On a Utah trip, time for thinking, and looking ahead.

Zion…Bryce Canyon…Capitol Reef…Arches…Canyonlands. Five US National Parks running in southern Utah from west to east. 12 days, Sue and I, Airbnbs in Orderville, Tropic, Torrey and Moab.

Talk about good medicine for the mind and the soul….most days so quiet, the warm dry air perfect for hikes, breathtaking views of a geography completely new to us and far different from what we’ve seen, and where we live. It was an utterly perfect way to unwind after a pretty consistently busy year to date, and an opportunity for which I am so grateful.

What did I ponder while out taking in mountains and canyons? Lots, but the most important reflections were around my second career arc, where I’ve been and what’s to come.

I pondered the impact of social networking - which often seems like the burden of social networking.

The impact of social media on our culture, country, politics - the world - has been hanging heavy on me the past few years. This year’s garden - the incessant heat, the number of plants - seemed more burdensome than usual, no doubt party due to the fact that the passage of time takes its toll on stamina, and desire to have such ambitious gardens each year.

This is the tip of the iceberg of my thoughts, and is a sufficient distillate to set up the next part of this post - what I plan to do about it all. Without going into great detail on each point, here is a summary of my plans going forward:

Social media - I plan to simply leave Twitter, begin to close down my personal page on Facebook, but continue with my Facebook Author Page to take me through upcoming planned events to help drive awareness. My primary means of communication via social media will be Instagram. And yet, even given this, I will be posting far less. My hope is that those who follow my gardening exploits will move on to…..

Blogging and Newsletters - Less social posting will mean more communication through my blog and quarterly newsletters - at least that is my aspiration. I will be taking advice from my daughter/coach, Sara, on all of these transitions.

Direct email - I’ve had a long time practice of encouraging questions sent to me via personal email, and I plan to continue that. However, response time to emails could increase a bit - typically I answer the day I receive them, but it may stretch to a week or so…we shall see.

Future gardens - Smaller, less plants, easier to maintain - out of necessity. Continued reduction/eventual closure of the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project will be a consequence. With a desire to get away with Sue and travel more, and a continuing pretty busy speaking schedule, biting off more than I can chew simply doesn’t make sense. We are probably only a few years away from downsizing and relocating anyway.

Spring seedlings - more limited, less plants, but continuing as long as I can find time to get seedlings stared and well cared for, but tied in to the Future Gardens point as well.

Book 3 - the Dwarf Tomato Project book - this will become the main priority until it is completed and released. I hope to use time saved from reduction of efforts as outlined above to wrap this up at last. It is long over due, and will feel great - and bring on relief! - when it is finally finished.

I welcome anyone’s opinions on my plans. It seems the right thing to do at the moment. To tell the truth, this is the beginning of my departure from all social networking…one has to start somewhere!

Keep up to date by signing up for my mailing list below.

All that remains of the 2019 driveway garden

All that remains of the 2019 driveway garden

This is it - the last of a 5 part personal review of all Dwarf Tomato Project releases (whew!)...

Candidates for releases from the Teensy family

Candidates for releases from the Teensy family

That was a fun little effort - it just seemed time to give my honest opinions on all of our dwarf releases. What will be clear, hopefully, is that my experiences with many of them are extremely limited - in some cases, yet to begin. It is really important to stress the individual nature of this type of review series - my taste buds, my growing method, all of the seasonal variations. Our dwarfs are truly in their infancy - so much more information is needed - certainly desired - to provide a more complete picture….which ones do best in which locations (and which ones struggle the most)….which seem to have remaining instability….which ones taste best, which ones seem a bit lacking. None of this is precise. It is a living project that is at it’s very beginning (and we are not at all finished releasing Dwarf varieties from our project!)

Dwarf Egypt Yellow * - This tomato really exceeded my expectations in both flavor and size. I am so glad I finally got to grow it this year; it was one of the highlights of my garden in 2019. It is nice to add a big, oblate, prolific bright yellow regular leaf dwarf to our portfolio.

Dwarf Franklin County - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. I dabbled just a bit in the Wishful family early on.

Dwarf Velvet Night - I’ve been a bit unlucky with this one - either disease or deer hit the two times I grew it, though I worked quite a bit on the Dinky and Muddy lines (both of which produced pink or purple dwarf cherries) early on, and knew that they held great promise. At least I got a few to eat this year before the deer took the rest, and I found it a delightfully flavored purple larger sized, slightly oblate dwarf cherry tomato.

Dwarf Pink Opal - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. I did work a bit on the family early on and found the pink cherries out of Dinky and Muddy families very good.

Dwarf Confetti * - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 and 2021. I discovered and named this variety and it was outstanding that year.

Dwarf Sarah's Red * - Yet another large fruited, totally delicious scarlet red colored variety takes its place in our project. My first growing was just this past summer, and I simply loved it. Productive, healthy, vigorous, large - and totally yummy. As I’ve said previously in these blogs, great flavored high quality red dwarfs are always welcome!

Dwarf Peppermint Stripes * - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 and 2021. I discovered and named this variety and it was outstanding that year.

Dwarf Andy's Forty - Though not a total blockbuster like some of our releases, this is a very nice medium sized chocolate colored dwarf tomato with excellent flavor. The fruit are smooth, the variety is productive - and there is a hint of faint stripes on the fruit of the plant that I grew. Unless I was specifically looking for those stripes, I would have missed them.

Dwarf Mary's Cherry - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021.

Dwarf Hannah's Prize   * - And, guess what - yet another wonderful large fruited scarlet red dwarf tomato made its debut in my 2019 garden. What an embarrassment of riches - and what a fine tomato this is.

Dwarf Saucy Mary  - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. I selected and named the variety and found it very enjoyable. It is quite unique in being a green fleshed, good sized, distinctively striped (dark and light green and amber) plum or paste fruited dwarf.

Dwarf Mandurang Moon - This proved to be the most compact growing dwarf variety of my experience, behaving more like a microdwarf, though with really large potato leaf foliage. The small plum shaped nearly snow white saladette type tomatoes are really tasty. It just seemed as though it was not at its best in my 2019 garden, and was one of those that came in with a flurry of other, larger fruited types - so was a bit underrated I suspect.

Dwarf Black Angus - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. I selected and named the variety, really liked it, and expect it to be excellent based on my early work.

Dwarf Bendigo Rose - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. I dabbled a bit with this variety while it was in development a few years ago.

Dwarf Bendigo Moon - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. Same comment as with Dwarf Bendigo Rose.

Dwarf Awesome - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. Since I am a big fan of the Ivalde family and this is the first release, I feel bad that I’ve yet to grow it.

Dwarf Moliagul Moon - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021….same comment as with Dwarf Bendigo Rose.

Dwarf Bendigo Drop - My first attempt at this during 2019 was not a great success - it was in a poor location, came in late, and hence was attacked repeatedly by deer. I will suspend further comments until I get a chance to give it a fair trial.

Dwarf Bendigo Dawn - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. Same comment as with Dwarf Bendigo Rose.

Dwarf Barossa Moon - I’ve not yet grown the released selection and hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. Same comment as with Dwarf Bendigo Rose.

