Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

288 Tomato Review 2023

October 20, 2023 Fred Hoffman Season 4 Episode 42
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
288 Tomato Review 2023
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Today, we compare notes with Davis, California nursery owner Don Shor, an avid tomato grower, about our 2023 tomato successes and failures. And, we check with the tomato trials done this past summer at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center. It’s a wide ranging conversation not only about hybrid and heirloom tomato varieties that were notable for size, flavor, production, vigor..or lack thereof… it also includes some great tips for growing and caring for your 2024 tomato garden, no matter which varieties you choose. 

Plus, we want to know your own tomato winners and losers of the summer of 2023. We’ll air your tomato thoughts in a future episode. 

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots, and Dave Wilson Nursery.  Let’s go!

Previous episodes, show notes, links, product information, and TRANSCRIPTS  at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, GardenBasics.net ,  also available at Buzzsprout.

Pictured: Rugby Tomatoes


Links:
Subscribe to the free, Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter https://gardenbasics.substack.com
Oct. 20, 2023 Newsletter: “The Benefits of Lingering in the Garden”
Flashback Episode: #260 “Raising Chicks and Hens”
Smart Pots https://smartpots.com/fred/
Dave Wilson Nursery https://www.davewilson.com/home-garden/
HeirloomRoses.com Add the code FRED20 at checkout for a 20% discount (good until 10/31/23)

Our Favorite Tomato Seed Catalogs:
Tomato Growers Supply Co.
Totally Tomatoes
Seeds n Such
TomatoFest
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (Rare Seeds)
Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Burpee Seeds

All About Farmer Fred:
The GardenBasics.net website

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http://farmerfredrant.blogspot.com

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GB  288 TRANSCRIPT Tomato Review 2023 


Farmer Fred  0:00  

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. It's made in the USA. Visit SmartPots.com slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's SmartPots.com/Fred.

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.



Farmer Fred

Today, we compare notes with Davis, California nursery owner Don Shor, an avid tomato grower, about our 2023 tomato successes and failures. And, we check with the tomato trials done this past summer at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center. It’s a wide ranging conversation not only about hybrid and heirloom tomato varieties that were notable for size, flavor, production, vigor..or lack therof… it also includes some great tips for growing and caring for your 2024 tomato garden, no matter which varieties you choose. 


This interview recently aired in the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter, but the response was so big, you should hear it as well, if you’re not a subscriber to the newsletter. Plus, we want to know your own tomato winners and losers of the summer of 2023. And We’ll air your tomato thoughts in a future episode. Today, We’re talking tomatoes!


We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots, and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!



2023 TOMATO REVIEW, Pt 1

Farmer Fred

Early Fall is an active time in our garden. We're busy removing declining summer vegetables and flowers. We’re cleaning up debris from the garden beds, maybe adding compost and mulch, and then planting either a cover crop or a cool season vegetable. 

But let's reminisce a bit. How was your 2023 garden? Specifically, how was your backyard tomato crop? Which varieties were successful, which tomatoes were a bust? Did you get hit by jalapeno gate with your tomatoes? It's a possibility, we'll find out. We're talking with Don Shor, he owns Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, California, an avid tomato grower as well. 

The tomatoes we're going to talk about were our successes and failures along with Don's customers’ successes and failures. But again, all gardening is local, so your results may vary. And Don, one way we may have varied from the rest of the country: unlike the rest of the country that had a lot of hot spells, we had a fairly mild summer.


Don Shor  2:49  

Yeah, I went back and crunched the data, which you can gather from the automated weather stations at the CIMIS website. And we had, in Davis, 13 days that hit 100 degrees or above. That's pretty average actually. And then we had 30 or 40 that were in the mid to upper 90s, which means not pollination weather, but still not a problem for tomato plants. They wouldn't be setting during those times. We had a lot of pollination weather this year. I know people always think we had a terribly hot summer but honestly, it was a pretty balmy pleasant summer here in the Sacramento Valley. And that means that at least half of our days between mid-May and mid-September, we had suitable weather for not just pollination, but fruit development. So it should have been a pretty good year for tomatoes. In fact, it should have been a really good year for tomatoes around the Sacramento Valley. And talking with customers, many people said things like, “Oh my best year ever for tomatoes, but…”. 


And then they would mention some one variety that didn't do well. Or “that wasn't what it was supposed to be”.  We can come back to that topic for sure. But in general, good yields across the board for most varieties, and even some heirlooms stood out as having good yields, which we don't really promise to people. So yeah, reflecting back, and this is one of the things I do like to do in October, is sit down with my database and the list of the tomatoes that I planted while I still can remember or even better, still walk out there and see how they're doing. And make notes about how things did because come next winter, we're buying seeds and getting going on planting things and your subjective memories aren't as good especially as you get older. So it's a good idea to make notes about these things.


Farmer Fred  4:26  

Yes, indeed. I always put in the date in my little garden diary here of the dates I plant the tomato plants and the days when I removed the tomato plants. And I think it was the earliest removal on record for my Sweet Million which is my favorite cherry tomato. I have planted that one, year after year after year, and it's always been very productive. Not this year. It got pulled out on September 10. And production was minimal. But Again, looking at the Sweet Million plant and the way it was producing tomatoes, it just looked odd to me. It didn’t  look right. “This doesn't look like a typical Sweet Million cherry tomato.” So we may, and this is another topic to come back to later on, we all may have been bamboozled a little bit.


