Tomatoes! Tomatoes! Tomatoes! I’m awash in fresh tomatoes. Sparkling red jars of canned tomatoes are lined up on the kitchen counter. Thin discs of dried tomatoes fill other jars. And out in the garden, tomato leaves are dropping from disease. All things tomato are centerstage in the garden.
It has been fun comparing flavors of fresh slices of tomatoes. Brandywine and Belgian Giant, for instance, are both scrumptious, with Belgian Giant being a little more tomatoey. Cherokee Purple is also delicious, this one with a rich, slightly smoky flavor. In addition to my usual favorites, one new variety (for me), Kellogg’s Breakfast, will become a regular in my garden. This heirloom has an odd name and a flesh that is at the same time meaty and juicy. The skin of these large fruits has a beautiful orange color with occasional deep red blushes.
Not all heirloom tomatoes are delicious. The main thing that the heirloom Stupice (pronounced stoo-PEECH-ka) has going for it is earliness. The fruits are small and ripen in clusters. We’ve been eating these fruits for weeks. Of course, since the later, better-tasting varieties have been ripening, we’ve been ignoring Stupice – for fresh eating, at least. It’s better than any other supermarket tomato, but not as good as Belgian Giant, Cherokee Purple, Rose de Berne, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Sungold and the other topnotch varieties that I grow.
One heirloom tomato garnering special attention this year is Blue Beech, a variety that reached Fedco (www.fedcoseeds.com) from someone in Vermont who got it from her neighbor’s niece’s uncle who brought it to Vermont from Italy during World War II. I tasted sauce made from Blue Beech at the farm of that original “someone in Vermont,” and right then and there decided to grow it for its unique flavor and orangeish color.
I’ve grown Blue Beech for a few years now, and this year finally decided to jar it up separately from my other varieties. (All my other tomatoes get thrown into one big pot for collective canning.) My Blue Beech sauce does not have that orangeish color, but does have a distinctive, very rich flavor.
Blue Beech is elongated, so looks like a canning tomato. Besides being good for canning, this tomato also has excellent fresh flavor – something that’s true for a number of canning tomatoes. Other varieties that have excellent flavor either fresh or cooked are Amish Paste and Anna Russian.
A number of canning tomatoes are good only that way: canned. Most notable is San Marzano, because it tastes so good after being cooked, and tastes so awful fresh.
And then there are tomatoes with poor flavor “no matter how you slice them,” fresh or canned. Roma is often used as a generic name for any canning tomato, but is also the name for a specific and, unfortunately, widely grown variety of canning tomato. The variety with this name is bland cooked or fresh.
Yes, “all things tomato” do include some tomato diseases, just as they do every year. Gardeners and farmers seem hypersensitive to tomato diseases ever since the late blight outbreak here in the Northeast a few years ago. It made everyone start looking more closely at their plants (a good thing), with even organic growers ready to spray at the first symptom of any disease problem (not a good thing).
I’m not planning to spray my tomatoes for late blight or any other problem. Late blight, although dutifully reported present at various locales by the Cooperative Extension Service, needs cool temperatures, humid or rainy conditions and wind to loft it from one site to the next in order to develop and spread. We had those conditions a few years ago, in addition to multiple sources of infection from tomatoes distributed from transplants sold at “big box” stores. We don’t have that weather or the sources of infection this year (at least, not as of this writing).
Late blight notwithstanding, my tomatoes, trained to single stems, are pretty much defoliated for their first foot or two. The culprits are early blight, characterized by tan blotches with concentric darker rings, and septoria leaf spot, characterized by small round spots with tan centers. Both diseases overwinter on infected tomato debris and wild host plants such as jimsonweed.
My approach to keep early blight and septoria – which rear their ugly heads here every year – in check is to clean up all tomato debris at the end of the season, to plant tomatoes each year where they have not grown for the previous two years and to mulch to keep spores from splattering up to the plants. And one more thing: not to worry. Every year, my tomatoes lose some leaves to these two diseases, and every year I harvest plenty of pesticide-free, juicy tomatoes bursting with flavor.
I will be giving a “Grow Fruit Naturally” workshop at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent in Columbia County on September 9. For more information visit http://hawthornevalleyfarm.org/event/grow-fruit-naturally-workshop.
Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try answering them directly or in this column. Come visit my garden at www.leereich.blogspot.com. For more on local homes and gardens, go to Ulster Publishing’s homehudsonvalley.com.