Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Garden Journal 9/23/09:
Tomatoes! Freshly Picked Heirlooms (Mine) and Favorite Varieties to Grow (Mine and Yours)

My Favorite Kind of Tomatoes—Ripe!

Realization of the Day:
2009 is not my Year of the Tomato.

It was supposed to be. In late winter (on time!) I started something like 30 different kinds of heirloom tomato seeds, most of which I'd never grown before, and with fabulous names like Egg Yolk, Mule Team, and Chocolate Vintage.

Things pretty much went downhill after that, though I'm finally harvesting a few various ripe tomatoes—some of which I can even identify. (Why do the plants that I meticulously label and make notes about usually seem to die?) I'm also already planning for next year—and I'm not the only one.

Back on September 3rd (where has this month gone?) a message arrived in my inbox from 'mother.' Since messages from my mother have her name on them, I figured it was spam—like all the ones that say they're from 'me.' But then I looked at the subject line: Help Us with the Top Tomato Varieties Survey. This wasn't spam, it was from Mother Earth News, specifically Cheryl Long, the Editor in Chief herself:

As a tomato grower and a blogger, we hope you will help us spread the word to gardeners who love great tomatoes. Mother Earth News invites you (and others!) to take our new Top Tomato Varieties online survey.

Our goal is to connect with lots of folks who are passionate about homegrown tomatoes, then combine everyone's tomato-growing experience and advice into an article for
Mother Earth News, with emphasis on the best varieties for regional growing conditions.

I guess I'm not the only one who spaced the survey out, because fortunately it's still going on. It only takes about 10 minutes, and you can take it here. The findings will be presented in the February/March 2010 issue of Mother Earth News.

I'm really looking forward to reading the results, especially since regional growing conditions seem to make an especially huge difference with tomatoes—which so many of you confirmed in all the interesting and helpful 2009 tomato comments you left on this recent post (thanks so much!).

Ironically, the same day Cheryl's message arrived, I picked the cherry tomatoes in the photo above, which were volunteers growing in our grey water runoff ditch (where the water that drains out of our kitchen sink, bathroom sink, washing machine, and shower runs off into a ditch outside The Shack). They're sweet and tasty, and the plants don't mind being completely ignored, but they're no help to the survey because I don't have a clue what kind they are.

Below are some of my tried and true favorite heirloom tomato varieties I can name, all of which are not only full of flavor but also do well in our hot and humid summers and generally crazy Missouri climate. Varieties marked PT came from Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine; BC are varieties ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds here in Missouri (which also has a new retail store in Petaluma, California—my old stomping grounds!).

San Marzano (my favorite red plum/paste tomato I've been growing for 14 years - PT)
Orange Banana (a wonderful orange plum/paste tomato - BC)

Gold Nugget (produces lots of 1-inch flavorful fruits that aren't prone to cracking - PT)
Yellow Pear & Red Pear (I love these tiny pear shaped fruits with great yields; the red ones date back to the 1700s - PT)
Yellow Currant & Red Currant (really tiny tomatoes - so cute! - that mature early and taste great - PT)

Tappy's Heritage (large, globe shaped red tomatoes with good disease resistance and great yields - a bestseller at BC)
Arkansas Traveler (beautiful pink tomato from Arkansas, tolerant to heat and humidity, crack and disease resistant - I wrote about them here - BC)
Kellogg's Breakfast (extremely large, sunny orange beefsteak I wrote about here - PT)
Thai Pink Egg (darling pink, 2-ounce, grape shaped tomatoes from Thailand did fabulous for me the first year, died of some strange disease the next while loaded with unripe fruit, but are definitely worth trying again)

So what are your favorite tomato varieties to grow? I hope you'll take a minute to share them here—after you've taken the survey of course!

