Tomato Tales, Trials, and Tribulations
Written by: Kevin Milaeger
July 26, 2021
Pumpkin update. I’m happy to report that the hand pollination that was done on July 24th was successful, and I’m now doting over the new pumpkin that’s growing every day. It’s about the size of a basketball, and it now rests on a pallet so it won’t rot on the ground in case we have lots of rain. More pumpkins have formed, some without my help. I have four big, vigorous plants and sometimes five or six days would go by with many new flowers, but usually all male. Maybe it’s for the best. I know that with fewer pumpkins on the vine, those that we do have will be larger. But by mid-August there were plenty of female flowers, so now there are lots of pumpkins coming on. There are so many bees out there that I no longer feel compelled to help with pollination. Some serious growers remove excess pumpkins so all the energy goes into just a few pumpkins, helping them grow larger, but I’ve elected to let them all develop. It’s fun to watch them as there is marked growth every day.
I wish I could say my tomatoes were as lush as my pumpkins. Through most of July they looked fantastic but still hadn’t produced much. By early August, I was giving tomatoes away, but signs of disease began to show up. Leaf spot and early blight. Both are ugly and eventually kill the plant, but you usually get some fruit. Now the disease has spread to more of the plants, but none are actually dead yet, and all eighteen produced fruit. Probably the most vigorous is ‘Wisconsin 55,’ which shows no disease despite the plants around it being afflicted. Some others are disease resistant too. I’ve had a few hornworms, but they haven’t done much damage, so I let them be. This is all from my home garden. In my garden at the office, the tomato plants are perfectly healthy. Go figure.
You may recall that in my first blog of this season I explained how I wanted to try and find a better tasting paste (Roma) tomato. I researched that subject and found a few varieties that reputedly had superior flavor. They all grew just fine but the fruit of most was lacking in flavor. So far, the two best tasting varieties are ‘Russian Big Roma,’ and ‘Kenosha Paste.’ We’ve been growing ‘Kenosha Paste’ for about six years, but the flavor wasn’t very good. We’d been collecting our own seed, but last fall I acquired new seed through our friend Curzio Caravati of Kenosha, who has been developing this variety. The flavor is much improved with the new seed. Perhaps you have a favorite Roma that you can recommend for us to trial. We’ve already tried the obvious one such as ‘Roma’ and others that we’ve been offering for years. Sales of plants of these varieties remains strong, but when we sampled them to compare the flavor, our tasting team was always disappointed. Hence the search for more flavorful varieties. We’ll continue to pursue our quest for flavor.
Summer of Love
Chef's Choice Black
When customers show up at Milaeger’s in spring to buy their plants, they often ask “What’s new?” After we offer an answer they often select their old favorites anyway. In the case of tomatoes that means they end up choosing varieties like ‘Big Boy’ or ‘Wisconsin 55.’ Nothing wrong with those great varieties. Many years ago we began offering some of the more unusual types. Often these don’t fit in a traditional category, so we started calling them “novelty” tomatoes. That name has stuck but I never really liked it because it implies that perhaps their main value is in their unique appearance rather than their taste. Not so. Having sampled hundreds of novelty types I can attest to the value of many of them as flavorful gems.
Included in novelty tomatoes are the so-called “black” varieties. This is the misnomer. They are dark, to be sure, but nowhere near black. Sometimes they’re called purple, pink, brown, dusky, and other similar words, and really none are quite accurate in describing them. Sometimes the color in the name refers to the flesh, not the skin, so that further confuses things. I would say brownish dark red is probably the most accurate color description, but that doesn’t sound very appealing. So we’re probably stuck with names that don’t make a lot of sense. Nevertheless these lovelies are favored by many tomato aficionados. I suggest you try several and see which is your own favorite. The flavor of these types is as hard to describe as the color. If you read many online descriptions you will find that many writers sound like they are describing wines. Hints of this, undertones of that, smoky, savory, intense, balanced, sassy, full flavored, complex, sublime—these are all words and phrases that have been used to describe them. Some of them are so vague as to be worthless and others contradict each other. I say forget the verbiage and just try some. Some of our current favorite are ‘Paul Robeson,’ ‘Carbon,’ ‘Chef’s Choice Black,’ ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Black,’ and others. Most of these trace their origin to the Crimea area of Russia.
