This growing season has provided a fabulous opportunity to find out which tomatoes can produce under awful conditions. In other words, it's been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year for tomatoes, so we got a chance to see what varieties can survive the perfect tomato storm.
We planted 19 open-pollinated tomato varieties (almost all heirlooms) and one hybrid variety, and almost 100% of the plants have been decimated by disease. We had the wettest May in recorded history, followed by heat, early blight, more rain, and late blight. Fortunately for us, we got our plants in late, so we missed a lot of the wettest weather. Even so, the late blight has taken a crippling toll.
Now the good news: some of the heirlooms do seem to be able to produce, albiet significantly smaller yeilds, despite the blight.
Here are the survivors:
Flamme tomatoes from our garden
Flamme (also called Jaune
A French heirloom that produces small (egg-sized), round, orange tomatoes. We purchased Flamme seeds from Tomatofest.
The plant is very productive, and the fruit is sweetish with good tomato flavor. It is not as juicy as the big, fat heirloom slicers, but is still good for sandwiches and fresh eating, and great for sauce, salad, and salsa.
It could be that its just the sheer productivity of this variety that helps it outrun the blight, but it does seem to also have a bit thicker skin and lower moisture content, which I think helps keep the tomatoes from rotting.
Cream Sausage tomatoes from our garden
This is a favorite tomato of ours that we grew last year, with excellent flavor and texture and beautiful, creamy pale yellow skin.
Cream Sausage, also called Banana Cream, is fleshy and sweet, great for cooking and eating fresh. We used lots of these last fall in salsa-making.
These are fat, juicy, flavorful orange paste tomatoes (pictured at the top of this post). They are great for drying, eating fresh, and using in salsa and tomato sauce. They have a really excellent sweet, tomato-ey flavor and a lovely texture.
We grew and loved these last year, and ordered Orange Banana seeds this year from Baker Creek.
Honarable Mention: Cherry Tomatoes
For sheer profusion of fruit and rampant growth, cherry tomato plants cannot be matched. Their fast and furious growth and abundant fruiting allow them to outrun blight. We use cherry tomatoes for drying, cooking, and salsas, and eat tons of them fresh straight from the plant.
Sungold ("the dessert tomato" as my friend Kathryn calls it), and Black Cherry, a very tasty variety which we are growing for the first time this year, have been kicking out the tomato jams in our garden. The cherry tomatoes started fruiting early and are still producing heavily. The plants are blighted, but they hardly seem to notice. At this point in the season, they are sprawling all over the place with that boisterous cherry tomato spirit, and you can pluck a Sungold from almost anywhere you stand in our garden.
~ ~ ~
Next year, we're going to try growing all but the cherries under cover in the hoophouse, but in the meantime I'm grateful for the tough tomatoes that can survive a rough season like this summer.