Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2014 Heirloom Tomato Review

If you read my last post and wondered why I hadn't grown any tomatoes this year - well here they are!!  I grow so many tomatoes, most of them heirloom, that I write a separate post dedicated just to them.

It's always a colourful harvest
Heirloom tomatoes vary so much in colour, shape and taste that we often find ourselves spending hours comparing them for flavour, suitability for cooking and storage.  I try new varieties each year and then we have to compare against old favourites.

Let's see what this year's crop brought us and how they stack up against past years.

To start I should mention that once again the garden was hit with early blight.

The tell tale spots on tomato leaves indicates early blight
Black spots appeared on the leaves close to the main plant stalk in late July.  Those leaves began to die back and then the spots spread.  Eventually it will kill the whole plant.  The good news is that early blight can be dealt with.  Plucking the affected leaves and properly disposing of them can help to stop the spread of the disease.  Also dispose of the mulch around plants as that can harbour the fungus.  I didn't bother plucking leaves and I think that has contributed to my ongoing problem with this fungus.  I need to be more diligent in future.  Even so, the fruit still forms on the plants and is edible and by properly fermenting the seeds you can still collect seed for planting.

Thus far, the only tomato that shows any resistance to this fungus is Mexico Midget.  It isn't entirely resistant but it's better than most.  I actually didn't plant Mexico Midget this year but I had plants regardless.  This plant is more shrublike than any tomato I've ever seen and it produces fruit in the hundreds.  Tiny currant sized fruit that drops all over and replants itself year to year.  I found about 3 Mexico Midgets hiding amongst the onions and the beets, and in bed with the cucumbers.  The only downfall is that these self seeded plants start out late and never fully mature enough to provide a good crop of fruit.

A bowl full of 'cherries'
Yellow Pear also weathered the fungus storm slightly better than most of the other plants.  Beautiful little fruits, they are adorable to look at.  Not terribly sweet, meaty as yellows tend to be but they don't 'taste' yellow Jody says (whatever that means!)  I found them sweet in comparison to a regular large tomato but not so sweet that is really noticeable.

We had one more 'cherry' sized tomato and that was Chadwick Cherry.  These small red tomatoes had good disease resistance and were quite prolific.  The fruit is a little larger than normal for a cherry, and not very sweet but instead has a tangy flavour.  We did enjoy them and they produced a decent haul of fruit in a bad year but I'm still looking for a cherry tomato that will blow my socks off.

The tomato with the worst resistance this year was Copia.  Most of the plants were killed outright.  The couple that survived produced beautiful fruit.  Big fat globes striped in orange and yellow. A champagne of tomatoes Jody called them.  A very bright, light citrusy taste that I adored but considering how badly they did in my garden I'm not sure I would grow them again.

Copia produced large yellow and red striped tomatoes
I have had good disease resistance from Black Plum tomatoes in the past but this year the blight proved too much for them.  We collected only a small amount of fruit but regardless this is my favourite tomato and I will continue to grow it.  The small fruit is perfect for dicing onto salads and the strong smoky flavour is fantastic in everything from soups to salsa.

Kellogs was my least favourite this year.  These large yellow tomatoes ripened early and while not bad to eat I much prefer German Gold and Woodle Orange which we have grown in previous years.  In addition to inferior taste they also suffered from blight and blossom end rot.

From the Left - Clear Pink, Kellogs and Bison
On the other end of the spectrum, Paul Robeson was probably my favourite tomato this year.  They took forever to ripen but when they did we loved them.  This is an excessively large purple tomato with that strong smoky taste that the purple tomatoes seem to have.  That strong taste is delicious in soups and chilli.  Jody called them the merlot to Copia's champagne.  Blight knocked them back but didn't utterly destroy them.

From the far left - Paul Robeson, Clear Pink, Chadwick Cherry, Yellow Pear and Mexico Midget
A bowl of Bison and Copia in the background
For those more interested in traditional tomatoes we had a good year with Clear Pink.  These are rosy pink fruit of regular size and shape.  They had reasonable disease resistance and are just a good all round tomato for whatever needs you have.

The final contestant is Bison.  and really, it's not much of a contest.  I've grown Bison in previous years and Jody keeps begging me to plant them every year.  Bison is a traditional red tomato, good for fresh eating, cooking, whatever you need.  It's best trait is that it's a bush type tomato that  produces vast quantities of tomatoes early in the season and all at once.

There's always plenty of Bison to go around
If you're making soup this is what you need.  A large haul of tomatoes to fill the pot.  The plants were a mess from blight but we still did collected a great number of fruit so it's still a win in my books.

Do you grow heritage tomatoes?  Do you have a favourite variety?  I would love to hear your preferences and recommendations.

21 comments:

  1. What fun having all of this assortment of tomatoes. If I had more room I would do the same. I am growing fewer tomatoes this year. Do you start your tomatoes from seed? I haven't done that as yet. I usually grow what the local nursery carries. They change from year to year thankfully.

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    1. Hi Lisa, yes I grow all my tomatoes from seed. I wouldn't be able to find these varieties otherwise. We live in a pretty small place and the local nurseries don't carry much variety. I have the same issue with perennial flowers too. If there's something I really want I have to grow from seed or do mail order.

