Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dreaming of Tomatoes....

In about a week I will start sowing seeds for this year's tomatoes. I feel a bit giddy with anticipation. Of all the things that we grow here at Ostman Farm, nothing generates the intense interest and passion that the tomatoes do. I'm not sure quite what it is about this plant that so gets into our blood and makes us go to all kinds of lengths to produce that Holy Grail of the Northwest gardening experience: The Ripe Homegrown Tomato. I have never fought so hard for each and every ripe fruit I get, and the effort makes success, when it happens, all the sweeter. It's the taste, I suppose, that drives us. Nothing, nothing tastes quite like a vine-ripened, homegrown tomato, eaten moments after it is picked.

We've been growing tomatoes here on the Northwest Oregon Coast for a while now, and are beginning to get a feel for which varieties have the best chance of success here. We owe a lot to the great tomato breeders in Russia and Eastern Europe who have given us some of our most successful ones- Stupice from the former Czechoslovakia, Black Prince and Paul Robeson from Russia to name a few of our favorites. We're also lucky to have in our state the wonderful Dr. James Baggett at Oregon State University, who has bred some of the best tomatoes for our challenging climate, favorites like Oregon Spring, Legend, and Siletz, the last of which we are trying out for the first time this year- Thanks Dr. Baggett!

Early season, short season, smaller fruited varieties that have a better chance of ripening- these are the ones that we come back to again and again. We throw a few larger, long-ish season varieties into our mix just because we all like a challenge, and we have a surprising number of Brandywine fans out here on the coast, ourselves included. We all accept that there will be a lot of hand-holding and pleading involved, and we will be pathetically satisfied with a pretty meager crop of ripe tomatoes, but let me tell you, being able to boast that you got a Brandywine to ripen in Seaside, Oregon is nothing to sneeze at.

I always grow some Green Zebras too, which is one of my very favorite tomatoes ever. I find it beautiful (green is my favorite color), and one of the tastiest tomatoes I have ever grown. It is gorgeous in a mixed tomato salad, or sliced in a layered tomato tart. I don't know if it is just too weird for people out here, but we hardly ever sell any. Still, each year I grow about ten of them, and bring them to market and try to convert just one more person to the Green Zebra Fan Club.

So, here is our list of what tomato plants we are growing here on Ostman Farm this year. There are a few new ones (to us) that we are trying out this year- Silvery Fir, Siletz, Plum Lemon, Hezhou, Alaska, and Reisentraube. And there are the returning favorites- Stupice, Sungold, Paul Robeson, Principe Borghese, Brandywine and Yellow Pear to name a few. And Green Zebra, of course!

For our local customers, the tomatoes are usually ready to sell by the first week in May, which is when the Astoria Sunday Market starts. They may be ready to go a bit earlier, so e mail us or give us a call if you want to pick some up in late April, in case you have a greenhouse or a cold frame and want to get them going. We will hold plants for you if we can arrange for a firm pick up date either here at the farm, or at the Astoria Market, but we can't hold plants indefinitely, so if you want to be sure you get the varieties you want, get them early before we sell out!

Everyone keep your fingers crossed for better summer weather this year....



Sungold       65 days, Hybrid, Indeterminate, Early-season
We could not imagine a summer without Sungold tomatoes. Our favorite cherry tomato by far, this vigorous vine produces abundant clusters of deep orange-cherry tomatoes that explode with tangy sweetness. Great in salads, if any make it back to the kitchen. Most of ours get eaten right off the plant. Bred to be resistant to Fusarium and Verticillium wilt.

Black Cherry       64 days, Indeterminate, Early-season, Organic seed
This tall, vigorous plant produces abundant crops of 1” deep mahogany brown fruits. The only truly ‘black’ cherry tomato around, it is delicious and sweet, with the rich flavor that black tomatoes are known for. Very popular with Ostman Farm customers, this one always sells out early, and for good reason- tasty and beautiful is hard to beat.

Riesentraube       80 days, Heirloom, Indeterminate, Mid-season, Organic Seed
This is an old European heirloom that was grown by the Pennsylvania Dutch as early as 1856. Its name roughly translates to: ‘Giant bunches of grapes’, and this variety was indeed once commonly used to make tomato wine. (Who Knew? Look it up online for recipes, we are SO going to try making some this summer!) Reisentraube is a generous producer, with of big clusters of 20-40 1”, pointy ended, tasty red fruit. I can’t wait.

