Friday, November 21, 2014

End of Season Review - Tomatoes - Part 1


I’ve finished all of my garden cleanup now and the only thing left to do is get some straw to mulch the beds with overwintering veg.  But one of my favourite gardening tasks is actually done in the comfort of my warm and toasty house as the snow flies outside – and that is the end of season review.

All summer I take lots of notes (or at least try to) on what is going on in the garden – although usually my notes are much better in the beginning of the season than at the end.  I think that November (when the current season is still somewhat fresh in your mind) is a great time for a review.  What worked?  What didn’t?  What changes should I make next year?  It’s also at this point that I make a note of varieties that I want to keep/replace as well as draw up a preliminary plan for next year’s garden.

I’ll be doing several summary posts for all of the crops I grew over the next couple of weeks.  For the most part, I will focus on one or two veg families per post.  Tomatoes, however, are an entirely different animal.  There always seems to be so much to say when it comes to tomatoes, so I am splitting this summary into three posts.


The 2014 Tomato Season

Salad, Slicing & Paste Tomatoes Grown This Year

This was the year of tomato diseases.  First there was early blight, then came septoria leaf spot (which only hit a couple of the varieties, so that was lucky) and lastly – and most devastating – came late blight.  This was my first experience with it and, I’m hoping, my last for a VERY long time.

It was the late blight that cut the tomato season short by at least 2 weeks.  The last good sized harvest was on September 13, with only a handful of cherry tomatoes picked a few days later.  As I recall, we had lovely weather towards the end of September, so had the vines not been disease ridden, I likely would have harvested quite a few more tomatoes.

Our summer, overall, was incredibly cool and wet – two factors that usually do not impact favourably on either plant growth or tomato flavour.  The majority of the plants, however, did amazingly well (until late blight came on the scene) – much better than I expected, even had the weather been optimal.

Tomato plants at their prime in mid-August
before the worst of the late blight hit
 
Back in August, I took pictures of the different varieties I was growing and did a taste test noting what I thought of each variety’s taste and texture.  I was planning on writing a post at that time but just didn’t get around to it as I was going crazy trying to keep up with the harvests.  This was my first year of canning tomatoes, pickles, etc., and the learning curve was pretty steep.

So I have incorporated the pictures and tasting notes into this post – which, when I think about it, is probably better.  Now is the time when I decide if I will be growing a particular variety again next year and, when I do so, I take into account not only taste but also total production, which would have been unknown back in August.

Of course, taste is incredibly subjective.  Also, flavour, especially when it comes to tomatoes, can be dramatically influenced by such factors as weather and soil.  A cool, wet summer, like the one we had this year, can (from what I have read) result in bland tomato flavour.  When I’m deciding what to grow next year, I am trying to keep these factors in mind.


Tomato Varieties & Harvest

This year I planted 25 tomato seedlings – 24 that I grew from seed and one that my son brought home from a field trip to an agricultural center.  Originally, the plan was to grow 2 plants of each variety.  But I had quite a few germination issues – all of which were likely due to my inexperience.  So I ended up with single plants for a few varieties and 3 or 4 plants for others.   I learned quite a bit from my experience this past spring and am hoping that next year I have far fewer problems.

Based on how much I harvested, I’m thinking that 24 plants is a good number for next year.  This past spring, I provided a general overview of each specific variety that I grew in THIS POST.


Cherry Tomatoes
 
Total # of plants – 8; Total harvest (ripe) – 16 kg (35 lbs)
 
·         Yellow Pear

Yellow Pear
 
o   1 plant
o   2,781 grams (6.13 lbs) – 225  tomatoes
o   Taste - Light, fruity flavour
o   Overall – Both taste and production were quite good.  However, this variety developed septoria leaf spot two years in a row now, which leads me to believe that my seed may be infected.  I will be growing this one again next year, but I will be getting fresh seeds from a different supplier.

·         Aunt Ruby’s Yellow Cherry

Aunt Ruby's Yellow Cherry
 
o   3 plants
o   8,492 grams (18.72 lbs) – 1,032 tomatoes
o   2,831 grams per plant (6.24 lbs)
o   Taste – Sweet but a bit bland
o   Overall – This variety was definitely the most vigourous of all the plants I grew – great production.  It was also one of the last heirlooms to succumb to late blight, even though the most heavily infected variety (Gypsy) was in the same bed.  Not bad for a free packet of seeds from Tomatoville.  The taste, however, was a bit lacking – could this be because of the cool, wet weather?  They were, however, downright delicious roasted.  These will stay on the list for next year. 

