Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tomato Patch: Grandpa Henry’s paste tomato

Grandpa Henry's heirloom tomatoes

One of the most unusual paste tomatoes I’ve “trialed” in years is Grandpa Henry’s, the seeds of which were a gift late last winter from Henry Lysy, a Carroll County Master Gardener.

The Grandpa Henry’s I’ve grown this summer averaged just over 10 ounces.  They were long, narrow, with pointed ends, reminding me of a few other paste tomatoes I’ve seen in catalogs—such as Jersey Devil and San Marzano Redorta.  When visitors saw them, they often thought they were hot peppers, not tomatoes. 

Henry said his dad received the original seeds from an Italian immigrant neighbor in Rhode Island and passed seeds on to Henry, who’s been growing them at least 30 years.  For Henry’s family and his many gardening friends, Grandpa Henry’s paste tomato is truly an heirloom variety.  Thank you, Henry, for carrying on a grand gardening tradition—and for sharing seeds with me and many others.
'Solid, little juice...just perfect for making sauce'
“I’ve really seen nothing like them,” Henry said when he gave me the seeds.  “I gladly share seeds and just ask that they call them Grandpa Henry’s. They’re prolific producers and are solid with little juice—just perfect for making sauce.”

Though many of Grandpa Henry’s sported green shoulders when I picked them to avoid damage by brown marmorated stink bugs, they were mostly deep red inside.  The green shoulders turned red in four or five days on a counter in our garage.  I made several batches of sauce in late summer, and this open-pollinated family heirloom has been a welcome ingredient, along with my other trial paste tomato, Burpee SuperSauce, which I blogged about a few days ago.

Thank you, Henry Lysy for sharing a family treasure.  Maybe you’ve just proved again that some of the best things in life are free.

If you've grown Grandpa Henry's, please post a Comment about how this heirloom performed in your Tomato Patch.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tomato Patch: Delizia, a French import

Delizia Hybrid tomatoes

Howard County Master Gardener Kent Phillips and I swapped plants of our “trial” varieties last spring, and in the transaction I got a transplant of Delizia Hybrid, seed of which Kent got from Cook’s Garden.

The Cook’s Garden catalog describes Delizia, a “customer favorite,” this way: “Tomato connoisseurs rave about the marmande variety's meaty flesh and sweet deliciousness. This hybrid brings a new level of disease resistance to this flavorful classic French beefsteak. 'Delizia' is exceptionally vigorous, producing heavy yields of large, succulent, pumpkin-shaped 1 lb. fruits. A standout tomato in our 2010 and 2011 summer trials.”

I’ve grown tomatoes, it seems to me, longer than they’ve been invented, but I had to look up the meaning of “marmande” variety.  “Marmande” is the French term for tomatoes that the English call “beef” and Americans call “beefsteak.” If I were alert and not dreaming about tomatoes, I should have figured out the meaning from the catalog description.

Does Delizia rate a “rave” notice?

I may not be a “connoisseur,” but I’ve tasted scores of tomato varieties, and Delizia’s flavor is, well, delicious.  Ok, I give it a “rave.”  It also has been disease resistant with heavy yields.  The fruits are shaped something like small, squat pumpkins with modest ribs, but the ones on my plant averaged about the 7 or 8 oz. given in the second catalog description, not the one-pounders of the first catalog description.

This yummy variety has one downside.  It’s so squat—most less than two inches tall—that core removal takes away a significant part of the fruit, leaving relatively little flesh left for eating.  With so much of the tomato going into the recycle bucket rather than onto a plate or into a sandwich, I think I’ll have to call Delizia a great “chunker” but not a good “slicer.”

Will I grow Delizia next year?  I will if Kent gives me another plant.  Hey, Kent….

Friday, November 22, 2013

Tomato Patch: Three grafted Burpee varieties

Burpee grafted Brandywine Pink tomatoes

In March I wrote about my purchase of three grafted tomato plants (Brandywine Pink, Mortgage Lifter, and Rutgers) from Burpee

They were expensive—more than $10 each, including shipping—but how could I resist trying the tomato fad of 2013—grafted plants with heirloom tops and disease-resistant roots that reportedly could give superior yields.

The three transplants arrived nicely and securely in a plastic clamshell package in the week I had requested for delivery.  I planted them according to directions—on pain of death, don’t plant the graft joint below soil level—and watched the three plants grow and produce.

Have I been I impressed?  Not really.

If you grew grafted tomatoes this last summer—Burpee or other brand—please post a Comment about your experience.

Were they each worth the better part of $11?  No. The plants grew well, but their production was ordinary or less.