Dwarf Bendigo Blush - Same comment as with Dwarf Bendigo Drop, above - a poor attempt at a first trial in 2019, hence slated for a return to my garden very soon for a much more fair trial.

Dwarf Grandpa Gary's Green - I was quite happy with this nice medium sized, smooth, nearly round yellow skinned, green fleshed variety. Though not grouped with the absolute best, it is an excellent, productive variety that many will love. With all of the clear skinned greenies from the Sneezy line, it is nice to have a good sized yellow skinned green flesh to grow.

Dwarf Melanie's Ballet * - I really enjoyed eating - and the beauty of - this nicely shaped, good sized smooth plum shaped pink. Highly productive, this is a wonderful multi use tomato…salads, sauces, roasting, canning. It jumped into my favorites category with my first try at growing it, this past season.

Dwarf Sneaky Sauce - This is simply a reliable, high yielding, attractive round to slightly heart shaped scarlet red tomato that tastes really good. It would make a perfect slicing, salad, canning or sauce tomato. It is a fine addition to our portfolio of releases.

Dwarf Velvet Night, a yummy purple large cherry dwarf

Dwarf Velvet Night, a yummy purple large cherry dwarf

As you read above, I’ve no experience yet with the released selections of 14 of the above. In total, 23 of our releases that I’ve not yet grown will be in my garden in one of the next two seasons.

And so the journey through the current releases from our project is complete. I hope you found it interesting, and welcome any questions that you have. I won’t say that the best is yet to come (because we have lots of greatness sprinkled throughout our releases), but some really fine tomatoes will soon be available. Some of those will certainly end up on my “best” list.

Thanks go to the hundreds and hundreds of our wonderful volunteers, reaching back to 2006; to Patrina of course, my project co-lead, Bill Minkey (who grew out the vast majority of our release seed stock that we gave to various companies to package up and sell), the companies that decided that these fit well into their offerings (particularly Mike and Denise Dunton of Victory Seeds, but also the other early adopters - Tatiana’s TOMATObase, Sample Seed Shop (Remy), Heritage (Steve), Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Ken and Ira), Jeff Casey, Glenn and Linda Drowns, Fruition (Petra)…and the many customers who are purchasing, enjoying and reporting back on their experiences. Keep those opinions coming!

Candidate for upcoming release Dwarf Ann’s Dusky Rose Plum

Candidate for upcoming release Dwarf Ann’s Dusky Rose Plum

My personal review of all of our Dwarf Tomato Project releases - part 4

Fancy family offspring from my 2019 garden

Fancy family offspring from my 2019 garden

Two more big blog posts to go - in this one, I am combining the 2016 with the 2018 releases to keep the number manageable. Part 5 will cover the long list of 2017 varieties. Off we go - and remember, these are MY impressions, limited in some cases - typically grown in 5 gallon grow bags or straw bales in our hot, humid, challenging Raleigh, NC summers.

Willa's Cariboo Rose - I’ve just one season experience and it was not a great year, so I really have no clear impression positive or negative. It will get another chance very soon.

Coorong Pink - I have a funny story about Coorong Pink. I grew it a few years ago and in my garden the tomatoes were striped, and with anthocyanin shoulders. A seedling customer grew it and provided some of their harvest for me, and I just loved it - medium to medium large, smooth oblate pink fruit with a nicely balanced taste. It’s not on my favorites list yet, because it has been inconsistent (obviously!).

Dwarf Caitydid * - This is one of my better finds, out of the Pesty family (and named for my daughter Caitlin), and distinct in being a yellow/red bicolor that had a particularly rosy colored central core. I’ve grown it several times, most recently in a self watering container, where it really showed its stuff…beautiful large red/yellow swirled tomatoes, and lots of them. For me, the flavor is just slightly on the mild and sweet side of many of the indeterminate bicolored types, not quite up to the intensity and complexity of Wherokowhai, but still a really fine tomato. It’s combined attributes - color, flavor, productivity, vigor - move it into my “favorites” category.

Dwarf Firebird Sweet  * - This lovely tomato is out of the complex Beauty family, which provided a rainbow of colors for our project and numerous releases. When this popped up in my garden a few years ago, the stunning pink with gold striped combination was really exciting to find. Add to that it’s high yield and rich, complex flavor and we have a winner (in my book!). One slight complication is that I’ve ended up with purple fruit (with greenish gold stripes) from supposedly stable seed lots. This isn’t unusual for our Beauty family releases - stabilizing chosen colors has been a bit of a challenge.

Dwarf Beauty King * - Another out of the Beauty family, this one is an intense scarlet red with vertical gold stripes, of a medium size, and possessing the consistently wonderful flavor of all of our Beauty family tomatoes. And, as with other Beauty offspring, the color can occasionally offer a surprise. I think we have this one pretty well nailed down, and it is another favorite of mine, well worth growing.

Mallee Rose - This is a pretty, productive, nice sized tomato with some ribbing on the shoulders. It is productive and seems to resist foliage diseases quite well. I find the flavor to be just a bit too sweet/mild for my taste buds, so it is for me a very good, not great, variety. Those who like sweet tomatoes may have a different opinion and should give it a try.

Barossa Fest  * - It may look a bit on the small side (in a way, it is sized like its Sneezy family members Beryl Beauty, Jade Beauty and Kelly Green), but having a bright yellow, wonderfully flavored prolific dwarf variety makes it a wonderful additional to our project releases. I really underrated it when I grew it, and upon reflection, decided to add it to my favorites category.

Dwarf Maura’s Cardinal  * - I’ve had such fun this year growing quite a few varieties for the first time, many of which due to the efforts of our great project volunteer Susan Oliverson of Idaho. Dwarf Maura’s Cardinal is simply a superb, large scarlet tomato that has it all - vigor, productivity, and most of all, a complete, delicious flavor. Great red varieties came late to our project, but we are now really piling them up.

Dwarf Jasmine Yellow - I love the productivity, size and color of Dwarf Jasmine Yellow - it is another that made its debut in my garden this year, and other from the great work of Susan O. It doesn’t quite make the cut as the very best in my opinion due to a slightly less intense flavor than I tend to favor. It is a truly fine tomato, however.

Dwarf Laura’s Bounty - My attempt at growing it this year didn’t work out thanks to a deer attack, so I hope to try it again next year. I love the idea of an orange plum tomato, and can’t wait to give it another shot.

Dwarf Sunny’s Pear - This is a really cute small bright orange plum tomato that is perfect for salads, roasting or grilling. It is really prolific and the plant resists disease well. It fills a niche in our project, and really stands alone in this color, shape and size. The flavor is sweet, mild and pleasant.

Dwarf Galen’s Yellow - I’ve yet to grow the released selection - hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. I had a hand in growing some of the earlier generations and liked it very much.

Dwarf Goldfinch - I’ve yet to grow the released selection - hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. I selected and named it and it is potentially outstanding (it certainly was that first time).

Dwarf Mystic Lady - Yet another fine addition to our pink potato leaf dwarf tomatoes, Dwarf Mystic Lady is produced in good numbers on a vigorous potato leaf dwarf plant. The flavor is on the mild side, showing good sweetness and balance. Size tends to be in the medium range.