Sebastopol     75 days, Heirloom, Indeterminate, Mid-season, Organic seed
Another cherry with lots of potential for our coastal climate, this beauty originates from an elderly lady in Sebastopol who grew them in her garden for 70 years. A large cherry tomato, it produces 3/4” deep red fruits that are delicious to snack on, or in salads. The seed comes to us by way of the great folks at TomatoFest. They describe it as “well-suited for cooler, coastal regions, or short season gardens and areas with foggy summer climates.” Ah, summer on the Northwest Coast…


Yellow Pear      75 days, Indeterminate, Mid-season, Organic Seed
This old-time favorite is a great addition to your tomato garden. It produces an abundance of small 1-2” pear-shaped fruits that are a lovely deep yellow color. Mild tasting and low in acid like all yellow tomatoes, it has good flavor and looks great mixed with other color tomatoes in a salad. Good for snacking, beautiful in salads, popular with all ages of gardeners.

Principe Borghese      80 days, Heirloom, Indeterminate, Mid-season
In Tuscany this is the preferred tomato to grow for drying, and it is our favourite one for that use as well, although here on the Oregon coast we have to use a dehydrator rather than the sun.  Princepe Borghese produces generous clusters of small 1-2” plum-shaped red fruits that have a nice tomato flavor when fresh. The flavor is greatly intensified when dried.

Thai Pink Egg     75 days, Determinate, Mid-season, Organic seed
A most popular tomato in the Kingdom of Thailand, this lovely little grape tomato is gaining a strong following in America for its abundant production of dark pink egg-shaped fruits. The 1-2” fruits burst with candy sweet flavor, and they resist cracking, even in heavy rain seasons. A beautiful, tasty and unusual tomato.

Plum Lemon      72 Days, Heirloom, Indeterminate, Mid-season
Seeds for this tomato were first collected by Kent Whealy, founder of the wonderful Seed Savers Exchange, from an elderly seedsman at Moscow’s Bird Market during the August 1991 coup. Another great cold-tolerant tomato out of Russia, Plum Lemon produces 3” long tomatoes with a pointy end that really do resemble lemons. Sweet and mild yet full of flavor, it is a solid, meaty fruit good for both salads and sauce.


Stupice     52 days, Heirloom, Indeterminate, Extra-early season,  Organic Seed
This potato-leaf heirloom from Czechoslovakia is one of our most reliable tomatoes. It is a cold-tolerant tomato that bears an abundant crop of small 2-3” fruits over a long season. For us, it is the first one to bear fruit, and the last one to still be producing in October. Delicious sweet/acid flavor balance. Grows very well on the North Coast, very popular with Ostman Farm customers who often tell us that this is the first tomato they have ever grown successfully here on the Northwest coast.

Oregon Spring       60 days, Sort of Determinate, Early season,  Organic seed
The classic tomato for Oregon! Developed at OSU by Dr. James Baggett, this tomato has earned a strong following in Oregon for its tolerance of cool summers. Small 2-3” fruits are produced on bushy plants that can still grow pretty big, so plan on supporting them. The early fruit production means more chance of ripe fruit- so you can enjoy the sweet, juicy, tasty tomatoes all summer long.

Legend      68 days, Determinate, Early-season, Organic seed
Another one of the many great tomatoes to come out of Dr. James Baggett’s breeding program at Oregon State University, Legend earns its place in our garden by producing a nice compact, bushy, determinate plant that fruits early in the season, giving the tomatoes as much time as possible to ripen. The 3-4 inch round fruits are red and flavorful, with a good balance of sweet and acid. Legend may not be as sexy as the Black Russians, but its a good, solid, dependable tomato plant. Bred to be resistant to late blight fungus.

Alaska      63 days, Heirloom, Semi-determinate, Early-season,  Organic seed
It’s called ‘Aljaska’ in Russian, which is where this tomato originates. Medium-sized, bushy plants produce a good yield of round, bright red ‘salad’ tomatoes- larger than a cherry-type, smaller than a beefsteak. This tomato has very good flavor for such an early producer. Rumored to be able to tolerate some wind, which would be great for here at the coast.