Don Shor  5:19  

There's a couple more I know of, it wasn't what I planted. And we all know there were some seed mix ups. So some of my favorites, like the Chef's Choice series, especially Chef Choice Orange having become over the last several years, one of my all time favorite tomatoes. Well, it was a small red tomato this year. So clearly that wasn't Chef's Choice Orange, whatever the label may have said on the pot. There were some seed mix ups. Yes. So that one, unfortunately, did not rank highly, because it isn't what it was supposed to be. A little surprised that your Sweet Million was mismarked, but that is certainly possible as well. And I do have to say that chatting with Master Gardeners who come in and compare notes with me, plus they staff the Q&A table down at the farmers market in Davis, and we compare notes about what kind of questions they're getting. This year, if people came up to us or them and said I didn't have a real good year with my tomatoes, we start with two questions. One, are you using a drip irrigation system? Two: Do you have raised planters, because those were the common factors in plants that didn't do well, not because of drip irrigation per se, not because of raised planters per se. But because of the issues with those two things, such as not running drip systems long enough, so they weren't watering enough. And raised planters have the advantage of soil heating up for earlier planting. But the disadvantage is simply not retaining moisture, and not retaining nutrients. So those are two factors that I think were a problem for a lot of people this year. Most summers, we can just blame it on the weather for not getting a good yield, it was too hot. But this year, the weather was very cooperative, except for a very cool start that a lot of people did comment on, you know, if you planted on Fred Hoffman’s birthday this year (Apr. 28), it was a little chilly back then. And the soil really wasn't warm enough. So things got off to a slower start. But they did catch up and do well in general, but not if you weren't watering deeply. And not if you didn't have enough nutrients and moisture retention in your soil, which is a common problem with raised planters. 


Farmer Fred  7:04  

Actually, I did a little Don Shor-inspired tip on my tomatoes this year. Because if you're in the habit of starting your tomatoes from seed, you might be doing that in January and February. And  usually I time it to go in around April 28. But usually, and this isn't a surprise, that those tomatoes need to get in the ground way before April 28. Because they're getting a little cramped in small containers. You offered this suggestion, and I think it's a very good suggestion for people, especially if you go to the nursery and buy a six pack of plants and you don't plan on planting them for a while. Pot them up. Move them up to one gallon containers. And they will be a stronger, sturdier plant that will adapt to the situation a lot easier than those little, cramped, plants with squeezed roots.


Don Shor  7:55  

Yeah, keep them moving up. I mean, that's really important for any vegetables that you're buying. It's true. Now in the cool season, as you're buying some of the cole crops and things to go in the ground. Those little cell packs don't have much root zone. And so getting them into whatever is the appropriate bigger container with tomatoes, they're so vigorous and you can put them into a black one gallon nursery pot, put that out in a sunny location in middle of March or April, and it'll warm up and the plants will grow quite vigorously and you'll have an 18 to 24 inch plant when it goes in the ground. It'll be grown along just great. And my experience is that with soil at the right temperature, and proper management of irrigation, it doesn't miss a beat, they go right in and they just take right off from that much bigger pot than trying to hold them in little four inch pots on your porch until that perfect planting date. They get increasingly root bound. So I'm glad you adopted this practice and I highly recommended keep them moving up, to keep the roots growing, keep the top growing. And don't worry if they're getting tall. That's okay, you're gonna drop them down deep. I like to joke that I want to drop them down below the “gopher zone”, which is about the top 12 inches. That's where gophers are really active. So hey, if I can drop it below that I'm that much ahead of them too.


Farmer Fred  9:03  

I did that “move-up” test a little bit more in depth this year. Back beginning on April 7, I planted tomato plants twice. I planted two of them straight from the four inch container into the ground. And that was on April 7. And I took another one of those same plants, but put it in a one gallon container on April 7. But I waited to plant those on April 28, my birthday. So which produced tomatoes first? The ones planted on April 7? Or the ones planted on April 28? Turns out the first tomatoes that appeared, came on the ones that were from the transplants from the bigger containers, that were planted three weeks later on April 28.


Don Shor  9:43  

The more mature plants, right? Well, that's good. That's a nice little test right there. And I am concerned about that April 7 date. This year, the soil was still quite cold and it was it was very cool through spring for the most part, which a lot of people kind of forgot about. We like to give these rules of thumb about a particular date. But soil temperature is really, arguably, the most important part of it. And it was still kind of chilly back there in early April. I've got a customer who always plants on March 15. He's an older guy, I'm not going to argue with him. It's worked for him for years. He covers them up with little hot caps if it gets cold. And he complained to me that they just didn't take off this year. Well, I'm not surprised. March 15 is too early, in my opinion to begin with, and then add on a very cool month of April and even into May. They would have been better off sitting in containers, the right size containers, a bit longer for sure.


Farmer Fred  10:35  

Well, because I have raised beds, I wasn't too worried about soil temperature. When I planted those on April 7, the soil temperature in the raised beds was 50 degrees, which is the minimal temperature necessary. Bare minimum. And by April 28, In the raised beds, the soil temperature had risen up to around 60 degrees.


Don Shor  10:55  

You should probably bring people up to date on how you fertilize them because one of the biggest issues we encounter with raised beds is that they simply don't hold nutrients well so when you put them in the ground in that raised planter do you add something for them?


Farmer Fred  11:09  

This is what I do in the fall. After I've taken out the former plants and cleaned a bed, which I'm in the process of it right now, I will mix in, in a four by eight bed, I will mix in probably six cubic feet of worm castings and just work that into the soil. Then, I will get some organic compost and put that on top of the soil. And then on top of that compost, I have shredded leaves that go on. I've kept shredded leaves since last year in a Smart Pot compost bag, which is a 100 gallon bag. So I have a ready-made supply of decomposing leaf mold ready to go on those beds. And that improves the soil. It improves the moisture retention and of course it's building up the soil biology as well.


