Today’s newsletter was created to answer a question that we receive frequently, “Help me to choose some tomatoes for my garden. I do not have a lot of space.” In today’s gardening world, the problem of limited space is ubiquitous from city dwellers with only a roof top or a balcony, to suburban homeowners with only a deck or patio, to rural farmers who can only protect a small space from the critters, to seniors, everywhere, who refuse to abandon their much beloved tradition of summer tomato growing and consuming the luscious fruit warm from the vine. The “Complete Tomato Garden” will have 1-2 different varieties of tomatoes from each of the three kinds of tomatoes: plum/paste, slicing/sandwich and cherry. The tomatoes will come in a variety of colors and some will mature quickly while others will take their own sweet time. Some will be sweet and others will have a rich savory flavor. With all these conditions in mind, we have composed an ideal tomato garden. The space needed is 9 feet by 18 inches – a size that can be accommodated by almost any balcony, deck or patio. We begin with the Paste/Plum tomatoes. Paste/Plum tomatoes are the best choice for a small garden environment because they are usually much more prolific than sandwich size tomato varieties, and unlike cherry-sized tomatoes, they are large enough to be used for sandwiches. Their thick flesh makes great tomato sauce/paste, and their size and flavor make them the best candidates for sundried tomatoes.
To purchase San Marzano Tomato Seeds click This Link
San Marzano is truly a legendary tomato. As far as we Americans are concerned, it is the original Italian paste tomato. It was introduced in Italy in 1926 by the Italian seed house Fratelli Sgarqavatti. This tomato reached the US 4 years later in 1930 when it became commercially available through the Italian import company, DiGiorgi Brothers of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Amy Goldman, in her remarkable book, The Heirloom Tomato, calls San Marzano,
“The most important industrial tomato of the 20th century.”
San Marzano has a deeply rich, savory flavor that helps to create outstanding sauces and memorable sundried and roasted tomatoes. The 4-5 inch long fruits are vivid red with large cavities for holding balsamic vinegar and other luscious condiments to enhance roasted tomatoes. The plants are unbelievably prolific – easily 50-80 fruits per plant.
Plum/Paste Tomato, Orange Banana
To purchase Orange Banana Tomato Seeds click this link
One of my absolute favorite tomatoes of any kind is the Orange Banana tomato. This garden beauty has a complex flavor that is both tomatoey and sweetly fruity. I think it makes the very best sundried tomatoes, but I also make orange tomato sauce from the fruit and combine it with red tomato sauce (like San Marzanos) to produce some of the most flavorful sauces I have ever tasted. Orange Banana, when sliced lengthwise and roasted, is out of this world. Orange Banana plants are very prolific producing 40-50+ fruits on a single plant. The oblong, pointed fruits range in size from 4-6 ounces. It is an appropriate source for our Ultimate Tomato Garden because the fruit is a stunning orange and contrasts beautifully with the deep red of the San Marzano. Also, Orange Banana tomatoes are incredibly sweet while San Marzanos have a rich savory flavor. Most tomato gardeners insist on growing some sandwich/slicing tomatoes. Summer would not be summer without a BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich) at least once a day (I am not kidding!). Believe it or not, orange, yellow and white tomatoes make as good or better BLT’s than red tomatoes, but red tomato BLT sandwich fans will never believe this. Sandwich/Slicing tomato vines are never as prolific as Plum/Paste vines or Cherry tomato vines. We have selected 3 tomato varieties which are fairly prolific (10-20 fruit per vine), various colors and flavors and vastly different times to maturity.
Sandwich/Slicing Tomato, Eva Purple Ball
To purchase Eva Purple Ball tTomato Seeds click this link
For all of you red tomato lovers, Eva Purple Ball is the tomato for you. It is so much the quintessential red tomato that it is often called the “Perfect Tomato” because of its extraordinarily perfect shape, perfect color, perfect size (5-7ounces), perfect flesh texture and perfect flavor. Eva was brought to this country in the late 1800s from Germany by the Joseph J. Bratka family of Elmwood, NJ. The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange made it commercially available in the US in 1994. The vines have an above average yield (about 30 or more fruit per vine) and the flavor is strong and savory. Good flavor-good yield what more could you want from a tomato?
Sandwich/Slicing Tomato, Big Rainbow
Big Rainbow is essentially a yellow-orange tomato with a large red blush at its blossom end. According to Amy Goldman, this tomato closely resembles a tomato introduced by J. M. Thorburn and Company in 1893 known as Thorburn’s Lemon Blush Tomato. It was developed by Elbert S. Carman, the editor of the Rural New Yorker. In Goldman’s book, The Heirloom Tomato, she credits seed saver, Lloyd Duggins, with sharing seed of Big Rainbow (then unnamed) with his friend, fellow seed saver, Dorothy Beiswenger. Goldman states,
“Dorothy recalls,” “When I grew this one, it surprised me so much that I named it Big Rainbow because of its beauty, and size, and hope.”
