My favorite tomato for 2016!

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I always plant several new varieties of tomatoes each year and the winner hands down for 2016 was:

LUCKY CROSS

lucky-cross-insideIt is a fantastic yellowish tomato with pink blush outside and inside as well. Sometimes they were more yellowish with pink overtones and sometimes more pinkish with some yellow overtones. No matter the color, it has an exceptional sweet flavor like a Brandywine. It never cracked or got diseases and was very prolific. It is a potato leaf variety. I haven’t been this excited about a tomato for a long time. It now beats my beloved Virginia Sweet tomatoes which are prone to cracks and diseases.

When I did some research on this tomato, the variety originally came from Craig LeHoullier (author of Epic Tomatoes). He stated it came from a Brandywine and an unknown bee-produced cross and had the luck to grow it out with these great attributes.  You can read the story of it from him here. No wonder I thought it tasted like a Brandywine! It is now a stable open-pollinated (OP) tomato and will grow out the same each generation. I saved some of the seeds from this beauty and will definitely grow it next season.

Transplanting tomatoes

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So many have asked, “Am I’m going to plant my tomatoes in the ground soon?” The answer is not too soon. I just transplanted all my tomatoes into 2″ pots and they need to get bigger! (Look Linda and Lava, how big they are already!) All you who ordered your tomatoes will get them, don’t worry. When? As soon as they are ready.

I actually delayed starting them this year as I don’t want to put them in their wall of waters (WOWs) too big. Wall of waters are great protecting our tender plants from the cold nights and from the WIND. I will still put my plants in WOWs even if it doesn’t freeze at night anymore because they like the warm environment the WOWs provide. And tomatoes love heat. It does look as if the freezing nights are over but one never knows. Might be one of those early warm years. Wouldn’t that be great!

Many newbies and some of us oldies get impatient to plant outside as soon as the May 15 (or even sooner) magical date has arrived. Really? It’s a guideline, not carved in stone. Will you be out there come hell or high water, cold temperatures or crazy winds trying to get an early start? To what advantage? I’ve found those with patience have the biggest advantage as they know that if they wait maybe just a little longer than that magical date, they may not only catch up to those who planted sooner, but may surpass them in growth. Why? Because the earth gets warmer, the nights gets warmer and the days will surely get warmer too-all good things when planting tomatoes (and other warm season crops). So don’t be in such a hurry-slow down and enjoy the beginning of this next growing season.

Drying tomatoes

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So someone gave me a jar of dehydrated tomatoes in olive oil and I thought they looked very beautiful and I know when you put them in pasta dishes, it’s bursts of intense tomato flavor. A great addition in the kitchen. So I thought, that’s what I can do with all those little cherry tomatoes! Look how beautiful they look when first put on the trays. I’ve dehydrated some during the last 2 weeks. I put all kinds together and not just cherry tomatoes.

tomatoes in oil

Here they are in the olive oil in a jar. I love these jars from Italy-Quattro Stagioni.
You can get them at Amazon. These are the 5 oz size.

I want to still eat some fresh while they last but there is definitely more than I or a small army can eat before they go bad. Today I also made 4 more pans of tomato tapenade. Pantry is getting full quick!

I’m Baaack-Tomato Lady returned to Farmer’s Market last Saturday

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So last Saturday I returned to the Farmer’s Market here in Santa Fe and plan to be there on Saturdays until the end of the season when it freezes. I saw many friends and old faces there-people who have been waiting for my return and it was good to see them come back. Thank you!

It’s such a short market for an heirloom tomato grower. Our end of season is always dependent on when the first freeze happens. Sometime it happens in late October, once it happened in September (God forbid), and only once in November! Pray for a nice long fall or as we say around here, an Indian summer, so I can get all those wonderful tomatoes that are just coming in on my mini farm to the market.

