Sunday, September 23, 2012

Heirloom Tomato Review

What we lacked in apples this year we surely made up for in tomatoes.  It has been a whirlwind of fruit this past month but it's finally coming to a close.  I was very fortunate this year to receive a huge volume of seeds from some very generous people.  Huge thanks for Brenda @ Gardeningbren and my cousin Diane.  In addition to having seeds gifted to me I also purchased seeds from Heritage Harvest Seed in Manitoba.  I ended up with so many varieties that I was not able to plant everything so it looks like I will have to trial more varieties next year too.


I concentrated on heirloom tomatoes this year as I keep hearing what a difference in taste these have.  I certainly wasn't disappointed.  I grew 8 varieties this year and all had positives and negatives.

Andrina cherry tomato
These red cherry tomatoes were described as small plants perfect for containers and they lived up to that description.  I was looking for something to grow on the deck for easy picking and these plants did well, growing less than a foot high and maturing early.  However, that's about the only good thing I have to say.  It started out poorly for me with bad germination rates which resulted in only two plants surviving.  Those two plants didn't put out a lot of fruit and that fruit has a very strong tomato taste.  Not a bad thing but I like my cherry tomatoes sweet.  Jody ate them but it was a pass for me.

Andrina Tomatoes
Mexico Midget
Thank goodness I was given seeds for this wonderful plant as it more than made up for the deficit of cherry tomatoes.  These seeds also had poor germination rates but thankfully all you need is one because this guy gets BIG.  In fact, that is probably the only negative I had.  I cut this plant back hard in July to try and keep it under control but it still has managed to cover an area about 8 feet long and 5 feet wide, growing overtop of other tomato plants, marigolds and basil.  I intend to grow this again but will be giving it more room next time as well as cutting it back.  On the positive side this plant is prolific, fruits early and is tasty.  I've been picking tomatoes off this plant every single day for a month and it's not slowing down.  In fact, every time I pick my hands are covered in a thick layer of yellow pollen.  The fruit is about the size of a blueberry (as seen below) and sweet as can be.  Perfect for salads and snacking.

A pint of blueberries on the left and Mexico Midgets on the right
Bison
The next tomato to ripen was Bison and this was a hit all around.  From my perspective they had excellent germination, were generally healthy plants that didn't grow too big, plenty of flowers, and early mid-sized fruit.  Jody (the tomato lover and expert taste tester) says he liked them because they were somewhat sweet and good for just about anything. You can slice them on sandwiches, dice them up on salads, put them in soups, chili or pasta.  Just an easy all around tomato.  The only negative was they had a slight touch of blossom end rot but it didn't affect all the fruit and didn't really affect harvest all that much.  Will definitely grow this again.

Left to right - Bison, Black Plum, Andrina in the back,
Martino's Roma and Mexico Midget in the front
Black Plum
Next to ripen after the Bison were these small size plum tomatoes.  It was difficult to guess when they were ripe at first as the shoulders remained dark green and the bottoms have a mottled look but once we got the hang of it we were hooked.  These are a must have now.  Out of this world taste, very smoky and strong.  I liked them in salads and added them to soups and salsa for an extra hit of flavour.  Germination wasn't too bad and the plants grew quite well.  Unfortunately this plant had a lot of trouble with blossom end rot.  We threw out a lot of tomatoes but were able to eat enough that I would still grow this again.

Wentzell
This plant gave me grief right from the start.  Poor germination, refusing to grow up it's stake, blossom end rot, cracking, small sized fruit.  This is a Nova Scotia heritage variety so I had high hopes but the advertised large beefsteak tomatoes were not to be in my garden.  They were a very sweet tomato (Jody really liked these) but smaller than the mid-sized Bison and I barely got a half dozen fruits off this vine throughout the whole season.  I won't be trying these again.

Martino's Roma
Great germination rates and heavy production are what comes to mind with this plant.  These tomatoes were slightly later than the other varieties but once they started they kept me very busy for weeks (in fact I'm still collecting fruit from them!)  Large trusses of fruit hang off these plants and they make a great base for soups and stews.  The negatives are there was a small touch of blossom end rot and the fruit is not that tasty.  Some of my co-workers disagreed, saying they liked them very much and I'm just spoiled by having so many other varieties to choose from.  That may be true but the flavour just isn't there for me.  However, if you want large quantities of tomatoes for cooking these were great value.  I still have lots of seeds so will likely grow these again as I'm terribly fond of tomato soup.

Unripened roma tomatoes in mid-August
Rosella Purple Dwarf
The last tomatoes to ripen were the big beefsteaks.  Although the plant is small (dwarf size) Rosella is a very large tomato.  I didn't have great germination from these plants and one plant (a runt) just outright refused to grow and produce fruit.  But the one plant that did produce gave us some very interesting fruit.

