A Really Good Tomato Year
It is a really great tomato year here in our garden. I hate to even say this for fear it will sound like bragging, and I don't really mean it that way. It's just that last year was relatively poor (I barely canned anything the whole year) and this year is just so much better.
Our tomato plants have been the most productive this year that they've been in maybe the last 5 or 6 years. I am not sure this is even the best tomato year since we moved here, but it surely is in the top two or three.
I planted far too many tomato plants, but it was a calculated choice, made to ensure I'd be canning tomatoes until I was sick of them. Guess what? I'm getting pretty sick of them.
I tried tons of tomato varieties that were new to us this year, and some of them turned out to be real winners. I also brought back a few old favorites that produce pretty large fruit. Most years, if expecting spring drought, I skip the large-fruited ones because they don't set fruit well in hot and dry weather. With this past winter's heavy rainfall and early warm-up, it seemed a good year to give some of the large-fruited ones a chance this year, and I'm glad I did because they've produced really well.
Here's a brief report on a few varieties that have produced really well.
CONTAINER PLANTINGS: I planted about 20 varieties in containers, and all of them have produced well. That does not necessarily mean they've had great flavor though, and some of them have gone beyond firm and been "hard", which I don't especially like. Still, a couple have been especially noteworthy. "Cherry Falls", which I believe was from Burpee, has produced beautiful, tasty fruit and lots of it. It will be back next year. Terenzo and Lizzano, two AAS winners bred for hanging baskets, have produced well in containers, but have produced even better in the ground. They produce red cherries with great flavor and produce heavy loads of fruit. They were among the first fruit to ripen in the garden. Spider mites and powdery mildew (Leveillula taurica) hit these two hard. They responded by putting out a huge burst of new growth in the last two weeks and are beginning to bloom and set fruit again. I really like their vigor. Totem has produced more fruit than foliage, but they are rock hard and not that special in flavor. Still, it might make a good greenhouse tomato variety in the winter because it stays small and produces heavily. Several of the yellow-fruited tomato plantings (Tumbling Tom Yellow, Tumbling Tom Yellow Jr., Sweet 'N Neat Yellow, and Yellow Canary) have produced and still are producing huge loads of fruit, but their flavor is not that special. You could get it in virtually any hybrid cherry tomato. I've been dehydrating them, which intensifies the flavor and improves it.
BITE-SIZED TYPES: Our usual favorites remain our favorites because they produce fruit with fine flavor, and lots of it. Sun Gold, Ildi, Matt's Wild Cherry, Black Cherry and Tess' Land Race Currant all have been their usual near-perfect selves. Mountain Magic grows and produces well and has excellent vigor, but I am not sure it's flavor impresses us enough to keep planting it. However, it has great early blight tolerance, which certainly is important. Chocolate Cherry is, at least in our garden and to our taste buds, inferior to Black Cherry and I won't plant it again.
SLICERS: Oh large-fruited slicers, how I love you so! This has been the best year since probably 2006 for the large-fruited tomatoes that often fail to produce well in our heat and drought conditions. While we had dry spells, we had great fruit set early and that made a big difference. Some of our favorite large-fruited ones this year are old favorites: Brandy Boy, Dr. Wyche's Yellow, German Giant, Black Brandywine, Black From Tula, Stump of the World (huge fruit this year) Pruden's Purple (also huge, with the largest one weighing 1.7 lbs., and we just don't get the rain here for fruit that large most years), Carbon, Indian Stripe, Red Beefsteak, Big Beef, Beefmaster, Mortgage Lifter and Big Boy.
SMALLER, BUT GOOD NONETHELESS: Tomatoes don't have to be big to be tasty. We've also had wonderful fruit from Fantastic, Jaune Flammee, Marmande, Mosvich, Red Rose, Burgundy Traveler, Brown and Black Boar (huge loads of gorgeous, striped tasty fruits), and Black Plum. The hybrids Fourth of July, Cluster Goliath, Early Girl, Early Doll, Celebration, Celebrity, Phoenix and Merced all are winners this year. I still prefer the heirloom flavors, but these hybrids produced very well this year.
IMPRESSIVE ONES THAT ARE NEW TO US: Greek Rose is so impressive I hardly know how to describe it. It produced loads of huge fruit that are a pinkish-red. The fruit is sort of scalloped with shallow lobes, not big lumpy ones, and the flavor is very good. One slice would cover a piece of sandwich bread and hang out of the sandwich on our four sides. The favor is outstanding and the color is beautiful. This one will be back in 2013. Red Rose also had great flavor in much smaller, globe-shaped fruit and will be back. We also have really liked Spudatula, Spudakee Purple (not really new as we grew it last year, but the drought shut it down early in 2011), Woodle Orange, Orange Minsk, Mystery Black, and Carmello. I do not think the Carmello I am growing is the same Carmello from France popular years ago and no longer available,but it is a really good one that produces well and has good flavor. Fantastic is one of the best producers in the heat and is still setting fruit,while most of the other big ones have stopped. Among the disappointing ones this year? All the ones I planted from The Dwarf Project. They did not really recover well from all the spring cutworm problems, hence were slow to grow, slow to set fruit and have not produced very much fruit. I'll likely give them another chance next year. Cherokee Purple, a long-time favorite, just did not produce well this year and we had so many other dark-colored varieties that were better than it may not make the list next year. Cherokee Chocolate was like the dwarfs--it suffered so much from cutworms that it barely recovered in time to form fruit at all (Dora was the same way), but Cherokee Chocolate is one of the few in-ground plants that has been totally disease free this year.
