Summer is close to over and it’s time to report on my tomatoes. We only plant heirloom or open pollinated tomatoes so that we can save the seeds. That means we don’t always get the disease or pest tolerance that is bred into hybrids. But since there are literally 100’s of varieties of tomatoes, there is one sure to fit your soil, climate and tastes. It’s just a matter of finding that special tomato.
So, every year we try at least two or three new varieties, testing them against our favorites to see how well they do in our North Dakota extremes and how flavorful they are. Last summer was extremely wet, this summer was extremely dry. So if a tomato does well two years in a row, we know it’s a keeper.
The one tomato that has done well every year and will always be top on my List of Tomatoes to Grow: Amish Paste. This is a big, meaty paste tomato. No puny little romas for us. If I’m going to be making sauce or salsa, it’s going to be a serious batch of salsa and I don’t want to spend my afternoon peeling and chopping puny little tomatoes. Amish Paste fills the bill. It has good flavor, produces well, tolerates just about all the extremes North Dakota has to offer. The fruits are often close to one pound each, 1/2 pound being pretty average. You can see in the picture above that it cracks pretty readily around the shoulders. But because they are such tasty, meaty and big romas, I forgive them.
This year I tried a Dakota Amish Paste from Prairie Road Organic, a new seed company I just discovered this year (and wrote about here.) Even though they were planted a good three weeks after all the rest, they quickly caught up with their older siblings and performed quite well. It cracked much less than its cousins and the vines grew just as big–about 6 feet tall.
Krim Sailor was a success. Last year’s favorite was Black Krim but I couldn’t find any seeds for it this year. But Krim Sailor was another black Russian variety so I tried it this year and it did not disappoint. Black Krim and it’s twin, Krim Sailor, are now our favorite tomatoes, bar none, for flavor. This is the tomato that turned my teenage son from a tomato hater to a tomato lover. The medium-to-large size fruit is firm and meaty and did I tell you it tastes wonderful?
Another new variety I tried this year is Dakota Sport, also from Praire Road Organic. It lived up to its description: disease resistant, does well in cool weather and uniform, unblemished fruit. Here we had the most extreme drought conditions I’ve known since moving to North Dakota 18 years ago and this tomato came through it like a trouper. The medium-sized fruits are shiny even before I picked or washed them and are very uniform, blemish free–this and Indigo Rose (below) are the only two varieties that didn’t crack or scar with this year’s lack of rain. If looks are important for you, this one will make you happy. And the flavor is pretty good. On a scale of 1-10 (1 being a supermarket tomato and 10 being a Black Krim) this one is a solid 8 (Ross says it’s a 9, so that gives it an average score of 8.5.)
Our two cherry varieties were the same as last year’s: Golden Nugget and Brownberry. Brownberry is similar to the Russian Blacks–dark flesh with a wonderful, complex tomato-y flavor. The Golden Nugget is also a good tasting tomato with the added advantage that it starts producing ripe tomatoes a good two weeks ahead of everyone else.
I’m still in search of a good yellow tomato. This is the second year I tried Dr. Wyche’s Yellow. Last year it didn’t do too well, but then with all the rain we had, none of my tomatoes did well, so I decided to give it a second chance. The fruits are large and lobed, the flesh a little more juicy than I’d like, but the flavor was good. Not outstanding, but good enough that it just might be a keeper.
Purple Prudens is another variety that we grow every year. It’s called The World’s Ugliest Tomato. And it is ugly, poor thing. It is a large beef steak, very lobed and it scars too easily. But the flavor is very good and it is a very reliable producer. It’s usually the first red to ripen in the garden and the last to dwindle in the fall.
When we made our anual trek to Bergeson’s Nursery this spring, they had a new heirloom that caught my eye: Indigo Rose. This is one stunning plant. It produces large clusters of small tomatoes (bigger than cherry, but smaller than a roma or plum tomato.) The side facing the sun is a deep, dark purple, almost black and the other side is a rosy red. The flesh is red. This is one pretty plant, producing a very striking tomato. But that’s all she is: good looks. The flavor is so-so; on a par with supermarket tomatoes. And in the world of garden tomatoes that’s just not good enough. It also took forever to ripen. In fact, as I write this in the third week of August, I’ve only gotten four tomatoes off of this plant so far. There are hundreds hanging on the plant for weeks and they just aren’t ripening. When I talked to one of the Bergeson Nursery folks last week, she asked me how I like this Indigo Rose and I told her about the slow ripening and so-so taste. She agreed and said that had been her experience as well. So, as much as I hate to say it, I don’t think I’ll be planting this one again. I’ll save some seeds though, just in case I change my mind.
So that’s my report. What was your tomato experience this year?
Next year I may try a striped variety, like one of the two pictured below. I love all the different colors in tomatoes. And I’m still looking for a yellow that measures up to our other favorites. If you want to see a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes, in every color, size and shape imaginable, you’ll want to get a catalog from Baker Creek Nursery.