Saturday, November 10, 2012

How was the tomato harvest this year? Not bad, not bad at all.

I was complaining back in July and August as I watched other garden bloggers show off their tomato harvests whilst my maters did a good impersonation of little green rocks. I was growing more and more green myself (with envy) as the weeks went by and the ripe tomatoes paraded across my computer screen every Harvest Monday and I had a hard time finding even green tomatoes on my vines. But my tomatoes finally came through in the end, right on schedule, at least for this region.

Impatience is one of the big problems that I have about growing tomatoes. Another problem is a summer (by the calendar) that generally acts like an extended spring which means that the season for tomatoes starts in August at the earliest and in September in earnest. Around here summer weather doesn't really kick in until the calendar is on the verge of saying it's autumn.  It has taken me a few years to start to accept that fact. When I gardened in the south part of the San Francisco bay area I usually sowed my tomato seeds around early February and planted the seedlings out some time in April (one year I got away with planting them out in March) and started harvesting in early July. There the bulk of the tomato crop came in in August and I usually had a second crop in September. But I've learned (am learning) that there is no point in trying to rush tomatoes around here, the plants will grow but the flowers will drop because the nighttime temperatures remain too cold to allow pollination until sometime in July.

I'm finally resisting the temptation to start my "summer" vegetables too early. This year I didn't sow the bulk of my tomato seeds until March 30 and then a few more on April 11. Those babies had to wait until May 21 to settle into the garden and even that late in the season I enclosed the planting in some greenhouse plastic. Once the plants were tucked into their garden bed they really took off, the long sunny days and the mini greenhouse prompted the plants to grow like they were on steroids. The plastic sheeting came off on July 4 when the vines had about half filled their 5-foot tall cages. By the beginning of August the indeterminate plants had reached the tops of the cages and there were some good looking green fruits on the plants, very green, green green green...

August 17, ripe tomatoes at last! By the end of August I had harvested almost 6 pounds of tomatoes. LOL, 6 pounds from 11 plants, whoopee. And then 139 pounds in September, nice. And then another 149 pounds in October, very nice. But wait, there's a little more - 19 pounds so far in November. I'm not complaining about my tomato harvests now. Over 300 pounds of tomatoes. So, here's the not-quite-final stats (there should be a trickle of tomatoes to harvest in the next week or so unless the weather turns really ugly):

Amish Paste (2 plants)
Fiaschetto (3 plants) (det.)
Jaune Flamme
Martian Giant

Rosabec (det.)
Sunshine Cherry (det.?)
Wheatly’s Frost Resistant Cherry


The most productive variety was hands down Martian Giant at 59 pounds of tomatoes off of one plant, and there's still some half-ripe fruits left that will probably ripen just fine. Rosabec is in second place at the moment but Amish Paste at an average 36.7 pounds per plant will probably edge it out in the end since it has more half-ripe fruits and Rosabec has none. And you can see the harvest stats on the rest of the varieties yourself.

What was my favorite variety this year? I have to give the prize for best flavor to Jaune Flamme, but it is not a perfect tomato, at only 14 pounds it came in second to last for production, I really wish it had produced more. But they were almost all winners in their categories, the only real disappointment was Wheatly's Frost Resistant Cherry, I wasn't impressed by the flavor although it did improve after a couple of hot spells.

If you're not too bored yet I'll go on a bit more about each variety. I chose most of the varieties because they are supposed to do well in cool climates, although a couple aren't touted as such. My choices were also based on use, I wanted a variety to make sauce and can, another variety for drying and saucing,  a couple of cherry tomatoes for snacking and salads, a beefsteak for slicing and baking, and some pretty slicing tomatoes of various colors for salads.

Amish Paste

This is the second year that I've grown Amish Paste. I got my seeds from Thomas at A Growing Tradition (anyone hear from him lately? he hasn't posted in ages). This was a surprise performer in my garden, I don't usually expect Amish varieties to do well in my cool climate, if they produce they don't generally taste as good as expected, but it has been the best paste tomato that I've ever grown. The tomatoes tend to be on the large side and very meaty with few seeds. It is best used, in my opinion, to make sauce and paste and is a great canner. It comes in a little bit late, as you can see in my chart above. It's very productive and the vines are quite vigorous, although the plants were attacked by some sort or sorts of disease, but they didn't die back completely and are still alive but ugly even now. I saved some seeds this year and will be growing it again next year.


Fiaschetto (meaning "little flask") is an heirloom plum tomato from Puglia. This is another surprise performer hailing from a warm region but doing quite well in my garden this year. The plants are determinate, only reaching about 2.5 feet tall and produced the bulk of the crop in a few weeks but produced smaller amounts for an extended time. In a warmer climate I wouldn't be surprised if they put out a small second crop, my plants have put out some healthy new growth and and flowers lately but there is no time left in the season for any new tomatoes to set. The tomatoes are somewhat juicy and seedy but still make a good sauce and are excellent dried. Their flavor as a salad tomato is not impressive but perhaps in a warmer climate they would be suitable for fresh eating as well. I grew these last year but the exceptionally cold damp summer that we had then knocked the plant down early. The flavor of the few tomatoes that I harvested and dried last year made me want to try them again this year and I'm glad that I did. They will be back again next year as well but I think I'll only need 2 plants instead of 3.