Dwarf CC McGee - I’ve yet to grow the released selection - hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. Great flavored whites are always welcome!

Dwarf Jeremy’s Stripes - I’ve yet to grow the released selection - hope to do so in 2020 or 2021.

Dwarf Numbat - I’ve yet to grow the released selection - hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. I have limited experience with it, and consider it a nice dwarf growing Green Zebra type.

Clare Valley Pink - I’ve yet to grow the released selection, but have lots of experience with early generations. Though not outstanding, my feeling is that it was a reliable, tasty tomato.

Dwarf Suz’s Beauty - I’ve yet to grow the released selection - hope to do so in 2020 or 2021. I really love the Beauty family and expect this to be wonderful.

Dwarf Parfait - My initial experience with Dwarf Parfait was impacted by a deer attack, limiting me to but one fruit…but what a tomato it was! Weighing a bit over one pound, it looked green on the outside, but when cut showed a glowing orange central core. Flavor is balanced and delicious. It didn’t make my best of list yet, due to my limited experience with it and inability to really get a handle on potential yield. Slices of this would be just lovely in Caprese.

Dwarf Tiger Eye  * - What we have here is special and quite unique - an Uluru Ochre colored nice sized prolific paste type tomato. The flavor is just excellent, and this is a really versatile multi use variety - salads, sauces, roasting, grilling or canning. Susan O did a great job finding and finishing this wonderful variety.

Dwarf Vince’s Haze * - My oh my, what a delicious tomato. The plentiful medium large smooth oblate purple fruit, from a vigorous healthy potato leaf plant, have a full, rich flavor that rivals types such as Cherokee Purple, and are on a par with Rosella Purple. I really love this variety and look forward to growing it many times in the future.

Dwarf Hazy’s Dream - I’ve yet to grow the released selection - hope to do so in 2020 or 2021.

Grandpa Gary’s Green from this year’s garden

Grandpa Gary’s Green from this year’s garden

There, you have it - the 4th of 5 installments as I take on an honest assessment, warts and all, of all of our dwarf tomato project releases. The above represents a much more variable set of releases with respect to my experience with them. There is much work to do familiarizing myself with quite a few of them…a tough job, but someone’s got to do it! (actually, a wonderful job that will keep me busy and happy in my future gardens).

Our most recent foster pups, Sibyl and Simon

Our most recent foster pups, Sibyl and Simon

Dwarf Tomato Project releases...my own impressions and comments - part 3

First ripe Dwarf Melanie’s Ballet from July of this season

First ripe Dwarf Melanie’s Ballet from July of this season

Now I am going to move on to the releases from 2015 - there are a slew of them….here we go! Remember - the asterisk * means they are a favorite of mine.

Adelaide Festival * - We have three purple with stripes (green to golden) offerings - this, Fred’s Tie Dye (different family) and Tennessee Suited (same family as Adelaide Festival). I am not convinced that they are two distinct varieties, or rather two very similar, very slight variations that may end up getting collapsed into a single variety. That will actually be a theme involving several of our releases from the same family - are they actually two different varieties, or just selections made on seasonal impact? Anyway - back to Adelaide Festival - it is a real beauty, lovely stripes, excellent yield and fine full flavor, hence inclusion onto my favorites list.

Dwarf Lemon Ice - The same remarks made in my last blog when discussing Lemon Ice’s cousins - Pink Passion and Golden Heart - hold here. I love the “icy” bright yellow color, nearly white flesh, early productivity, excellent reliable fruit set. The flavor doesn’t have quite the impact on me, but as in all of those I am downgrading a bit on flavor, it is time to revisit. This is actually a splendid canning or sauce tomato due to its dense meaty flesh and nice medium size.

Dwarf Mahogany - I’ve far too little experience to be confident in fully grading it. My best experience was during the selection phase where it really stood out at Tomatopalooza, grown by my friend Lee and brought to the event. I’ve been less lucky with it the few times I’ve grown it, in challenging seasons, where it was pretty well ravaged by disease. I lump this in with Tasmanian Chocolate and Chocolate Champion and Maralinga when considering our chocolate colored medium to larger fruited releases. I know it has great potential, it is just that I’ve yet to experience it in my own garden..so, it is time to give it another shot!

Dwarf Russian Swirl - I was so excited to find this as the first of the good sized oblate yellow/red bicolored tomatoes with flavor on a par with the many indeterminate varieties such as Pineapple and Big Rainbow. It is on the tall size, resists disease well, is a heavy yielder…the color is of course outstanding, with variable swirls of red in bright yellow flesh. Flavor-wise, I have the same opinion of it as the indeterminate bicolors - only Lucky Cross and Little Lucky “do it for me” as far as taste excitement, but I know many gardeners who would appreciate the mild, sweet fruitiness of this one.

Dwarf Scarlet Heart - It took some doing, but we managed to stabilize the hardest color to narrow down in our project - red! Our project member Linda in California did a great job with all of the Nosey selections, and I consider this to be my favorite for flavor, having more “oomph” than the gold, yellow and pink members of the family already discussed. It sets fruit well, resists disease, has a nice medium size and heart shape and is just a fine tomato. The flavor won’t make you stop and pause, but it is perfect for all uses - a really good eating tomato that will also be at home in sauces or canned.

Kangaroo Paw Green - These are curious little tomatoes, the Kangaroo Paw series. I find them to vary as to disease susceptibility season to season, but they always set fruit and yield well. They are saladette sized tomatoes that don’t find as much use in our kitchen unless I am grilling or canning. I like the flavor of all three, and the yellow skin makes it unusual in our project for green fleshed varieties. I like it, but don’t love it.

Kangaroo Paw Brown - All of my comments for K Paw Green hold for K Paw Brown - healthy, prolific, attractive, and tasty, though for me not a best taste candidate. It is time for me to regrow all three and confirm or revise my assessment.

Kangaroo Paw Yellow - This and Red (coming soon) has been the most challenging colors to stabilize and nail down. I think we finally have reliable yellow fruit, and all comments for the other two K Paws, above, hold for Yellow.

Dwarf Orange Cream  * - This is a curious one. The color is pretty unique, not quite orange, not quite yellow, and the surface is sort of matte, not shiny. I “found” the variety and named it, and haven’t returned to it very often. The flavor is outstanding, right there with the other Tipsy family releases (Sweet Scarlet, Golden Gypsy, Blazing Beauty). I’ve not grown it often, and haven’t always had luck with it when I did. It can stand with the very best in years when it is happy with the conditions, and it is time for me to give it another try.

Maralinga - There is a consistent theme with this set of dwarf releases; I simply don’t have tons of experience with many of them, including Maralinga. One year it was truly outstanding, others not so much - yield issues, disease issues. It has the potential to be among the best, however - a nice sized, chocolate colored tomato with high yields. Time for me to give it another try.

Dwarf Golden Gypsy  * - I love this variety. It is one of the most consistent yielding of the Tipsy potato leaf releases, with nice sized medium yellow tomatoes of superb flavor (including that nice kick of tartness shown by most of our Tipsy family releases). The very pale yellow flesh is attractive as well. Certainly this is one of our finest varieties.

