End of Season Update

Oh what a year it’s been for the garden!

It started out pretty rough, the seedlings were weak when transplanted, and I wasn’t sure they would all make it (they did!). Then they all grew so fast, my plots were like tiny little jungles in the middle of the prairie. Then it got hot – and stayed hot, even at night. So when they did finally start producing fruit, a lot of them dropped early on. I actually stopped weighing the harvest as I went along, because I knew the data I was collecting wasn’t indicative of a regular year at all. And, to tell you the truth, the numbers were bumming me out.

So finally the fruit starts ripening (very, very late – late August for the early varieties), and then it started raining. Constantly. So, the blight started with my one ‘Lyana’ plant I had, and then ripped through the whole patch in the blink of an eye.

We even had a little bit later of a killing frost this year, but it didn’t even matter because the plants were practically dead at that point anyway.

So, bit of a rough year.

A few of my varieties I didn’t get any fruit from – too hot, then too rainy and they just gave up (I could commiserate, I felt like doing that at one point too). I did get fruit out of the vast majority before the blight came, but not anywhere near the harvests I normally do.

So, the good news is, there will be seed! The bad news is, not as much to distribute as I normally have in a given year.

I’ll be updating quantities I have, the seed sale will start within the next 1-2 months, and the wiki of course will be getting updated over the period of the next two weeks.

Then it’s onto looking at what needs to be grown next year! Although I think I’ll have to give the soil a bit of a rest and grow mostly non-tomato crops next year (gasp!). I’m such a tomato fiend, I have no idea what that’ll look like.

Tomato Tasting: Perestroika

Tomato 'Perestroika'

This is another variety I happened upon a Seedy Saturday in Nelson, BC – but I never had an opportunity to grow it until over four years later. What I have discovered is that this particular variety I grow isn’t like the ‘Perestroika’ detailed by so many others – about the only thing in common it shares is the name. While if you do a search of ‘Perestroika’ online you’ll find images of smooth, round fruit, the one I have (pictured above) is markedly different.

This is another one of those times when I wish I had kept the name of the lady who I got these seeds from. The name implies it was a natural cross that occurred but kept the same name, but that’s simply a guess on my part. I may add ‘Plum’ to the name in order to differentiate in the future.

Perestroika - On The VineGrowth Notes

This plant has a very distinct weeping growth pattern, with slightly elongated leaves. The leaves don’t provide much cover – the coverage is fair at best, but the plant doesn’t seem to need the coverage to protect the fruit. Even with hot temperatures, both plant and fruits did well with minimal protection, and with irregular watering.

Another later variety for a shorter season, coming in at about 80-85 days, it still is very reliable with production, giving me on average, 8lbs per plant.

This is another heavily sprawling plant, so it needs a lot of room to move around. I grew it up a spiral metal stake, and the plant did quite well in climbing up and supporting itself, but the offshoot stems required some pretty heavy tying up.

The Look

This one is pretty impressive to look at – a large, plum-type fruit, about 4.5″ – 5″ long, and about 3″ wide. The fruit averages about 7 oz (200 gr) each, and is nice and firm. The fruit is relatively uniform with just a bit of variance, and showed no green shouldering at all. The fruit also did very well against irregular watering and dry conditions, not having any catfacing or splitting under those conditions.

Perestroika Ripening On The VineThe Taste

Very nice, smooth texture and flavour. While the tomato can be used for sauces, and I think could even be used for paste, it has enough juice in it not to be overly dry, which gives it a good all-purpose use for the garden.

The Verdict

This is a great all purpose tomato for the garden. It wouldn’t produce much in a very short season, but works well in my climate as a later-season variety for preservation, and would work well in a longer, dryer climate for longer-season production.

Unfortunately I can’t attest to its growth in a wetter climate, as I never had the chance to grow this one on the coast, but I’d be very interested to hear from anybody who’s received the seed from me on a wet coast if they have any experience.

Detailed growth notes in the wiki can be found here

There are still seeds for these currently available for distribution! If you’d like to request some, visit this page.

Tomato Tasting: Pink Zebra

No, those colours aren’t processed to make them look more vibrant – if anything, the photo doesn’t quite do it justice. This is another variety I picked up on a whim, not knowing anything about it. I acquired these seeds originally in 2009 from a home gardener in Nelson, BC at the annual Seedy Saturday. Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t think to probe further about where she had gotten the seed, or indeed, any contact information so I could go back and speak with her later, so the origins of this tomato are a bit of a mystery. Six years later, and I still haven’t been able to find more information, and despite reaching out to some other tomato growers with encyclopedic knowledge of varieties, not one person has been able to attribute this variety to another name. I’m assuming at this point it was a variety the grower I received the seeds from crossed in her own garden and isn’t widely available outside of the Kootenays, so I’m glad now I grabbed them up when I did.