PASTE TOMATOES: I have no words to describe this category, except perhaps this: Wow O Wow. Amazing. Simply Stupendous. So productive that I cannot even harvest all the fruit before they ripen and fall from the plants, but I keep trying to catch up and get ahead of them. Heidi produced first and very heavily, and I stayed so busy picking and processing them that I never made it past this first row of paste tomatoes for several days. Finally, I caught up on them and started picking the others. With slicers, I have mostly been able to pick at the breaker stage and stay caught up, but with the cherry types and paste types I haven't had the same success. They have been breaking and turning color so fast and sort of "all at once" that I can barely harvest them before they're overripe, but I just keep plugging away at it. San Marzano Redorta has been hugely productive as usual, and so has Rutgers, of course. (When it is ever not productive?) A couple of nice surprises this year: Speckled Roman, which is much more productive this year than last, with huge striped tomatoes and lots of them, and Schiavonne's Italian Paste. The best words to describe Schiavonne's Italian Paste? Huge. Abundant. Very Meaty. I love these and they're on the permanent grow list now. Less impressie? Astro,plain old Roma VF and Scatalone, and not that there is anything wrong with them, but Speckled Roman and Schiavonne's Italian Paste are just so much better.
SUN-DRIED TOMATOES: Principe' Borghese is such an odd tomato. Pluck one from the plant and eat it and the immediate thought is that this tomato is not worth growing at all. It doesn't taste bad. It just doesn't have any flavor at all fresh, at least not to my taste buds. Dehydrate them though, and you have perfect sun-dried tomatoes. I've been dehydrating them for a couple of weeks now. These plants are so covered in fruit that you barely see the leaves. I don't know why the fruit don't sunscald because they're really exposed to the sunlight but they don't. In Italy's dry Mediterranean climate, they pull up they pull up these plants and hang them to dry. Our humidity is too high here for that, so I pick them by the hundreds each week and dehydrate them in the oven on the dehydrate mode. When I take them out of the oven, I have to exercise a lot of self-control. Otherwise, I eat as many as I put in freezer bags for long-term storage. We'll really enjoy using them in recipes that call for sun-dried tomatoes. We've only had one year here where the temperature were high and the rainfall and humidity low enough that I pulled up my Principe Borghese tomato plants and hung them to dry. That was in 2003, when our rainfall for the year was less than 19" and our summer humidity was pretty low for a prolonged period. It might have been possible in 2005 and 2011 but the drought was so severe they didn't produce well.
I canned, froze and dehydrated lots of tomatoes in June, and expect that activity will continue until at least mid-July and maybe longer if some rainfall manages to find us.
We have eaten all the tomatoes we can stand to eat and are almost, but not quite, getting tired of them. (A temporary condition resulting from the Great Tomato Glut of 2012, I am sure.) We've given some away. Chris has taken a lot of them to work at the fire station.
Here's a rundown of what I did with the excess tomatoes in June. Some were canned, some were dehydrated and some were frozen.
Annie's Salsa - 90 pints
Tomato Sauce - 80 pints
Pasta/Spaghetti Sauce - 5 quarts (from the recipe in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"
Ketchup - 21 pints
Chili Base - 5 pints
Pizza Sauce - 15 pints
Dehydrated/Sun-dried tomatoes: Seven one-gallon freezer bags full. Each one-gallon bag has 4 or 5 sandwich-sized ziplock bags full, so I can pull out one sandwich-sized bag a week in the off-season.
Also in the freezer are 42 lbs. of pureed tomatoes I can use in various canning recipes, and 36 lbs. of whole tomatoes, which can be thawed and used in canning or for cooking. With the pureed tomatoes, I froze them in either the number of lbs. required for a specific recipe I intend to use the for, or in the number of cups, depending on the recipe.
I will continue the canning, dehydrating and freezing in July for as long as the harvest continues. However, I'm having a small issue with my right hand that renders it almost unusable for food processing lately. I've been doing a lot less food processing for the last 4 or 5 days, trying to give my hand a break. It isn't that it is hurt, but it is very tired and sore. I guess it is just overuse from the long June days of picking and processing tomatoes (and squash, beans, cukes and peppers as well as oodles of plums). May was more about sweet corn and green beans, and plums. The plums and green beans also carried over into June. I really overworked my right hand for a while there, often putting in 16-18 hours a day harvesting and putting up all the veggies and fruit in June and it has needed a break to rest and recover. In addition to the tomatoes, we have put a lot of sweet corn (I didn't count the ears) and about 21 quarts of green beans in the freezer, and canned about 120 jars of fruit jam and jelly and, so far, about 16 jars of cucumber pickles. The rest of my body isn't quite as tired as my right hand, and I expect I'll resume doing a lot of canning right after the 4th of July, because tomatoes are piling up all over the house and they won't last long if I don't process them promptly.
So, that's the tomato report from here.
I likely won't plant many for fall unless we get some rain soon. I do think the tomatoes in molasses feed tubs up by the barn will survive the summer, barring some unexpected insect invasion or disease, and produce into the fall so I don't necessarily feel an urgent need to plant a lot for fall. I'm kinda feeling all tomatoed out.
I hope all of you are having at least a good tomato year. Perhaps with all the drought across the state, it is a bit too much to hope that everyone is having a great year, though that would be wonderful too.