Burpee grafted Rutgers tomatoes
Brandywine Pink produced only six tomatoes of medium to small size—fewer and smaller than Brandywines I’ve been growing for years from seed—but they were mouthwatering delicious as a Brandywine should be.

Rutgers produced a dozen or so mostly baseball-sized fruit with good flavor.  I haven’t grown any of the Rutgers varieties, so I cannot compare to past crops.

The best of the three was Mortgage Lifter, which yielded about 10 medium to large fruit with outstanding “true, old-time tomato flavor,” better tasting than even Brandywine Pink, at least to my tastebuds.

For me the grafts were an interesting “trial” but the results were disappointing.  I feel I could have grown equivalent fruit from seed, or even from plants bought at a local nursery, at a fraction of the cost.

Grafts again next year?  I think I’ll stick with seed packets, thank you.

If you grew grafted tomatoes this past summer—Burpee or another brand—please post a Comment about your experience.

Burpee grafted Mortgage Lifter tomatoes

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tomato Patch: Buckets of SuperSauce

Large SuperSauce tomatoes are eye-catching
I was skeptical but intrigued by Burpee’s 2013 description of a new paste tomato called SuperSauce:
“It’s SuperSauce! The new tomato superhero. A whole lot bigger, a whole lot better, a Roma with aroma. Weighing in at 2-lbs., a whopping 5.5” tall x 5” wide, SuperSauce produces gallons of luscious, seedless sauce from a single plant harvest—one tomato fills an entire sauce jar.”

The description continued: “Very few people in the gardening world consider a paste tomato for anything other than to make paste or sauce. SuperSauce is extraordinarily delicious and versatile as a salad tomato, as well as having a distinctive quality in that its large segments of fruit often make a shape that is perfect for a meaty and tasty hamburger slice, quite different from the horizontal slice commonly used from a large round tomato. Easy-to-grow, indeterminate, disease-free plants yield a summerlong supply of the exquisitely-flavored marinara, tomato gravy or meat sauce plus plenty for slicing and salads.”

How could I resist ordering a packet of seeds to try, even at a pricey $6.50 plus shipping?

SuperSauce is solid, as a paste tomato should be
My first impression of SuperSauce was negative.  When the seeds sprouted and the plants began to grow, they were what you might call “leggy,” “scraggly,” or “spindly.” Their leaves seemed odd shaped, healthy but somewhat droopy or turned down.  I wasn’t expecting much from SuperSauce, but I transplanted them into the Tomato Patch at four weeks, and SuperSauce grew, blossomed, fruited.

What do I think of SuperSauce now?  I like it—I like it a lot.  SuperSauce is a SuperPasteTomato.

How does the fruit coming out of my garden compare to Burpee’s advertising hyperbole?

“Two pounds and 5.5” long and 5” wide”?  Mine averaged 5” long, about 2 1/2” wide.  From four SuperSauce plants I picked several bucketsful during just two weeks in August.  Fruit of an early picking averaged about 11 oz. and of two later pickings averaged 14.5 oz. and 18.75 oz.  In mid-season, one SuperSauce weighted 1 lb. 13 oz.  Fruit production peaked in August, but I picked numerous smaller fruit into October.

One SuperSauce almost filled a quart container
“Gallons of luscious, seedless sauce from a single plant harvest—one tomato fills an entire sauce jar”?  I originally thought that Burpee ad writers need to get out of the office and into a kitchen, but by mid-season I thought that one SuperSauce plant might, over a season, produce enough fruit to make up to one gallon of sauce.  One average SuperSauce tomato may pretty much fill a sauce container, as you can see in the photo of one fruit in a 4-cup container, but one large tomato does not yield, by far, a “jar” of sauce, at least any jar a respectable sauce maker would use at home.  Compared to the Amish Paste variety I’ve preferred in recent years, the average SuperSauce weighs about the same but has less waste from cracks and blossom end rot when processing for sauce making.  It also may be a few shades lighter red than many paste varieties.

“Delicious and versatile”?  Reasonably tasty, yes, more so than some paste tomatoes, and flavorful enough to pass as a slicer or salad tomato, especially tomato gourmands who find the flavor of supermarket varieties such as Compari acceptable.  Solid and meaty, a slice or two of SuperSauce on a sandwich doesn’t send juice racing down the eater’s arms to drip off elbows—a definite plus.

“Easy-to-grow, indeterminate, disease-free plants yield a summerlong supply”?  Yes, yes, yes.  And the size and number of the growing fruit gives even a tomato fanatic cause to pause and admire.