Waratah - Great reds are a bit lacking in our project. Waratah is what I call a somewhat inconsistent but very good red variety. I’ve had mixed results with my few grow outs, and wish to compare it to another red from the same family of similar size, Tanunda Red. I can’t yet say I love it, and in fact, need to convince myself that Waratah and Tanunda Red are distinct enough to be two different varieties (they are both from the Plentiful family).

Sturt Desert Pea - This release is a bit smaller than Tanunda Red and Waratah (all from the Plentiful family), but more consistent in yield and flavor. It is a fine medium sized red slicing variety that yields well, with a pleasant balanced flavor. I’ve not grown it very often and can’t really add any more.

BrandyFred - Similar to Dwarf Wild Spudlead, my experiences with BrandyFred are very limited. It is a potato leaf, good sized oblate purple tomato with excellent flavor, but I need to regrow it to add more details.

Tennessee Suited - See my comments on Adelaide Festival, above. Tennessee Suited has been a bit erratic for me, a few times excellent, a few times disease susceptible and not high yielding, though of fine flavor.

Lucky Swirl - Like Dwarf Russian Swirl, this is another of the classic red/yellow swirl bicolors with sweet, fruity flavors. I’ve had mixed results in terms of plant health and yield.

Tanunda Red - See my comments on Waratah above. Much more experience with this in my garden is needed to form any distinctive opinion beyond it being a very good medium sized red tomato. I need to convince myself that it is distinct from Waratah.

TastyWine * - This release has the potential to equal Brandywine in flavor, if not quite in size. I’ve found it to vary quite a bit season to season, and we probably could have done a bit of a better job selecting and stabilizing it before release, though that is just a possibility….variations I’ve experienced could simply be due to differing weather season to season. I’ve not grown it as often as I should, but those seeking a potato leaf dwarf with good sized pink delicious tomatoes should aim for this one in their garden.

Kookaburra Cackle - I have little experience with this, but it was a very positive one - lots of medium to medium small smooth oblate chocolate tasty tomatoes. We have so many releases, and there remains still so much work to be done, that once something is released I end up moving on to other things. Like many others released this year, it is time for Kookaburra to make a return to my garden.

Dwarf Wild Spudleaf  *- I’ve actually grown this one quite a lot, and find it consistent in terms of yield, health and flavor - perhaps my top choice right now of potato leaf purple dwarfs. It gets rated among the best for me.

Loxton Lad - Do we have a Lad AND a Lass, or just a Lad OR a Lass? The original idea was that one of them has consistently larger fruit size than the other. As we are short on great orange fruited dwarfs from our project, there is great value in these varieties . They are relatively early, produce well, set fruit easily and the flavor, if not superb, is very, very good. We need feedback from those who are growing them to determine whether we have one variety, or two. I’ve grown each several times and although the seasons that they were in my garden weren’t great ones for dwarfs in general, they impressed, though did not rise to the very top.

Loxton Lass - See comments for Loxton Lad, above….input is needed.

Dwarf Crimson Sockeye - I’ve not had much luck with this, though I’ve only tried it once. It is a medium sized purple tomato, the flavor is nice, but the year that it was in my garden was a challenging one. Disease and poor fruit set meant little luck, so it is due for another chance soon.

First ripe Sneaky Sauce

First ripe Sneaky Sauce

Not very many from the above list merited an asterisk as my favorites - only 5 - and that is likely due to my relative inexperience with many of them. I have no doubt that some of the above varieties are underrated by me, and a look at Victory Seed Company’s dwarf page shows some of the above to be very well liked. I’d love to hear from those of you wishing to share your impressions about our dwarfs, actually - feedback is always lacking, and always welcome!

A new Salvia (Big Blue? Not sure of the name…more of a violet color, growing in a container, from my friend Ralph

A new Salvia (Big Blue? Not sure of the name…more of a violet color, growing in a container, from my friend Ralph

My review of the Dwarf Tomato Project releases - part 2

my Dwarf Speckled Heart …. the distinct stripes don’t come through well on the pics, but the nice meaty interior does

my Dwarf Speckled Heart …. the distinct stripes don’t come through well on the pics, but the nice meaty interior does

In Part 1 of my Dwarf Tomato Project review series, I tackled my impressions of our first 17 releases. Below are reviews of the next batch - a total of 19 varieties. Enjoy! (as a reminder, my very favorites are marked with an “*” after the name. It is important to keep in mind that these are my favorites - those that excel in my growing area, using my techniques, and assessed by my taste buds. Your impressions and experiences may be very different!).

Rosella Crimson * - I don’t grow it enough, it can struggle with disease issues, getting it uniformly stable wasn’t easy…but when it is at its best in a good season, the flavor of this medium large, productive release can approach Brandywine in intensity and quality. It just isn’t the most reliable performer, season to season, but when it’s on, it’s REALLY on!

Chocolate Champion - This selection has been lost in the sauce in my garden. The years I worked on it were quite successful, and to me it has better flavor potential than the similarly colored and sized Tasmanian Chocolate. It can be sensitive to foliage disease, and I clearly need to return to it soon to update and confirm my impressions.

Big Green Dwarf - I feel the same way about Big Green Dwarf as I do about Chocolate Champion - I’ve had some fine experiences with it but my memory is a bit hazy. It is one of our few yellow skinned green when ripe varieties, quite productive, yet also a bit vulnerable to foliage diseases on some seasons. So, this is another that needs a fresh look by me.

Wherokowhai *- Challenging to spell and pronounce but a fine addition to any garden, I don’t have to ponder long to put this on my favorites list. Those who love the indeterminate Lucky Cross should similarly crave this “dwarf version”. I’ve had few issues with productivity, health and most important, taste. It is time for me to grace my garden once more with this fine variety, one of our best.

Dwarf Blazing Beauty * - I did indeed return to it this year, and am happy that I did, because it is one of the very best flavored of all of our releases, particularly for those that like intensity and a bit of tartness. The rich orange color also makes it a relative rarity among our releases. It can, like many of our potato leaf selections, be a fit fussy about fruit set or foliage disease, but is well worth growing despite any challenges it presents for its flavor alone.

Boronia - I’ve had average tasting and superb tasting Boronia plants in my garden. Sharing the purple color with Dwarf Wild Fred and Rosella Purple, it tends a bit smaller, bears a bit more heavily and in a more concentrated manner, in my experiences. The internal structure is unique for this variety among the purples as well, with a very meaty center. Foliage disease can be a bit of an issue in really humid seasons. I don’t include it with the very best, but it is a very good tomato, and judging from some reviews on seed sales websites, there are those who love it.

Sean's Yellow Dwarf * - I always tend to underrate this one a bit - but it is pretty, really nice sized, super prolific, and the flavor sneaks up on me - it is very, very good, approaching excellent. This is actually a great variety to use to introduce people to the potential and characteristics of our dwarf varieties due to its reliability season to season. In fact, now that I’ve written this assessment, I’ve awarded it a late * and it is now in my favorites category.

Sweet Adelaide - Oh, this one is a bit of a mystery and conundrum. I’ve had spectacularly flavored ones, I’ve had somewhat bland ones, I’ve healthy productive plants and quickly diseased nearly total failures. Will the real Sweet Adelaide please stand up? It could be that this is one of our releases that is very susceptible to differing conditions. I will return to it every so often and hope that it provides the best of what it is capable of! I’d love to hear from others who have experiences with it.

