t stake them. I grow them in the same place year after year. (They do each go into a big hole filled with compost).

Some years I mulch Pixie with grass clippings if we have enough, but it’s a trade off because an organic mulch makes the soil cooler, and here growing tomatoes is mostly about beating the cold. But, with no staking, the fruit lies on the ground, which can be really asking for trouble in a wet year, so a cushion of mulch insures a crop of nearly 100% unblemished fruit. I no longer use plastic mulch for growing. Plastic does work well for tomatoes, but I’m always trying not to buy stuff, especially petroleum stuff that will soon end up in the landfill. I do still use black plastic in the compost area on the large pile of weedy things that need to be killed before going into the compost pile.

Pixie’s fruit is moderately firm and moderately juicy. It’s great fresh, and it also keeps well short term, say 6-8 weeks after picking; and we can them. This is an all-purpose tomato, an “old reliable” in our garden, and I’m quite grateful to SR Kelley, who knew a good tomato when he grew it.

The unScientific American on heirloom tomatoes

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

In which the Extreme Gardener’s buttons get pushed…

How to Grow a Better Tomato: The Case against Heirloom Tomatoes

The product of archaic breeding strategies, heirloom tomatoes are hardly diverse and are no more “natural” than grocery-store varieties. New studies promise to restore their lost, healthy genes ….by Brendan Borrell

Famous for their taste, color and, well, homeliness, heirloom tomatoes tug at the heartstrings of gardeners and advocates of locally grown foods. The tomato aficionado might conclude that, given the immense varieties—which go by such fanciful names as Aunt Gertie’s Gold and the Green Zebra—heirlooms must have a more diverse and superior set of genes than their grocery store cousins, those run-of-the-mill hybrid varieties such as beefsteak, cherry and plum.

No matter how you slice it, however, their seeming diversity is only skin-deep: heirlooms are actually feeble and inbred—the defective product of breeding experiments that began during the Enlightenment and exploded thanks to enthusiastic backyard gardeners from Victorian England to Depression-era West Virginia. Heirlooms are the tomato equivalent of the pug—that “purebred” dog with the convoluted nose that snorts and hacks when it tries to catch a breath.

read the full article at the Scientific American.

Whose toady are you Borrell?

First of all, clarify your use of the term “heirloom” tomatoes. The statement “heirlooms are actually feeble and inbred…” is about as scientific as saying “Americans are obese.”

Are you trying to say that open pollinated tomato varieties are universally inferior to hybrid and genetically modified varieties?

And, what do you mean by “archaic breeding strategies?” Your pug analogy could be relevant to particular open pollinated or heirloom tomato varieties, but once again, it’s a foolish statement applied to the broad category, as is stating that heirlooms typically bear only 2 fruits per plant. It sounds to me like you are using the Brandywine tomato as a representative of all heirloom tomatoes. That’s not good science.

Open pollinated and heirloom tomatoes have come through the hands of thousands of breeders, who run the gamut from backyard gardeners to those who derive a salary from breeding plants, and the quality of their work is diverse, reflecting diverse needs, goals, abilities and intentions.

I have been involved in growing (and seed saving) open pollinated and heirloom vegetables for 30 years, and this includes tomato varieties of fine culinary quality and excellent plant vigor. I am not a luddite, and I don’t have romantic delusions about heirloom varieties. There are robust heirlooms and yes, there are feeble heirlooms.

It’s a good idea to try to improve disease resistance using some of the more primitive lycopersicon species. However, I do not care to have Monsanto deciding for me what constitutes a better tomato, and I certainly don’t want to have to buy seed from them every season in order to grow tomatoes. We grow all the tomatoes we eat all year, and have very specific needs and preferences that may not be relevant to anyone else. Our varieties are adapted to us and our garden in our little corner of the planet.

The Seminis/Monsanto toadies may, with their manipulations, increase genetic diversity within some tomato plants. What scares me is the lack of diversity of people doing plant breeding. That this activity is becoming increasingly centralized should set off alarm bells for anyone who is concerned about the future of food and who will control access to it.

Another tomato for winter storage

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

This past season we tried Ruby Treasure, another winner from Peters Seed and Research.

Now, if you’ve read many of my posts, it may seem like I’m in the business of promoting Peters Seeds, so a disclaimer is in order. I have no affiliation with Peter’s except that I’m an unabashed fan of their breeding work. What can I say – some people idolize rock stars, I idolize plant breeders.

Ruby Treasure tomato

Anyway, this tomato is for short term storage, 2-3 months. They were picked in September. We still have a few left, and they look like they would probably at least make it to Winter Solstice, except that we will eat them all up very soon because they are too hard to resist, even in the name of scientific inquiry.

The culinary quality is way superior to Golden Treasure, but of course, this one won’t last through the winter like GT. Both of these storage tomatoes suffered severe damage from disease this past season, which was abominably wet, the worst I’ve ever seen. It didn’t help that I mostly don’t stake tomatoes, and leave them sprawling on the raised beds. Usually I get away with it, but I’m sorry to say our harvest this year of both storage tomatoe varieties was pathetically small.

There’s always next year, and we’ll definitely be growing both of these Treasures, and maybe another storage variety or two to trial. I can’t say enough good things about storage (aka keeper) tomatoes for cold climates. Talk about a tiny carbon footprint – all you have to do is pick them carefully into a shallow box and stash them in a cool place out of direct sunlight, then put a few at a time on a sunny window sill a couple of days before you plan to eat them. No greenhouse, no canning jars, no stove, no freezer nor fridge burning up kilowatts – and very few ergs of energy required from me to prep them and keep them in storage.

Through the long cold months, there’s something about a side of fresh tomato with homegrown sprouts (alfalfa, kale, whatever) that keeps the winter larder satisfying to the palate.

Tomatoes for winter storage

Monday, April 14th, 2008

It’s the second week of April. Mud season. I just dug through 2 feet of snow to dig up the last 15# of carrots in the garden – and we still have 3 fresh tomatoes left from last September’s harvest!

This variety is Golden Treasure, bred by Peters Seed and Research, a small seed company in Oregon that has doing some excellent breeding of open pollinated garden and farm plants, including perennial grain and some really nice kale varieties.

Tomato Golden Treasure, photo taken April 10

OK, OK, so these tomatoes are not in the same culinary league as those fragrant, tender skinned Marmandes sun ripened in early September; and they don’t burst sugar in your mouth like the thumb sized Red Currant tomatoes. None the less, to have fresh tomatoes from your garden in April is pretty cool, I think; and in storage they develop a nice acidic tomato flavor. They’re a bit on the tough side (that’s why they keep so well), so we usually slice them thin.

We’ve been growing Golden Treasure for more than 10 years now. One year we were still eating them in June.

A box of Golden Treasure on January 6

They get picked green or slightly yellow in September, before frost. It’s that simple. We handle them carefully, pick them into shallow boxes, and stack them in our “back room” which stays around 40 degrees F all winter. After a couple of months they start to ripen. We start eating them around the end of November, when all the other fresh tomatoes have either been eaten or sent to the compost pit. It is necessary to cull them regularly, but when they rot it usually begins as a small blemish on the surface and does not spread very fast, and is easily cut away.