Enough, already.  I plan to plant SuperSauce hybrids again next year.  It has replaced Amish Paste as my top choice of paste tomatoes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tomato Patch: Cherokee by another name is Chocolate

Typical Cherokee Chocolate tomato

When I received my seed order from Tomato Growers Supply Co. last winter, it contained a complimentary packet of Cherokee Chocolate tomato seeds.  Hey, chocolate, I thought—what is there not to salivate over?

Here’s how Tomato Growers describes Cherokee Chocolate:  “A stabilized version of Cherokee Purple, this 10 to 16 oz. mahogany-colored variety has excellent flavor and beautiful large fruit.  Very productive plants are vigorous and yield a large harvest of these chocolate-colored tomatoes with the ample size and wonderful flavor associated with Cherokee Purple.”

I’m not sure I know what “stabilized” means in a tomato variety, but my Cherokee Chocolate plants produced more fruit per plant than the Cherokee Purples I’ve grown.  Fruits are larger, mine averaging just under 16 oz., though Chocolate seem more irregular in shape than the global Purple, and slightly more juicy and less “smoky” in flavor, as some catalogs describe the Purple.  I found it more convenient to cut the irregular-shaped fruit in half and then to slice or chunk the two halves.

Will I grow them again next year?  I have left-over seeds stored in the fridge from this year’s complimentary packet, so why not?  But I probably wouldn’t buy another packet unless I really wanted to grow a Cherokee that produces more and larger fruit than Purple.

Cherokee Chocolate tomatoes
sometimes challenge your slicing skills

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tomato Patch: A Solid Gold investment


Solid Gold tomatoes hang in long clusters
The price of gold may have been less than solid on the commodities markets in recent months, but my purchase of a packet of Solid Gold Hybrid seeds from Tomato Growers Supply Co. turned out to be an excellent investment.

I was attracted to Solid Gold because I wanted both a change of pace from the Sweet 100 and Sungold cherry varieties I’d grown in recent years and also a variety that wouldn’t crack after every shower or rain, as Sweet 100 and Sungold usually do.

The Tomato Growers Supply Co. catalog description of Solid Gold seemed just what I was searching for: “Clusters of one-inch long, golden yellow grape tomatoes appear in great numbers through an impressively long-growing season.  This plant just seems never to give up!  In our trials, it was the first tomato to ripen and the last one to stop producing.  The tomatoes are very crack-resistant and once harvested have a long shelf life while retaining their delicious, sweet taste.”

That description turned into reality in the Tomato Patch.  I’ve been amazed at the many cascading clusters—most with 16 to 22 tomatoes—growing from the vigorous plants.  The first tomato I picked this season was a Solid Gold, and they joined Juliets in the last colander of small tomatoes I picked before frost ended Tomato Patch 2013.  Solid Gold did not crack early in season, but about 50% of the fruit did in the last month or so.  Shelf-life seems eternal—well, almost—with Solid Gold fruits sitting on our kitchen counter for days sometimes without wrinkling or showing any signs of collapse.  When fully ripe, Solid Gold is both sweet and tomatoey, but not candy-sweet like the smaller Sweet 100 and Sungold cherry varieties.

Bottom line:  Solid Gold is a fine variety definitely worth a repeat next summer.  It is my current favorite “snacker.”  For Tomato Patch 2014 I’ll have to decide whether to plant Solid Gold again or return to the super-sweet Sungold.

Solid Gold: Solid and semi-sweet snacker

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Leaf-peeper’s Delight

The last week has been a leaf-peeper’s delight here at Meadow Glenn and throughout the Mid-Atlantic states as red maple trees—Acer rubrum—have displayed unusually brilliant fall colors.  A month ago I would have argued the lack of rain would mean dull fall leaves, but then the rains came and the leaves of the red maples turned into colors that stun the eye.

I’ve planted at least a dozen red maples at Meadow Glenn over the last 15 years or so, and many now are of a size to be noticeable when their summer green turns to fall red, orange, and gold.  Here are some photos that I took over the weekend.  I’ll save for last a photo of the tree we love the most—an ancient red maple now in the decline of age—aren’t we all?—that Ellen and I see every morning in the golden light of the rising sun as we gaze out our kitchen window.

Our Ancient Red Maple at sunrise

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Frosty-morning beauty

Strawberry leaf

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “frost”?

An ancient wrote:  “By the breath of God frost is given” – Job 37:10 (KJV).

A modern definition: “Frost: Ice crystals formed on grass or other objects by the sublimation (direct transfer) of water vapor from the air at below-freezing temperatures” – National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather.

When I looked out our kitchen window this morning  and saw a frosty landscape, my first thought wasn’t “breath of God” or “sublimation of water vapor” but “where’s my camera so I can take some photographs before the sun melts the ice crystals.”

