Tomatoes… Have you found the perfect variety?
Tomatoes… Have you found the perfect variety?
Like giving a baker a loaf of bread, Emma Biggs showed up at my house last week with a wee basket of tomatoes. I was busy picking my own tomatoes in my greenhouse but how could I turn down this aspiring tomato grower’s gift?
Although I work hard to find the best tomatoes for my friends and family every year, the ones Emma brought were better in some ways than the ones I am currently growing so after tasting them, I pulled one out of the salad, squished it onto a paper towel and labelled it. I will grow it in 2019 for sure.
At only 13, Emma is the daughter of my co-author Steven Biggs and she is already working on her own book with her dad. My book with Steven is “No Guff Vegetable Gardening” and it is a Canadian best seller but that is not why the whole Biggs family came to visit my west coast location. They came to visit and tour Vancouver Island generally. And it just happened to be in tomato season.
Before I tell you something about the tomatoes I am growing this year let me admit my own bias. I am a fan of the newest hybrids because I love the flavour and richness of the newly discovered genetics. Since reading the book Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato by Arthur Allen (2010, Counterpoint Press) I have been excited about the potential of all the new tomato discoveries in the wild. Scientists have gone back to the wild looking for new flavours, new colours, shapes and genetics and Allen shares the story in his book.
“The cultivated tomato, as we know it today, rests on narrow genetic shoulders. Before expanding into the multitude of shapes, colors, and sizes that we know … it had to pass through the bottleneck of sixteenth century Spanish selection,” says Allen in Ripe. And after watching the rush of new tomato introductions in the last decade, I am all in. I like that researchers went back to the pie and pulled out new genetic material that is unknown in all the older “heirloom” varieties. I also dislike how heirlooms, like poodles and labs have been selected and re-selected so that flavour and disease resistance are compromised.
So Here is the breakdown of varieties I grew this year in my BCGreenhouse, most of them new hybrids, and notes about why I will or will not grow them again next year
New Girl– New to me although I have grown it’s close relatives Early Girl and Ultra Girl. I love this one. It is described as “widely adaptable” and early. For me this means it was the first picked in my greenhouse and it was disease-free. It also won first prize at the local fair. It tastes great and is mid-sized so one tomato fills a whole BLT sandwich. I love it – 5/5
Damsel – Advertised as being heirloom-like in flavour, this pink tomato was mushy and not as tasty as others. Not a keeper. 2/5
Red Racer – New this year but there was nothing special about it. It is only slightly bigger than a cherry so not a good size for me. Also it was described as a bush style but I found it was a rambler and I wished I had staked it. 3/5
Chocolate Sprinkles – a really pretty cherry-sized dark-striped tomato (middle and left in the photo above and bottom in photo below.) They look pretty on the plate with miniature basil leaves at our recent dinner party. These won first prize at the local fair for cherry tomatoes because of their colour and they were so early. Emma brought me the darker, crisper cherries so I am jumping ship and won’t repeat this one. 4/5
Hamlet – This is my third year with these expensive hybrids but I won’t grow them again. New Girl were the same size and better flavoured. 2/5
Sungold – Probably the sweetest and almost as early as New Girl but they split too easily. Please help me find the best replacement. Will not repeat i 2019. 4/5
Sunrise Bumblebee – a large “cherry” almost twice the size of Chocolate Sprinkles and later than many of the other cherries. The colour was so pretty with the red stripes on a yellow base but the larger cherry size and lateness mean I’m on the fence about this one. Shown in photo at top of page on right. 3/5
Tasmanian Chocolate: Only slightly brown striped so I have no idea why they are labelled Chocolate. They were early but mushy. See Damsel. 2/5
Juliet – This paste tomato is a mini and it is ready early and super versatile. It is year 5 for this one but I am growing it next year again. Just can’t be beat – especially when you want the dry paste types so your sauces are easier to make. I freeze these whole for tossing into soups and stews because they are the perfect size for that. I love it and grow it every year 5/5
I plan to store Emma’s gift tomato seed away in a ziplock bag when it is dry. In six months I’ll get it out and seed it. Emma got it from a grower in Victoria and wasn’t sure if it was Blue Berries from Baker Creek Seeds or Midnight Snack from All America Selections. In good news the seed is now saved. In bad news both types Emma thinks it might be are hybrids so they won’t come true from seed. I am going to try it anyway plus order the two named hybrids. I won’t know for sure unless I do all three. If you have grown Purple Bumblebee you have almost grown the one Emma gave me but seriously it was better yet and I guess the grower Emma got it from knew that too because obviously she is growing and sharing it.
Knowing what you like in a tomato will help you decide what to order. I am never about size. I am always about early and flavour. A tomato grower’s work is never done. We are either tasting tomatoes, growing tomatoes or imagining growing tomatoes. And sometimes we are picking tomatoes to share with friends.
There are just so many yummy kinds to try. I actually grew more types than those mentioned here but I didn’t think they made the cut so I didn’t mention them. If you know a perfect Sungold replacement let me know what it is. I keep going back to that one because of its flavour but it almost always splits apart and offers up a little too much fun to the seasonal fruit flies.
DONNA BALZER IS THE BRAND AMBASSADOR FOR BC GREENHOUSE BUILDERS AND SHE LOVES GROWING IN THEM TOO!
What Would Donna Do?
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