Don Shor  12:00  

So you're just putting this on the surface and then not planting anything onto that? Or do you plant a cover crop on top of that.


Farmer Fred  12:06  

No,  I usually don't do that to a great extent. Although I do some cover crops, but not much. I find it's a lot easier and I don't mind staring at shredded leaves on a raised bed all winter.


Don Shor  12:15  

Yeah, you're adding nitrogen actually, with worm castings. They're not cheap, but they're really really good for cation exchange capacity. They retain the nutrients and they help retain moisture. They're a lot denser than most of the organic things that people add. So you've got the best of everything there. You've got organic material, you've got nitrogen, and you've got things that will help the soil retain those things for the next season. So that pretty well covers your nitrogen needs, I would imagine, for the following summer.



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Farmer Fred  12:48 

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2023 TOMATO REVIEW, Pt. 2


Farmer Fred

Let's get back to our conversation with nurseryman Don Shor about the best tomatoes and the not-so-best tomatoes of 2023. A lot of it has to do with soil preparation. That includes wintertime cover crop planting in order to have a more nutritious soil for 2024.


Don Shor  15:08  

I've done cover crops obviously, I like to just stick in fava beans and things like that and it started raining. And of course, as we recall, we had what 13 Atmospheric Rivers last winter. That's something when I had had not gotten cover crops in where the tomatoes were. So I had a bag of fava bean seed, and it's January, and the soil is so saturated, I should not even have been walking on it. But I went out there in my boots and I slogged my way down and I shoved a couple of fava bean seeds into the mud where each tomato plant had been, I just cut them off, I don't pull them out, I just cut them off, let the roots disintegrate there. And every one of those fava bean seeds came up in spite of 100% soil saturation and very cold temperatures and 40 days of rain in the next 80 days. They did great, they just filled in that spot. As far as I'm concerned, they're cultivating it for me, putting nitrogen right there. But what you're doing sounds pretty gourmet, I imagine your tomatoes were very appreciative.


Farmer Fred  16:00  

Feed the soil first. That's my goal. And it works. Now another thing, too. And because we've talked about this for years, and you finally drilled it into my head, my raised beds needed more parallel drip irrigation lines. So now in a four foot wide bed, I have five lines running the length of the bed. And I'm getting better penetration and spread of the water.


Don Shor  16:25  

This is the patented Fred Hoffman drip irrigation technique that I describe to people regularly because I'll tell them you have four foot wide beds and five drip lines in there. And they sort of look startled and say well  that way you get the distribution you need. If you brought in this really fancy soil you paid great money for, from your local rock yard, and then amended it with a bunch of nice stuff, the water tends to just run straight down. And so people tend not to water enough. And you really have to to water differently than I do, I can give tomato plants a week's worth of water all at once, I can give them 10 or 12 gallons at once. And it'll still be there because I'm just doing out in the garden soil basically. In your case, you're growing them almost in a container. So you probably have to water, I'm guessing, two to three times a week, I'm not giving 10 to 12 gallons all at once. We're giving each plant at least a couple gallons. And when I say that people's eyes get wide. A couple of gallons, you don't really realize how much water it takes to grow food. So overall, a good rule of thumb is: indeterminate tomatoes should get 10 to 12 gallons of water total per week. Whether you do it all at once, if you can do that, or split  it into a couple of irrigations. That’s for indeterminate types.  I've had this conversation with people who want to conserve water. I suggest they just grow determinate tomatoes. Grow them to get one good crop, you'd give them maybe five or six gallons of water per week. And when they're done, they're done. You can pull them out in August. I’m assuming that you're going to process them, can them, dry them, freeze them, whatever. Because you've basically grown your crop the way local Yolo and Solano County farmers grow tomatoes, a whole crop all at once. Then bury for the winter and for the following spring.  And you can use less water in that case, but the common problem we're hearing is people trying to cut way back on the watering and then the poor plants barely grow and they barely yield. So you do have to give them a lot of water if you want to. If you want to conserve water, grow one really good tomato plant  instead of 10 poorly watered tomato plants, I think you'll be happier with the results.


Farmer Fred  18:18  

Or move to someplace where it rains in the summer.


Don Shor  18:22  

Well then you have disease problems.  We get to live in a pretty good place for growing tomatoes here.


Farmer Fred  18:27  

But I think we're here to talk about tomato varieties that succeeded or failed.


Don Shor  18:32  

Yes, yes. And I will say my number one producer, and I love to tout this one for gardeners who were kind of casual out there and just want a whole lot of something and maybe they're I call it the empty nester tomato, you know, they used to grow 10 or 12. But they just want one. They want to travel, they don't want to have to worry about it. Juliet came through once again, I just went out and took a picture of my Juliet hybrid tomato and the plant filled the cage very quickly, five feet tall, cascading back down to the ground with long branches and trusses of fruit by my eyeball estimate there are about 400 Fruits still on that plant. And these are these little meaty, their sauce, tomatoes, but really, you can use them for anything. I mean, they're like cherry tomatoes just more elongated, extremely productive, extremely disease resistant. All America selection from I think 1999 or something like that. And it's really taken off because it grows well everywhere. Very disease resistant, very productive. So Juliette wins the volume award this year.


Farmer Fred  19:29  

Did you have much cracking issues with Juliette?