Growth Notes

Pink Zebra - Green On The VineThis one is a large plant, but grows relatively erect, making staking a good option for the garden. It easily grew over 5 feet in my garden, and with a slightly longer season I can see it growing up to 6 without much effort.

This variety has heavy leaf coverage, and without the benefit of those hot pink stripes, picking the green fruit would be a game of hide-and-seek. Fortunately that leaf coverage also protects the fruit, so even in hot, hot weather this variety really takes off, and in fact, seems to grow better the hotter it gets. Here on the prairies this is coming up on a later season variety, but much like ‘Sibirskiy Velikan Rozovyi’, in a longer season this one will give imaginably a large harvest to the grower. Even in my shorter climate, I harvested about 12lbs per plant, with the fruit averaging about 10oz (290gr) each.

I did grow this variety one year on the coast, and the production definitely wasn’t as good, making this one a better grower if you’re in a dryer, hotter climate.

The Look

The colours on this variety are amazing – that hot pink, offset by the deep forest green is quite something to see on the vine. This variety has a definite wow factor in the garden, eliciting quite a few “ooohs” and “aaaaahs” when visitors came by. Unlike other green-when-ripe tomatoes, this one doesn’t ripen to a chartreuse/greenish-yellow, it stays deep green.

The Taste

The colours on this variety give the grower a hint of what it’ll taste like. Like pink-fruited varieties, this one has a bit of sweetness, but like green fruited varieties it’s definitely got a kick of acidity. It’s delicious eaten fresh, and when stewed down and frozen keeps quite well. This one also ripens quite well off the vine, and keeps the flavour when picked green and ripened in doors.

The Verdict

Pink Zebra - Cut in Half While I wish I could make this one ripen a little bit faster, making it really optimal for a season longer than our ones in Central Alberta, it’s still a winner to grow here due to it’s easy ripening-off-the-vine and love of hot summers. If you live in a wet climate, I fear this one isn’t for you, because it does suffer quite a bit when too wet.

It’s plain to see why this one is so well adapted for the Kootenays, and it’s excellent flavour, and jewel-toned skin, it’s a stunning tomato to present on the table for guests.

You can see the detailed wiki entry for this variety here.

There are still seeds for these currently available for distribution! If you’d like to request some, visit this page.

Tomato Tasting: Sibirskiy Velikan Rozovyi

Sibirskiy Velikan Rozovyi

This was the big stand-out winner for my garden in 2014, and a new absolute favourite for me. I was lucky enough to happen upon some seeds that Tatiana (of Tatiana’s TomatoBASE) was selling, and bought them more or less on a whim. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a impromptu tomato purchase ever be so fortuitous.

Growth Notes

30-sibirskiy1-smThis variety is a heavy, heavy sprawler. I grows all over the place, and trying to keep it reigned in with staking only was almost impossible. I’m not generally a pruner, but this one I resorted to snipping off a few extra stems just to keep it from overtaking all the other tomatoes in the vicinity. Give this one room, and grow with a cage or Florida weave if possible, because it goes everywhere, and is absolutely unrelenting about it.

Another reason to make sure you keep this tomato secure – the fruit are massive. This variety is hands down the earliest monster variety I’ve ever grown. Coming in at 80-85 days, it’s a good monster variety for those with shorter seasons, and for those in longer-season climates, a great variety that keeps producing until cold finally kills it off.

The average fruit weight for me was about 21oz (587gr) each. The smallest fruit I picked was 16 oz (454gr), and the largest was 28oz (802gr).

The Look

30-sibirskiy2-smI like irregular shaped fruits. A lot. Heavily pleated, weirdly bumpy, whatever, I’m down with it. This one definitely falls in the “irregular” camp, with no two fruit looking the same. Out of all fruit picked, I had two that were relatively smooth (one of which can be seen at the top of this post). The rest were all manner of shape.

The fruit itself is oblate with pink skin and flesh, and a nice smooth, buttery texture. I even had one fruit that had grew a hole through the middle! In all the varieties I’ve grown, I’d never had that before. After chatting with Tatiana, she let me know that this variety does indeed produce one or two of these a season as a general rule. I keep the thing around for days, showing it to people who happened by my home.

The Taste

Most monster varieties, especially early ones, have flavour that leaves much to the imagination. Quite often you have to choose – are you going to go with quantity or quality? This variety, I was extremely pleased to find, is both. A lovely, smooth buttery texture and nice meaty fruit – without being dry. Sweet, but with a nice complex flavour to go along with it. This one is best for fresh eating, great for sandwiches and burgers (one slice will cover a whole piece of bread or a bun easily).

I also roasted a bunch of these down just plain in the oven and ate them as is as a side dish, and they were absolutely delicious that way.

The Verdict

If my gushing hasn’t made it obvious thus far, this one is a clear winner. The beating, direct sun of my garden didn’t produce any sun scald, I didn’t see evidence of any catfacing or splitting in our dry conditions, and I didn’t see any other evidence of disease. On average, I got about 14lbs out of this plant, and while it’s creeping up to an end of season variety here on the short-season prairies, it would be great for longer seasons as well where a gardener could easily harvest even more than that.