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  2. This post was very helpful. I am looking at growing more heirloom varieties so I can take some knowledge from your lessons learned and recommendations. We've never had blight on tomatoes before but I'll be watching.

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    1. Thanks Karin. Unfortunately I've had both early and late blight here but our humid summer conditions are the perfect breeding ground for it. Hot and dry places wouldn't likely have as much of a problem. It's one of the reasons I keep trying new varieties though. I'm trying to find something that we both like in taste and suits our growing conditions.

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  3. WoW! There's a lot to learn about tomatoes! The Bison variety look wonderful. I have never grown them but you have inspired me to try some this coming gardening season. My hubby is always talking about growing some food instead of flowers. Lol Happy New Year and thank you for sharing your knowledge.
    Linda at Beautiful Ideas

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    1. Thanks Linda. I have to have both food and flowers. Food for the tummy and flowers for the soul :) Happy new year to you too

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  4. Hi,
    Yellow Pear is a favorite at our house. My boys love them. I like a Roma tomato. I buy the plants at our local nursery. My husband likes the Big Boy.

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    1. Hi Carla! thanks for the input. My husband isn't crazy about romas but I like them for soup. Haven't tried Big Boy but I'll put it on my list. I'm always curious what tomatoes other people favour.

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  5. I missed having tomatoes this year, because of the drought. I honestly don't remember the last year we didn't grow them :( Loved seeing your review though. Yellow Pear has been hit and miss for us. It seems to resent our foggy summers, but in a dry warm summer we can't keep up with the bounty. I do like to put them cherry tomato pizzas, as they're not overly juicy, or just eat them straight off the vine. I may just have to finally break down and try Paul Robeson. I grow 'Black Pear' here for its exquisite smoky flavor, and it would be fun to compare the two! Let's hope we get some more rain this winter so I justify planting a garden again this spring :)

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    1. oh my goodness Clare, I clearly haven't been keeping up with my reading. Didn't realize the drought was so bad down your way. That really is a terrible tragedy not being able to have a garden. I'll be praying for rain for you. I wonder if your Black Pear resembles our Black Plum. My favourite tomato by far. Paul Robeson is similar in taste but a much larger tomato so it has a wider variety of uses.

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  6. I wonder how your plants survived the blight while mine were miserable. Perhaps our humidity helped the disease spread. I got so mad at mine I ripped them out and have sworn off growing them again. Instead, I just go to the farmers market. But I do admire your harvest!! Your vegetable garden gets better every year.

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    1. I wonder did you have late blight Tammy? There's a difference between early and late. Late kills everything. The only thing you can do is rip the plants out, disinfect and put them in the garbage. Early blight slowly kills the plants bit by bit so you can still manage to collect some fruit. Depends on the plant as well and how resistant it is. Humidity is definitely a problem and lack of air circulation. maybe if you left them out of your garden a couple years so the fungus dies away and then try again? I like your idea though too of just growing what you like and what grows well. Less hassle and you can support local growers at the farmers market.

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  7. My wifey loves tomatoes!! I am learning to like them :) baby steps.

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    1. I have a confession Keith. I'm not a huge fan of fresh tomatoes. My hubby loves them fresh but I would rather them in soups or sauce. I'm learning to appreciate them fresh though, as you say, baby steps.

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  8. What a great review, Marguerite! Most of these varieties I've never even heard of before. I don't grow heirloom tomatoes anymore, because they have always succumbed to the blight here. Even my hybrids that are supposed to be blight-resistant had a late case of it or some other fungal disease, though we still had a bumper crop of tomatoes. I'd like to find a new place to plant mine--which should help prevent the fungal diseases--and try some heirlooms again.

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    1. Thanks Rose. Disease is a big problem with heirlooms but as you point out, even the new varieties lack much resistance. I try to rotate but there's only so much you can do. I keep trying though, guess I'm addicted to the process :)

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  9. Jody is absolutely right about the Paul Robeson!! Merlot indeed. As for the dependable tomato, like Bison, I grow Sub-arctic Plenty, which like Bison, is shrub like, fruits pretty well, all at the same time and can take damp and cold. By the time late blight arrives, it's done! Great Post Marguerite.

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    1. Thanks for the input Brenda! Another tomato to add to my list to try. It's always great to hear what other people are growing and compare how the varieties have done.

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  10. What a wonderfully helpful blog, I am so glad Gardeningbren linked it in her latest post! We grew 3 orange tomatoes last year, Menonnite, Gold Dust from Incredible Seeds and Sun Gold from Halifax Seed (not a heritage, but sooooo tasty!) This year my wee girl wants to find a purple tomatoe for her "purple garden"...I will have to try the one you mention, thanks!!

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    1. Thanks so much for the comment, I look forward to checking out your blog. You might want to check out my past tomato reviews if you're into growing different kinds. I've grown numerous different purples - Black Plum is our favourite hands down. I also grow a purple bean - Peacock Purple which is beautiful and tasty.

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  11. Where do you get your seeds for Black Plum? I think we may try them this year on your advice!

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