Don Shor  19:32  

It does if you don't water it carefully. There's so much fruit that even if a quarter of them split, it's not a big deal. But yes, that can be an issue when they're in their fruit expansion phase. If there's any drought stress, then they will continue to try and expand and burst and so you do have some of them split. It's so such a high yield that that's not a huge issue, but it is a watering related phenomenon. And it's just you know, anyone can grow it anywhere. It's what it seems it's one of those ones where if someone comes in and they're a new gardener, and they want to know what's a really good tomato and I'm Thinking this person doesn't actually even know how to water or anything. Let's  make sure they get at least one main season tomato, one cherry tomato and at least one Juliette and at least one good hybrid and then they can have fun with all the other varieties that are out there but if they get a couple of those they're sure to have a good yield.


Farmer Fred  20:14  

The hybrids that you have recommended over the past few years I have planted now for  three or four years in a row: New Girl and Valley Girl which I guess I related to Early Girl.


Don Shor  20:25  

Yep, valley girl is an attempt at replacing early girl with I think, open pollinated New Girl, I can't remember now off the top of my head whether it's open pollinated or hybrid. I can check real quickly here is from Johnny's Seeds and mine have outperformed Early Girl. So that's a tough mantle to try and steal. Early Girl is very reliable everywhere, especially in California, New Girl does outperform it. very similar fruit . It’s another four or five ounce red round tomato. Really good flavor. I'll say this one thing, it's got a tougher skin. And in some ways that's an advantage. I mean, some people don't like a tough skin tomato because they're trying to make sauces and they don't want all the skin in there. But you know something about tougher skin tomatoes. They can take direct sun better, they can take rainy weather better. We hit the dew point several mornings a couple of weeks ago and some of the other tomatoes started spoiling out in the garden. New Girl was just fine. We got some rain the other day over here on our side of the valley. No problem there either. Because we get late in the season some of your tomatoes will be spoiling as they're ripening. Now the tougher skin ones, a New Girl is in that category as is Champion and Better Boy is another one that will be hanging on there in November so they're good ones to have just for that alone. And here's the other point: really good flavor and very good productivity on New Girl How was your Valley Girl this year?


Farmer Fred  21:42  

Valley Girl was so so. it had good early production and then decided to stop for the season. So I gave it a  B-minus just because it was very prolific early on in the harvest season during July and August. But then it stopped. New girls still in the ground, still producing. I agree with your ascertainment of the New Girls tougher skin is a good comment. Because obviously, if at this point in the tomato season, in mid October, if they're still in the ground, they're winners.


Don Shor  22:13  

Yeah. Oh yeah. If they're still out there and not rotting as they ripen. And this is something I've taken to recommending to people if you have a variety and you've been having problems with it softening or you go out there and they seem like they're spoiling as they ripen, pick them a little earlier. Once we started getting into late August and September it happened this year earlier than usual. Normally it's later in September, we hit the dew point which by the way for people listening in other parts of the country, we don't see dew here between  mid May and almost October. You go out in the morning, you might see a little sparkle. But that's it at best. We don't have a thing where the plants are moist all the way till 10 or 11 in the morning. Once we hit the dew point and we have plants with moisture on the leaves and especially on the fruit if they're beginning to ripen any little bit of spoilage organism any little bit of injury to the skin, whether it's a bird or a bug or just when bumping it against the big tomato cage, they'll start to spoil very rapidly. And most of us have had the unpleasant experience of reaching in to pick what looks like a great tomato and having it disintegrate in our hand as we pull on it. If that's a problem with a variety that has a thinner skin or is a really big fruited one, pick them before they're fully ripe. Pick them when they're turning color if rain threatens or if extreme heat threatens. If we have a lot of morning dew or if you're  in a foggy zone where you have fog into the morning, pick them when their midpoint on color and you can let them ripen on your kitchen counter. I have them sitting right now I've got about 20 tomatoes on a dish towel on my counter that I picked over the last few days. They were not fully ripe, but they're ripening inside and I can monitor that. That way I don't go out there and find this was the day the ground squirrels discovered that tomatoes are edible, the temperature is gonna be 49 degrees in a couple of mornings. You know that's the coldest we've been so far. That can be cold enough to cause some spoilage organisms to get in. So you can ripen them on your counter under more even conditions. And if a heatwave threatens, I really suggest this if you got a lot of fruit and it's facing to the west and you hear we're going to be over 100 degrees for a couple of days. Pick the ones that have some color already and you'll be a lot happier because they will ripe and continue to ripen indoors. They are climacteric fruit that will continue the ripening process indoors. The flavor will be just as good.


Farmer Fred  24:21  

That's good advice for July ,August and September. Right now…Well…enjoy the spoils.


Don Shor  24:26  

Now you go out and find out what's hanging on there and doing well. 


DAVE WILSON NURSERY

Farmer Fred  24:34  

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2023 TOMATO REVIEW Pt. 3

Farmer Fred

Let's get back to our conversation with nurseryman Don Shor about the 2023 Tomato trials in our own yards. And Don certainly had a few winners.


Don Shor  26:03  

But I did have a couple of surprises this year one was Pineapple. Have you ever grown it? The plant iis an heirloom, it's an old heirloom, it has been around forever. Pineapple gives you a one pound fruit. And I always tell people you know it's really rich, tangy flavor. That's where the name comes from. And it's one of the yellow orange ones. It's got red  suffused in both the skin and the flesh. So it's a beautiful fruit. And you get five or six typically, but they're big and it's cool. And you've got some other tomato that's your major workhorse. This is just for fun. I got more than 20. I actually totaled 24. And most of them were over a pound. And the ones that weren't were very close to a pound and I was watching those every morning, terrified that it was gonna be the night that something came in and discovered that my Pineapple tomatoes were at the perfect stage of ripening, but I let them go fully ripe on the vine. It was astonishing this year thanks to the combination of weather and luck and serendipity to throw all those  things together along with good deep watering. It gave me very good yields and I would take them into work and people would look at this one and a quarter pound orange red, orange yellow fruit with red streaking on it and just be amazed by it. They would say, “What's that one I gotta grow it next year!”. And I will say yeah, but growing next year, that's fine, but plant some reliable hybrids as well. 