Here are several frosty designs I captured this morning:

Amish Cockscomb blossom

Kamtschaticum sedum

Ruby Red chard

Grass (fescue)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tomato Patch 2013: The end—and a look back

Hint, hint: Frost on lamb's ear
I finished taking down Tomato Patch 2013 yesterday.  Maybe I could have waited another few days, but the weather was perfect for outdoor work—sunny and in the low 60s—and the light frost on our roof and the leaves of our Lamb’s ear plants Monday morning hinted it was time to pick a last few tomatoes, cut back the vines, and take down the cages.

The frost wasn’t a “killer.”  Our most frost-sensitive plants—tomatoes, peppers, and basil—were growing in our garden and not on our roof and escaped damage.  Forecasts for later in the week, however, call for nighttime temperatures in the mid- to low 30s, so I decided to take down Tomato Patch.

Last pickings
First I picked about 10 Celebrity and Better Boy fruits and about a half colander of smaller varieties—a few Solid Gold but mostly Juliet—with a bit of color and deposited them on newspaper in our garage, where they should finish ripening over the next week or so. Then I cut back, pulled out, and carted the plants to a compost pile at the edge of our woods and stacked the drip irrigation buckets, cages, and iron posts for closer attention later. 

As I dismantled Tomato Patch 2013, I thought back over the growing season and made some mental notes:

1.  Tomato Patch 2013 was the best I’ve had in years—perhaps the best ever.  I don’t know why.  Perfectly timed cool and hot weather through spring and summer?  Lots of gentle rain both in spring and early summer and again late in the season?  Garden gnomes that guarded my 25 plants 24/7?  Other Maryland Master Gardeners have told me horror stories.  A Master Gardener in Harford County told me brown marmorated stink bugs ruined most of her crops.  A Master Gardener here in Howard County said overall his tomato crop was disappointing.  It must have been the gnomes.

2. Though brown marmorated stink bugs were a big problem for the Master Gardener in Harford County, they were a minor irritant here—not the disgusting plague of 2010 and 2011.  Yes, I saw a few stink bugs, but I sprayed with a commercially available bifentrin (a synthetic pyrethroid) when I found them—perhaps three or four weekly sprays in June and July, and then no more.  I had near zero tomato damage—but near 100% damage to the pods on my two Crimson Select sweet pepper plants—though I sprayed them too.

3.  Once again I planted too many tomatoes this year—25 plants. I’ve been trying to cut back a bit each year.  I used to plant 30 to 35 plants.  I was planning on just 22 plants this year—but Burpee advertisements for grafted plants captured my imagination—so I ended up with 25 plants.  (I’ll post blogs later on my experience with the grafted plants and other varieties that I grew for the first time.)  We ended up with buckets and buckets of tomatoes—and with nearly 30 containers of sauce in our freezer.

4.  My goal for next year is to plant just 20 tomato plants—about equal numbers of slicers, paste, and grape.  Oops—20 doesn’t divide by 3 when you’re thinking plants, so will I plant 21—or 18?   I’ve got until spring 2014 to answer that question.

Tomato Patch 2013 was a great one here at Meadow Glenn.

How was Tomato Patch 2013 at your place?

Good Bye, Tomato Patch 2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 Stink-bug Damage Update

Stink bug on Golden Treasure pepper, with
serious damage beginning near stem
Damage to vegetables by brown marmorated stink bugs was “mixed” here at Meadow Glenn this summer.

Early in the vegetable growing season I noticed a stink bug or two, but not enough to concern me.  They got my attention later, however, when I found 10 or 20 on the small green pods of my two Crimson Select pepper plants—and a few more on my two Golden Treasure pepper plants.  I then closely examined my tomatoes and found a few more stink bugs.

Since stink bugs are skillful at avoiding capture when I try to remove them manually from garden plants, I had researched possible insecticides and chose bifenthrin, a commonly available pyrethroid, to spray when needed.  I follow directions to the “T” and use the longer California standard for “Days to Harvest” for both tomatoes and peppers.  So when I found the bugs, I sprayed the pepper plants carefully, and I sprayed the main stems of my 25 tomato plants and any stink bugs that I found on fruit.  I sprayed once a week another two or three times—and was relatively free of stink bugs for most of the remainder of the growing season.

“Most of the remainder” means that I didn’t notice stink bugs again until today, when I noticed two stink bugs on two of our remaining Golden Treasure peppers.  I hadn’t sprayed for more than a month.  Today I noticed two stink bugs on two of our few remaining Golden Treasure peppers.  I just squished the bugs thumb and finger—not a disposal method I recommend to squeamish gardeners or those with sensitive noses—since this late in the season I see little value in spraying again.

