You may recall that last spring I asked you to tell me about your "tomato experience" this year: What varieties you planted, whether you liked them and why or why not?
I am hoping you will do that, using the email address at the end of this column. Meanwhile, I will tell you about my experience. Perhaps our combined opinions will help other readers make some decisions about next year's variety choices.
I'll preface my comments by saying that my tomatoes are grown in raised beds — my "native soil" is a very difficult clay. I am a stickler about watering, using one or two plastic milk jugs (with a half dozen or so holes put in the bottom with an ice pick) per plant. Plants are watered as needed by filling the jugs with a hose — a daily task when the heat and plant growth are in full swing.
I also wait longer than many people to set my plants out so that the soil will be plenty warm. Call me weird, but winning the "I got the first ripe tomato" contest has never been my thing. As a result of warm soil and consistent watering, I had no blossom end rot on any of my tomatoes. I feed my soil well, so I used no fertilizer or pesticides. All that being said, here are some of my observations and experiences.
My plants were started from seed by Jackson County Master Gardeners, except for the "Pineapple" variety, which was from a local garden store. I also had an unplanned "Sweet Million" cherry tomato, which was a volunteer from last year. It has done wonderfully well.
I tried "Abraham Lincoln" this year instead of my old standby, "Ace." The plant grew well — very dense, to the point where I wondered whether I should have put a cage around it, as it was hard to see and pick the tomatoes on the inside. The tomatoes were prone to splitting and had average yield and flavor. Next year, it's back to "Ace."
My "Pineapple" came to me undoubtedly already infected with bacterial canker, to which it ultimately succumbed. When you buy a seedling, you won't see this disease, which is usually seed- or soil-borne. It grew well at first, and even set a few fruits. However, it began to look sick, with leaves slowly dying and wilting. The OSU Plant Clinic diagnosed it with the disease and advised me to not plant a tomato in that place in the bed for two or three years. The flavor was unique and "non-tomatoey" on the few I got.
"Indigo Rose," OSU's new, high-antioxidant tomato, is a real conversation piece. It bloomed heavily and was soon loaded with green, golf ball-sized tomatoes that turned a very dark purple — almost black. Very strange-looking. But, even more strange, I had to wait for them to become red. That part seemed to take forever. They were slow to ripen. They taste good, but they are an awkward size; too small to slice and too big to just pop one in your mouth like a cherry tomato.
Don't think I'll plant that one next year.
But I do have a new favorite, "Japanese Plum." This is an heirloom tomato, originally from Japan, but should be named "Japanese Pear," because the fruits are the size and shape of a pear, not a plum.
Intended as a paste and salsa tomato, it is pinkish, bears heavily, has few seeds and great flavor. Because it is so meaty, it is now my favorite for sandwiches and slicing, as it isn't as juicy as some varieties. If there is a downside to this one, it's that the fruits rot easily if they lie on the soil. Using straw or a similar mulch takes care of that problem. I will definitely plant this one again.
How was your tomato year? Email me and let me know so we can share our experiences.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.