This is one of those varieties that I will be singing the praises of until the end of my days. This is definitely a variety that deserves to be more widely grown and recognized for its great qualities.

Detailed growth notes in the wiki can be found here

There are still seeds for these currently available for distribution! If you’d like to request some, visit this page.

Cotztomatl Grow Out

My first foray into growing cotztomatl in 2012 started out a little bit bumpy, but I’m pleased that this plant found its footing in my garden and not only grew, but grew really well. There were a few surprises growing this plant, and having spread the seed around a bit in 2013, I’d like to provide those attempting to grow this one themselves with a bit more information than I had to go on.

cotztomatlseedlingIt wasn’t just me growing it this year, two friends Meighan and Gayla wanted to grow this one out with me, so we all started the seeds at more or less the same time and started comparing notes.

I had a tough time initially starting this seed. I start my seeds with bottom heat, but no enclosures/domes in order to keep the air circulating. Normally this works just fine for my Solanums, but after weeks I had seen nothing from my Cotztomatl. I resowed. Nothing again. I was starting to think all was lost. Until we compared notes.

Gayla and Meighan started theirs in an actual seed enclosure – and both of them had no trouble with germination. So I resowed again, this time with miniature domes around their individual cells, and sure enough, they germinated no problem.

First lesson learned with Cotztomatl: You need bottom heat and high humidity for proper germination.

The seeds and plants themselves look much like tomatillos, although they have more of a sprawling growth habit. Tomatillos generally grow up from one central stalk, cotztomatl grows out from several at the soil level.

Second lesson learned: These guys need at least three feet of room to grow in every direction. They’re almost unstakeable/uncageable. So give them room to sprawl.

Once they were transplanted they almost needed no care at all. I planted three separate plants, to make sure they had cross-pollination (I wasn’t sure if they were like tomatillos where multiple plants are needed in order to get higher pollination rates), and just let them go.
cotztomatl-xsmallThe blooms also resemble tomatillos, although they seem to be bigger. They’re a lighter yellow on the outside with a deeper purple/black closer to the centre. They’re gorgeous flowers, and they flower profusely. The plants are gorgeous in the garden just for their flowers alone.

Fruit set was very good (again, I can’t speak for if you only have one plant), it seemed to be very close to 100%. Like tomatillos, without a good amount of heat ripening and setting can be slower. My plants had about 6 hours of direct sun a day, with about 4 additional hours of dappled sun. They did just fine.

I started harvesting the first fruit in August, but the real huge amount came around September/October. Mountains and mountains of the fruit.

So what did it taste like? It’s kind of like a mealier, earthier tomatillo with a slight fruity finish. Sounds strange, right? The fruit is small, less than 1″ in diameter, and a golden orange. It has the husk like many other Physalis species, and that needs to be removed for consumption.

The raw taste was a little… strange. I snacked on a few, it was alright, Gayla hated the flavour.

Third lesson learned: The raw flavour is alright, if a little weird. Cooking with them is awesome.

I liked throwing them into chili and random Mexican-type dishes. They add quite a nice, subtle, earthy flavour to the dish. I imagine they’d be awesome in a salsa, but unfortunately I didn’t make any salsa this year.

I let my plants go on a bit – I live in a place with a very mild winter (snow is scarce at best), so I wanted to see how long these would last for. They even survived a few light frosts without any damage. Unfortunately, a few successive hard frosts is what finally killed them off in January. However, with a cover I believe they would have survived even then.

Fourth lesson learned: It’s a very tender perennial in zone 8. Light frosts won’t kill the plants, but successive hard frosts will.

cotztomatl-seeds

Harvesting Seed
These buggers are not easy to harvest seed from – even more finicky than saving seed from tomatillos. In my ultimate laziness I decided to let them sit outside. Seriously, I just let the fruit sit there, in little tubs outside. Now, I can get away with this because besides maybe from snow a few days a year, all we have is rain for the winter. Letting nature take it’s course to rot away the fruit, leaving just the seeds, was the absolute easiest method to allow me to get these ridiculously tiny seeds out of the dense fruit.

If you’re in an area with a lot of snow, all you’ll have is frozen fruit until the spring thaw. The image you see above is after about three months of fruit sitting outside in the chilly rainy weather here on Vancouver Island.

For colder climates, I’d suggest bringing the ripe fruit under cover (a cold room or storage shed if you have it), and keep these suckers wet. They will rot down, and all you’ll have left is some pretty cool looking skeleton husks, and a bunch of seed kept inside for you to easily slide out and bag up.

This was a great experiment for me in 2012, and I’m glad I had the chance to grow it. It will return to my garden again in future years, and it was a huge bonus that it was such an easy and care-free plant.