Dwarf Pink Passion -This is simply a lovely, productive, quite early release from our project that is a step removed from having a flavor that matches its other attributes, in my experiences with it. Still, it just may be that the best use for the variety is in sauces, roasting, pastes, and other forms of processing, rather than sliced and on sandwiches, or eaten alone. I like it very much.

Chocolate Lightning * - I just noticed that this one slipped off the list in my first post of this blog - so it is edited, and this important variety is now inserted where it belongs. I LOVE this variety, although it can be as finicky as some of our other temperamental offerings. The plant can be on the tall side (still a dwarf, but pretty stretched), the fruit hard to find in the dense foliage, set fruit late and be a shy yielder - some years are prolific, others less so. But the color, and the flavor, are outstanding and unique. It can also shift colors a bit, as I suspect that like others in the Beauty family the genetics are pretty complex and we probably didn’t stabilize this as much as we might have. The color should be a definite chocolate (not purple), with lots of vertical golden or greenish stripes. It is a “black” tomato, with dark crimson flesh and an intense, well balanced flavor.

Uluru Ochre * - When Patrina “discovered” this tomato, it was unique in the color possibilities - a “black orange” variety, matched by productivity and flavor, fortunately. As Cherokee Purple was a stretch for people when released back in 1993 (“you expect me to eat a tomato THAT color?”), this is a similar reach for traditional tomato color preferences. It really never disappoints, and it in the top tier of our work.

Sweet Scarlet Dwarf * - Of all of the traditional red colored tomatoes in our project, this stands out - in fact, of all of our releases, not matter what the color, it really does fit in with the very best. My only quibble is that it can be variable season to season, garden to garden, with respect to fruit set/yield, as well as susceptibility to disease. It is a clear favorite of mine, with an intense, complex, rich flavor that delivers a delightful tart kick.

Fred's Tie Dye - I love the color, and really, really like the flavor. In fact, in some seasons, it stands with the best..in others, falls a tad flat - or at least that’s what I recall. It’s been a few years since I’ve grown it and it is time for it to return to my garden. I have a sneaky feeling that I’ve underrated it, as it emerged when interesting leads were popping out left and right.

Dwarf Purple Heart - Size, shape, color and productivity are not at all in question - this is a vigorous plant, the large heart shaped purple fruits are really impressive, and the flavor is, if not superb, very very good. My main issue is that disease can hit it hard in some seasons, in my garden. Yet - I know from reading reviews and from feedback directly to me that there are those who love it - which is gratifying. There is no way that all 106 of our releases will excite and excel for everyone, everywhere. One of the missing pieces of our project is just that - which varieties do best when grown….where???

Banksia Queen - This one clearly fits in my personal category of underappreciated/underrated, and undergrown. Also popping out during a very busy phase for our project, the few times I’ve grown it were not as memorable as I would like. Being a regular leaf release from the Tipsy family makes it quite unique. It is good sized, oblate, a pretty yellow, but I’ve noted it to be prone to catfacing and other irregular shapes. The flavor is fine, the fruit set can be unpredictable, and disease for me has been a bit of an issue. So let’s call this another to return to soon for a fresh look.

Summer Sweet Gold * - This is essentially my reselection from the very best of our Summertime Gold selections, and I aimed for smooth oblate form, a nice medium yellow color with a faint blush, and superb flavor. It may indeed be identical to some seed lots of Summertime Gold, but so many of those were looking too much like Dwarf Mr Snow, hence my effort to improve our work (hopefully). It is certainly a wonderful tomato, one of the best of our releases.

Dwarf Golden Heart - I feel the same about this as I do Dwarf Pink Passion…it is attractive, early and prolific, and just misses inclusion into the top selections because of a lack of flavor intensity and interest to my palate. It also doesn’t always show as distinct a heart shaped form, so could be a candidate for reselection work. For those who want volume for sauce and canning, it is a great choice.

Bundaberg Rumball - We had this one identified and named very early on, but due to its smaller size, took a bit of time to be “finished”. For those looking for a super productive saladette tomato type in an interesting chocolate color with very good flavor, this is your tomato. I like them skewered and grilled best.

Sarandipity - Poor Sara (my daughter) - I went and named a tomato for her based on its visual interest, but she bemoans the fact that it just isn’t in the top tier for flavor. I agree, but that doesn’t make it one to ignore. It is lovely, shaped perfectly for skewering and grilling, canning or salads, and is actually very tasty - just not up there with the best. It seems to have good disease tolerance, yields very well, and comes on early. It is actually very well worth growing!

Jerusalem Artichokes happily flowering (they volunteer every year)

Jerusalem Artichokes happily flowering (they volunteer every year)

So, there you have it - my honest assessment of another batch of our releases. I hope you find this illuminating and interesting…stay tuned for part 3 very soon - these are fun blogs to write!

Unusual portulaca from my friend Ralph - both colors show up on the same plant.

Unusual portulaca from my friend Ralph - both colors show up on the same plant.

Pondering our Dwarf Tomato Project releases - my revised impressions and plans - part 1

Peak Harvest in mid-late July. Alas, this type of pic is but a memory!

Peak Harvest in mid-late July. Alas, this type of pic is but a memory!

August - the end of my productive gardening season (particularly early this year due to the intensity of the heat and humidity - the harvest was so generous but so concentrated and quick!), is a good time to begin to take stock - look back a bit, and think ahead…but, again, just a bit. There is still a driveway to clean up, makes sense of, and in some cases, harvest.

We conceived the Dwarf Tomato Project in 2005, rolled up our sleeves and really dug soon after, and began releasing our discoveries in 2010. Nine years later, with 106 or so varieties listed in seed catalogs and many more on the cusp of release, I think it is a good time to take them in batches and provide my latest impressions. I got to try lots of new releases this year, and am mighty impressed - so I can now add those alongside my long time favorites.

Let’s consider this part 1, where I will cover releases from 2010-2012, 17 of our varieties. Those marked with an asterisk (*) are my favorites to grow and eat.

Dwarf Jade Beauty * - I’ve grown it often, and though it is not a very large tomato, it is productive, resists disease well for me and is simply delicious. Our green when ripe dwarfs are really fine!

Dwarf Beryl Beauty * - I alternate this with Dwarf Jade Beauty and Dwarf Kelly Green as similarly sized, green fleshed, delicious tomatoes. Beryl is a bit larger than Jade, and I’ve noted a more pronounced pink blush at the blossom end. The foliage is also slightly different, being more rugose, though both it and Jade are potato leaf.

Dwarf Emerald Giant * - Another of my favorites of all of our releases, and to me, very close to being a “dwarf growing version” of the father of the Sneezy family, Green Giant. It isn’t quite as large, and isn’t quite as sweet, but it is to me one of our best creations. It yields well more consistently for me than Summertime Green.

Summertime Green * - When compared to similarly sized Dwarf Emerald Giant, it is not quite as oblate and is regular, rather than potato, leaf. I’ve not grown it in a few years, which is a shame, since it is simply delicious - I actually find the flavor a tiny bit fuller and more complete than Emerald Giant.