Jaune Flamme

I think that Jaune Flamme was the prettiest as well as the tastiest tomato that I grew this year. It is sweet and tangy with a fruity flavor that is unusual. The fruits are small, some just about the size of a large cherry tomato but on average about the size of a very large apricot. The skins are a bit thick but not bothersome. As I mentioned before it wasn't very productive, but the flavor and beauty makes me want to give it a try again next year. I used most of these tomatoes fresh in salads and didn't have to preserve many because they didn't produce enough to overwhelm. I don't really mind the low production as long as I get enough to eat fresh, that's what I want them for, I'm growing other varieties for preserving.

Martian Giant 

Martian Giant, wow, 59 pounds of tomatoes off of one plant. This is a classic beefsteak tomato that ranges in size from a typical round market tomato to big one-pound-plus oblong giants. It has a classic tomato flavor, neither too sweet nor too acid, a perfect BLT tomato. It is also great sliced and paired with fresh mozzarella for a classic Caprese salad. I used a lot of these in baked tomato dishes and they also made an excellent base for gazpacho. The only flaws, and these are minor, are that it is a late producer (but not too late) and it has a fibrous core that is difficult to remove or slice through. The vines seem to be resistant to disease, the plant stayed relatively healthy and got huge even though the other varieties to either side were affected by various diseases that can infect tomato plants.


Nyagous is an heirloom originally from Russia. It comes in a pretty close second to Jaune Flamme for flavor and beauty. The yield would have been higher but some critter (probably a rat, grrrr) decided that it was tasty and kept spoiling some of the biggest and best looking fruits by snacking on them. It is an indeterminate variety that seems to be susceptible to some tomato plant diseases but the plant didn't die back completely and produced a good crop in spite of losing a lot of leaves. This is another variety that I grew primarily for fresh eating and it didn't disappoint. I'll probably grow it again next year.


Rosabec is a determinate variety that sets a lot of tomatoes all at once but the crop ripens up over a surprisingly long time. I was also surprised at how productive it was for such a small plant, it only filled the bottom third of it's 5-foot cage but I harvested almost 38 pounds from it. The tomatoes are a beautiful pink and most of them are well formed, but they are susceptible to blossom end rot and cracking. The flavor is very good, another excellent tomato for fresh eating with a good sweet tomato flavor. But I think I will continue my search for a good pink tomato, the BER was quite extensive and other than just a few Amish Paste none of the other varieties that I grew developed BER this year so I think the problem was with the variety.

Sunshine Cherry and
Wheatly's Frost Resistant Cherry

I tried 2 new cherry tomatoes this year, the bright yellow Sunshine Cherry and the pink Wheatly's Frost Resistant. Sunshine is supposed to be an indeterminate grower but it seemed more semi-determinate, it never filled the 5-foot cage that I grew it in. That really doesn't bother me too much since picking cherry tomatoes is one of my least favorite harvest tasks and I have been know to let overly productive cherry tomatoes rot on the vine because I get so fed up with harvesting them. Sunshine produced enough over its season to keep my husband happily snacking. I wish that Wheatly's Frost Resistant had been as good tasting and productive as Sunshine. Wheatly was rather bland tasting until we had a couple of hot spells and then it developed some acidity, but it didn't sweeten up enough for my taste. My husband usually let them sit in favor of Sunshine, so I ended up drying a few pounds of them which surprisingly improved the flavor a lot.  It is also a rather late producer. I would have liked to have more cherry tomatoes overall, one productive plant wasn't quite enough to keep my husband's lunch bag full and provide enough to add to salads. Next year Sunshine Cherry will be back in the lineup but Wheatly's won't.

So that was the 2012 tomato experience. Next up - What I did with 300 pounds of tomatoes...

What are your favorite tomato varieties? Do you have any recommendations for those of us trying to ripen up a good tasting tomato in a cool climate?


  1. i hope my tomatoes do as well as yours did. Most varieties are flowering at the moment so I getting quite excited about the prospect of having some to watch develop soon,

  2. What a great tomato harvest you had this year. Mine was seriously lacking! Hopefully I will do better next year. I was just so lazy at the start of the year I didn't get started quick enough! I love all your varieties!

  3. They look great!
    I am in a cool-climate area, relatively speaking, by the ocean and all but it was warmer this year with no fog.

    I like Black Krim for our area. They are a bit smallish but flavorful. They started early and ended late.

  4. Wow over 300+ lbs of tomatoes, and thanks for the review, I'll have to come back with a clearer head to reread the writeup.


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