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WICHE: The verdict is in 2010 tomato trials

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By Jeneen Wiche

Since 2006 I have been bringing my personal tomato trials (and tribulations) to my readers. It is a good way to assess the season and the growing selection of heirloom varieties available to us. Sadly this year was sort of a bust for the vast majority of what I planted.

I’ll start with the good news.

By far the winners this year are Marglobe, Black Prince and Roma. Both are still clean, producing fruit and ripening efficiently despite the heat (although the last ripe flush did occur when we had a run of days in the 80s).

Marglobe is perfectly round, medium-sized, rosy red tomato with a straight forward tomato taste, not too dry and not too juicy. The variety is actually a hybrid cross between Marvel and Globe varieties; it is determinate so once it reaches it’s mature size it stops growing; and it is resistant to verticillium and fusarium wilt. It’s worth a repeat appearance in the garden next year even if it isn’t an heirloom.

Black Prince was the perfect heirloom this year. The plant stayed clean, grew vigorously and produced and ripened when no one else did.

Ironically it has a reputation for doing well in cooler climates but it clearly didn’t mind the heat either. This round medium-sized fruit is a mahogany-red color with green shoulders; the taste is robust and full-bodied.

I think Black Prince may have captured the title of “my favorite tomato” from Cherokee Purple.

Roma has a reputation for being extremely reliable, and it was just that this year. Three Roma plants provided me with enough tomatoes to put up 15 quarts, make three big batches of sofregit and freeze a few zip-lock baggies – and they aren’t finished yet.

(Plus, I never got around to staking them so they are just sprawled on the ground!)

The other paste tomatoes in the lineup where Nova and Heinz 2653. They are supposed to be early but proved otherwise.

Both were not nearly as vigorous as the Romas, and they seemed to have trouble ripening in any uniform way. I think I’ll stick with Roma as my primary paste source from now on.

Green Zebra held up in the early part of the season, but then the plant died. Burbank Slicing was a weak performer, and Delicious produced two big red tomatoes that were delicious, but a few more tomatoes would have been appreciated.

Persimmon may be the yellow tomato that I have been looking for in terms of taste, but she only produced a few, too. I will give them another shot despite their not so generous behavior this year.

The early season Siletz bombed, but it is understandable because it was bred in Oregon to favor cooler conditions.

Beaver Lodge was the same story but bred in Alberta, Canada. I still think it is a good idea to include these early season varieties just in case we have a cool spring.

Though I will never give up on Cherokee Purple, it didn’t do a thing but languish on the vine rotting or ripening to a putrid beige-pink color.

I think I harvested maybe four edible ones total. Typically this variety is prolific and tasty so likely it was the high heat that disrupted its ability to ripen.

And, indeed, we can blame the high heat for many of our tomato woes this year. The National Garden Bureau warns “the red color of tomatoes won’t form when temperatures are above 86 degrees.”

Plus blossom drop occurs when temperature are above 90 during the day and above 75 at night. We were doomed from the beginning this year.