Last year was the year of my glorious tomato experiment. I had an over abundance of tomato plants. Some of it was my own fault, as I could not bear to throw away any tomato that had sprouted, so if I purchased a six-pack and eight plants were growing in it, I kept all eight.
After giving away everything I could, I ended up with almost 25 varieties of tomatoes, totaling about 50 tomato plants. All of the varieties were heirlooms or open-pollinated.
Of course, I could not have picked a worse year, weather wise, to conduct this experiment. Mother nature seemed to laugh in my face, but I valiantly tried to finish my experiment until the bitter end. So what did I learn?
First, I will never try to grow that many tomato plants at one time again.
Second, growing tomatoes in containers can be great, especially if you have limited space or want to save the space for other plants.
Third, I have fallen in love with some varieties that I would have never tried otherwise:
Mexico Midget - A favorite in the garden last summer. Amazingly prolific even in the terrible tomato weather, great taste, perfect for taking a couple and popping them in your mouth for a snack while you are in the garden. I would have never tried it if a friend had not recommended them.
Sungella (Auriga) - I gave away every single Auriga plant I had except one last year. What a mistake! Originally, I didn’t want this one, but got stuck with them when I accidentally picked up the wrong tomato pack. Everyone I gave these plants to loved them. The Auriga had good flavor and was a fantastic producer even in the bad weather. Nice yellow/orange color to dress up salads and salsas.
These two varieties will be in my garden every year now.
This year, I will be trying the Long Keeper, an amazing tomato described in Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The Long Keeper tomato is supposed to be picked before the first frost and brought in the house to ripen, which will take one to three months.
This means you can have a ripe tomato from your garden in December! In talking to those who have tried to grow this tomato, they say that it does not have the wonderful flavor of summer tomatoes, but it definitely beats any of the tomatoes available at the stores.
The Friends School Plant Sale is selling the gold version of the Long Keeper this year. See below for more information on how to grow and keep these long-storing tomatoes.
Who is this crazy tomato person?
No longer a novice, but not a master, my black thumb has turned purple and is on its way to green. Find me at the Friends School Plant Sale’s Garden Fair at the Brandy Tang booth or as the one helping to coordinate the Garden Fair.
Information on the Long Keeper. 78 days, semi-determinate.
Due to the slow ripening characteristic of this variety, fruits continue to become ripe one-and-a-half to three months after harvest, ensuring a supply of fresh tomatoes into the winter. Some growers report storing Long Keeper four to six months.
Unblemished tomatoes should be harvested before frost and allowed to ripen at room temperature. Store the fruits so they are not touching and check for ripeness and rotting weekly. Used apple boxes with fruit separators are convenient for this.
Fruits are mature when they have a pale, pink blush. The 4 to 7 ounce fruits ripen in storage to a satiny, red-orange color.