Saturday, December 5, 2015

Tomato Review 2015

The 2015 tomato season was not bad, given the dry summer we had. The dry weather led to some water stress as I could not water the tomatoes every day, but at least there was no late blight, just the usual Septoria spot that happens every year. What was new this year was I tried a soil drench for the tomatoes when setting them out, which also included adding some extra mycorrizhae inoculant.  I did not do a comparison of untreated and untreated plants, but that would not necessarily show anything because of so many other variables. The drench was simple enough that I will do it again and I trust the research done by others.

The other experiment this year was planting several varieties of tomatoes in both the raised bed plot and the in-ground plot. Both variants did well, partly because the plants in raised beds did better this year than last. For example, last year Jaunne Flamme was pathetic, but I tried it again. This year it did very well in both environments, setting multiple large trusses of fruit, with really no significant difference.

As far as the individual varieties of tomatoes, I do have some opinions. For one, I think I will give up on paste tomatoes. I’m tired of the low yield and the BER. This year I wasted eight spots in my garden on Opalka and an unnamed Roma type. I lost most of my Opalkas to BER and the few I harvested had a fairly bland favor. I don’t remember even tasting the Roma. If I had planted another 8 Juliet tomatoes, I would have bushel baskets of fruit and gallons of sauce. The high-speed blender technique of sauce making really changes things, and non-paste tomatoes tend to have superior flavor anyway. Who cares if you have to cook them down a little longer.

Here are my opinions of some of the tomatoes I grew in 2015:

I saw Opalka growing at Tower Hill Botanical Gardens and was intrigued with it. It is a Polish heirloom first obtained by Carolyn Male from a co-worker and submitted to SSE in 1997. Last year I tried growing it but managed to kill all the seedlings. This year I had enough seedlings to plant four and gave several away to gardeners in the community garden. Vines grow very tall, well over a 6 foot stake, and fruit ripens late summer. A lot of people like this variety but my problem was BER. I lost 75% of the fruit to BER so it was pointless to waste the space growing this one. I did slice up some for table use and flavor was OK but nothing special. I will not be growing this again.

This is my second year growing Sunkist, an F1 orange slicer from High Mowing Seeds. This is a great tomato, assuming you are OK with it being orange and not red. Vines are healthy and very stocky. It sets clusters of fruit that ripen to an attractive orange color. Fruit are very meaty with small seed cavities, but still juicy and flavorful. Fruits are almost always perfect, unblemished by cracks or warts., and I have never encountered BER Vines are disease resistant and always one of the last to succumb .A great tomato and one I will plant again next year.

Jaunne Flamme
I tried this one last year after reading about Michelle's experience with it. It was a bomb, unhealthy vines that produced a few fruit and then croaked. This year I gave it another chance and it was great. Vines were healthier and more vigorous and it set large trusses of apricot-colored fruit, about inch and a half (4 cm) in size. Flavor is very tart and fruity, soft and very juicy. This was another tomato that frequently wound up in salads. The vines appeared they were going to repeat their semi-determinate behavior of setting fruit and then croaking, but after a period of time resting they resumed their growth and set new fruit right up to frost. This is a tomato unlike others I have grown and I will likely grow this again next year.

Not much to say about Juliet except what a great tomato. Sort of a large grape/small Roma in shape and size, it is far better than those. When red ripe, flavor is terrific. Split resistant and disease resistant, early to ripen (always one of my first) and keeps producing heavily. Good for salads, sauce, and drying. This one will always be in my garden. One thing I noticed about the Juliet planted in-ground was the production of fruit in the first few feet of the plant. It was staked rather than trellised and seemed to have multiple trusses of fruit produced within a few feet of the ground. It was late season before I was picking fruit more than a few feet off the ground.

