Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's that time of year again...

My Garden

Heirloom tomatoes

Yesterday I put 26 Tomato plants in the ground.  This is a time of year that I love.  Gardening season. 

It wasn't always this way.  I used to till the garden for my wife, but beyond that I didn't want to be involved.  That all changed about nine years ago when she was pregnant and couldn't get around to do the garden.  She said, "If we're going to have a garden, you will have to do it."  So I did, grudgingly at first, but then it became a refuge, a place of solace, a place where time slowed down.

Her brother was living with us at the time, and he was, well, he was a piece of work.  Still is.  Don't get me started there.  All he wanted to do was play video games and talk about him playing video games.  When I'd come home from work, he'd start talking about the things he'd done in the video game that day and I'd walk out to the garden.  I'd start pulling weeds and he'd keep talking.  I would tell him that if he wanted to talk, he'd have to pull weeds.  He'd pull a few and excuse himself to get a "drink of water" and would be missing in action for the remainder of the time I was in the garden.  That was revelatory.

The next year, I took over the vegetable garden for good, and my wife has concentrated on the flower gardening.  I happened to notice an advertisement about heirloom tomatoes the second year I had the garden, and I studied up on them to see what they were.  The picture was really neat, it showed a tomato salad with a vinaigrette.  Nothing but odd shaped and colored tomatoes.  I had never seen anything like it, but because I'm a designer, I had to try them.  The next season I purchased a kit with five different kinds of heirloom tomato seeds and became an heirloom gardener. 

The first heirlooms I tried were:  Caspian Pink, Big Rainbow, Green Zebra, Tigerella and Brandywine.  They were very good, and different than any tomato we had ever grown before.  I really loved them.  The next year, though, I thought I was too busy to go to the effort of growing them from seed and purchased hybrid plants from the local nursery.  The tomatoes I harvested that year were perfect in almost every way.  Uniform size, smooth skin, perfect color, they all ripened at about the same time.  What more could you ask?  The problem was none of them tasted like anything.  They were so bland I could almost not eat them.  I vowed then that I'd be an heirloom gardener and have been ever since.

The picture above is a sampling of some of the heirlooms I planted a couple of years ago.  Every tomato in the picture is ripe, including the green ones.

Following is a brief description of some of my favorite heirloom tomatoes that I have grown:

  1. Besser-Cherry-Red:  This is the best and sweetest cherry tomato I have ever grown.  They are like candy and are extremely prolific producers.  I have six children but only one boy that likes tomatoes.  He and I will go into the garden together and eat the Besser's right off the vine.  This is a grand tomato.

  2. Big Red-Beefsteak-Red:  This is a very good tomato for canning.  I like to can stewed tomatoes and the large fruits from this tomato are easy to process and tasty too. 

  3. Brandywine-Beefsteak-Pink or Red:  This is the king of heirloom tomatoes, but I admit not my favorite.  Don't get me wrong, it is a very good tomato and I grow them every year, but there are others I like better.  The flavor is great and they put up very well.

  4. Caspian Pink-Beefsteak-Pink:  This is a fairly large tomato with fruits averaging around 12 oz.  It's big and meaty and a very tasty tomato.  Great for hamburger slicing.

  5. Mortgage Lifter-Huge Beefsteak-Pink to Red:  This is the largest tomato I have grown.  Fruits up to 24 oz.  Big tasty beefsteak.  Great for processing.  I'm growing two of them this year.  Story goes the man who developed this strain sold the plants and then the fruits at the side of the road and paid off his mortgage in four years.

  6. Tlacalula-Pleated-Red:  This is the oddest tomato I have grown.  It's ribbed all the way around and has little channels inside where the seeds go.  When you slice it horizontally, it looks like lace.  It's also a very tasty tomato.

  7. Costoluto Genovese-Pleated-Red:  Another of the ribbed tomatoes.  Very tasty and very pretty when sliced horizontally.

  8. Opalka-Paste-Red:  This is a Roma or Sausage style tomato.  I use them for drying.  I blanche, peel, srpinkle with Itallian seasoning and dry them in my dehydrator.  The plants are very prolific.

  9. Banana Legs-Paste-Yellow:  This tomato is almost exactly like the Opalka, but is yellow instead of red.  Also good for drying.

  10. Yellow Pear-Pear-Yellow:  This is another of the small tomatoes I grow each year.  These are also like candy.  My son and I will munch these off the vine as well.  They produce like Zuchini, so don't plant more than one of them.

  11. Black Krim-Beefsteak-Purple to Black:  By far the ugliest tomato I have grown, but it is also my very favorite.  It has an earthy, dusky taste that is rich and full, powerful.  When you slice it, it looks positively rotten, but the flavor overrides any ugliness.  This is my number one heirloom.

  12. Cherokee Purple-Beefsteak-Purple:  Whereas the Black Krim originated in Russia, the Cherokee Purple originated in North America.  These are very much like the Black Krim in taste and texture, but are slightly prettier.  Another of my favorites.

  13. Paul Robeson-Beefsteak-Purple to Black:  I had to grow this one merely because it was named after the great actor/singer, Paul Robeson.  I worked in "The Paul Robeson Theatre" in Buffalo, New York.  Had to grow it out of principle.  This is a large tomato and very tasty.

  14. Green Zebra-Plum-Green on Green Striped:  This is a created heirloom, so it doesn't follow all the rules, but it is open pollinated.  The taste is tangy and it's cool looking besides.  This is my wife's favorite.

  15. White Wonder-Beefsteak-Ivory:  This is another of the weirder tomatoes I have grown.  It's ivory colored when ripe and is positively the best hamburger slicer I've ever had.
I have grown forty or fifty varieties over the last ten years and these are my favorites.  This year I planted twenty varieties, many of which I've never grown before, many I have.  Throughout the season I'll keep this blog posted on the progress of the tomatoes.  I'm sure I'll love some of the new varieties and they'll become part of the usual rotation. 

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