The yellow novelties that we’re now growing all have a red sunburst at the blossom end of the fruit, which bleeds into the core of the fruit making for a wonderful show when sliced. These yellow fruits tend to be more mild flavored than typical red tomatoes, a little less acidic. They are all fairly large, beefsteak types. The consistent best seller is ‘Gold Medal,’ but we’re always trying new ones. This year we’re trying ‘Gin Fizz.’ In recent years we’ve grown ‘Hillbilly,’ ‘Pineapple,’ and ‘Virginia Sweets.’
Perhaps the novelty tomato group that is least understood is the green tomato. These are colored mostly green when fully ripe, so it’s sometimes hard to tell when they’re ripe. Examples are ‘Green Zebra,’ ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green,’ and a host of others. We only grow those two, since there is not a lot of demand. ‘Green Zebra’ starts out green, streaked with white. When the white part turns dark yellow, it’s ripe. It has a tangy flavor, as does ‘Aunt Ruby.’ This one is a beefsteak type, much larger than ‘Green Zebra.’ The color changes slightly when ripe. I’ve talked to some folks who think ‘Aunt Ruby’ is the best tomato they ever tasted. A new greenish tomato we’re trialing is ‘Summer of Love.’ Color is red with green streaks, and the fruit is tennis ball size. Tangy, like other green varieties.
We’re already planning the 2022 test garden and right now the plan is to compare novelty varieties. The favorite for years has been ‘Ananas Noire,’ aka ‘Black Pineapple.’ It’s mostly green when fully ripe, with a dark, reddish brown tint at the blossom end. It’s beauty is fully displayed when sliced. Guests never fail to ask about it. It was introduced to the tomato world in 2005 from a breeder in Belgium. It’s a natural hybrid, occurring in a batch of ‘Pineapple’ tomatoes, apparently a “chance cross” with an unknown, dark variety. It’s open pollinated, which means that it will come true from seed, so you can easily collect it and grow your own. This is the variety I always recommend when enthusiasts tell me they want to try something “different.” It never disappoints. I’ve never had anyone complain about it. It is very flavorful, colorful, and prolific. Plus, it’s pretty disease resistant. Despite all the good reports, we continue to strive to offer the finest varieties, so ‘Ananas Noire’ must face the competition. There is so much amateur breeding going on right now that it won’t be hard to find other novelty types to compare to my favorite. May the best tomato win!
July 2021 - Putzing with Pumpkins
July 2021 - July Tomato Observations
June 2021 - Late Spring Garden Update
May 2021 - Picking Peppers and Pepper Pointers
January 2021 - Paste Tomatoes—Searching for More Flavor
January 2021 - New Gardeners - Dig In!
October 2020 - The End of the Season
September 2020 - Planting Now for Fall Harvest
August 2020 - Midsummer Garden Notes
July 2020 - Cukes Now! Tomatoes for the Fourth?
June 2020 - Tomato Plant Supports and Fertility
May 2020 - Time to Plant
April 2020 - Making Salads More Memorable
April 2020 - Victory Gardens Then and Now
April 2020 - Turn Off the News and Get in Your Garden
March 2020 - Stay Healthy---Plant Some Greens
February 2020 - Winter Planning, Winter Reading
September 2019 - Planting Fall Greens---what's your excuse?
September 2019 - 2019 Tomatomania Review
August 2019 - The Hypochondriacal Garden
July 2019 - Tomatoes 2019---A New Record!
June 2019 - Tomatoes---Early Summer Progress Report
June 2019 - Dwarf Tomatoes---The Next Big Thing
May 2019 - The Urge to Plant is Getting Stronger
April 2019 - Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Greens
April 2019 - Jefferson's Tomatoes & Tomato Nutrition
March 2019 - The Year of the Potato
March 2019 - Tomatoes---America's Favorite Vegetable
February 2019 - The Greens are Coming
January 2019 - Long, Chilly Nights Make Me Think of Tomatoes
June 2018 - Learn the Rules Before You Break Them
May 2018 - To Plant or Not to Plant
March 2018 - Brrr...Can You Plant this Early?
