Friday, March 28, 2014

Second Set of Tomatoes for 2014


The second set of tomato plants are a couple of inches tall as of the end of March.  My intention is to start 4 to 5 tomato seedlings each month February to June.  That will amount to 20 to 25 tomato plants spread over 5 months.  My hope is to have tomatoes from May to November.  Last year I was able to harvest tomatoes in November, but it was a relatively warm autumn.

Red Lightning

This tomato is bright red with yellow stripes.  I have grown this before, and the tomatoes end up being so pretty you don’t want to eat them, well almost, I still ate them.  The tomatoes are about 2 to 3 inches in diameter.  They have a tangy flavor that makes them great for salads with lettuce or pasta. This is an indeterminate tomato that generally bears fruit in 80 days.
 

Michael Pollen

This is a pretty (honestly, I think all tomatoes are pretty) green tomato named after the author, cook and activist, Michael Pollen.  I have planted this tomato before, but not for a few years.  It produces a great, abundant crop of small (1 to 2 inches) tomatoes, excellent for salads, salsa and just eating off the vine.  The information on this tomato is confusing.  It is both listed as determinant and indeterminate.  The literature does seem consistent that it is a hybrid.  My past experience is that the plant grows to 5-6 feet and bears tomatoes for a month or more which would probably make it an indeterminate.
 

Black Pearl

This is another pretty tomato that I have grown before.  It is an indeterminate, hybrid, cherry tomato that boarders on black. It is ready to pick in about 65 days. The flavor is not that of your typical cherry tomato (sweet), but has a strong taste, with high acid bordering on bitter.  I really love the flavor, but it is not for everyone.  The best way I have ever served this tomato is to slice a couple of dozen in half and toss them over hot pasta with a handful of arugula.  Then drizzle olive oil over the top with generous salt and pepper. I must admit that I first grew this tomato because of the name.  I love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and with a name like the Black Pearl, I could not resist.  Unfortunately, Sweet Tomato will not let me watch any of the movies any more when she is in the house.  After she saw them with me for the 5th or 6th time she threw up her hands and said no more.  
Just a quick note: I got a new sound bar for my TV.  I plan to watch the Pirate movies again soon when Sweet Tomato is not home.  Just hope the neighbors don’t complain about the sound (I play it loud).



Howard German

This is an indeterminate, heirloom tomato that matures in 80 days.  I have never grown this tomato before, but it is advertised as a big (5 to 6 inch long) paste tomato.  I would really like to find a large paste tomato for canning.  I have tried San Marzano paste tomatoes with some success, but I like the way large paste tomatoes fill up my canning jars faster and easier. 
 

Momotaro

This is a staple in my garden.  I have grown these tomatoes each year for over 10 years.  It doesn’t hurt that it is Sweet Tomato’s favorite tomato (I may not be the sharpest arrow in the quiver, but I understand that when Sweet Tomato says this is her favorite, I make sure it is in the garden).  It is an indeterminate, hybrid tomato that matures in 74 days.  It is very sweet with abundant tomatoes.  It is the most popular tomato in Japan.
 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The 2014 Tomato Season Has Started


The 2014 tomato season has begun, and to that end, I have five early tomatoes that will be ready to plant in the garden toward the end of March.  These tomatoes were started from seed at the beginning of February.   They are:

GREGOI’S ALTI

Siberian variety that originated in the Altai Mountains on the Chinese border. Tall plants are heavy producers of 8 to 12 oz. pink-red beefsteak tomatoes. The flavor is sweet yet acid and just delicious, with harvests continuing over an incredibly long season. Indeterminate with tomato production in around 67 days.

SILETZ

Deep red, full-flavored slicing tomatoes are 10 to 12 ozs. and very nice for an early variety. Developed by Dr. James Baggett of Oregon State University, these plants yield well even in cool weather. Good acid taste and excellent interior fruit quality in an early tomato. Determinate with tomato production in 52 days.

