I often choose a theme for my own garden, and this past season’s theme was “oddball and unusual”. On the tomato front, I focused on a few of old favorites and a big double handful of more unusual varieties, particularly “black” and purple types, most of which I had not grown before. Over 20 different tomato varieties were included in this year’s garden (admittedly more than was optimum for the relatively small size of the garden — as the collapsed bamboo trellis many were grown on can attest). I also was fortunate enough to include several grafted tomato varieties.
Do note that the so called “black” (really more purplish brown) can be a bit surprising to cut into for the first time, as there are often colors inside that would indicate spoilage in a typical red tomato. The flavor makes up for any initial squeamishness.
Grafted tomato plants are becoming more widely available to gardeners. Just like with a fruit tree, a culinary variety is grafted onto a rootstock developed for characteristics other than fruit, like disease resistance or improved vigor. Raker has been experimenting with grafting tomato, and I was able to observe some trials of grafted varieties at work. From what I saw in my garden and those trials this season, grafting can increase overall vigor and potentially reduce disease pressure, depending on the rootstock used. (There are several different rootstocks used in the trade.) The best rootstock may be differ for different tomato varieties.
Now, on to the variety review… Open pollinated varieties are indicated by (OP), hybrid varieties by (hyb).
‘Amish Paste’ (OP) was grown as a grafted plant. I’ve enjoyed this variety’s large, flavorful, dense, pointed paste tomato fruit in previous gardens, and found the grafted plant to be very vigorous, one of the first to reach the top of the trellis.
‘Black Cherry’ (OP) was grown as a grafted plant. Large cherry tomato fruit were prone to cracking, but quite flavorful. Pick them before fully ripe to avoid cracking. The grafted plant was extremely vigorous and yielded well. I may try this one again. I’m curious as to whether grafting affects susceptibility to cracking.
‘Chocolate Cherry’ (OP) is similar to ‘Black Cherry’ with somewhat smaller fruit and excellent flavor. I did not observe any cracking of the fruit. Less vigorous than the grafted ‘Black Cherry’. I’m likely to grow this one again.
‘Black Truffle’ (OP) proved to be excellent flavored, producing medium-sized, pear shaped fruit. This was the best performing black variety in the garden, perhaps because plants were grown in raised hugelkultur beds. I will definitely be growing this one again.
‘Indigo Rose’ (OP) is a new, dark purple fruited cherry type getting a lot of press attention. Developed at Oregon State University, it’s high in anthocyanins, which have antioxidant properties. Fruit is very attractive even when unripe, dark purple with some green. Plants also have a purple cast, and the stems are extremely rigid.
I was really anxious to taste the fruit, which eventually ripens to mostly dark purple with orange on the bottom. First fruit I tasted was very juicy, with a thick skin, and almost flavorless. I assumed it wasn’t fully ripe, and waited, anxiously. The next fruit, allowed to ripen more was the same exact experience. Eventually, I gave up tasting them.
It would probably go well in a tomatillo salsa. It’s definitely interesting on the breeding front, of course, but not one I’m likely to grow again. I see it’s listed as a “seed crop failure” at Johnny’s currently, so it will likely be hard to come by in 2013.
‘Mexican Midget’ (OP) was extremely prolific, with good vigor. Cherry sized fruit is on the smaller side, but flavorful. The plant was stepped on by a creature in the garden one night (before fencing was complete), breaking the main stem, but it re-sprouted well, and I trained the new shoots in to the garden fence. I got this one from the Seed Saver’s Exchange.
‘Nepal’ (OP) has been my favorite open pollinated slicing tomato for many, many years. It’s got flavorful, perfectly shaped fruit. It’s still available in the trade a few places, and through the SSE, but is becoming harder to find. I’ll be saving my own seed the coming season.
‘Pineapple’ (OP) was another grafted plant. It has large, irregular fruit which ripen to yellow-orange with red patterns here and there. Flavor was excellent, the flesh is very attractive when sliced, and the grafted plants certainly did not lack vigor. One nice thing is that though the fruit can be fairly lumpy and irregular, the vine attachment is fairly small, unlike in some varieties with fruit this shape. Definitely a keeper.
‘Red Peach’ (OP) – is an unusual novelty, fuzzy-fruited tomato. I only sampled a few fruit, and found them pretty bland overall. Interesting to look at, but disappointing in flavor.
‘Principe Borghese’ (OP) produces somewhat oblong, cherry sized fruit. Fruit are good fresh, and can also be dried (which I have not attempted yet, but hop to next season.) Very productive. Another favorite.
‘Tomaccio’ (hyb) is a very vigorous variety developed for drying. It is very productive, but fruit has a thick skin, and its flavor really improves with drying (even allowing the fruit to shrivel slightly does wonders. It is amazingly sweet when fully dried.
I plan to grow ‘Principe Borghese’ over ‘Tomaccio’ in the future, for several reasons. I can save seed from ‘Principe Borghese’, it has better quality as a fresh-eaten fruit, and because of a licensing issue with ‘Tomacco’. It’s a little complex, but it boils down to the current licensing to the US only allows ‘Tomaccio’ to be grown in home/hobby gardens, not by anyone producing tomato fruit for sale. So it’s not available for farms with CSAs or market stands. Bummer. (Full disclosure: I was involved with the initial trialing, introduction, and marketing of ‘Tomaccio’ in the US market, and Raker still offers it. I’d definitely grow ‘Tomaccio’ if I gardened in a low-humidity area where tomato drying is very easy.)