Rosella Purple * - I remember being shocked when a purple tomato popped up from one of Patrina’s pink X red crosses, but that’s what we have! Rosella Purple is, I suspect, one of the most widely grown of our dwarfs, and is a great ambassador for our project. It looks and tastes like Cherokee Purple, and is similarly sized, on a nice compact dwarf growing plant. I’ve grown it many times and love the variety. One thing I’ve noted is that foliage disease can hit it pretty hard in some years, due to its dense growth and heavy fruit set.

Tasmanian Chocolate - Though the size, yield and color are impressive and it gets many great comments, it just has never tantalized my taste buds nearly as much as most of our other releases. I am delighted so many enjoy it, and think it is time to return to it for another try. It is another of the dwarfs that can get pretty hard with foliage disease.

Summertime Gold - Though this was one of our initial releases, some remaining instability has created a bit of confusion. It was reselected and re-released as Summer Sweet Gold, as some samples of the released Summertime Gold looked essentially like Dwarf Mr. Snow. No matter what its true identity, it is always delicious. At some point, a comparison between Summertime Gold, Summer Sweet Gold, Summer Sunrise, Dwarf Mr. Snow and Dwarf Sweet Sue would be very useful to see if we are maintaining the differences.

Dwarf Mr. Snow * - I simply love this ivory colored good sized, productive release because there is a distinctive tartness to the flavor, not all that common in large fruited tomatoes (many of which tend to the sweet side). It stood out at one of our Tomatopalooza events as one of the best tasting tomatoes at the tasting.

Dwarf Wild Fred * - One that is near and dear to me, as it is named for my dad Wilfred, it is very similar in color and size to Rosella Purple. I’ve not grown it nearly often enough, and really need to do some comparative grow outs and tastings of our various purple fruited releases. The year that I selected it, the size potential from our dwarf project showed itself right off the bat. My impression is that the flavor intensity is just slightly lesser when compared to Rosella Purple, but this is an impression that needs to be revisited.

Perth Pride - One of our saladette sized dwarfs, Perth Pride really catches your attention due to the intense tartness. This is another dwarf I’ve not grown very often, but it yields well, but is best picked prior to full ripeness due to its tendency to crack. Perth Pride was one of the best tomatoes as judged by Tomatopalooza attendees at one of our tasting events.

Iditarod Red - One of our earlier ripening dwarfs, I consider this a reliable saladette types with a heavy early fruit set. Never the best flavored tomato in the garden, its earliness, vigor and high yield make it very useful to grow. It is another I’ve not grown often in recent years.

Yukon Quest - This is another early ripening dwarf that can produce some pretty good sized, sweet pink tomatoes. It is also another that hasn’t graced my garden recently.

Sleeping Lady - A continuing theme, this is another early ripening variety that yields very well, with variably sized tasty chocolate colored tomatoes. It joins the list of varieties I’ve not focused on recently.

Dwarf Kelly Green * - This is the medium sized, green fleshed gem with regular leaf foliage, unlike the potato leaf Beryl or Jade Beauty it is related to (the Sneezy family). It is prolific, healthy and delicious.

Dwarf Arctic Rose - Similar to Yukon Quest, this is a very good sweet pink tomato that comes on early. I really need to do a comparative grow out, as the original intent was that one of the two was more compact in growth habit. I’ve not grown it in some years, so it is time for it to return to my garden.

Dwarf Sweet Sue * - To me, this is simply one of the best. It should be medium sized, vary from smooth oblate to more round, have a medium yellow color with a distinct pinkish blush at the blossom end when very ripe. Mostly, it should delight the taste buds with its sweetness and intensity. I’ve seen selections that are not yellow enough, too large, or too oblate. This one is very special…and it is named for my wife!

Summer Sunrise - I’ve never been terribly lucky growing this selection. The tomatoes I’ve had from the variety are simply delicious. I’ve battled disease and yield issues, and I should give it another try soon. There should be a distinction between this and Summertime Gold (now, Summer Sweet Gold), though it is subtle.

In summary, the above initial releases contain lots of favorites. The yellow, white and greens come from the Sneezy family - created when Patrina crossed Green Giant with Golden Dwarf Champion. David Lockwood, a most wonderful early project year volunteer from Australia that sadly left the earth when way too young, did lots of the initial dwarf hunting and his first finds created lots of the excitement about our project, because they essentially confirmed our hypothesis - that it was possible to create great new dwarf varieties that had the size, flavor and color interest of indeterminate varieties. Already, back in 2006, we could see the beginnings of “mission accomplished”!

Promising heart shaped lead, purple with green stripes, from the Hearty line. No name yet…but tasty and gorgeous!

Promising heart shaped lead, purple with green stripes, from the Hearty line. No name yet…but tasty and gorgeous!

2019 Season Update and Analysis part 2

Major garden reorganization happening in early August - bye to the small grow bag indeterminates, severe pruning time for the dwarfs. Harvesting and regular watering and feeding continue.

Major garden reorganization happening in early August - bye to the small grow bag indeterminates, severe pruning time for the dwarfs. Harvesting and regular watering and feeding continue.

Blogging from the beach - what fun! We are in the midst of Topsail Island Family Vacation 3 (a lovely tradition we hope to keep going for as long as possible). After three days of heat and humidity, sun and sea and sand, kayaking and walking, it is a perfect time to keep cool indoors and return to pondering this year’s fascinating garden.

In the last blog I went through some data on first ripe fruit from transplant dates. Now I’d like to discuss tomato quality and dwarf tomato project results (both with released varieties and work in progress).

Always late, always worth waiting for - Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom

Always late, always worth waiting for - Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom

First - considering indetermiante tomato varieties

  • the following rated 9 out of 10 in flavor: Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, Stump of the World, Yellow Brandywine, Green Giant, Casey’s Pure Yellow, Lucky Cross, Sun Gold, and Fruity.

  • Rating 8 were JD Special C Tex, Cherokee Purple, Cherokee Chocolate, Cherokee Green, Indian Stripe, Mexico Midget, Hibor, Sun Lucky, Blue’s Bling (both tall and shorter - possibly dwarf - versions), Berkeley Tie Dye, Lillian’s Yellow X Zlutu Kytice F1 hybrid, Little Lucky, Abraham Green, Abraham Purple, “not” Carbon (pink fruited), Striped Sweetheart, Great White, Aunt Ruby’s German Green and Roman Figun.

  • In the 7-7.5 category are Egg Yolk, Andrew Rahart’s Jumbo Red, Redmon Giant, Aker’s West Virginia, Nepal, Azoychka, Swamp Sweet, Kocher volunteer cherry, Mackey Ferry cherry, KBX, Black Krim, Honor Bright, Black from Tula, Italian Heirloom, Velvet Red, MMT, Abraham Lincoln, Surprise, Civil War, Russian, Variegated, and Wapsinicon Peach.

  • 6-6.5 ranked tomatoes were Matchless, Peak of Perfection, Bartelly Cherry, Overman family heirloom, Peach Blow Sutton, “not” Mocha Stripe and Japanese Trifele Black.

