I’ve been SO waiting to show you guys our tomatoes, and it was quite the harvest!
Here’s my first tomato growing season in a nutshell: I started them all from seed with a grow light setup in the basement. It worked out pretty well, though my containers were too small and they started to look a little down, so I planted them out early, anticipating a really warm May with no frost in sight. Optimism almost kicked my butt and the risk of a late May frost sent us out in a panic making tents out of bamboo stakes and bed sheets for all of our raised beds. They survived, but one little guy got some frost bite where the tip of the plant made contact with the sheet. He ended up producing some of the best tomatoes.
They all started out tasting bland, but later in the season (i.e. early August for my early plants) flavour arrived and we were finally graced with a surprisingly good yield of some pretty killer tomatoes. I’m still not sure why the early ones sucked. Was it because I planted too early? Too much water? Not enough water? Too many nutrients? Not enough nutrients? Not enough heat? I’ve googled and googled, and those have all been valid-sounding answers.
It’s the end of August and the bulk of the harvest has come and gone, but the plants look like they’re at it once again, with new shoots, flowers, and fruit. I pruned the tips with hopes that they can direct their energy to growing and ripening all of the new fruit that set over the past few weeks.
I planted open-pollinated varieties that I randomly picked because they were pretty and colourful. Keeping it to 10-15 varieties was probably the biggest challenge, and here’s how it all went down (clockwise from top left):
My dad got some seeds from a colleague, with little information about the variety. It’s a large pink-fleshed, heart-shaped beefsteak (largest was almost 1.5 lbs), with the meatiest and most luxurious flesh. It was flavourful and sweet. Definitely saving seeds for next year!
I’ve read many great things about this one, specifically that it was really sweet with an almost tropical flavour, but in my garden it was a little underwhelming. My parents grew it and loved it, so perhaps my conditions were off. I’ll try it again next year!
Yellow Currant and Matt’s Wild Cherry
Currant tomatoes are are actually a wild species (Solanum pimpinellifolium), related to the common tomato. Their wild tendencies show with a crazy rambling growth pattern. These bad boys took over my raised beds and produced ridiculous amounts of teeny tiny tomatoes. They were the earliest to produce and are still going strong after most of my plants have significantly slowed down. The tomatoes are sweet, and full of flavour, but unfortunately are very prone to cracking, especially after rain. My only other complaint, if it even counts as one, is that we can’t keep up, and the cracking makes them spoil quickly and hard to share with others. I’m curious about planting this one up some really tall structure next year to see how tall it will get, but 5 plants yielded WAY too many.
This beautiful orange tomato started off kind of slow, but rewarded us with a later harvest of really cute and delicious fruit. It was described as sweet, but I found it to be more acidic than the other varieties. Its flesh was the juiciest of the tomatoes, and I’ll be keeping it around for future seasons.
This was probably my favourite tomato of the bunch that we grew! It ripened early and produced large, sweet, and flavourful fruit! The plant also had unique potato leaves, which were pretty. I didn’t know tomato foliage varied so dramatically. While this variety wasn’t as vigorous as some of the other plants, the gorgeous pink (not actually purple) tomatoes were well worth it!
This funky and very tart tomato is one of my favourites! Complex flavour and striking green flesh make it an interesting addition to any fresh tomato dish! While it’s “heirloom” status is debated (it was bred fairly recently – you can read the story here), it is is definitely worth seeking out at the market or growing in the garden.
The Black Krim came with a lot of hype (i.e best “true tomato” flavour), but I thought it was only ok, expecting a little more. It wasn’t as flavourful as some of the others, but again, this could be due to my conditions. The Black Krim and I share some heritage, both being born in Ukraine so naturally, I really wanted to like it, but maybe another year will be better. I had a bit of a hard time telling when it was ripe, due to the green shoulders, and the flesh was often mushy by the time I picked it. It was very prone to cracking too.
The Black Prince tomato was nice, but also a little underwhelming, I guess I had really high expectations for the “black” tomatoes, hence growing 2 varieties in the same colour range. The fruit was small but juicy, and the plants were really productive. Perhaps this variety, like the black krim, needs a hotter summer and planting early didn’t help. I’ll be trying this one again, waiting a little longer to plant it out.
This was the coolest looking tomato we had, with it’s deep blue shoulders (see feature image), but the flavour was so-so. The plants were super productive, but took a heavy hit with blight, more so than the other plants. It was bred in Wild Boar farms, a place dedicated to breeding tomatoes with striking colour and great flavour! Despite the slight disappointment with this tomato, I’m looking forward to trying some of their other unusual varieties.
San Marzano & Opalka
I grouped these together because I couldn’t tell the difference! These were the only two paste varieties that I grew, San Marzano being a famous Italian heirloom, and Opalka being an old Polish variety. The two varieties should look and taste different, but mine both resembled the San Marzano. I was pretty diligent with labelling, so I’ll have to try this again, perhaps with a different seed source. These were really great for sauce and cooked dishes! The plants were really productive and the tomatoes had a lovely deep flavour, when cooked.
If you’re growing tomatoes and you haven’t read through Craig LeHoullier’s super-cool book, Epic Tomatoes, and I can’t recommend it enough! He goes through all the basics of growing tomatoes from seed, and talks about the history, breeding science, and properties/tasting notes of many of the top varieties available (mostly open-pollinated with a few worthy hybrids). Having grown thousands of tomato varieties, he lists his top 250 and even manages to pare it down to a “Ten Tastiest” list, which will certainly guide my selections for next summer.
Recipe timmmmmeee! Today I have a fun & simple twist on a Caprese salad. All the gorgeous tomatoes, sprinkled with feta, topped with chunky olive tapenade, and garnished with mint. Tomatoes + Fiore Di Latte + basil will always have a special spot in my tomato loving heart, but I’m also a gal that needs to change it up, if you haven’t noticed :)
- 1/3 cup cured black olives (I used the wrinkly Moroccan ones), pitted and chopped
- zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
- extra-virgin olive oil, to cover
- 3-4 medium - large tomatoes
- 1/4 cup feta
- Chunky Black Olive Tapenade
- A few mint leaves, sliced
- To make the tapenade, combine the olives with lemon juice and zest in a small bowl, and add enough extra-virgin olive oil to cover. Stir and set aside.
- To make the salad, slice and arrange the tomatoes on plates (2-4 depending on serving size).
- Top with crumbled feta, tapenade, and garnish with mint.