It’s been a strange tomato season this year on the Pacific Coast. From Southern California, to northern Washington State, gardeners have been lamenting over the coldest summer temperatures in more than 40 years. Although our personal productivity increased with the cooler temperatures this season, we can’t say the same for our tomatoes. However, it’s not all bad news.
This is the first year we’ve been able to plant in the new fenced-in vegetable garden area, and although the gardens are far from complete, we have enjoyed numerous harvests throughout the season, and are now busy with fall planting.
The Cherry Tomatoes
In previous years the cherry tomatoes have all been hybrids, but this year, two of the three varieties were replaced with heirlooms.
Instead of Super Sweet 100, this year we grew Salisaw Cafe, a slightly larger, 3/4-inch red cherry. Very sweet, and full of tomatoey flavor, Salisaw Cafe performed phenomenally well, with tremendously high yields compared to previous Super Sweet crops. Fruits were highly resistant to cracking, and the plants were robust and healthy throughout the season. Definitely a success. There’s no question that we’ll plant this variety again. (Early-Season; Indeterminate)
Beam’s Yellow Pear:
Our yellow pear cherry tomato this year was the heirloom Beam’s Yellow Pear. This variety doesn’t like to share space in the garden, growing beyond 9 feet in height, and scrambling across the tops of adjacent tomatoes planted nearby. Although we could never accuse any tomato plant of being a ‘thug’ in the garden, it is rambunctious! Dense clusters of mid-sized, low acid, sweet cherry fruits cover the plants from top, to bottom. Yields far exceeded our expectations, and this plant just won’t quit. Flowers are still being produced, and a number of fruits are still ripening. This heirloom has performed far better for us than any yellow pear variety grown here before. Another wild success, and on our replant list for next year. (Mid-Season; Indeterminate)
Sungold was the only hybrid tomato we planted this year. My fault, I couldn’t quite imagine not having it in the garden as we’ve grown it for some years, but next year we hope to hunt down an orange heirloom alternative. Truth be told, Sungold, for the first time ever in our gardens, was not a great performer for us this year, being eclipsed by far by the two varieties above. Fruits were small, slow to ripen, and although yields were modest, harvests were sporadic at best. No doubt our weather was in large part to blame, but for the first year ever, we were genuinely disappointed with Sungold. (Mid-Season; Indeterminate)
The Larger Heirlooms
This was an unexpected surprise. After spending some time in South America, we chose this variety just for fun. This is a late-season beefsteak type tomato, more deep pink in color than red, and it was fabulous. Excellent yields, second only to Black Pear (below), rich tomato flavor, and slightly acid, this tomato is simply gorgeous when sliced. If the cold weather set it back, it wasn’t noticeable, and fruit is still ripening on the vine. Plants are robust, and relatively pest and disease free. We’ll plant this variety again, if only to evaluate its performance during a more ‘normal’ summer here. (Mid-Season; Indeterminate)
We grew this cool-season variety last year, because of its wonderful unique flavor, and it was our best performing tomato in regards to yield. This year however it initially seemed confounded with the weather, and some of the early fruits rotted before fully ripe. Subsequent fruit set was excellent though, and the per plant yields were the highest for this tomato compared to all others grown this year. It was a strong performer during last year’s excessive heat, and again this year in significantly cooler weather. Despite cool weather setbacks earlier this season, this variety is hardy, and prolific enough that it bounced back to out perform our other heirlooms. Still a favorite, this rich, slightly smoky flavored, crack-resistant variety will definitely be planted again. (Mid-Season; Indeterminate)
We grew this last year, and had good yields of modest sized fruits. This year however, Cherokee Purple was a relatively poor producer. We’ve had good years and bad years with this variety, but the good years are well worth the effort. However, it seems more sensitive to temperature fluctuations than some tomatoes, wanting heat, but not too much, and not overly tolerant of this year’s cold. Year over year, its unpredictable performance may cause us to consider an alternative for next season, in an attempt to find a variety that performs more reliably in our variable coastal climate. (Late-Season; Indeterminate)
German Red Strawberry:
We were so excited to try this oxheart variety, as we’ve never grown oxheart tomatoes here before. With this variety we had a little surprise. Some of the plants were indeed red oxheart tomatoes. However, German Red Strawberry, wasn’t always…red. Although some were red, one of the plants produced beautiful vivid orange fruits instead. The fruits were very large, oxheart shaped like their red counterparts, although the oxheart shape with both was variable, and sometimes lacking entirely. The orange variant looked more like Hachiya persimmons than strawberries.
