Ugh. For all my planning, swapping, hoping, reading, writing, digging, tilling and composting, this was a pretty dreadful season for tomatoes. I’ve had several crappy years in a row with tomatoes but I keep thinking things will improve if I just do things better. I started my good, strong, organic heirloom seeds back in February. I had big plans for canning San Marzanos and filling the freezer with homemade pasta sauce for winter. I imagined gorgeous, deep red homegrown Beefsteaks sliced and layered with basil leaves and fresh mozzarella. I vaguely recall visions of Baker Creek’s smoky Vorlons grilled, salted and spread generously on hunks of crusty bread.
At first it looked like things might turn out. The plants were full of tomatoes! They were healthy and strong! I have evidence!!! Just look at that gorgeous green stem and those beautiful baby ‘maters:
First tomato babies of 2014, Heirloom Beefsteaks
But then the wildfires took their toll, leaving behind stressed out, wilted plants. Whatever soil-borne bacterial or fungal disease took out last year’s crop cropped up again. Nematodes infested roots and hornworms chewed leaves. Before long I’d pulled up several dead and dying plants. I had intentionally planted in several new spots around our little 1/4 acre in hopes that some would survive my tomato-killing tendencies. Luckily some plants rebounded and looked promising. In June I harvested a basketful of Green Zebras, San Marzanos, Chocolate Cherries and Cherokee Purples.
First Tomato Harvest Spring 2014: Chocolate Cherry, Black Krim, Green Zebra, San Marzano
We made salsa, salad, pasta and pizza and they were all delicious.
Salsa with tomatoes, serranos and cilantro from the garden
I thought, hey, it’s going to turn out okay! This is looking good, right? Gardening is great!
Beefsteaks looking amazing
But I was kidding myself. While the fruit on this one plant did look great, the plant itself and most of the others were less than impressive. Not exactly the lush green tomato bush I was hoping for. Poor thing was barely hanging on despite my best efforts with twine and tape.
Still, the tomatoes were gorgeous. I was really looking forward to biting into the biggest Beefsteak yet… and then this happened:
No, those are not my teeth marks. By July I was cursing baby possums and picking more caterpillars than fruit. To put it mildly, I was getting discouraged. I vowed several times to never grow tomatoes again. I will say though, even as I was grumbling, I enjoyed moments of bliss when it all seemed worth it. Like watching these crazy “pleated” Zapotecs take shape. I had three plants, only one of which produced fruit, but it gave me a half dozen big, tasty tomatoes. They were not only cool-looking but they had a rich, sweet, tomato-ey flavor that put the rest to shame. To protect them from caterpillars, I picked them a little early and finished ripening to a deep red on the kitchen counter.
First Zapotecs picked early to protect from caterpillars
I read that these meaty tomatoes were great for grilling… and they were.
Zapotec tomatoes on the grill
Also fantastic on a frittata:
Frittata with Zapotec Tomato slices and fresh basil
In the end I grew and planted nearly two dozen tomato plants from seed but only picked… hang on, I’m just checking my records… wait… this can’t be right. I grew over 70 tomatoes? When did that happen? Huh. Sweet! Maybe it’s not a great average when you consider the two dozen plants, and many were cherry-sized, but I’ll take it! And here I was, ready to say later to ‘maters. So glad I remembered to take notes!
Heirloom Tomatoes grown from seed (70+):
Chocolate Cherry: 20
Green Zebra: 7
San Marzano: 23
Cherokee Purple: 2
Yellow Pear: 2
Black Krim: 1
Total Lbs: 10+
And so I remember…
Notes for next year’s garden:
• Do not plant in Trough/Main area for three years
• Grow smaller/determinate varieties in fabric bags with fresh potting mix
• Grow determinates and replace after initial harvest with new plant (succession gardening) to reduce spread of disease
• For ground, plant hybrids resistant to bacterial and fungal disease
• Carnival, Celebrity, and Santiago are nematode-resistant
That’s my 2014 Spring tomato harvest news. And who was I kidding about giving up? I’ve already got new plants in the ground, so here’s hoping for a tomato-filled fall.
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