How much damage did my tomatoes and peppers suffer from stink bugs this year? 

Stink-bug damaged peppers,
Crimson Select (top) and Golden Treasure (bottom)
Tomatoes showed little to no fruit damage.  Loss of Crimson Select peppers has been nearly 100% on my two plants despite multiple sprays.  When the stink bugs puncture pepper cells, bacteria enter through the punctures and in most cases the peppers over time become unattractive before totally collapsing.  Even though my two Golden Treasure pepper plants were next to the Crimson Selects, I lost only two or three of the early pods, though several more showed minor damage.

Bottom line:  Stink bug news here at Meadow Glenn was good for tomatoes and bad for peppers.  Now that nighttime temperatures are sinking, we’re finding a few adults inside our house, likely looking for cozy wintertime hiding places.  Today we found four or five, and they’ve all failed their first swimming test in a bottle of soapy water.

My experience with the stink bugs in 2013 may not be typical.  J.S., a Master Gardener in Harford County—about an hour away—in an email recently told her sad story:  “I read the GIEI blog … about the wonderful tomatoes and the lack of stink bugs.  I could have cried.  I lost about 60% of my corn, all my cherries, peaches, pears, and apples and now am losing about 40% of my tomatoes to stink bugs.  I guess they just love me best.  Oh, whoopee!”

What impact did brown marmorated stink bugs have on your gardens this year?

In the Environment section of Monday’s Washington Post, Darryl Fears reviews regional stink-bug happenings in his article, “Stink bugs are plentiful in Mid-Atlantic states, and they’re ready to come indoors for winter.”

Knock, knock.  Got a cozy place for winter?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Prince & Princess—and a Monarch too

A Prince--or Princess?
I must be a monarchist.  I’ve been concerned all summer because hundreds of butterflies were in our gardens—but not one Monarch.  I read emails from Master Gardeners questioning why the Monarchs had disappeared: Misuse of pesticides or herbicides?  Natural cycle?  Deforestation of Monarch wintering grounds in Mexico?  Some unknown factor?

One posting left open some hope—saying that perhaps the Monarchs were just late in migrating from their northern territories and would be migrating through later than usual.  So I kept looking for a Monarch among the many butterflies visiting our coneflowers and zinnias and at our five plantings of milkweed—Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias incarnata—the host plant on which Monarchs lay their eggs and on which their caterpillars feed.

For weeks I found nothing.  Not good, I worried.

And then about 10 days ago I found two Monarch caterpillars chomping on milkweed leaves when I checked our two Asclepias incarnata plants, gifts of Corliss G., a Howard County Master Gardener, during an exchange of perennials. I promptly named them Princess and Prince—true offspring of Monarchs.  But where were the adults—flying about in Eastern Tiger Swallowtail disguises?

A visiting Monarch
Then for two days last week a Monarch—or was it two?—visited the blossoms of our backyard zinnias and coneflowers.

Two Monarch caterpillars and an adult or two!  I’m relieved, but how relieved should I be when I should have expected to find 10 caterpillars and seen a score of adults?

Here’s hoping I see scores of Monarchs in Summer 2014.  In the meantime, I’m thinking that perhaps I should consolidate our far-flung milkweed plantings into one or two larger beds to encourage the beautiful insects to stop here at Meadow Glenn for some fast food on their annual travels.

P.S.  Today’s (Sept. 12) Local Living section of the Washington Post contains three articles by Adrian Higgins on butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.  Click on the blue to go to “Creating a haven for butterflies and bees” (subsections on Monarchs, Honeybees, Bumblebees, and Pesticides); “Planting and gardening for pollinators” (breaks down common pollinator-supporting plants into these lists: “Milkweeds,” “Trees and shrubs,” “Herbs,” and “Perennials” and then Spring, Summer, and Fall bloomers); and “Tips on beekeeping” ( lists local beekeeper organizations).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Graft in the Tomato Patch

I've done what I said I'd never do--buy grafted tomato plants at $8.00 each.  To read more, CLICK HERE to go to the story I posted today on the University of Maryland Extension Grow It Eat It blog.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mini-greenhouse Fails

Last harvest before the deep freeze
My mini-greenhouse has failed.  My Green Ice lettuce has turned into green slush.  My mini-greenhouse had its limits--somewhere between 18 and 11 degrees!  To read my posting at the University of Maryland Extensions Grow It Eat It blog, CLICK HERE.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Seduction in the Tomato Patch?

Don't miss my posting about seduction in the Tomato Patch on the University of Maryland Grow It Eat It blog.