I have 31 varieties this year and 125 plants. Someone asked me if they are all there at the market at the same time and alas the answer is no as I have early varieties, mid-varieties and late season varieties growing in the garden. What I can tell you is that I grow many unusual varieties of heirloom and open pollinated tomatoes whose seeds come from all over the world. Many of them you will not find here at our market or even be able to get the plants in the garden nurseries. I start them in April inside the house and transfer them to the garden after the last freeze in spring and this year, our last snow was May 16. So as you can see, it takes a long time to get these babies to the market. And after spending so much time with them I do indeed call them my ‘babies’.

Every year I have some new varieties I try. This year some of them are Black and Brown Boar, Cascade Lava, Artisan Blush Tiger and Purple Bumblebees. I also have my favorites that I grow every year for the market like Costuluto Genevese, Pantano Romanesco, Marmande Garnier Rouge, Juane Flamme, Paul Robeson, Indigo Rose and Pink Berkeley Tie Dye plus many more varieties. Then at the end of the season I evaluate them based on your taste buds and input and some of the new ones make it on my ‘all star’ list and some don’t. So come down to the market and check out what other tomatoes I have going on. I also sell other heirloom veggies like Fairytale eggplant, Shishito peppers, many varieties of beans and other veggies but as you all know tomatoes are my speciality!

My tomatoes love the sun and warmth!

tomatoes ready for market

Tomatoes ready for the Santa Fe Farmer’s market

Last week was warm and sunny-just what tomatoes need to ripen. Temperatures in the mid 80s. It’s a little cooler this week but still nice. Suddenly I have all kinds of tomatoes ripening-yea!

tomato lady at Santa Fe Farmer's Market

Up till last week I’ve barely had enough ripe ones to go to the Farmer’s Market much less make tomato sauce but now I have plenty to sell-just get there early as I sell out pretty early even with all these tomatoes. Here’s my booth at the Farmer’s Market. It is located inside the big building. Just look up for a big sign that says, ‘Tomato Lady’ to find me.

I noticed the number of ripe tomatoes have been growing here at my little farm and now they are exploding! Yea! I’m hoping for an Indian summer-that means the rest of September will be nice and warm which should keep them coming.

2014 Tomato Season in Santa Fe

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My all time favorite-an heirloom-a ‘Virginia Sweet’ tomato-a super sweet tomato worth the wait and weight.

Every year I try to get to the Farmers Market EARLY to sell tomatoes. Early to me would be end of July. Actually I would be delighted to even get to the market the first week of August. But no. Never. It’s not me I swear-I do my job. I get the tomato plants in the ground early enough. It’s THE WEATHER! Every year someone will ask me at the market how come they:

1. Don’t have any tomatoes or

2. Only have lots of green ones.

This year it’s the later because of THE WEATHER. So let me explain-No. 1 and No. 2 above and how both relate to THE WEATHER. This year we didn’t have a super hot June which was great because our tomato blossoms were able to set fruit in June. (If it’s really hot in June, then we experience blossom drop. Tomato blossoms won’t set fruit in temperatures 92°F and hotter.  They would have all dropped off all their little blossoms in our stinking hot Junes – hence no fruit and they grow more blossoms and set fruit up in July when it’s cooler but that puts us behind-see no. 1.)  But that’s not the case this year.

So on to no.2-we got LOTS of fruit now but they are mostly still green so we are still behind. Why? THE WEATHER! Now I don’t mean to pass the buck here as they say, but it’s true. July and now August this year has been delightfully cool and rainy. Daytime temperatures are cooler and nighttime temperatures are definitely cooler. Just like the old days with a real monsoon season. Now those of you new to the area (meaning you have moved here sometime in the last 12 years) have not really experienced the monsoon season, so enjoy it. Who knows when we will get another since we’ve been in drought like conditions the last 12 years.