Hezhou      80 days, Heirloom, Indeterminate, Mid-season, Organic seed
This variety originates in Zhengjiang province in China, and was sent to Gary Ibsen of TomatoFest from a family farm there. It bears a good crop of 2” purple-red tomatoes, slightly plum shaped with a yummy sweet flavor on a compact though indeterminate vine. A tasty salad tomato, with good ripening potential in our coastal climate.

Siletz      52 days, Determinate, Extra early-season
Our friend Dan recommended we give Siletz a try this year, and if he could grow a decent tomato in his garden in Hammond, Oregon, then this one should do well anywhere! Siletz is another one out of Dr. Jim Baggett’s program at Oregon State University, and the word is that it produces and abundance of 8oz red fruits loaded with old-time flavor- something not all these bred-to-be-hardy tomatoes can offer. Dwarf, determinate plants make it easy to find a place for it in your garden. We are looking forward to trying this one.

Silvery Fir Tree      58 days, Determinate, Early season, Organic Seed
I have heard great things about this tomato, and I’m excited to be trying it out this year- it has great potential for us challenged tomato growers of the Northwest coast. Another early season Russian wonder, it grows into a compact, determinate plant- 24” tall at most. Recommended for containers and hanging baskets, the beautiful lacey grey-green foliage is most attractive. And the tomatoes? Heavy cropping, 3” roundish, red and tasty. If this is as good as they say, we might just be in luck this summer.


Paul Robeson      74 days, Heirloom, Indeterminate, Mid-season,  Organic Seed
This is one of our favorite tomatoes- tasty and beautiful. Bred by Moscow seedswoman Marina Danilenko, it is named for the acclaimed operatic artist and social activist of the 1920’s, Paul Robeson. The slightly flattened round fruits grow up to 4 inches. A deep burgundy red with dark-green shoulders when ripe, the flesh is dark red and delicious. This tomato won ‘Best in Show’ at the 2000 Carmel Tomato Fest, and we fully understand why.

Green Zebra      75 days, Heirloom, Indeterminate, Mid-season,  Organic Seed
One of my all time favorite tomatoes. Developed in 1985 by tomato breeder Tom Wagner, Green Zebra is considered an ‘heirloom’ among tomato growers for its unique qualities. The 2” round fruits ripens to a yellow-green gold with dark green stripes. The flesh is lime green, the flavor is tangy and delicious. Great mixed into salads or on a tomato tart.

Eva Purple Ball      70 days, Heirloom, Indeterminate, Mid-season,  Organic seed
We grow this one in honor of the Ostman’s daughter Eva, and her granddaughter Eva Sofia. A gorgeous heirloom from the Black Forest region of Germany, dating from the 1800s, Eva Purple Ball produces round, 2-3” fruits that are a lovely dark pink color. This was a steady producer for us, with nice solid flavorful fruits that we enjoyed sliced on sandwiches, tossed into salads and tossed with pasta, loads of garlic, olive oil and fresh basil. Yum!

Brandywine      80 days, Indeterminate, Mid-season, Organic seed
A tomato with it’s own cult following, Brandywine is the famous Amish heirloom that has been grown since the 1800’s. This large, potato-leaf tomato plant produces beautiful reddish pink fruits that average 12 ounces, but have been know to grow up to 2 pounds. A challenge for the Oregon coast, as larger fruit is harder to ripen, but we love a challenge, and we know many of you do too! This one has to be tasted fresh off the vine to be believed.

Black Prince      70 days, Heirloom, Indeterminate, Mid-season,  Organic seed
This beauty hails from Siberia, and is one of the most justifiably popular black tomatoes grown today. The deep mahogany-red 2” round tomatoes burst with flavor and juice. An indeterminate yet well-behaved vine, it is a good producer here on the coast, and the smaller sized fruit means more chance of ripening out here. Great eaten fresh, cooked in sauce, sliced on a sandwich, or eaten straight off the vine.

Speckled Roman 85 days Indeterminate Mid-season Organic seed
Developed by Seed Savers Exchange member John Swenson, this gorgeous roma tomato comes from a fortuitous cross
between the tomatoes 'Antique Roman' and 'Banana Legs'. 'Speckled Roman' produces an abundance of 3-5" oblong fruits that are nice and meaty, full of flavor but not a lot of seeds. They make a great homemade tomato sauce, and are good for drying too. We love the crazy yellow striping patten that develops on the red skin as they ripen. The plant is moderately compact for an indeterminate vine, but will still need good support.