Rosella is huge compared to Bison
There was a touch of blossom end rot affecting this plant as well but I still managed a good harvest and the fruits have a very strong flavour similar to Black Plum.  I used them in the same way, adding them to sauces for an extra zap of tomato flavour.  My only issue with such a large tomato is they were hard to use up unless I was cooking.  Of the two dark tomatoes I preferred Black Plum but I won't rule out growing these again.

German Gold
The last tomato to ripen, we have only begun eating these in the last week.  They are another big beefsteak and bright yellow colour as the name suggests.

Rosella Purple on left and German Gold on right
Jody says he's colour biased and thinks they taste different simply because they look different.  He figures they would taste like any other tomato if you couldn't see them.  I disagree, I think there's a milder flavour and a meatier texture that has nothing to do with what my eyes are telling me.  I put these in a spicy chicken soup and loved how it complimented the flavours.  Again though, I find the size of these conducive to cooking rather than just plain eating.  They're simply too big to use in salads or sandwiches.  That said I'm not sure I'll grow them again.  We had a fantastic summer for growing tomatoes and these are still taking their time to ripen.  On a less than perfect year I don't think I would be able to harvest anything from such a late plant.  As well, I had difficulty managing these plants as the fruit bent and broke stems.  I might look for a slightly smaller and earlier yellow tomato in future.

Well that's a wrap for this year folks.  In the next couple of weeks the vines will be pulled out of the ground and I'll be cleaning up the garden in preparation for next spring's trials.  I have about a dozen more varieties I didn't get to grow this year so I look forward to doing this all over again next season.

28 comments:

  1. Marguerite,
    We should have traded off some tomatoes to try as I also planted some different varieties which I'll post about later. You did a really good job of highlighting all the types and germination times because really this was a Summer that I have never experienced in years. We tried to use up as many tomatoes as possible now I'm just giving them away with a table out front of our driveway stating FREE!!
    What did you do with all yours?
    That Mexican Midget sounds like a nice tomato that I may have to look into for next year.
    I'm sure you had as much fun as I did trying all these beautiful tomatoes. Isn't having a garden wonderful!

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    1. I'm looking forward to your review! I wondered how your crop was going and which seeds you had ordered. I too resorted to giving them away. My co-workers have really benefitted from my gardening this year. I have saved seeds from Mexican Midget, if you'd like some send me an email through the contact page and I'll send them along.

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  2. What a delicious array of tomatoes. They are beautiful too. Those tiny ones could become my favorites.

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    1. Lisa, I thought about choosing a favourite among the group but it would have been too hard. Those midgets are definitely high up on our list though.

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  3. Very nice post outlining all the different varieties. I love dark tomatoes, but I do believe the yellow ones have a milder, sweeter flavor. I love big tomatoes, so I may put the rosella purple and the german gold on my next year's wish list! Since I have such a long summer, I wouldn't mind the long time it takes to ripen.

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    1. How lucky that you have such hot weather and long seasons for growing tomatoes. We really have to be careful with ripening times and it means there's lots of varieties I likely won't ever try.

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  4. You are most welcome re the seeds, and yours to me..thank you very much.

    This was a great post,and I loved the photos, especially the one with the blue berries next to Mexico Midget. (I saved seeds yesterday) As it is a monster, I grew one over the arbour..must post a photo! I am particularly fond of the German Gold but it does need that little bit of a longer season.

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    1. I would love to see a photo of your vine Brenda. Mine just looks a mess, intertwined with everything around it.

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    2. Went back here to your tomato review and found the info I needed. Thank you. Planting my seeds today 2013, can't find my Mexico midgets...too many seeds, so little time...and space. My guess is the Mex midgets well germinate from the soil anyway, from last years crop. Hope so.

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    3. I know the feeling, my seed collection is beginning to spread into various drawers in the fridge. Soon I'll have more seeds than food in there :) I did collect midget seed last season but we had so many falling off the vine last year I'm pretty sure I'll end up with volunteer plants too. Good thing as I've promised a few plants to various people who loved them last year.

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  5. Great assessment of your tomato crop. I love the comparison to the blueberries.....that is a tiny mater!! We have eaten many heirlooms this summer. Our favorite is Cherokee Purple and German Johnson Pink. We have tried some of the yellow ones, yes, milder flavor.

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    1. Janet, it is absolutely the tiniest tomato I've ever laid eyes on. I was quite surprised though how much flavour they pack in. Like berries, you just grab them by the handful and wow.