Farmer Fred  27:15  

One variety that you've recommended over the years, I've grown it now for two years , is Bodacious, which gets very big, but I noticed it is susceptible to cracking.


Don Shor  27:26  

Yeah, though we had issues with it with the weather fluctuating. Bodacious did very well for me again, my yield was not as high as always, but it's definitely still up on my top 10 list, Bodacious, Rugby, two new ones that have come on the market in recent years. I've tested them now for several years running and they've been consistent. So that's a very good one and when people want a beef steak type tomato, which is a long conversation because they're not really a beef steak tomato anymore, but there are beef sounding tomatoes like Beefmaster and things like that. They're not really tolerant to our conditions here. If you're someone who asked me for a slicing tomato when they asked for that they want one with a lot of that connective tissue that makes a whole slice hold together, a nice meaty texture, as they call it in the business. And Bodacious meets those criteria has very good flavor has very good yield here been consistent for me but cracking can be an issue that seems to be related again to watering you know, somewhat related to erratic watering, but really more to just fluctuations in temperature. I've noticed more cracking on varieties when we get cooler spells and then suddenly get hot and obviously just affects the fruit expansion phase. They're still fine. You just got to watch them carefully because if they crack any, and you let them go soft ripe, just like we were saying before,  they could spoil very quickly.


Farmer Fred  28:38  

So I decided to plant something that is placing themselves in the pantheon of the Early Girl type tomato. This one was called Early Doll.  Well, it's been pulled out.


Don Shor  28:52  

Just early? 


Farmer Fred  28:54  

October 7, I  yanked it out. My notes said it was at the end of its production, which was sparse production. I gave it a D.


Don Shor  29:00  

Never give up on a tomato just from one year's performance. That's the other thing, too: never rave about a tomato just on one year's performance. A couple of years is what it takes and it needs to see whether that one does. Maybe it likes a hotter summer? Who knows? Yeah, one group that I've never really gotten into myself before was the Oxheart tomatoes. And so this year, I grew one called, with apologies to my French teacher, Cuore Di Bue, which literally means part of the ox. And this is an Italian variety and it gave me about 40 fruit and they're all close to a pound. And they're very meaty, very solid kind of fruit as the name suggests, they're there. They're the kind you can make into sauce or puree or something like that. Definitely a winner this year for the first time. So I'll do it again next year and I'll give you a full report after two years experience growing Cuore Di Bue.  I've often felt that the Italian heirlooms and the Italian varieties are good ones for us to look at here in California, because of course, the similarities of our climates. And I've never really gotten into this group before, but there was a gardener down at the community garden right down the street from the nursery in Davis. And he swears by this one. Grows it every year. I don't know if he's an old Italian, probably. I've learned a lot from old Italian gardeners over the years. And he swore by this one, so I grew and we grew it from seed source, the seed from somewhere, and we're very, very impressed by it. I assume that this one is an actual varietal. Cuore Di Bue. Oxheart types in general do get touted a lot by folks from Italy. So I suggest people look for some of those. 


Farmer Fred  30:37  

All right, we were both raving about the Rugby tomato and I started studying the history of the Rugby tomato. It came out of Bulgaria, Geosemselect Seed Company. It's an elongated pink indeterminate tomato. That is just so meaty it can be it's sold as a paste tomato or a sauce tomato. But in reality, you could slice it up and put it on a BLT and you'd be very, very happy. And because of its shape, it really makes for a pretty salad too.


Don Shor  31:08  

And  it's got VFF resistance,  so that means it's got a resistance to verticillium. And both strains of Fusarium. I’ts been extremely productive. For me, I have to say the fruit has held up during extreme heat. During the hot weather we had last year, remember September last year when we hit 116 degrees? Rugby was fine, partly because it seems to have a good density to its foliage. So the fruit was reasonably protected in the vine. And a very consistent producer. And I do like to see this fact that breeders are working on more of the sauce tomatoes. I tried several this year and one called Big Mama, which is out of Burpee and they're up to five inches. I mean, these are huge meaty fruit, and again gave me 35 or 40 fruit. So that's another one I'm going to try it and see how it holds against Rugby, put them side by side and have a competition. I do think sauce tomatoes are great choices for a lot of people because at least, in my experience, they hold up better in the heat in the direct sun. They seem to have better disease resistance. Rugby is definitely a winner. That one will be growing every year and selling it every year. Now you're not going to find that in most garden centers because big wholesale growers haven't picked this one up yet. If you're listening out there, wholesale growers, look for Rugby, you'll have to order the seed from Bulgaria. But we got ours from one of the regular online vendors, probably Totally Tomatoes or Seeds ’n’ Such. One of that crowd. I've been very impressed by it. One of my customers recommended it initially because he sat next to someone from the breeding company at a party and learned about it that way. And so I ordered the seed originally from Bulgaria, but now I can get it from some of the regular suppliers. But Big Mama is one to look for if you're a fan of Burpee Seed Company, another very, very good producer. And so I've been impressed by the new lines of home processing tomatoes that some of the growers seem to have come up with. I'm not always impressed with the directions of breeding programs. All of these miniature tomatoes that are coming on the market. I'm withholding judgment on those, none of us at our gardens that are likely purple or blue tomatoes, the new ones that have come on the market, the flavor is off, none of us like them. Maybe I'm upsetting some people by saying that, but they're very pretty. I take pictures of them. They're lovely to photograph but don't like the flavors on those. But these new sauce tomatoes are great. And again, ones like Juliet, as well, where they're just being bred for yield.


