EDITOR'S NOTE: Bill Bird's crappier than crap digital camera is no longer functioning after swallowing a mouthful of Rogue River water during a rafting trip in Southern Oregon. If you didn't think his photos could get any worse -- you ain't seen nuthin' yet!
Hello friends! How does that garden grow? If it's anything like mine? The word is FINALLY!
Yes -- finally the heirloom tomato plants are springing to life. Finally -- they are growing by leaps and bounds. Some are actually producing fruit! Others are not! And that's LIFE with heirloom tomato plants my friend. Sometimes you get some. Other times -- you get the stick.
Why? Well -- that is certainly the $64 question. Why do some heirloom tomato plants grow and grow and grow -- yet fail to produce a single tomato? How can that possibly happen when the plants located to the immediate right and left are loaded with more green tomatoes than you can possibly count?
The Joys of Growing Heirloom Tomatoes! It should be a book. It certainly is an experience. Heirloom tomatoes can bring the most wonderful of rewards -- and can also usher in the most vexing of problems. Farmer Fred Hoffman writes about one such problem here. There are others.
But I've come to discover -- through experience -- that there are some rather reliable heirloom varieties that not only grow well right here in Northern California -- they're almost guaranteed to produce a boatload of tomatoes.
I call these my "Reliable Reds." They have produced for me year in and year out. They have survived diseases. They have survived infestations (Voles). Although they are not technically "disease resistant," they have shown a remarkable ability to throw off the leaf and stem blight that sometimes strikes the Bird Backyard during these hot July days.
Now -- understand -- these "Reliable Reds" aren't going to knock you flat with that eye-popping heirloom taste like you get with some varieties. They're not going to make your eyeballs roll back into your skull like a Brandywine or Kelloggs Breakfast sometimes can. They don't have that eye-catching bi-colored skin that other heirloom varieties offer.
Nope -- what you get with the Reliable Reds is this: A red, sometimes round, tomato. Not just one of them either -- but a bushel. These may not be the "best-tasting" heirloom tomatoes -- but they're not bad either. These two varieties have produced an extraordinary crop for me during the past three seasons -- so I feel somewhat safe in recommending these to your garden.
The first is DRUZBA. Although we're off to an extraordinarily late start this year -- the reliable Druzba is once again fruiting like nobody's business. It also happens to be one of my favorites because -- as an indeterminate -- it keeps right on producing round, red tomatoes until winter frost sets in. It's not all that unusual to be harvesting fresh Druzba tomatoes for a Thanksgiving feast -- long after other varieties have played out or shut down.
Druzba is a fairly recent introduction to the United States heirloom tomato market. It comes from Bulgaria where its name means "friendship." One of the leading authorities on growing heirloom tomatoes -- Dr. Carolyn Male -- calls Druzba "ideal for nearly every type of gardener.... one of the finest heirlooms available."
Of course -- it didn't hurt that she helped introduce it to American gardeners by donating seed to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE) in 1995 -- and it also comes highly reccommended in what I like to call the "bible" for heirloom tomato growers: Dr. Male's "100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden."
The second variety that is also going gangbusters in the Bird Family Heirloom Tomato Garden -- for the third straight year I might add -- is Campbell's 1327. I had read about this particular variety for years before I finally got around to trying it. I will continue to grow it for year after year for obvious reasons: you just can't possibly screw up a Campbell's 1327.
The Campbell's 1327 is an open pollenated tomato variety that was originally developed by the Research and Development Division of Campbell's Soup Company over 50 years ago. The variety sets sweet, tart red tomato fruit with ease.
Why the Campbell's Soup Company abandoned this variety for others isn't known -- but I can tell you it's not because of the taste or the output of a single plant. It is simply one of the best-tasting red tomatoes on the market -- and one plant is going to keep you in tomatoes and tomato sauce for quite some time.
The Campbell's 1327 does well in any type of salad and is also good for snacking. It should come as no surprise at all that it's also an outstanding performer in any home soup creation. It also peels easily for home-canning efforts.
So there you have it: our Reliable Reds -- so far. We continue to test other varieties every summer and I nearly added another red variety -- Cosmonaut Volkov -- to this list. But this is just the second year with this variety. Like last year -- the bush is loaded with green tomatoes. If it does well for a third straight year -- I will update and add it to the Reliable Reds list.