Ok, back to why it’s THE WEATHER’S FAULT! So what’s happen is we have lots of green fruit but now we need some WARM SUNNY days to ripen the fruit. Even though the fruit can’t tolerate too hot of weather when trying to set fruit, after it’s set, they need warm sunny days to ripen up. All we’ve been mostly experiencing is very cool weather. Ah, what are we gonna do? It’s either too hot when they set blossoms or too cool to ripen.  Both scenarios make for a very late tomato season. Ah crumba!  I hope we get the warm days soon before fall comes as I have a ton of tomatoes on the vines! I sometimes wonder why I even bother and then I remember! I love tomatoes! I love trying new varieties! I’m a tomato addict!

69 tomato plants in the ground! 5 more to go

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The tomatoes in their Wall of Waters to stay warm at night. Doesn’t look like much now but come July the tomatoes should look like a jungle.

What a whirlwind week. Elodie Holmes and Mernie Elsesser helped me plant 35 tomato plants on Monday and on Friday Janet Hiron helped me plant 24 more tomato plants for a total of 59 in the main garden. Great to have such good friends help with what would be an overwhelming task for one person! Thanks to all!

Sunday I planted 10 more in the greenhouse and still want to plant 5 more in the raised beds by the house but the bulk of the work is done with the tomatoes. There will be a total of 74 tomato plants this year for the Tomato Lady. We put wall of waters around each plant. Even though we are past freezes at night here in Santa Fe, tomatoes (and peppers) do not like the cold nights and 45°F is cold to them right now. They don’t like any temperature from 55°F and lower and it will be a while before we get above 55°F at night. The wall of waters act like little greenhouses keeping your tomatoes and peppers warm at night after absorbing all that sun in the daytime. By the time the tomatoes outgrow the wall of waters, the night temperatures will be warmer and we can take them off.

This week: Planting giant pumpkins and the start of the rest of the veggie garden

Make tomato sauce the easy way!

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By now you’ve probably finished harvesting and making your tomato sauce but I have to share how I do it.

I grow many tomatoes each year and make LOTS of tomato sauce as a result. But canning it doesn’t happen until late fall after harvest season is done.

I use to make it the old fashion way of putting the tomatoes in boiling water until the skin splits, then putting it in ice water to stop cooking, then peel off the skin and squeeze the tomatoes and juice in bowls to freeze. Tiring—very tiring and it takes lots of time.

Now I make tomato sauce the easy way. I finally got a food strainer (sometimes called a food mill) that separates the skins and stems from the pulp, juice and seeds making an uncooked tomato sauce in record time.  My food strainer is from Victorio. It comes with one screen that is fine mesh. I also got the salsa screen because I want my sauce thicker. I can process about 20 lbs of tomatoes in 10-15 minutes. But let’s start from the beginning.

1tomato sauce-tomatoes ready

First you’ll need some tomatoes. Good and imperfect blemished tomatoes are perfect for making sauce. These had hail damage but tasted good.

4tomato sauce-tools

Here are the tools-a plunger to push to tomatoes through (comes with the food strainer), a ladle, and a serrated knife to cut the tomatoes in chunks to fit in funnel. This process is messy so cover your table!

3tomato sauce-putting tom in mill

Cut up and put the tomatoes in the food strainer funnel. No need to take off skins, the strainer will do it for you.

5tomato sauce-partially done

Here is some sauce partially done. The food strainer has separated the sauce out into this green bowl. You crank the handle and push the tomatoes into the funnel using the red plunger. The strainer reminds me of a meat grinder except it grinds up tomatoes instead. It also can be used to make grape juice from grapes and applesauce or apricot sauce.

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The other side of the food mill spits out the skins. I also cut off the stems shown in bowl. The chickens will love getting this bowl!

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Here is the bowl full of rich raw tomato sauce ready to bag with more tomatoes in the background ready to make sauce.

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I put about 12 cups of raw tomato sauce in a gallon size freezer bag. I don’t like to overfill them. I also squeeze out the air while I ‘zipper’ them up. Be sure you zipper it well or it could leak out when you lay it flat.

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Here is the raw tomato sauce—bagged and ready to freeze. Notice I have different colors of sauce coming from different colors of tomatoes. Later I either cook the bags of raw sauce up for a recipe or I end up canning them when my freezer is too full and I’ve recovered from harvest season!

