Thursday, December 25, 2014

Organic Garden Planning: Tomato Reviews

The end of last season was especially hectic (when you're a church musician, things really crank up around All Saints Day!), so I'm just now getting around to my annual variety reviews.  I tried an excessive number of varieties last year with mixed results.  I grew a number of varieties, but also sold the plants at a farmer's market.

Two of the three varieties will repeat this year!

A note about farmer's markets:  location matters!  Whereas my city customers were very interested in purchasing organic, non-gmo garden plants, the customers in a small-town in an agricultural area walked right past my organic plants to purchase packs of Early Girls, and Better Boys.  Rather than be offended, I got to know the nurseryman who was quite generous with his knowledge and very friendly.  The hard lesson was:  organic, non-gmo is not a premium product at all markets.  Still, I made wonderful contacts and was able to educate a lot of folks about the value of some of the "old" varieties.

After a year of research, I'm concentrating my efforts on fewer varieties which sold well at the market.  Here are the seedmen's descriptions, followed by my findings with the varieties I'm repeating in '15 marked with an asterisk (*):


I like a mild, sweet tomato with a smoky flavor, and look forward to the first tomato sandwich of the summer.  For variety, though, I grew a number of other varieties last year.

Bradley:  "a wilt-resistant pink-red developed at the University of Arkansas"  
  • okay producer, flavor unremarkable.
*Ozark Pink:  "a tall, flavorful pink suited for humid, disease-prone areas"  

  • survived the great tomato hornworm invasion, produced throughout the season; good flavor
*Arkansas Traveler:  "balanced flavor is the hallmark of this rose-pink suited to heat, humidity, and drought"  

Suckers helped in recovery from hornworm damage!
  • also survived the hornworm onslaught, produced late into the season, good flavor
  • plants sell well because of the Arkansas name connection
Blue Beauty Tomato:  "modest beefsteak whose good flavor and interesting coloration blessed with resistance to sunburn and crack"
  •  pretty but tiny with unremarkable flavor
  • plants sold to experienced growers and gardeners looking for a novelty
*Cherokee Purple:  "prolific rose to purple beefsteak, legendary for its complex flavor"

  • survived the hornworm invasion, good producer, excellent flavor
  • plants sold out at market; name recognition helps
*Black Trifele:  "the shape and size of a Bartlett pear with a beautiful purplish-brick color"

  • flavor-wise, probably my favorite because of its mild and smoky flavor; much smaller than a pear for me, with a few cracks.  Not a prolific producer, but worth the trouble.
  • plants sold well at market, expecially because of "smoky" flavor
*Black Krim:  "3-4" slightly flattened dark-red (mahogany-colored) slightly maroon, beefsteak tomatoes with deep green shoulders"
  • Name recognition makes this a good market-seller for plants
  • Good flavor

While taste is important, essential criteria are a high meat/juice ratio, low seed count, and productivity.  I think for 2015, I'll put up salsa and spaghetti sauce for maximum convenience.

Costoluto Genovese:  an Italian red, almost ruffled, described as a pungent sauce tomato;

  • excellent producer, but unremarkable flavor, would grow as a specialty tomato:  its ruffled slices look very pretty on sandwiches presented open-faced.
  • Plants were not a great market seller without a picture
Debarao:  an early red paste variety, small but crack-free:  

  • unremarkable flavor
  • Plants were not a good market seller
*Early Annie:  short plant with few seeds, fruit matures all at once:  

  • good flavor, actually produced all season for me.
  • Plants sold well at market because, I suspect, people may have confused them with the "Early Girl" varieties
Tennessee Sweet:  suitable for slicing or canning, a large red sweet:  

  • good flavor, but not a great producer.
  • Plants were a decent market seller because of the Tennessee name connection
Big Italian Plum:  a large red thick paste plum:  

  • did not produce well for me for the second year
  • Plants did not sell well at market
*San Marzano Gigante:  the legendary flavor and twice the size!:  

  • good flavor, and excellent producer:  prolific nearly until frost
  • Plants sold well at market; many recognized the name
  • I'm actually planting San Marzano Redorta this year, but looking forward to a good harvest


The flavor of these single-bite beauties just explodes on the palate!  They are more bushes than vines and enjoy cages.  Be sure to space them so that you can pick from all angles.  I  gave a farmer friend several of these plants back in the spring.  Later in the summer, he told me that his father--a farmer, too--picked the bush clean every time he came over!  Great for beginners! 

Broad Ripple Yellow Currant:  big bush, sweet, prolific:  

  • always a good choice, unusual color
*Hawaiian Currant:  tiny, sweet, tasty:  

  • smaller than you think, but tasty!
  • Good market seller

White Currant:  heavy clusters, very sweet: 

  •  did not plant
Red Currant:  smoky, sweet, tiny, prolific:  

  • great taste, great snacking tomato
*Gold Rush Currant:  "large, indeterminate, regular-leaf tomato plants with wispy foliage that yield excellent, heavy sets of 1/4-inch tomatoes borne in trusses of 10-12"
Goal for 2015:  Even more tomatoes!
  • Heavy producer, great flavor
  • Good market seller
New for '15

Even though I'm cutting back on varieties, I am making room for a few new ones:

Arkansas Marvel:  "4-inch, 1 lb., meaty, yellow-orange beefsteak tomatoes with red marbling with a gush of wonderful sweet, well-balanced tomato flavors that hold a distinct hint of mild, peach flavors"

Homestead 24:  " smooth, red, round 8 oz. fruits with exceptionally good taste"

As my gardening skills improve, I have to become even more diligent about watching the "bottom line" and increasing margins.  After all, I hope not only to feed my family, but to make the farm self-supporting.  That will require planning; it's not too early to start!

What's growing in your Savory garden?


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