The flavor of both was excellent though, sweet with a good tomato flavor. Presumably the orange was either a packaging error (there is a German Orange Strawberry variety), an errant cross, or perhaps a genetic variant. We don’t know, but we went ahead and saved seed all the same, as we found it to be a hardy tomato with better yields than it’s red cohort. Whether or not the saved seeds from the orange form will stay true to color next year remains to be seen. (Late-Season; Indeterminate)
If there was a disaster in the tomato gardens this year, this was it. Illini Star was a bitter disappointment. This should have been a red, mid-sized, slicing sandwich tomato, similar to an Early Girl in both size and flavor. Very prone to tomato russet mite, and wilt, and well, overall a raggedy looking plant, whose branches would die back from the setting fruit clusters to the main stem, and the few small fruits produced mostly rotted, or split and molded, long before they were ripe. Definitely one to avoid here in the future, as there are too many other less disease-prone tomato varieties to try. (Mid-Season; Indeterminate)
This was one of our favorites last year, but this year Persimmon was one of our poor performers. It seemed to resent our ‘June Gloom’ that started in May and extended all the way into the end of August. Fruit set was significantly lower this season, and many were either undersized, split, or rotting, especially around the shoulders, before they were ripe. Compare to Russian Persimmon below. (Mid-Season; Indeterminate).
Another oxheart variety, Russian 117 produced some of the largest fruits of any variety we planted this year. Full of rich and complex tomato flavor, the fruits were a beautiful rich red color (unlike the German not-always-so-red Strawberry). Between the two oxheart varieties, this year at least, Russian 117 had better yield, flavor, and more consistent fruit size. (Late-Season; Indeterminate)
This variety was from an heirloom grown a few years ago from which we had saved seed. We grew this to compare it directly to the standard Persimmon (above), because we expected they may actually have been the same tomato. Comparing them side-by-side proved they are not. Russian Persimmon is less fluted in appearance, a deeper orange color, more resistant to disease, with higher yields, and superior flavor. We will definitely plant Russian Persimmon, over Persimmon, next year. (Mid-Season; Indeterminate)
A beautiful yellow and pink bi-color beefsteak type tomato, with large fruits. We grew this variety as a replacement for Marvel Stripe, which had disappointing yields last year. Yield was much better with Texas Star than Marvel Stripe, although the fruits weren’t as large, but the tomatoes were just as beautiful when sliced, with a mild, sweet tomato flavor. (Late Season; Indeterminate)
Based on the varieties grown here last year, we expect this mystery tomato was some sort of Persimmon cross. We had a few rogue tomatoes that popped up in the gardens this year, including this one that clearly must have slipped through the cold-compost pile, and found its way into the orchard. Regardless, once ripe, this monster was spied lurking near the pear trees. Completely neglected all season, except for gleaning some fertilizer or water from the orchard trees, this turned out to be a sizable monster, reasonably crack resistant, and flavorful. A fun find for a rogue volunteer!
Next year we hope to double the size of the tomato area of the garden, so we’ll have lots of room to try some additional varieties of tomatoes, including a few paste varieties. The keepers for this year are definitely Salisaw Cafe, Beam’s Yellow Pear, Argentina, Black Pear, and Russian 117. Off the list for next season however, hands down, Illini Star, and Sungold.
Although in mid-August our tomato harvest outlook was looking bleak, once the weather warmed in September, we did end up with a reasonable harvest. The biggest issue this year, with the cool weather, seemed to be plenty of fruit-set early, but fruits were significantly slower to ripen, drastically shortening the overall harvest period. This is the first year that cherry tomatoes were just ready to harvest, alongside some of the late season beefsteak varieties. Although all were indeterminate, the shortened season made some varieties seem more determinate in nature. A very strange season indeed. Unfortunately, the errant weather this season has made it difficult to judge performance this year. Some varieties that previously have done well here, didn’t do well this season, and some new varieties were raging successes.
We’ll have to see what next year brings…