Later to ‘Maters? Maybe not just yet…

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
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
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
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
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.

The reality
The reality

Still, the tomatoes were gorgeous. I was really looking forward to biting into the biggest Beefsteak yet… and then this happened:

POSSUMS!
POSSUMS!

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 Zapotec Tomatoes
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
Zapotec tomatoes on the grill

Also fantastic on a frittata:

Frittata with Zapotec Tomato slices and fresh basil
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+): Beefsteak: 16 Chocolate Cherry: 20 Green Zebra: 7 San Marzano: 23 Cherokee Purple: 2 Zapotec: 6 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. ~~~~~~~~~~ END POST ~~~~~~~~~

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20 Comments Add yours

  1. Pat Sherwood says:

    I love tomatoes but the Northwest and my brown thumb aren’t conducive to my even trying! Yours made my mouth water. Oh bought beets and will roast instead of boil. Thanks to you.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Oh yay, roast beets are so much better! I like to cook them in a foil packet or covered dish with sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Sprinkle sea salt and a splash of vinegar at the end and you’ll be in beet heaven. Speaking of beets, I just noticed my biggest beet has bolted! Now to decide… eat it or let it go to seed. Hmmm.

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      1. Pat Sherwood says:

        Thanks, wasn’t sure how to do them.

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        1. Sheri Fox says:

          my pleasure 🙂

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  2. Robbie says:

    Some of those are mighty pretty! I wanted to share this with you, but I know it is too late this year. I did an experiement this year + you may know this already. I only used borage this year in the tomato bed + isolated the other companion plants to see if it was true that if you plant borage in your tomato bed you will never get hornworms. It does work + ever since I used borage I have never seen one hornworm. I can’t help you with the possum:-) I was not bothered by my ground hog this year. I have a lot of tomatoes, but they are so “blah” this year with our weather. I understand your frustration! The only ones that taste good are my black cherry, Fargo, Moskovich, and orange banana…the others are so blah..and I have been hearing from others this is a horrible season for tomatoes in our area. They taste “blah” for everyone! It makes me feel better to know I am not alone with “tasteless” tomatoes this year-lol…I will be taking my notes, only plant those that taste good this year!lol Zapotecs-those look amazing!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      I think you’re right. I had borage growing with several plants and those did not get caterpillars, or the cat’s were on the borage. I did find four huge hornworms on one zapotec planted next to borage, but the borage hadn’t really grown so maybe that’s why. I’m not disciplined enough to separate my companions so keep me posted on your findings. I tend to wander around the yard with herb and flower seeds in my pockets dropping them as I see empty spots! It’s terrible. I do the same with vegetables then wonder why things aren’t growing right LOL. I too had some tasteless tomatoes last year. It was a shame, a volunteer plant that grew vigorously even through winter! I pulled it to make room for my delicious heirlooms (haha, what a mistake that was) but honestly the tom’s just had no flavor. Don’t know what causes that. My Zapotecs are just drying so I’ll pop a few in the mail for you to try 🙂 sheri

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      1. Robbie says:

        oh my gosh that would be so cool!!!! Those are beauties…I am heading outside right now to tie up some of my vines. I put the borage plants in between the tomatoes, so each tomato plant has a borage plant near it. I am looking for dwarf borage seeds since they do get tall, and I find them flopped over, so need to work with that.
        I am so glad another friend mentioned their tomatoes this year were awful tasting.I really tried this year like you to make it work well with my tomatoes:-) Last year they were amaing. I did find my black cherries always taste good, thank goodness or I would have very few good tasting ones!

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        1. Sheri Fox says:

          Cherry tomatoes are always my saving grace. They’re so resilient! I can kill them if I try 🙂 I didn’t know about dwarf borage. They do get tall and need staking but I had mine mostly inside the tomato cages so they held up. I just started harvesting seeds, hoping for a lot. Also just popped Zapotecs in the mailbox for you. Should have asked, do you need anything else?

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          1. Robbie says:

            oh gosh, can’t think of anything off hand right now:-) My brain is slow lately…if you want anything just ask:-) Those tomatoes look like food sculptures-tee hee I am exctied to grow those!

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  3. It is disheartening when things seem to be going wrong… Seems like you have found your own solutions!

    Last year I lost half my crop and am now fearful of the same. Keep watching the plants and hoping the next two months are not damp.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Wish you could send some ‘damp’ our way. We’ve had less than 4″ of rain in the last 12 months. Ah well, it’s always something. I’m finally learning to roll with it and just enjoy the things that do work out. A beautiful beet can still make my day! Good luck, I hope things dry out for you ~

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      1. It’s not wet at the moment so I’m afraid I couldn’t send any damp right now. We haven’t got a drough though, fortunately, as it has rained occasionally. The problem for the tomatoes would come later – in the autumn.

        I can’t remember the name of your tomatoes with the crenellated edges but they look fab.

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        1. Sheri Fox says:

          Zapotecs, really nice color and flavor. First I thought they took too long and needed too much water but once they kicked in I changed my mind 🙂

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          1. If I find some seeds, I will definitely give them a try 🙂

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            1. Sheri Fox says:

              Let me know if you don’t. I haven’t shipped to the UK yet but it can’t be that difficult, can it? I promised a friend in Manchester seeds too so I’ll have to figure it out sometime.

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              1. That’s very kind of you! Thank you 🙂

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  4. Wow! Those look amazing. I’m so jealous of the salsa. Our big tomatoes all cracked and got nasty this year. All of those dishes look so good I’m getting hungry… and I just ATE.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      The salsa was good, but there wasn’t nearly enough! I have heard so many stories about bad tomatoes this year. I really might just skip next year except a cherry or two, which seem much more resilient. Ah well.

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  5. Kathy Sturr says:

    Don’t be discouraged! I remember one year a chipmunk bit all my lower tomatoes! I just left them there so he/she wouldn’t eat any higher. I find if I trim the lower leaves and mulch (I use grass clippings) the soil to prevent splash back, it helps with the soil born diseases. Heirlooms are the least resistant. Some open pollinated varieties are bred with better disease resistance. But I sure to love the looks of that griller tomato, Zapotec! Oh, and those black cherries. I am addicted to Sungold but those black cherries would look so pretty next to Sungold and I’m sure would taste even prettier!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      You make a good argument Kathy but I’ve determined that the biggest problem was early blight, despite trimming up the plants and lots of fresh mulch, so a year off may be necessary. At the least I need to choose resistant hybrids over kooky heirlooms, but I don’t know if they exist. Still that Zapotec was really outstanding. I’d love to swap seeds with you if you’re interested. I haven’t grown Sungold My chocolate cherries started producing again in my dried up, torn up Topsy Turvy so I should get good strong seeds from those! And here I go again… planning next year’s tomato garden 😉

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