Farmer Fred  33:25  

They did some testing at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center this summer, they grew three tried and true tomato varieties: Big Beef, Lemon Boy and Celebrity. And they also planted those varieties that are newer alleged improved varieties: Big Beef Plus. Lemon Boy Plus, and Celebrity Plus. The results were mixed. During a 30 day period of harvesting in July and August, the original Big Beef tomato plant produced 84 tomatoes with an average weight of 15 ounces. Big Beef Plus, however, only produced 75 tomatoes with an average weight of eight ounces. That's almost half. The taste testers, though, preferred the taste and texture of Big Beef Plus. Both Lemon Boy and Lemon Boy Plus tomatoes were harvested to about the same number, 132 to 111. The size was about the same, about seven ounces. And Lemon Boy, thoug,h was preferred by the taste testers to Lemon Boy Plus by about a three to two ratio. Celebrity Plus produced 50 pounds. The Celebrity produced 40 pounds and they're both about the same size of tomato. 71% preferred the flavor of Celebrity Plus but they preferred the texture of the old Celebrity and the big difference, they said, was the size of the plant. The original Celebrity because it's a semi determinate, stayed compact about three or four feet tall. Celebrity Plus got over five feet tall.


Don Shor  34:59  

So Celebrity Plus is actually probably, an indeterminate.


Farmer Fred  35:03  

It sort of sounds that way, doesn't it? Yes. 


Don Shor  35:06  

Semi-determinate  was a term that was applied to Celebrity when it came on the market. It did not have a meaning before that. So I think they made it up  for that particular variety. Celebrity is an incredibly popular variety that I don't like, and part of it is that the plant is not vigorous. It yields well, no question about that, but there's not a good density of foliage, I get more sunscald on Celebrity tomatoes than on any other variety, but it yields very well. It's thin skin, so it cooks down real well. That's all true. But generally speaking, I've just had more problems with it. So I will jump on the Celebrity Plus bandwagon. But I'm not sure what the Plus is. It's been added because it's got every disease resistance gene already built in. So I'm not sure what they've added with this new iteration of it. Perhaps resistance to another strain of Fusarium or something. What is the Plus all about?


Farmer Fred  35:54  

About more branches.


Don Shor  35:58  

More foliage. There you go.


BEYOND THE GARDEN BASICS NEWSLETTER

Farmer Fred  36:04  

In the October 20, 2023 edition of the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast, we dive into an article written a few years ago by the San Joaquin County Master Gardener’s newsletter, entitled, “The Top 10 Habits of Happy and Successful Gardeners.”


As you might imagine, many of those habits are things you’re aware of. The Ten habits included Feeding the Soil”, “Learn Before Lopping”, “Embrace Failure”, “Shop Carefully”, “Put the Right Plant in the Right Place”, “Water Intentionally with Both Hands”, “Control Snails and Slugs”, “Never Let a Weed Go to Seed,” “Attract Beneficial Insects”, and “Linger in the Garden”.


And it’s that last one that is very intriguing. Spending time in the garden not only helps you to discover a plant problem in its early stages, it’s healthy for you, being surrounded by the sights, aromas, and tastes of plants, but also it’s a treat for your ears, what with the songs of the beneficial creatures that populate your garden. And that’s we will discuss with debbie flower. We’re calling this, the Benefits of Lingering in the Garden.


If you are already a Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter subscriber, it’s probably  lingering in your email, waiting for you right now. Or, you can start a subscription, it’s free, for now! Find the link to the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast in today’s show notes, or on the Substack app. Or, you can sign up at the newsletter link at our homepage, gardenbasics dot net.



2023 TOMATO REVIEW Pt. 4


Farmer Fred

Let's continue our conversation about the 2023 Tomato trials with nurseryman Don Shor. If you had problematic tomatoes, we have to point something out. It may not have been your fault. The big disappointment this year and we need to talk about this “jalapenogate-plus”, if you will, where people are getting a lot of surprises. My favorite small tomato and it has been for years, and it’s an heirloom… it’s called Gardeners Delight. It's bigger than a cherry tomato. It's called a grape size tomato. But it's been prolific in past years, it's guaranteed to give you tomatoes first, probably in June. And last all, the way if the weather holds through, to Thanksgiving and beyond. This year, that plant is out of the yard, because it wasn't a Gardeners Delight. I should have paid attention to the picture on the packet that said it as a Gardeners Delight. It was a picture of a standard cherry tomato. and that's what that plant was. It was a standard run of the mill, Sweet 100 kind of cherry tomato that wasn't very productive. I just felt bad that I wasted space on it.