MATINA

This very early variety bears loads of 2 to 4 oz. red fruit with terrific flavor normally found only in a huge beefsteak. The fact that its fruit is ripe up to a full month earlier than many beefsteak varieties makes Matina really special. Potato-leaved plants put on large clusters of abundant tomatoes, and even though they start early, continue to bear throughout a long season. Heirloom from Germany. Indeterminate with tomatoes in 58 days.

SUMMER GIRL

When it comes to tomatoes, we say the earlier the better! Multitalented variety has it all: earliness (five days earlier than standard varieties, two weeks earlier than tomatoes of equal size), flavor, size and yield. Round 5-6 oz. fruit are a full 1.5 oz. bigger than Early Girl, with a yield 20% larger. Plants feature exceptional disease tolerance (verticillium and fusarium).  Product Details: Fruit Weight: 5-6  ounces.  Days to Maturity: 49-52  days.  Sun: Full Sun. Height: 55-60  inches. Sowing Method: Indoor Sow. Spread: 40-45  inches.

PRAIRIE FIRE

Very tasty, nice quality 1.5" -3-4oz extra red fruits on a compact plant with good foliage. Developed by Ken Fisher of Fisher's Garden Store. Great for canning or slicing. Very Productive. Determinate with tomatoes in 55 days.

This is what the plants look like now (March 5).

 
 
The next set of tomatoes will be started from seed this week, but that is another blog post.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

To Plant or not to Plant a Fall Vegetable Garden

Fall is the perfect time in Southern California for planting perennials and non-deciduous trees. However, there is a debate in my mind if fall is the best time to plant a vegetable garden. I attempted a fall vegetable garden in the past, with mixed to poor results, despite all the advice my gardening books give to the contrary. Fall can be a great time to garden, as long as temperatures are cooler and more comfortable. But beware the Santa Ana winds; those devil winds bring miserable dry heat that makes yard work misery rather than a labor of love!

The logistics of a fall vegetable garden are very tricky. If you wish to start plants from seed for fall harvest, the seeds need to be started by mid-August and theoretically planted by mid-September.  But this means starting cool weather crops (root and leaf vegetables) during what is usually the hottest and driest times of the year. I often find that the hottest temps of the year occur in September or October, much to the consternation of our tourists. October starts exceptionally dry with Santa Ana winds blowing off the deserts, desiccating delicate plants, and aiding and abetting wildfires in the dry back country. This period can extend through November or end in early October depending on when the first wet season rains descend upon the region. This variability makes for frustrated attempts at cool season vegetables. I found that an early wet season tends to favor growth of cool season vegetables and extended heat and dryness stunts them or worse, kills them.

Pomegranates to be harvested
By early fall, I am usually spent, tried of all the responsibility of a vegetable garden, and am ready for the welcome respite of winter. I wind down the warm season crops: completing the final harvests of tomatoes, removing dying marigolds and other annual flowers, pruning perennial shrubs, and the general clean up that comes with preparing for winter. I also preserve the harvest: drying herbs, juicing and freezing pomegranate juice, making and freezing tomato sauce, and making and freezing fig jam. I still need to plant my cover crops (native wildflowers and crimson clover) after removing warm season vegetables from the beds. That is a lot to do and nurse tender cool weather seedlings through unforgiving weather!

Swiss chard
This year I successfully grew Swiss chard from seed for fall harvest. My poor kale plants are being eaten mercilessly by black beetles and white flies; they are going to end up a total loss. I started tomatoes later this year and have a later harvest because of the late timing. The wind down is taking longer this year, taking away focus from the broccoli, cauliflower, collards, and arugula that shriveled up and died as seedlings. My best advice for the fall is to focus on winding down the warm season, cleaning up the garden, and preserving the harvest. The cool weather crops can wait to be planted in late winter or early spring. Ultimately they prefer this timing, and weather conditions are more apt to allow them to grow and thrive.


Winding down the tomatoes - the 2 above photos are a Romanian heirloom we call "Corey's Grandpa." The one in my hand weighed almost 2 lbs! While the plants do not produce quantity, they produce huge quality fruits. This is one of my favorite tomatoes: gorgeous coloring, hug size, light, sweet yet flavorful taste - overall impressive on all accounts!