Goldman, herself describes the tomato in this way:
“It’s as breathtaking anddear to me today – even after sampling dozens of others – as it was nearly twenty years ago. When sliced and diced, the yellow flesh overspread with red reminds me of cut yellow peaches stained with red from the pit.”
Big Rainbow is a lovely tomato, not as sweet as Pineapple, but with an intense and unforgettable flavor. The vines are average producers (about 20 fruit) and the tomatoes are large 8-12 ounces.
Sandwich/Slicing Tomato Stupice
Some of you are going to immediately respond to including Stupice in this list and say that Stupice is too small to be considered a slicing tomato, but I am going to argue that it is big enough to be sliced and so therefore we are going to include it. Stupice is the size of a giant cherry tomato – about 1-2 ounces – and it grows in clusters like many cherry-sized tomatoes. The reason it is important to include it in this series is because it is one of the best producing, cold tolerant tomatoes currently available. The indeterminate plants will set fruit when the temperatures are below 70 degrees and the fruit matures in 60-75 days from transplant. The tomatoes are a bright red and the flesh has a strong, savory flavor. They are great for sandwiches, though it will take at least 2 to make a sandwich, for salads, for frying, for making sundried tomatoes, and they can be used in sauces. The plants provide a generous amount of fruit, but I would not call them incredibly prolific. Stupice is an excellent choice for northern climates AND for a fall crop in the deep South. In the deep South, if started, outdoors, from seed in July, these plants should have ripe fruit by September and they will continue to fruit until killed by a frost. Last summer was a particularly cold summer here in Central New York. I did not get a single tomato, not even a cherry tomato, until Labor Day, but my friend, Francine Stayter, a devoted Otsego County, NY Master Gardener, had her first ripe tomato in June. She had planted Stupice and boy did it produce in the cold summer of 2018. Stupice is a Czechoslavakian tomato that was developed by Milan Sodamka in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1976, after reading an article in Rodale’s, Organic Gardening Magazine about The Abundant Life Seed Foundation of Port Townsend, Washington, Sodamka wrote to Abundant Life’s founder, Forest Shomer, to request a catalog. Sodamka traded the catalog for some of the seeds from vegetables he had developed in Czechoslavakia. Included in that collection was the Stupice tomato. Since that fateful trade, Stupice has become a much beloved northern tomato variety with gardeners who love tomatoes, but are challenged by short growing seasons. Every tomato garden should have one cherry tomato and, I would argue, only one. Cherry tomatoes are often the first to produce which makes them very special. They are great for salads, for stewing and, in a pinch, they can be used to make sauces, but the real reason you grow cherry tomatoes is to be able to harvest them straight from the vine and pop them in your mouth. Ummm, ummm, unbelievably good – dirt and all!
Cherry Tomato, Sungold
For our Ultimate Tomato Garden, we chose Sungold. We chose this tomato because it is always sweet no matter where it is grown and no matter what the summer weather has been like – cloudy, cold, rainy, hot. The fruit is a pale shade of orange or deep golden yellow and borne on long cascades containing anywhere from 10-40 tomatoes. Each tomato is small, no more than 1/2 ounce. Sungold was developed by the Japanese plant breeder, Tokita Seed Company, and simultaneously introduced into the British and American markets in 1992. Since then several “improved” varieties have been introduced including Sun Sugar. Any of the Sungold family of plants is a good choice.
Of all the fruits that you can grow in a container, tomatoes are one of, if not the best. They are incredibly, INCREDIBLY, easy to grow, as prolific as if they were planted in the ground and for some reason they just don’t seem to be as disease prone. As many of you know, I think tomatoes and peppers and eggplants grow best in containers. If you are going to grow tomatoes in containers, there are a few rules you should follow. Tomatoes should be grown in 18 inch diameter pots that are at least 14-16 inches deep: ONE PLANT PER CONTAINER. Most tomatoes require staking, so plant the stake when you plant the seedling. Also, on the day you plant the seedling, place a generous ring (1/2-3/4 cup) of bonemeal around the seedling, approximately 6 inches from the stem. The ring of bonemeal will be approximately 12 inches in diameter. If you are growing Heirloom Tomatoes, you will have to apply the bonemeal ring every two weeks for the first six weeks. Heirloom Tomatoes are very susceptible to blossom end rot which is a calcium deficiency. The bonemeal very effectively cures this problem. Container grown tomatoes must be fertilized at least every other week with full strength fertilizer that is rich in phosphorus. Tomato plant food does a good job. Plants that are not fed in this way will have limited fruiting.
