Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Tomato Lineup for 2012

Fiaschetto Tomatoes, September 2011

As I embark on my 6th year of gardening in this locale I find that I'm still making adjustments to my planting plans for the climate here. It has taken me a while to truly accept the fact that "summer" here is later and shorter and cooler than in the Santa Clara valley where I first honed my gardening skills. We have cold and/or foggy nights until well into July (or August in the coolest years). The nighttime temperatures don't stay above 50º F until late June or early July and can still dip down into the low 40º's or high 30º's in June. The cold nights mean that the tomato blossoms do not pollinate well or at all. So, I cannot ensure a July tomato harvest by simply getting my plants into the garden by the end of April such as I did in Santa Clara. A July tomato harvest around here requires more care on my part.

I got an early crop back in 2010 when I enclosed the row of tomatoes in plastic sheeting. That kept things warm enough that one of the plants set early enough to produce the first ripe tomato in  mid-July, but the bulk of the tomatoes came in from mid-August through mid-October. I'm not sure that it's worth taking up a lot of garden space with all those tomato plants for a few early tomatoes. Although... looking back at the 2011 harvest data I can see that I didn't get my first few tomatoes that year until mid-August, with the bulk of the harvests starting in mid September and extending through October (coinciding with a two week vacation, grrr). I did not provide any protection for the tomato plants that year. So it seems that the protection accelerated the tomato harvests by a full month in 2010!

Okay, there's a few lessons to be learned. First, it does help to give the plants some protection early on. I never got a ripe tomato in July from this garden until 2010 when I covered the tomato plants for the first time.

Second lesson, I don't think it is necessary to plant out the tomatoes extra early (mid-April in 2010), even with protection they won't produce the first ripe tomato until mid-July. An extra early start just means that the plants get huge and fill their cages before they start setting fruit. This year I'm going to cover the cages again, but I'm aiming to get my plants in the ground by the first of June or earlier if the seedlings size up quickly enough. I hope that some of them will start to set fruit before the plants get huge and turn into caged jungles in which it is nearly impossible to find the tomatoes. That's seems to be the usual scenario, the plants grow quite happily in spite of the cool nights (with or without protection) but they get huge before they start setting tomatoes. I would have liked to aimed for about a mid-May start but everything is set back this year by the project to build real raised beds, it's been a slower than anticipated process. I'm going to have to experiment with this planting out date. Perhaps I'll try planting out one plant in mid-May this year if I have the tomato bed built and filled in time, it will have to be a purchased plant though, my seed grown plants probably won't be ready then.

Third lesson, it is best to grow primarily early or cool climate adapted varieties, the "standard" or late varieties don't set fruit until late, even with protection - talk about space hogs. Ah, that's a tough realization for me, some of my all-time favorite tomatoes just won't do well here. And even if they do produce they don't seem to be as flavorful when grown in a cool climate, a Brandywine tomato just doesn't taste as good when grown in a cool climate, it just doesn't get enough heat to develop the good flavors.

Fourth lesson, or really more of an experiment, a few of my tomato plants always seem to get some sort of disease which cuts the harvest short. I'm hoping that by getting the plants off to a later start that the diseases will also get a later foothold. Or if the diseases do show up at the usual time that they will be easier to detect and treat if the plants aren't quite so overgrown. We'll see.

Barely ripe tomatoes snatched from the jaws of the rats, October 2011.

So, here's the tomato lineup for 2012:

There's only two varieties that are repeat performers.

Amish Paste I'm using my last few seeds that Thomas shared with me last year. Even though these are not technically a "cool climate" adapted tomato and Tomatofest actually considers them to be a late season tomato they performed quite well for me last year and they produced more per plant (40 pounds from 3 plants) than any of the other tomatoes that I grew. (Well, all of the plants would have produced more if the rats had left them alone). They made very good tomato sauce. Here's a description from Slow Foods: This heirloom tomato was discovered in Wisconsin although its origins are in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is the heart of the Amish Country. The tomatoes are teardrop or heart-shaped with a brilliant red orange color. The Amish Paste tomato has a balance of acid and sweetness. When it is sliced fresh the juicy flesh sparkles and has a solid texture. The Amish Paste is eaten fresh or in sauces. I should add that many of the tomatoes were quite large, much larger than the average paste tomato. And even though I had to harvest most of them when they were barely starting to turn red (because of the rats), they ripened beautifully indoors and didn't lack any flavor. I hope that I'll be able to harvest more of them ripe off the vine this year.

Fiaschetto This is an Italian heirloom tomato that seems to have originated in Puglia but is grown in other parts of Italy as well, one strain being Napoli a Fiaschetto. My seed packet from L'Orto di Larosa simply names it Fiaschetto. This is a determinate variety that produces clusters of plum shaped tomatoes similar to Principe Borghese or Grappoli D'Inverno but IMO is tastier than either of those. It is juicier than a roma but still very good for making sauce or drying. I enjoyed these last year but my plant succumbed to some sort of fungal disease before all the tomatoes were able to ripen. I hope for better luck this year.

New in the lineup are varieties that are supposed to be either early producers or cool climate producers. I've included the source and catalog descriptions.