Another that tends to be later for me, but much loved….Dwarf Blazing Beauty

Another that tends to be later for me, but much loved….Dwarf Blazing Beauty

Dwarf, microdwarf and determinate variety tomato flavor rankings:

  • In the 9 category are Dwarf Sweet Sue and Dwarf Blazing Beauty

  • Ranked 8 - 8.5 are Beastly potato leaf yellow heart from 6838, Dwarf Emerald Isle potato leaf green flesh from T13-78, Teensy yellow, Choppy ivory with pale stripes from 5552, Scotty regular leaf, normal foliage, pink and gold striped heart from 6702, Freezy oblate purple with green stripes from 5550, Beauty green with purple stripes from 12-179, Fancy both regular and potato leaf from T13-71 pale orange, Vince’s Haze, Velvet Night, Sarah’s Red, Maura’s Cardinal, Egypt Yellow, Parfait, and Hannah’s Prize

  • Ranked 7-7.5 are Hearty purple heart with green stripes 6542, Dwarf Speckled Heart 6530, Taxi, Microdwarfs 6627 (prolific chocolate tear drop with green stripes) and 6628 (more compact round large chocolate cherry with green stripes), Tiny Tim scalloped 6630 (came out round, not scalloped), Teensy Pink (ended up ivory), Chocolate, Purple (ended up large green when ripe cherry), and Green, Buzzy pink and gold striped cherry, Beauty shades of green with deep crimson veining from 11-152, Scotty yellow potato leaf white to pink hearts from 6702, Scotty yellow regular leaf medium large red oblate from 6697, Pink Ink (which turned out ivory), Fancy 13-88 regular leaf 3 oz white, Beastly regular leaf which turned out much like Dwarf Speckled Heart but with a rather hard core, Scotty normal color regular leaf foliage medium red oblate from 6697, Ivory Ink, Sweetie red cherry, 5 Emerald Isle selections - potato leaf green flesh from 14-60, potato leaf green flesh with orange core from 14-79, regular leaf green flesh with orange core from 14-59, potato leaf green flesh from 14-79 and regular leaf green flesh from 13-78 - none of these showed distinct heart shaped, though a few tended to do so; Sunny’s Pear, Dwarf Tiger Eye, Bendigo Dawn, Bendigo Drop, Quarter Century, Melanie’s Ballet, Jasmine Yellow, Sneaky Sauce, Cream Sausage, Andy’s Forty, Grandpa Gary’s Green, Mystic Lady

The above is really quite unprecedented in recent gardens - so many excellent flavors, so few disappointments…..and all of this despite having to water often to keep the plants as stress-free as possible in our oven-hot, humid summer. Of everything grown, only a taste of Ann’s Dusky Rose and Laura’s Bounty remain (courtesy of deer theft of the initial set of tomatoes on the plants).

What comes next is for me to assess my Dwarf Tomato Project discoveries and results against not only our high expectations for future releases, but results of the many people growing test plants. Thus, though the harvest will soon be coming to a close, the work continues…and is more about analysis and decisions than harvesting, tasting and seed saving.

Full set of the Dwarf Emerald Isle candidate work. So many delicious green fleshed tomatoes (with two of them with distinct orange cores - one of them is essentially release Dwarf Parfait).

Full set of the Dwarf Emerald Isle candidate work. So many delicious green fleshed tomatoes (with two of them with distinct orange cores - one of them is essentially release Dwarf Parfait).

Tomatoes galore! Updates on the harvest and season to date. Part 1.

July 19 harvest

July 19 harvest

It has been a rather overwhelming month of July. Between speaking events, the regular watering that goes with endless heat and humidity, a very welcome family visit (ongoing, culminating in a beach trip next week), and a huge and relentless tomato harvest, it is hard to even ponder where July has gone…but essentially gone it is!

Let’s start with some garden statistics to get a sense of the relative success of this summer for my tomato efforts.

  • Number of tomato plants - 129

  • Number of tomato plants with seed saved (mostly dried, a few still fermenting) - 119

  • Number of tomato plants pending harvest for seed saving - 4

That is a pretty spectacular place to be by late July. Of the four pending harvest, one is a volunteer Mexico Midget that has ripe fruit but I’ve yet to harvest and save seed from, another is Dwarf Laura’s Bounty which was pretty much de-fruited by deer (but some small fruit are coming along near the top), and two are late planted Dwarf Ann’s Dusky Rose plum that have been relocated into my back yard. I feel really fortunate that so many things worked so well this year.

Yellow Brandywine, KBX, Casey’s Pure Yellow and Lucky Cross, showing very subtle color differences

Yellow Brandywine, KBX, Casey’s Pure Yellow and Lucky Cross, showing very subtle color differences

Taking a look at the range of maturity dates (days to first ripe from transplant):

  • First to ripen - 30 days - a volunteer cherry variety from my gardening friend Sue Kocher

  • Last to ripen - 94 days - Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom

Maturity dates (DTM) for my “flavor champion”, favorite varieties in my 2019 garden (all in straw bales)

  • Cherokee Purple - 69 days

  • Cherokee Chocolate - 85 days

  • Cherokee Green - 77 days

  • Green Giant - 78 days

  • Yellow Brandywine - 74 days

  • Azoychka - 65 days

  • Andrew Rahart’s Jumbo Red - 77 days

  • Aker’s West Virginia - 89 days

  • Lucky Cross - 75 days

  • Stump of the World - 78 days

Maturity dates for a sampling of the released dwarfs I am growing this year (all in 5 gallon black grow bags)

  • Sweet Sue - 70 days

  • Blazing Beauty - 71 days

  • Mandurang Moon - 65 days

  • Sunny’s Pear - 72 days

  • Tiger Eye - 63 days

  • Vince’s Haze - 66 days

  • Hannah’s Prize - 65 days

  • Jasmine Yellow - 64 days

  • Egypt Yellow - 64 days

  • Sarah’s Red - 65 days

Overall fruit set has been excellent considering the consistently high heat. Plant health has been excellent due to the relative lack of rain (meaning dry foliage). Fruit flavors have been uniformly superb, among the best of my experience. It is positively joyful.

Only two plants were lost to disease, in both cases Fusarium wilt (presumably seed-borne) - Nepal and Azoychka, though fruit was harvested and tasted prior to the plants’ demise.

There were a few color surprises, indicative of crossed seed or unstable selections. Two tomatoes from USDA seed are obviously crossed; Matchless (a mix of dwarf and indeterminate seedlings, and the indeterminate plant produced quite small red tomatoes), and Peak of Perfection (small round red, rather than the hoped for large pink). Carbon colored up pink instead of purple, and Mocha Stripe came out as a pink tomato, rather than chocolate with green stripes. Abraham Brown - seeds from last year’s chocolate fruit - came out purple.

In Part 2, I will discuss particular flavors and the work on the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, some new heirlooms sent to me, present much more on flavors of various varieties, and talk about attempted crosses (and a few that may have succeeded). I hope to get to Part 2 over the next week or so.

A wonderful recent Dwarf Tomato Project release, Dwarf Tiger Eye

A wonderful recent Dwarf Tomato Project release, Dwarf Tiger Eye

Spectacular tomatoes and incessant heat and humidity - are they mutually exclusive? Some thoughts...