Don Shor  38:50  

Somewhat frustrating year from a retail standpoint to have had this problem, this seed mix up. It apparently was way at the highest level of our industry. I mean, it was at the seed level, not at the bedding plants level. We always have a situation where there's labels mixed up or sometimes in the flats at the retail level the customers move things around. Now this was a kind of across the board. I posted a comment about this when you first mentioned it to me mid-season, and someone said, “Well that's why all my jalapenos are bell peppers”. Yes that is why all your habaneros were bell peppers. That is why my Chef's Choice Orange was actually something else entirely. It was a seed mix up. And at least I can say we didn't do it at the retail level this time. But it was very very frustrating. And you know, these are some of our favorite varieties that were affected by this, unfortunately. It was mostly peppers but apparently tomatoes as well. I don't know which company to blame it on. I don't think we will. I'm hoping they've tightened up their procedures, shall we say, for next year? Fortunately there was publicity about it. Otherwise we'd be sad sounding, that  we're trying to make up some excuse for why you got the wrong bell pepper or the wrong tomato. Yeah, that was very frustrating.


Farmer Fred  39:53  

Yeah, and I have a funny feeling. This is the tip of the iceberg. That there have been plenty more. And I've heard from listeners and people that I meet at the community gardens or horticulture centers, they're disappointed in that, what they thought they were getting. They didn't get what they thought. It didn't look anything like what they were promised.


Don Shor  40:15  

Right. So if it's if it's just yield or fruit size, we assume that there was a problem with the gardener. But if it doesn't look anything like what was promised, it was a problem with the nursery or the grower or the seed supplier to grow something. There's some really weird tomatoes, and you know, some of these things that we got by accident were definitely strange, but there's one I planted. Did I send you a picture of Reisetomate? Reisetomate is a German - as it sounds -  variety, which looks like a cluster of grapes. That's and it well, it's one fruit that looks like a cluster of grapes.


Farmer Fred  40:50  

 Yes, you did send me that picture. Yes, it looked like a pregnant tomato.


Don Shor  40:55  

Indeed. And I saw the picture on the catalog. And the young man who helps me make these decisions looked and said, Well, that's weird. I said, Yeah, that's weird. Let's grow it. So he did. Each fruit is about three quarters of a pound. And it looks like you fused together a bunch of elongated cherry tomatoes into a single fruit. And the way people eat this is apparently they'll split off a piece and eat it. And it is interesting. I suggest for tomato aficionados out there that you look for this one and try it. I'm probably not going to grow it for sale because it's weird, too weird. Reisetomate. And we found it at one of the seed vendors out there. It has a very rich flavor. Very tangy, very rich. I went ahead and went to the hassle of cutting out the stem and cooking it down into a sauce. And it was very seedy so I strained all that out. One of the richest flavored tomatoes I've ever grown. Once you can get past the fact that it's one of the weirdest looking tomatoes you'll ever grow as well. So for that 5% of you out there that like to grow really weird tomatoes as well as good tomatoes, try Reisetomate next year. And I also want to mention Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms and there's a couple of his that are standards for me and there's one that he's dropped from his production in the past. I think I've single handedly got him to keep going with it. Sweet Carneros Pink is a very productive huge producer. Great flavor, cooks well, eats well and just the only reason it doesn't sell real well is it's not red. It's pink. In my experience, pink tomatoes, even from the picture, just don't sell themselves as well. This is one you should look for and you should ask whoever carries your Wild Boar Farms tomatoes to ask him for it so we can keep that one in production. I'll pass it along to Brad as well. But his Red Furry Boar was another great yielder for me this year. And the one that's going by a couple names, including Michael Pollan, which is a very unusual looking fruit, I grow it every year gave me probably 80 fruit or small there about three ounce fruit, very sweet tangy and probably one of the most unique varieties as being sold under a couple of different names I gather in other parts of the country, they sell it as Mint Julep, not sure why. Michael Pollan is what we sell it as on the coasts. So he's the famous author. And I suggest you look for that one as well, because he still has that one in production. And it's always been a very consistent performer for me.


Farmer Fred  43:10  

So what's on the horizon of different tomato varieties that you'll be planting next year?


Don Shor  43:15  

Well, I'm looking at all these new dwarf tomatoes, you've probably heard about the Dwarf Tomato Project, which is sort of an open source breeding project. And some of these are filtering into the trade. Brad is growing some of them. He gave me a couple to try. One of them was a version of San Marzano, called mini Marzano. This plant grew to about 14 inches by 14 inches, produced about 40 fruit, each of them the size of your thumbnail, great flavor, but that's a little small for me. So I'm, again withholding judgment on some of these dwarf tomatoes, but they do have potential I mean, there's always been a market for small compact tomatoes. for the home gardener who only has a patio, you know, a planter box or something like that. I can't tell you how many times someone will come up to our counter with a little 12 inch pot and a tomato plant wanting to know if this is a good one to grow in this 12 inch pot. And we're always having just say, there is no tomato that will grow in a 12 inch pot. Well, we could be wrong, there may be miniature tomatoes that will grow in a 12 inch pot if this particular one is any indication. So let's all watch for these miniature tomatoes, try some of them see how the flavor is, see what the yield is, see if they'll work, you know, a patio or a balcony or something like that, for someone who's limited for space. So they have some potential, we just need to test these out and see  how they do with high temperatures and what the flavor is, because that's obviously the big thing that people are after. That one didn't really impress me in terms of flavor or anything like that. But boy, it was miniature. And it certainly did produce in a small container. So there's some like that. That's something to watch for, some of the miniature types. So we'll keep an eye on all the new varieties from the big breeders, of course, and I noticed they're going in the direction continuing in the direction of hybrids with heirlooms. You know, they're trying to get hybrid vigor and productivity on heirloom varieties. All right, let's keep trying those. That's good to have more disease resistance in what would otherwise be considered an heirloom tomato. But I really think the direction of the sauce tomatoes is the one I keep coming back to, because every one I've tried, every new one. Super Sauce is another one I did. I mentioned the Big Mama earlier. Both very good production, great for a salsa, for cooking, and really good flavor and a bigger sauce tomato. As you describe with Rugby, it can be sliced. You know you look at it as a sauce tomato, but if you're someone that wants tomatoes on a sandwich, you will be happy with these as well.