Previous tomato posts:
Links to all of my tomato recipes (at the bottom of the post)
—7/31/06: Growing Arkansas Traveler Tomatoes & How To Save Your Own Tomato Seeds
—8/9/06: Growing Kellogg's Breakfast Tomatoes and a Colors of Summer Salad with Tomatoes, Zucchini, Sweet Red Pepper, Beet Greens, Basil, & Garbanzos
—9/16/07: Kissing Summer Goodbye with the Easiest Greek Salad Ever
—6/2/08: Planting Tomatoes Later is Better than Never (I Think)
—9/4/08: How To Freeze Tomatoes the Really Easy Way (and Why I Don't Do Much Canning Anymore) (lots of great comments from other gardeners here)
—10/12/08: Growing Tomatoes: How Many Plants Do You Need and What To Do If You End Up with Too Many Tomatoes—Make Easy & Delicious Homemade Tomato Juice! (lots of great comments here, too)

© Copyright 2009, the small, round, and juicy foodie farm blog where it's nice to have tried and true tomato favorites, but it's even nicer knowing that despite all the past years of experimenting, there are still hundreds of varieties of heirloom tomatoes just waiting to be grown in my garden.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Quick and Easy Gardening Tip:
How To Grow Bigger Strawberries Next Year

A Berry Sweet Breakfast Harvested Back on May 19th

Realization of the Day:
It's somehow September!

If you're a seasonal eater in the northern hemisphere, apples and pears are probably the fruits in the forefront of your mind right now, but if you're also a gardener, it's time for you to be thinking about strawberries. Next year's harvest may be many months away, but berry size is actually determined now.

Strawberry Blossoms full of Juicy Promise on April 21st (and a cute little inchworm)

When I moved to Missouri and started gardening on a much larger scale than I had been in my itty bitty Northern California backyard, one of the books I turned to time and time again (this was back in the archaic pre-google days) was
Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Chemical-Free Gardening and Landscaping Techniques. Since I was pretty much clueless, this book was a tremendous help.

While The Vegetable Gardener's Bible has long been the first book I now grab when I have veggie growing questions (I highly recommend this wonderful publication for gardeners of all levels—you can read my review of it here), I still often find myself flipping through the pages of Rodale's Encyclopedia because it's full of the kinds of helpful tips I just don't find anywhere else. I mean, discovering this simple secret to growing bigger strawberries was in itself worth the price of the book (which, as of right now,
is as low as $1.50 at amazon.)

Growing Green on May 13th

Here's what a little sidebar I found in Rodale's Encyclopedia called 'Strawberry Futures' says:
If the growing conditions are favorable in August and September, you should have large berries the next season. But if conditions are less than favorable, your fruit will probably turn out to be small.

Now they don't actually explain what those 'favorable' growing conditions are, and it isn't as if could change the weather even if we knew what we wanted it to do, but the next paragraph says:

Researchers have also discovered that a few days of rain in the fall can mean the difference between a bountiful crop and a mediocre harvest several months later. So if it looks like a dry fall, make time to water your strawberry bed thoroughly at least twice before the end of September.

My Bed of Cavendish Strawberries on August 23rd (read more about them here)

Between the couple of good waterings I miraculously remembered to give my 4'x8' raised strawberry bed back in August and the 2½ unexpected—and much appreciated—inches of rain we got last Friday, I should be set, even if I space out the strawberries for the rest of the month (which is quite likely to happen).

So if you haven't had a good rain lately and you're anywhere near as scatterbrained as I am, stop reading this and go give your strawberry plants a nice long soak right now. You can thank me for those big beautiful berries come spring—if you remember, that is.

Here are links to my previous posts about growing strawberries, including one that explains how to prepare your strawberry bed for winter (because after watering now, we're not yet done for the year):
6/5/05: Strawberries from Garden to Kitchen
5/21/06: A Beautiful Breakfast!
5/27/06: Me, Cary, & Bear vs. The Turtles
10/28/07: Growing Strawberries & Preparing Your Bed for Winter
5/28/08: Successfully Growing Strawberries
7/20/08: Strawberries in the Garden & an Orange Yogurt Cake Recipe in the Kitchen

© Copyright 2009, the fruity foodie farm blog where those gigantic commercial strawberries may be bred for size with no regard whatsoever to taste, but that doesn't mean we home gardeners can't strive for slightly larger yet still incredibly flavorful berries. With a little timely watering, our strawberry harvests can have it all.