Sweet Treats
This is a pink cherry tomato I first saw growing at Tower Hill Botanical Gardens in Boylston, MA in 2013. The weather that summer was horrid and Sweet Treats was a knockout due to its health and vigor. I decided I wanted to try it but seed was not easily available until last year when Fedco started carrying it. This is an F1 hybrid from Sakata Seeds of Japan and reflects the Japanese preference for pink tomatoes. It is the first pink cherry tomato available and is outstanding.

Vines are tall and vigorous and produce long trusses containing 12-15 tomatoes. Fruit are up to an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and ripen to pink and finally a deep rose color, with a beautiful matte finish. They are gorgeous and when fully ripe taste as good as they look. They have a good, full-size tomato taste, not  the insipid candy sweetness of some cherries. When I wanted a tomato for my salad, this is the one I chose. Fruits are crack-resistant and I had very few split on me. They ripen later than Juliet and Esterina, but once they start producing they keep up right into first frost. The vines are fairly disease resistant. There really is no reason not to grow this one. Check Fedco’s description in this years catalog, which rates it in its top 5 in taste (among cherry types).

Esterina is a yellow cherry I have grown two years now in place of Sungold, a cherry that I love. It is supposed to be more crack resistant than Sungold, which splits horribly after every rain, and it is, early in the season. But by the end of the season, Esterina is as prone to splitting as Sungold. I also think the color and flavor is good but not not quite as good as Sungold. The vines of Esterina seem to be the first to be attacked by Septoria but they still keep producing right up to frost. Esterina has been OK but not great and I am not sure what I will do next year. Maybe I will try Sungold again next year, and maybe I will replace it with something like Fedco’s  Honeydrop, or maybe both.

Chocolate Pear
I have tried growing Chocolate Pear (from Baker Creek) twice, as a replacement for Black Cherry, a tomato I love but can not seem to grow productively. Chocolate Pear is touted as a productive tomato and it is. It is late to ripen  for a small tomato, well into August before you get ripe fruit. It is also highly prone to splitting after a rain, which often renders almost every fruit on the vine useless. Fruits are bountiful but small and taste is not exceptional. The vines have purple stems and also seem prone to browning of the lower foliage. While the vines are still healthy, you look at the brown foliage with dark stems and you think, OMG, late blight! I gave this variety two years but I will not grow it again.

Pruden’s Purple
This is an heirloom beefsteak tomato I bought on impulse when I found out the Rose de Berne I wanted was sold out. I did not expect much but this tomato did well. I lost several of the largest fruit to BER unfortunately, but the vines kept producing. I did not expect much and did not get much, but I was surprised how well this tomato did. That said I will not be growing it next year.

I grew this one because someone offered me a plant. Celebrity is a 1984 AAS winner with a lot of disease resistance. It is a determinate variety but definitely not an early producer. It developed a cluster of fruit that ripened in late summer. The 4-5 fruit I got were OK but I do not plan on growing this one again.


  1. Great overview of the tomatoes you grew. I too had a lot of BER issues with Opalka - it was the worst of the lot for sure. But I also had issues with other paste tomatoes this year (such as Speckled Roman) that were not a problem in the past. Inconsistent watering was a big issue in my garden this year, so I'm thinking this may be a factor. I'll likely give it another go next year.

  2. Great review of the tomatoes. I'm another Juliet fan, and like you said the blender technique of making sauce has changed things here too. I'm planning on growing more small fruited types next year since they generally do better for me. I will grow short vine paste hybrids like Viva Italia and Rio Grande since I like them for freezing whole.

  3. I always seem to have BER problems with just about any variety of long paste tomatoes. It hasn't been as bad with Amish Paste, probably because that are a bit more flattened. I'm glad Jaune Flamme did well for you the second time around, it jas be ome one of my favorite tomatoes. But it's interesting how place and climate and even weather variations can make such a difference in how well a variety performs.

    The Sweet Treats sounds like a winner! But I've already got three cherry tomatoes selected for next year. I know what you mean about the sugary sweet cherry tomatoes. We really enjoyed Camp Joy this year, they are a "classic" red cherry tomato with a true tomato flavor.


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