Farmer Fred  45:27  

I think the days of Roma and San Marzano just might be limited.


Don Shor  45:32  

I haven't bothered with Roma for quite a long time, it's considered the canary in the coal mine for blossom end rot. Do I have to explain what canary in the coal mine means? It's the EARLY INDICATOR OF blossom end rot, right, how's that? It just gets it, no matter what it's gonna get. The first one's gonna get thrown away. The next one's will be fine on the same plant. But it's a little plant and you don't need that. You can get these newer varieties that are more productive. San Marzano, I do stock every year as a retailer because I have a customer base that likes it. It's for older gentlemen who are of a particular heritage. And it is a very good producer here. But you know, when I grew it last year, I didn't take a lot of them because I had these other great sauce tomatoes out there. Rugby was out there and the other ones were out there. They're more for your money in terms of what you're getting. San Marzano does very well, don't get me wrong, it's yield is always great. But these other ones are just so much more of a tomato. In each tomato San Marzano is a small skinny thing, and it's relatively hollow. Honestly, these other ones, like Rugby and Big Mama, are beefy and they give you lots to work with, especially if you're into sauces and things like that, because they're chunky enough that you can just kind of chop them up, cook them partway down for that kind of fresh salsa that people like to use where it's still got pieces of tomato, and they're really good for that. San Marzano has got a following, but you're right. The older generation will pass and so will it.


Farmer Fred  46:49  

Well, I think we've exhausted the topic, over tomatoes,


Don Shor  46:55  

There you go. So watch for sauce tomatoes, watch for the new hybrids, and everybody should plant Rugby and Bodacious.


Farmer Fred  47:04  

I don't know about Bodacious. But Rugby, definitely, yeah. Every year will be different. Every area of the country will be different. Let me know what your favorites were, what were the successes, what were the failures. And by trading this information, maybe we can expand our tomato palette.


Don Shor  47:23  

That's the important thing, write them down, keep a journal on this kind of thing. I started that years and years ago, and I would look back and go, Oh, yeah, I grew that tomato 20 years ago, it did pretty well. Let's try it again. Because there's so many new varieties every year. And also with consolidation and loss of growers. There's going to be, in my opinion, fewer tomato varieties on the shelf at your garden centers. This is something I noticed this year, a lot of hardware stores that aren't really nurseries didn't have a big vegetable selection this spring for one reason or another. And they didn't have a lot of diversity in that selection. So the way to get the really unusual ones is start your own from seed or go to an actual garden center.


Farmer Fred  48:00  

Yes. And get yourself a greenhouse, too. That helps. All right. Well, I hope everybody had a very tasty tomato year this year. And of course, we look forward to a tasty 2024 tomato year as well. Don Shor will help us along the way. Don, thanks for all the tomato knowledge.


Don Shor  48:20  

Always good to be here. Thanks, Fred.


WAYS TO GET IN TOUCH WITH US


Farmer Fred  48:24  

So what are your thoughts about your own 2023 Tomato garden you'll find many ways to contact us in today's show notes. Or you could go to garden basics.net and click on the link that says contact. Also when you click on any episode at Garden Basics with Farmer Fred a link to speak pipe you'll find it in the show notes. And when you bring up SpeakPipe on your computer or smartphone, you can leave us an audio question without making a phone call. Or you can go to speak pipe directly that speakpipe.com/garden basics you want to call or text us we have that number posted at Garden Basics with Farmer Fred 916-292-8964 916-292-8964 email sure we like email, send it along with your pictures to Fred at farmerfred.com. Or again go to garden basics.net and get that link. And if you send us a question, be sure to tell us where you're gardening because all gardening is local. Find it all at Garden basics.net 



FLASHBACK EPISODE OF THE WEEK: #260 RAISING CHICKS AND HENS

Farmer Fred

One of the most listened-to episodes in the garden basics podcast library had to do with raising backyard livestock, in particular, raising chicks and hens. And with cold weather approaching, if you have a backyard flock, you need to take certain precautions now. Or, if you’re thinking of acquiring some egg layers for the family, you’ll want to know the basics for raising chickens. Back in April, we talked with urban chicken consultant (really! that’s a thing!) and she’s also a University of California certified exhibition poultry inspector, Cherie Sintes-Glover. In that episode you’ll learn from her:

• What do you feed a baby chick?

• Why you don’t want to use pine shavings or newspaper as the flooring for your baby chicks. 

• Why you should only offer warm water for baby chicks. 

• Precautions on using heat lamps around your chickens. 

• How to Pick a chick that isn’t a rooster. (That Sounds like dating advice)

• What are the best breeds of chickens for a home with small children? 

Give it a listen, episode 260, from April of 2023: “Raising Chicks and Hens.”  Find a link to it in today’s show notes, or at the podcast player of your choice. And you can find it at our home page, garden basics dot net.



Farmer Fred

The Garden Basics With Farmer Fred podcast comes out once a week, on Fridays. Plus the newsletter podcast, that comes with the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter, continues, also released on Fridays. Both are free and are brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. The Garden Basics podcast is available wherever podcasts are handed out, and that includes our home page, Garden Basics dot net. , where you can also sign up for the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast. That’s Garden Basics dot net. or use the links in today’s show notes.  And thank you so much for listening.