Plum Tomato, Amish Paste
Amish Paste is believed to be a very old variety. It was first grown in the 1870s by the oldest Amish community in the United States located in Medford,Wisconsin. The variety began to receive national attention when Thomas Jon Hauch of Heirloom Seeds received seeds from the Amish in Lancaster County, PA in the early 1980s. He shared seeds with The Seed Savers Exchange of Decorah, IA, and in 1987 SSE made the seed available to their members. Amish Paste is one of the truly reliable, consistently prolific, tomato plants to grace this earth. The vines may look like they are on their ‘last legs’, but they still keep producing and producing and producing. If you depend upon your garden to generate enough tomato sauce/paste/sundried tomatoes to get you through the winter, then this is a tomato for you. A single plant will produce 50+ fruit. The fruit is plum shaped, usually 6-10 ounces. The flesh is sweeter than other paste tomatoes, and because of this, Amish Paste make excellent sundried tomatoes. Amish Paste tomatoes usually contain more seeds, but I have never found that to be a problem. I believe that if you have extremely limited space, enough for only one tomato plant, that a wise choice is a paste tomato variety. Paste tomatoes are big enough to use for sandwiches and salads. They make the best sundried tomatoes, and, of course, they make great tomato paste/sauce. Amish Paste because it is so prolific would be my choice if I could only grow one tomato.
This new section is dedicated to teachers of children: school teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, next door neighbors and those who love to have children be with them while they toil in the garden. Its purpose is to share with each of you some extraordinary fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs that will capture the imagination of children and teach them how to be inspired gardeners. I have always believed that childhood should be about fantasy and the fantastic and children’s gardening should always have some of these characteristics: giant pumpkins, purple beans that magically turn green in hot water, little round carrots, vines with huge white flowers that only bloom at night AND the incredibly incredible and edible endlessly long Gold Rush Currant Tomato Vine.
Currant Tomato, Gold Rush
Please call 518-823-4325 to order Currant Gold Rush
Currant tomatoes are actually a different species of tomato and true currants are always red. Gold Rush, because it is orangish-yellow in color, is not a ‘true’ currant but a currant cross. The fruits are larger than the tiny, tiny currant tomatoes, but are still much smaller than a cherry tomato. It is the vines that are astonishing. They can grow 15-20 feet and can be left to grow along the ground where the abundant small fruits can be easily harvested by children. Amy Goldman in her book, The Heirloom Tomato, says,
“Squatting astride the plant to gather fruits makes you feel like Godzilla stomping Tokyo.”
BUT, preschool, elementary and middle school teachers, an unforgettable exercise to do with your students is to plant a Gold Rush vine in a large hanging basket – as large as you can hang – at least 10 inches in diameter and as deep as you can get. In January or early February, start several seeds directly in the hanging pot before you hang the pot. Start the seeds indoors in as warm an area as possible. Once the seeds have germinated remove all the seedlings except the 2 strongest when the seedlings are 2 inches tall. Once the seedlings have reached a height of 4 inches choose the best looking seedling and remove the weaker one so that you have only one seedling in the pot. Add 1/2 cup of bonemeal in a ring around the seedling and hang your pot. The following week fertilize your seedling with 1/2 cup Espoma Tomatone. The next week fertilize with another 1/2 cup of bonemeal, and the following week fertilize with 1/2 cup Espoma Tomatone. Repeat this process throughout the fruiting season. Neither the bonemeal nor the Tomatone will harm children unless they eat it. Let the tomato vine droop its branches over the side of the pot. They will probably reach a length of at least 6 feet, so plan accordingly. Fruit will form on these cascading branches and the children can harvest straight from the vine. Edible fruit will be available by early May. If someone remembers to water and feed the plant throughout the summer, there will still be tomatoes to harvest throughout the fall when the children return to school. You will notice an unusually large number of former students who will stop by your classroom ostensibly to say’Hi’, but really to snatch a handful of currants. What an experience for a child (and for you). No matter how many fruits make it into the child’s mouth, there will still be more to harvest. Gold Rush is a delightful combination of sweetness and tomatoey flavor. It makes great little sundried tomato raisins, ‘traisins’, but the best thing about this plant is that it makes great childhood memories – the kind of memories that sustain a person throughout all of adulthood.
We hope you have enjoyed this newsletter and have learned some helpful things for your garden.
This season our newsletters will focus on three types of gardeners:
• Traditional Heirloom Gardeners,
• Teachers Who Inspire Children to Become Gardeners and
• Container Gardeners
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