A Bite of a Vine-Ripened Tomato...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Remains of the Bird 2011 Heirloom Tomato Garden
It's a slice of heaven. It sure is. That taste. That texture. That wonderful, tangy surprise of a summer fruit is all but a distant memory now. This is the current state of the Bird tomato garden in late November. Fairly sad isn't it? They are still producing here and there, which is one reason why I haven't torn them out yet and moved on.

It's hard for me to admit that the season is over. What is coming off the vine now cannot compare, in any shape or form, to the tasty treats that the wife that is Venus and I enjoyed earlier this summer. But it's also loads better than the tomato shaped rocks you'll find in your local produce department these days.

At some point -- the 2011 summer garden will be removed and I will be forced to admit that it's all done.

I'm just not quite there yet. If you live for backyard gardening like I do, winter is a lonely time indeed. But, before this garden is indeed removed and plowed under, it's high time we look back to the summer favorites from 2011. There are some new entries on this list. As with any summer tomato garden, some varieties did well and others -- well -- better luck next year!


Eva Purple Ball Tomatoes
1. Eva Purple Ball: This was a new entry to the Bird Back 40 home for wayward heirloom tomatoes. I'd heard about this variety from other growers across the country, but again, what does well in New England or Arkansas doesn't necessarily translate into guaranteed success on the Left Coast. Growing heirloom tomatoes is a crap shoot anyway. Some do well, some not. Put this one in the "Did Very Well" category. A single bush yielded 50-80 gorgeous slightly pinkish, slightly purplish large tomatoes, some very close to the 1 lb. range. You'll find this tomato in our salsa, tomato sauce and whole tomato canning efforts from this summer.
2. Marianna's Peace: After a rather poor showing last season, MP bounced back in a rather eye-popping fashion this year. Our plant was susceptible to some early Blossom End Rot (BER) problems during the spring, but those vanished as the weather warmed. MP is one of the best tasting heirlooms I've ever tasted, and it wasn't unusual for this vigorous plant to set four new tomatoes at once. That's always a good sign.
3. Black Krim: One of the tastiest offerings in the field of black (or purple) tomatoes. When a single Black Krim bush delivers a bushel of 40-50 tomatoes? It's a good year.
Stupice Tomato
4. Stupice: If you can describe Stupice with one word? It would have to be WOW! Outstanding production from a variety that wins in backyard gardens from East to West and all points in between. Stupice sets tomatoes in large clusters, much like small cherry-sized tomatoes. They grow to about the size of a golf ball or larger. Not the best processing tomato due to size, but perfect for salads, snacking in the yard, or fresh salsa creations (fresh Rooster's Beak?). If you have room for just a few plants in your yard, I highly reccommend this productive variety.
5. Campbell's 1327: I don't know if I'll ever be able to thank the person who saved this variety from the brink of extinction, but they deserve some sort of recognition. Once the standard-bearer of processing tomatoes used in Campbell's Soups, it was tossed aside and abandoned for those hard-as-a-rock processing tomatoes that can withstand bruising on bumpy trips down long country roads from farm to processing plant. Campbell's 1327 is one of my "Reliable Reds," and produces bushel after bushel of round, red and ripe tomatoes that are blemish free and tart on the tastebuds.