Tomato Tasting Contest

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Today I held a tomato tasting contest with some of my friends. I have to say I was very disappointed. Not with my friends but with my tomatoes. I went last to taste them and could not believe how many of the tomatoes were either bland or watery. Some seemed weak in flavor. I’ve eaten them all summer and couldn’t remember them like this. They were not at all like the sweet flavorful tomatoes I ate last month.

Then it hit me-the 3 inches of rain we had this past week really weakened the flavors. I have had many split their skins this week from taking on so much water and that explains why so many of my favorites were rather bland vs a month ago they were very flavorful. They say if you want the flavors more intense, cut back on watering during harvest time which I did. Usually we don’t have an over-abundance of rain, but we have this year. I haven’t had the drip system on in 2 weeks but mother nature choose to give us more rain than I can ever remember getting at this time of year.

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Never the less there were some outstanding tomatoes. Below is the ranking of the ones we tasted. There were many ties. I found it amazing that 7 of the tomatoes in the top ten were black or purple tomatoes. 6 were yellow and only 1 red tomato in the top ten. (Remember there were some ties which is why we have more then 10)

Many of the rest of the tomatoes were red which is interesting as most of us like to use red tomatoes for sauce where cooking brings out the flavors but don’t like to use other colors for sauce.

I think if I had had the contest 2 weeks ago before the rain, the results may have been very different but still feel the black tomatoes would have outshine the rest. Can you tell I’m partial?!

Thanks to all for helping out with the tasting and grading!

 

2013 TOMATO TASTING CONTEST

TOP TEN

1st place-Paul Robeson-black tomato

2nd place-Indigo Apple-black tomato

3rd place-Brandy Boy-black tomato

4th place-Black and Brown Boar-black tomato

4th place-Big Sungold Select-yellow cherry tomato

5th place-Cherokee Purple-black tomato

5th place-Southern Nites-black tomato

6th place-Sungold-yellow cherry tomato

7th place-Juane Flamme-orange tomato

8th place-Ananas Noire-green/black tomato

8th place-Virginia Sweet-yellow tomato

8th place- Porkchop-yellow tomato

9th place-Galon De Melon-yellow cherry tomato

10th place-Bloody Butcher-red tomato

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11th place-Marmande-red tomato

12th place-Big Zac-red tomato

13th place-Costoluto Genevese-red tomato

14th place-Pantano Romanesco-red tomato

14th place-Green Grape-green cherry tomato

15th place-Cour Di Bue-red tomato

15th place-Gold Medal-yellow tomato

16th place-Orange Wellington-orange tomato

Tomato Lady of Santa Fe at Farmer’s Market this Saturday

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Saturday I will return to the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market as the ‘Tomato Lady’. I don’t have lots of tomatoes yet but everyday more are ripe so come early to get the best choices like the beauty pictured above from Italy called “Costuluto Genevese”. I have 12 new varieties as well as the ones I grew last year.

Curly Top Tomato Virus and Beet Leaf Hoppers

Photo credits: curly top disease - photo courtesy of http://ucanr.org/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=3352

Photo credits:
curly top disease – photo courtesy of http://ucanr.org/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=3352

Curly Top Tomato Virus
Last year, the Beet Leafhopper which transmits ‘Curly Top Tomato Virus’ was rampant in our gardens and devastated many tomato plants. I lost 50% of my tomato plants. The Beet Leafhopper flies in on the winds in early June through July, jump on the tomato plants and taste them. They don’t even like to eat tomato plants but sample them, transmitting the disease in the process.

Identifying Beet Leafhoppers
You will know if they are here as they come in waves and when you walk around your garden, you’ll see a lot of jumping  little green bugs that fly off when you walk by. Then they leave—flying to the next garden. Because of this, you can’t really spray anything to get them—here today, gone tomorrow. By the time you notice something is wrong with your plant, they are long gone. It takes about 2 weeks for symptoms to show up.