February 2018 - February's Climatological Shift
October 2017 - Remember: Every Tomato Variety is Someone's Favorite
August 2017 - A Tomato Miracle
July 2017 - Our Big Garden & Some Unpleasant News
June 2017 - Mid-June Tomato Report
June 2017 - Tomatoes----The Acid Test
April 2017 - It's Time to Plant Onions
April 2017 - Raspberries: It's time for annual pruning
March 2017 - Warning! Internet Garden Danger!
March 2017 - Tomato Talk---Shorter Varieties are Trending
March 2017 - It's Only the Start of March, but...
February 2017 - Tasty Greens and Winter Tomatoes
February 2017 - Green is Right Around the Corner
October 2016 - Autumn Greens, Eggplant and more
September 2016 - The Tomato Polls are Closed, the Winner is...
September 2016 - Pity the Hornworm? Maybe not.
August 2016 - It's true!---Sometimes tomato beauty is only skin deep!
July 2016 - Summer Heat Means Fast Ripening
July 2016 - July Tomato Update---a few concerns
June 2016 - The Great Bell Pepper Challenge!
June 2016 - Super Start for 2016 Vegetables!
May 2016 - Tomato Planting Date Inches Closer!
April 2016 - A Few New Plants & Garden Updates!
April 2016 - Go Outside---It's Time for Planting!
March 2016 - Yep! ----It's Time to Plant Greens!
March 2016 - The Quest for the Perfect Tomato
March 2016 - Think Green! It's almost time to plant
February 2016 - Pepper Pointers: it's all about patience
February 2016 - I See Greens on the Horizon
January 2016 - Tomato Disease --- What can you do?
January 2016 - Tomatoes on my Mind!
November 2015 - My Late Harvest (The tomato picking continues...No Kidding!)
October 2015 - Its Mid-October---the End is Near!
September 2015 - 2015---Not the Year of the Pepper!
September 2015 - Top Varieties at Tomatomania 2015!
September 2015 - Get the most from September tomatoes!
August 2015 - Tomatomania 2015---Coming Soon!
August 2015 - Oh No!!!......Freaky Tomatoes
July 2015 - A Marvelous Community Garden
July 2015 - Finally----the first ripe tomato
July 2015 - Is it Possible to overdose on peas?
July 2015 - The Garden in July --- I'm still planting!
June 2015 - And Just When Things Were Looking So Good...
June 2015 - Tomatoes, Cukes, and a Whimsical Onion
June 2015 - Trials and Tribulations in the Veggie Garden!
May 2015 - Trouble in Tomatoland!
May 2015 - Tomatoes are Claustrophobic
May 2015 - A Little Chilly, but it's Rhubarb Time!
May 2015 - Joan's Rhubarb Torte Recipe
April 2015 - "Ketchup and Fries" plant video
April 2015 - Early May in the Vegetable Garden
April 2015 - What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?
April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting
March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!
March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!
February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!
February 2015 - Greens to Grow 2015
September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!
August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins
July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing
June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns
May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?
April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?
March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now
October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!
October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables
September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog
July 2013 - Spaghetti Squash
July 2013 - New Tomato and Zucchini Recipe Blog
July 2013 - Tomato and Zucchini Recipe
June 2013 - Cold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables
May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers
May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013
April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013
April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!
April 2013 - It's Planting Time
March 2013 - Onions
March 2013 - Vintage Veggies
March 2013 - Greens to Grow Update
February 2013 - Hot Peppers
February 2013 - Grafted Tomatoes
February 2013 - Greens to Grow
September 2012 - Tomatomania Results
July 2012 - Compass Plant
July 2012 -July 2012 - Heat Wave
June 2012 - Okra
June 2012 - Potato Onion
May 2012 - Gas Plant
May 2012 - My Tomato Garden
May 2012 - Vintage Veggie Fest
March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin
March 2012 - Winter Tomato Project
February 2012 - Success with Sweet Peppers
February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature
January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties
September 2011 -Tomatomania Review
August 2011 - Tomatomania Preview
August 2011 - Racine Vegetable Garden Tour
July 2011 - Vegetables in my Garden
July 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
June 2011 - Vegetables - Diseases made Simple
June 2011 - Vegetables - Container Growing
May 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
April 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Event Preview
March 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Announcement