1884 Tomato
1. 1884: Seeds for this variety were provided at the last moment by Sacramento gardener Nels Christensen. I can see why he's partial to it. 1884 delivers large, meaty red tomatoes that reveal a surprising orange-colored flesh once they've been sliced open in the kitchen. A wonderful processing tomato and perfect slicing tomato for those big barbequed turkey burgers that deserve a big slice of tomato on top. Originally discovered in 1884 by a Mr. Williamson in the debris after the big flood in Friendly, West Virginia, this variety will find home in the Bird Back 40 again.
2. Green Zebra: It's been a few years since I've been happy to report a large haul of green zebra tomatoes, and this was just one of those years. My former boss at the workplace, who is rather partial to this variety, received his fair share of the crop. It wasn't unusual to pick anywhere from 10-15 tomatoes during weekly harvests, which makes for a pretty darn good year.
Thessaloniki Tomato
3. Thessaloniki: It doesn't roll off the tongue easily, but this was one productive plant in the Bird Back 40. Thessaloniki is a rare Greek heirloom, introduced to the USA in the 1950's by Glecklers Seedsmen, Ohio. Nice production, nice size, outstanding old world tomato taste. The only reason this particular variety didn't make it to the outstanding list is that it is just a common red tomato.
4. Celebrity: It's the only non-heirloom that found it's way into the Bird tomato crop this year, and for good reason. You can depend upon a bushel of round, red, ripe and mostly disease free tomatoes from Celebrity. While other varieties susceptible to disease battled Blossom End Rot, Celebrity stepped up to the plate in a big way with some nice production.
5: Evil Seed: A big, beautiful black beefsteak type tomato that I will never the true origin of. The original plant was delivered to my desk several years ago with the name "Rainbow" attached to the side. The funny thing is, there is no Rainbow tomato that I know of -- especially a black tomato variety. The gentleman who produced this offering wound up doing some none too kind things to his wife and children, thus the wife stuck it with this unfortunate name. It's an unfortunate story for a great tasting tomato.


No Brandywines in This Bunch!
1. Brandywine: It kills me to put this variety on my list because I absolutely LOVE Brandywine tomatoes. Although I was encouraged by some early season production, most developed BER and the plant just petered out on me by the time July rolled around. When the backyard garden produces one or two Brandywine tomatoes? It's generally not a good year. I hope for better luck next year.
2. Yellow Brandywine: Jeez -- what a Debbie Downer I am. Two varieties of Brandywine in the Bird Back 40 and I get squat. Yellow Brandywine was an absolute bust. Several seed sources do note that this variety can be "finicky to grow," and I can confirm as much. I will not attempt to grow this variety out again.
3. Mortgage Lifter: I either can't find a reliable seed supplier for this variety, or I'm just having the worst of luck. This marks my third year for growing this treasured heirloom, and while I do receive a few of them, it's not enough to warrant that much space in the Bird tomato garden.
4. Azoychka: This is one of my favorite Russian heirlooms, and after some rather encouraging early season production, Azoychka started to produce golf-ball sized tomatoes that were really nothing to write home about.
Processed Tomatoes Ready for Winter Storage
5. Bloody Butcher: I'm surprised this one landed on this list because Bloody Butcher is normally a wonderful, early-season producer. Not this year. It didn't produce early. It didn't produce late. It didn't produce much at all, and BER took most of them.

And there you have it. Although these 15 varieties represent half of what we grew in the Bird Back 40 this year -- these are the varieties that stood out the most in terms of production or disappointment. Other varieties that at least deserve an honorable mention include Caspian Pink, which grew well in the in-ground test bed and produced some very tasty tomatoes late in the season. Cherokee Purple is yet another treasured variety that did moderately well, as did Kelloggs Breakfast, Beefsteak, Druzba, Lemon Boy and Jubilee.

As 2011 begins that slow slide into 2012 -- all that's left are the memories of last year and the promise of what is to come.

1 comment:

Anna said...

I am surprised about The Brandywine's poor showing in your garden. We had over 265 pounds of red and yellow awesome tasting brandywines this year. That was not even counting all those we had to toss because of tomato pinworms, fruitworms, hornworms, etc. Our compost pile looked like a tomato massacre.

Our Celebrity produced over 31 pounds and beat diseases like yours did. The tomatoes were less tasty than the Brandywines, though, but the dependable output, uniform fruit, and good counter life were appreciated.

We still have a four Sungolds in the ground producing a handful of tomatoes a week. I guess I'm hanging on to the memory of summer's bounty.