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  6. What a ton of tomatoes!! My Heatmaster is still producing but once its fruit ripen, I'll be pulling them. I love that you grew so many different varieties. The Mexico Midgets sound really cool and I love the big heirlooms. Sounds like you had a successful summer! :o)

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    1. Tammy, it was by far the best crop of tomatoes I've ever had. Couldn't be more pleased.

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  7. Hello Marguerite girl !
    Wow ! You grew such a variety of tomatoes it is remarkable!
    You must have so much patience girl : )
    I love the little sweet tomatoes .. I eat them like candy almost .. I can go through 2 pints in no time!
    I was fascinated by that Mexico Midget ! the size of blueberries and just as sweet ... now they would be perfect for me .. I understand Jody's take on the colour of a tomato .. I am stuck on that point too .. I would have to be blindfolded to give a proper review? LOL
    I'm sorry about the apples falling .. that would make me crazy .. especially when there are a bazillion apple recipes to use them for.
    This was a great review Marguerite .. I would never hear of these tomatoes other wise !
    Joy : )
    Did I tell you I bought 5 pumpkins a couple of weeks ago?
    2 big and 3 cute small ones .. I still have to Vaseline them up yet ;-) LOL

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    1. Vaseline? I must be missing something, I've never heard of that? Pumpkins are everywhere here right now, an early crop this year. So sad I have to buy them again, I was really hoping to grow my own. My co-worker did like you, I handed her a pint of mexico midgets in the morning and by lunchtime she'd eaten them all!

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  8. Here I am, taking notes, because I am not happy with any of the varieties we planted this year. For home grown they were pretty tasteless.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

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    1. oh Jen, what a disappointment. I saw the photos of your tomatoes and was really impressed - buckets full! My roma tomatoes were like that though, the flavour just didn't impress me at all.

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  9. Like the other commenters, I have been taking notes. I was a bit lazy this year as Loblaws had a nice range of heirloom tomatoes last year and I figured it would be the same again this year. No such luck!
    I had good success with my cherry tomatoes, but not the larger varieties were not great producers. Next year, I think I might try to grow a few from seed. Thanks for the link to the seed house!

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    1. Jennifer, if you have room for a few seedlings I would highly recommend trying tomatoes from seed. I find them very easy to start. The only problem is I generally end up with too many. If you're interested I can send you a few to try?

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  10. I have to ask, what do you do with that amount of tomatos? Eat them all?

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    1. Hi Jess, I make a straight tomato soup and a spicy chicken soup that includes salsa and fresh tomato. I've been tripling these recipes and freezing soup like mad. It's a great easy dinner to whip out on a night when you don't feel like cooking. We've also eaten salsa almost daily, lots of salads with handfuls of tomato in them, tomato sandwiches, put them in scrambled eggs, with pasta. I don't think I've had a meal that doesn't include tomato in the last month. Even so I've given away bags of tomatoes to co-workers and we tried freezing them whole for the first time as well.

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  11. I enjoyed reading this post. Strange that you had such trouble with germination. I've added bison, black plum and mexico midget onto my list for next year.

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    1. Melanie, I really noticed it because some of the seed was 100% germination. Not a single seed didn't produce a plant (which was problematic in its own right!) and then others like Andrina, I planted darn near the entire packet of seed and came up with 2 plants. Really wide range of variability.

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  12. An excellent review of some varieties I wasn't familiar with, Marguerite! I always appreciate hearing others' experiences, because catalogs always rave about every tomato. My tomatoes didn't do so well this year--shortly after they began ripening we had some downpours that caused them to split. As a result, many of them spoiled before they were fully ripe.

    I didn't grow any heirlooms this year, but I think I'll try again next year. I had the same problem last year with Cherokee Purple that you had with your Black Plum--I wasn't sure just when they were fully ripe.

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    1. Rose, good point. It's hard to choose when catalogues really don't tell you any of the negatives. I had a lot of splitting too as it was so dry. The instant it rained the fruit reacted badly. I was kicking myself for not watering frequently to prevent that. LIve and learn I suppose.

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  13. what an interesting and informative post Marguerite, I had no idea there are so many varieties yet the shops sell less than half a dozen different tomatoes,
    Jody thoughts on colour he's right for most people, when my daughter trained as a chef part of her studies was about how colour affects sales and what people will buy and eat, tests have been done with different coloured lights making food look different and though it's the same food unusual colours resulted in many people not eating it,
    glad you had so many sucesses after the apple loss, Frances

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    1. Good point Frances, I remember finding out that cheddar cheese isn't naturally orange and was baffled. Funny how a colour triggers something for us. I did a comparison recently between seed vendors. Our local company catalogue sells approx 37 varieties of tomatoes in their catalogue. Seems like a huge number. But then I compared it to another company that is more focused on preserving seed as opposed to sales and they had 198 varieties. We're really missing out at the grocery store.

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