·         Ildi

Ildi
For some reason I forgot to get a photo of Ildi
during the taste test - pictured is a ripening truss in August

o   4 plants
o   4,750 grams (10.47 lbs) – 534 tomatoes
o   1,188 grams per plant (2.62 lbs)
o   Taste – Good tomato flavour – neither too sweet nor too tart
o   Overall – A late producer and the trusses seemed to take forever to ripen from green to yellow.  By the time ripening really got going, late blight was running rampant in the bed, which likely contributed to the low overall production compared to the other varieties.  I’ll keep the seed as I may want to give this one another go at some future date, but Ildi will not be in the tomato lineup for next year.

Next year:  Although I love cherry tomatoes, I think that 6 plants is more than enough for fresh eating and roasting (for the freezer).   I will be replacing Ildi with a red cherry tomato (can you believe that I didn’t realize that I had only planted yellow cherry tomatoes until half way through the season?  --- Really?  --- Really!!).

Paste Tomatoes

Total # of plants – 2; Total harvested (ripe) – 4.3 kg (9.5 lbs)

·         Speckled Roman

Speckled Roman
 
o   2 plants
o   8,667 grams (19.11 lbs) – 91 tomatoes
o   4,335 grams per plant (9.55 lbs)
o   Taste – Low acidity & light but good flavour
o   Overall – I liked these.  They were quite large for a paste tomato (averaging almost 100 grams/3.5 oz per tomato) and meaty too.  Not an overly vigourous grower - in fact, at the start of the season I thought there was something wrong with the plants as the leaves seemed much thinner & not as healthy as other varieties.  But they ended up being surprisingly heavy producers – although I had no other paste varieties to compare them to.  Production slowed down a lot later in the season but I’m not sure if this was the variety itself or the late blight – but at almost 10 pounds per plant, who am I to complain?  I’ll be growing this one again next year.

Next Year - Of course, I need to grow more paste tomatoes next year.  I’m thinking I will add two more varieties and increase the total number of plants from 2 to 6.

That wraps up part one of my 2014 tomato review.

Till next time…
 

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

10 comments:

  1. When I grew tomatoes, most of them were paste tomatoes. The biggest chunk of my tomato harvest when to canning them in various ways. Not that I wouldn't can a slicer, but there is a lot less boiling involved with paste tomatoes.

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    1. There are so many wonderful tomato varieties - I had quite a time trying to narrow them down in the spring. I definitely need to grow more paste tomatoes - I guess in my overwhelmed tomato catalogue state I didn't notice that I only had one variety - sort of like my lack of red cherry tomatoes.

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  2. I'm still figuring out how many tomatoes I need to grow. I like to have a variety of colors and types, always a paste, a couple of cherries, and different colored slicers. But I always end up with far more tomatoes than I need. Next year I may experiment with pruning to thin the vines and reduce the harvest and maybe ot will help keep the plants healthier too. 24 plants is a lot! This year I barely kept up with 8 plants, even after I lost a couple to diseases.

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    1. I remember your tomato plants - they were just monsters! I'm not sure if our shorter growing season would allow our plants to get that big or be that productive. I also love trying different varieties and with tomatoes, there certainly is no shortage of those!

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  3. My tomato harvest this year was awful. You may have read about the problems I had with contaminated compost... Next year will be better! You are obviously as obsessed with tomatoes as I am, so it is good to read your opinions. For instance I grew Speckled Roman last year and was disappointed with it, but it evidently came good for you. I am going to try more beefsteaks next year.

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    1. You are so right - I AM tomato obsessed - that is the seed order that I usually take the most time with and that I look forward to the most, by far! And I did read about your contaminated compost issues - how dreadful. I was actually quite surprised at the harvest you were able to achieve, considering.

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  4. I've had a terrible few years with tomatoes - poor production, disease, etc. I usually can 20-30 litres of sauce/salsa/stewed but this year I barely had enough for sandwiches!! Rough year, but I hope to have a good rebound myself. Other than my lack of success recently, I've had a great bounty with Amish Paste tomatoes if you come across those anywhere.

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    1. Boy do I know about bad tomato years - 2013 was the WORST for me. Most of my plants barely produced one pound of tomatoes with one actually giving me less than a pound! I had heard of Amish Paste & since you have had such success with them, I'll be moving them to the top of the list.

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  5. You seemed to have really good cropping plants Margaret, much more fruit per plant than me. I grow mine in pots and probably don't feed them enough :/ Still, I was quite pleased anyway.

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    1. For me it's been a process of trial and LOTS of error! And it is all relative - growing them in pots may give you a bit less fruit, but it also gives you the opportunity to extend the harvest at both ends of the season since you can throw them in a shed or garage when frost threatens.

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