Jaune Flamme (Seed Savers Exchange) (aka Flamme) Beautiful heirloom that originated with Norbert Perreira of Helliner, France. Commercialized by Tomato Growers Supply Company in 1997. Early crops of apricot-colored 4 ounce fruits borne on elongated trusses. Excellent fruity flavor with a perfect blend of sweet and tart. Great for drying or roasting, retains deep orange color. Indeterminate.

Martian Giant (Adaptive Seeds) 75-80 days. Bushy Indet. A great market tomato that rivals the hybrids. Bright scarlet red, big and juicy. This is our current choice for a main season market tomato. Its flavor is balanced and excellent. The yield is a little late but very high. A sister variety to ORLST, Dr. Alan Kapuler's selection of Martian Giant, which was collaboratively developed by Peace Seeds, Bill Reynolds of Eel River Produce, and Seeds of Change.

Nyagous (Seed Savers Exchange) Introduced in the 1997 SSE Yearbook by Glenn Drowns. Great black tomato that is virtually blemish-free. Baseball-sized fruits are borne in clusters of up to six fruits, very productive. Excellent full flavor, great for markets. Indeterminate. My note: the SSE description doesn't say that this is an early or cool adapted tomato, but if this is the same Nyagous that Tomatofest describes then this is a cool climate adapted variety which is not surprising considering its Russian heritage.

Rosabec  (Adaptive Seeds) 60-70 days. Det. Tall bushes. Awesome pink tomato from Quebec and perfect for the Pacific Northwest. 6-8 oz pink globe fruit, excellent flavor and yields. Blemish free and good firmness make it great for market. Bred by Roger Doucet in 1975 at the Station Provinciale de Recherches Agricole in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada.

Sunshine Cherry  (Adaptive Seeds) Indet. Small yellow cherry, high yields, good flavor. Great for market farmers. This tomato, along with Galina, is all a farm could ever need in a yellow cherry. Sunshine does it right. Routinely planted on our farm, Open Oak Farm, for cherry tomato production.  Originally from Peters Seed and Research in Riddle, Oregon. My note: I've been growing Galina cherry tomato for years and it is a great yellow cherry, but it's time to try something new!

Wheatly's Frost Resistant  (Adaptive Seeds) 60 days. Indet. Tart, sweet, pink grape shaped fruit. Huge yields on big plants. We have found them to be very cool weather tolerant but not actually frost resistant. We received our original seed from seed collector Gerhard Bohl in Germany. This seems to be the same strain available from seed savers in the US since the 1980's and from Sandhill Preservation Center. A variety was listed as "Wheatley" in Gleckler's Seed Catalog in the 1950's as an early red globe from South Africa reportedly resisting as high as 6 degrees frost, whatever that means, that strain sound distinctly different.

That's it for 2012. I managed to find a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes to keep things interesting. I hope to learn more valuable lessons this year and perhaps in a few years I'll have my tomato growing techniques a little more refined. It would be nice to know an optimal time frame for planting out my tomatoes here, it would make it so much easier to plan the rest of the garden since the tomatoes take up such a big chunk of it.


  1. You are just killing me with all the tomato and peppers varieties. It is just wrong that a gardener can't eat them. I so want to.

  2. Hmmm. Lots to think about. I plan to stubbornly force the San Marzanos and Romas to make my jars of sauce, no matter what the weather. Let's see if it's warmer here than there. Your thinking is probably pretty sound, and plastic sheeting might help a lot all over.

  3. My climate is so different from yours; I can't imagine needing to protect the tomatoes from the cold. I get frustrated when the big heat settles in, and then nothing will set fruit except for the cherry tomatoes.

    Those Fiaschetto tomatoes are adorable--a sweet size and shape.

  4. Interestingly enough, I face many of the same growing challenges - even worse though because our cold fall rains arrive in early October and the tomatoes are doomed because they give up to molds, rots, and fugus. Brief window of opportunity to get my tomato harvest accomplished.

    The only one lesson learned I would truly disagree with is the early start not being worthwhile. I have found that the more mature I can get the plant before our brief window of warm weather arrives - the greater my odds it will be ready to produce and ripen fruit before the window closes back down again. If I had longer summer season I suspicion I would be in your camp on this point, but it is one fo the things that get's me results despite the regions tomato growing challenges.

  5. Your climate sounds very similar to my parents - they are limited to cool climate varieties with short growing periods. The varieties (and this is what they are known as in Australia) they have had most success with are: Rouge de Marmande, Purple Russian, Black Russian, Tommy Toe, and Black Cherry. They do plant early though and the bushy plant growth they get tends to mean they get big crops, or at least thats what I have always assumed. Except for Amish Paste I've never seen any of your varieties in Australia.

  6. I'm doing the same thing with warm weather crops this year, in the past I've been starting them early and they grow big without setting fruits, this year I'm planting them 3-4 weeks later and see what happens.

  7. That is a very interesting list of tomato varieties. There is only one that I too am growing, the Amish paste, a new variety for me this year. I am amazed at the number of rats that you are able to catch. We have no luck catching them. Possums are a bigger problem in our yard, and I have very good luck trapping and relocating them. Speaking of which, I need to set the trap again.

  8. nice idea.. thanks for sharing..


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