Symptomscurly top virus_helthy plant
Your tomato plant leaves will start to curl and the underside of the leaves will turn a purplish color The leaves then start to wilt and the plant will look stunted. You might think it needs water but it doesn’t, it is sick and won’t recover. ‘Curly-Top’ is only transmitted from bug to plant is NOT transmitted from plant to plant hence you will see a healthy plant next to a sick plant.

Remedies
There is NO CURE for this virus and if your tomato (or pepper for that matter) shows signs of the disease, you should pull the plant. You could leave the plant in BUT if another wave of leafhoppers come by and a healthy leafhopper bites your sick plant, it only takes 10 minutes in 90°F weather for it to be able to transmit the disease to one of your healthy plants. The best thing to do is pull any sick plant and dispose of it.

Leafhoppers do not like shade and if your plants are partially shaded, that may help keep them off but since most of us grow tomatoes in full sun that might be difficult.

Create a physical barrier with row cover

Row cover over the tomato plants in my garden

Another thing you can do is create a physical barrier between the bugs and your plants. This year, I’m covering my tomato plants with row cover until the bugs pass. Wrap the row cover around your tomato cage and put a piece on top of the cage BEFORE they come.

Lastly you could put out some tomatoes later in the season after the bugs leave. Last year when I was out at the Santa Fe Community Garden I noticed many rows of sick tomato plants but one row of perfectly healthy plants and when I asked about them, it turned out they were put out about a month later than the rest of them and by then the leafhoppers were gone.

Dry, sunny, windy weather are perfect conditions for the leafhoppers so look out this summer-conditions are ripe again!

44 tomatoes planted today!

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Phew! What a day. Three of my friends came over this morning and all together we planted 44 tomato plants from 8:30-12:30! What a bunch of busy beavers! Janet started out the morning before the others came and screened all my vermicompost and filled three-5 gallon containers. Then Lava showed up and Janet and her put in all my amendments in each hole (I had previously dug out most of the holes and Bob Z came by yesterday and finished digging them for me-another great friend)! Then today, I could barely keep ahead of the girls, me setting out plants, making sure each plant had a drip to it, name tags, map of all the tomatoes, providing stakes and wall of waters while Lava planted them and Mernie and Janet followed up behind putting the wall of waters on all of them. Then we all had other things to do and off we all went.  A wonderful day to plant- not too windy and not too hot-it was overcast! A huge thanks to Lava, Mernie and Janet for helping me today and to Bob for helping me yesterday-would of taken me days to get that far. It takes a village to do this much! Mucho gracias!

Tomato Class Review

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Yesterday, Duskin Jasper and myself taught a 2-hour tomato class intensive at Milagro Community Garden to about 35 gardeners where we talked about planting and caring of tomatoes. In it we talked about what general amendments to add to your vegetable beds, how to plant tomato transplants, what amendments to add to each hole to boost tomato production, benefits of adding mycorrhizal, pruning techniques, benefits of adding Epsom Salts and dry milk when planting tomatoes, tomato deficiencies and tomato diseases. We also gave a demo in actual planting of these tomatoes and how to use and install Wall of Waters (to sneak your tomatoes in before the last frost date) and benefits of using row cover. Thanks to all for coming!

Here are my handouts as we ran out of them for those of you looking for them:

PLANTING TOMATOES

Tomato Deficiencies_Diseases_Viruses

TOMATO DISEASES

Mycorrhizae

Giant Tomato Seeds Planted

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2012 Big Zac tomato-this one weighed 2lbs 12.4 ounces and was 19″ in circumference!

Yesterday I planted 6 giant tomato seeds as well. The seeds came from tomato plants that produced anywhere from 5.5 lbs-7 lb tomatoes! Hope I get some BIG ones! I’m trying to break 3 lbs this year! Nothing better than a BLT where the juice from one of these tomatoes runs down your chin! One slice of tomato covers the whole slice of bread.