View of the pepper/eggplant/bean section of the garden on July 15. The visibility of the bell peppers is due to deer browsing of the plant tops.

View of the pepper/eggplant/bean section of the garden on July 15. The visibility of the bell peppers is due to deer browsing of the plant tops.

It is hot - it is so, so hot. Actually, we here in the Raleigh NC area are in a stretch where it is hard to conceive of even going outside to spend hours tending the garden. Tasks inevitably slip - the staking and tying become undisciplined, chaos begins to ensue. Spotted, diseased lower foliage remains instead of the recommended removal. The rare, odd down burst thunderstorm in the evening brings unwanted rearrangement of the plants. Yet - it is hot, the container and straw bale plants can’t make it through full ways without watering. Tomatoes go from green to blush to ripe fast, meaning cracking. Critters get nosy and begin to probe the defenses.

Yes, all of that is happening, but it is also turning out to be a pretty spectacular gardening season. The key is to focus on the wonderful that is happening, and accept the lack of general order, never mind perfection.

Many stories happening here, but mostly, tomatoes on the counter picked half ripe, but ripening quickly

Many stories happening here, but mostly, tomatoes on the counter picked half ripe, but ripening quickly

Gardeners in hot, humid areas are likely noticing several things. First, tomato plants grow fast. The cages and stakes assumed to be adequate are likely to be over-topped already. The decision of if or what to prune, if or what to top often get overwhelmed by the effort in the heat and other garden tasks (hand up here). Gusty storms then put so much pressure on fruit-laden tall vines that bending occurs, and perhaps snapping of the stake itself. I’ve experienced all of this over the years.

Second - gardeners will also notice (as evidenced by FB, IG and Twitter comments, as well as emails) that flowers are dropping without setting fruit. Many large fruited beefsteak type heirlooms in the 1 pound and greater range really don’t care much for 90 degree and above, and add in elevated humidity and those blossoms on impacted varieties open, fail to pollinate, shrivel and drop off, leaving fruitless gaps along the stem.

Upper region of Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom showing the effects of blossom drop

Upper region of Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom showing the effects of blossom drop

Lower area on Lillian’s showing good fruit set- blossoms opened during relatively cooler temps

Lower area on Lillian’s showing good fruit set- blossoms opened during relatively cooler temps

Cherry tomatoes, golf-ball sized tomatoes, right up to medium sized varieties are far less fussy with fruit set temperature and will drop blossoms much less. The main things you can do if you are growing the monster sized tomatoes and forecast temperatures are 90 and above during flowering are to gently flick the flower clusters once the flowers open a few times each day (or use an electric toothbrush to gently vibrate the blossoms). Some may find success using a shade cloth over the plants during mid-day; I can’t personally comment on its effectiveness, as it doesn’t impact humidity, though may offer a few degrees of relief. Choice of tomato type will have the greatest impact on success, but of course, those of us who are smitten by the one pound colorful super delicious heirlooms will stubbornly stick with those and go with using season shifting strategies (planting out so that flowering occurs before or after the extreme heat) to get our tomato fix. The other thing to focus on - keep the plants growing well (well watered and fed, remove blemished foliage) and don’t overprune suckers. You want those plants to continue to flower so that as the temperatures start to ease, flowers will set fruit and you will get a nice later summer harvest.

My parting words for this blog - don’t let your plants get stressed - indicated by wilting during the hot part of the day. Keep them well watered. And keep them well fed. And please - remove that nasty looking lower blemished foliage - it spreads the fungal spores quickly. It isn’t fun, but eating tomatoes is certainly a LOT of fun!

A riot of colors from plants from the Bouquet hot pepper mini project

A riot of colors from plants from the Bouquet hot pepper mini project

The glorious, out of control, impending mess of the mid-summer garden

One of several “improvisations” - keeping an Egg Yolk plant somewhat upright using a ladder!

One of several “improvisations” - keeping an Egg Yolk plant somewhat upright using a ladder!

Once again the phrase “best laid plans…” comes to mind. Each garden is like New Year’s Day, filled with resolutions - “I will pay more attention to what my plants are telling me”. “I will space my garden out more”. “I will plant less plants so that I can attend to those I do plant more successfully”. And, my favorite broken resolution, “I will sucker my plants, make them simpler to stake, and top them when they reach the top of the stake”. Yeah, right.

Another improv - using a large box to keep developing tomatoes off of the ground

Another improv - using a large box to keep developing tomatoes off of the ground

I am really not complaining…just poking fun at myself a bit. To tell the truth, this has been a most delightful start to the harvest phase of the 2019 garden season. A friend came by to see it the other day and I told her “the garden will never look better than today - it is downhill from here”. I was correct - tipping plants, lower foliage disease, the effects of extreme heat and humidity are now taking their toll, as the picking commences.

I think of the coming weeks as the “keep it watered and fed, do the best that is possible with keeping the plants tied and upright and healthy, and pick those ripe tomatoes and enjoy” part of the experience. It will all go by way too fast, as the blur of daily watering, weekly feeding, regular harvesting, and eating/cooking/seed saving/preserving make each day seem like a mere few hours. Oh, what fun! And we get to do it anew every year!

Area rearranged by weather (windy storm) and heavy plants laden with tomatoes that are too much for my support system

Area rearranged by weather (windy storm) and heavy plants laden with tomatoes that are too much for my support system

A few stats for the 4th of July - every plant growing has excellent fruit set…eggplants are ready to harvest and peppers are right behind them. I’ve picked tomatoes from 28 different plants (there are another 100 or so yet to ripen a tomato), with Taxi, Azoychka, Indian Stripe, Cherokee Purple and a heart shaped pink striped variety from the Scotty family (dwarf tomato project work) as the initial non-cherry tomatoes to ripen. Flavors of nearly everything are just delightful.

Aside from working in the garden, I am getting ready for events at Logan, Acme, the Raleigh History Museum, Duke Garden and Longwood garden - all details are on my speaking page, found here. I am particularly happy with the timing of the local events…it is tomato time and I hope to do some small tastings at each!

I hope those of you on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter are following my #DailyPlant2019 posts in which I feature one tomato, pepper or eggplant type daily. I am @nctomatoman on Twitter and Instagram, and my Facebook author page is craiglehoullier. Follow along and comment freely on what you see!

One more thing to add - it amazes me to think of the time that has gone by since Epic Tomatoes was released (December 2014) - somehow, nearly 5 years have passed. My friends at Storey Publishing shared a bit of data with me on my books that staggered me a bit - there are more than 60,000 copies of Epic Tomatoes in print (it will soon be in a 6th reprinting) - it has hundreds of reviews on Amazon and Good Reads (sincere thanks to those of you who went through the effort of providing a review! It is never too late to do so, and it helps me improve as a writer to receive and read your reviews, so if you have not done so, please share your thoughts). As for Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales, there are nearly 20,000 copies in print and the next reprint will be its 4th. Thanks to you all for your support - it means a lot.

Summer squash growing well in straw bales

Summer squash growing well in straw bales

The first Indian Stripe.  Great internal structure, color, texture and flavor!

The first Indian Stripe. Great internal structure, color, texture and flavor!

Yellow Brandywine, Azoychka and Matchless

Yellow Brandywine, Azoychka and Matchless