Headed into late-October, our tomato plants here at the half-acre homestead are still happily trucking along. I’m proud to report that the more than two dozen that we started with are all still here. Granted some of them not as excitedly as others but they are still here nonetheless. That is despite what the local cooperative extension considered a terrible year for backyard tomatoes.
Here in southwestern Indiana a cool, very wet spring was followed by an extremely long and oppressive heatwave. Temperatures and humidity collided to keep us in the triple digit temp index for much of the Summer and it certainly wasn’t pretty for us humans or the fauna we so desperately try to control. There were also reports of widespread early blight mainly due to the soggy wet spring weather. Luckily blight didn’t make it into our brand new square foot garden or the extra tomato patch planted out back.
Tomatoes of all shapes and sizes were affected by splitting this year. From top left Cherokee Purple, Amish Salad, Brandywine (pink with green shoulders), Chocolate Cherry, Ultimate Opener, Thessaloniki (yellow)
We did have an insane amount of tomatoes that split for no apparent reason this year. Tomatoes tend to crack when over-watered or after a heavy rainfall because the fruit goes through a rapid growth spurt afterward, causing the tomato’s skin to stretch and split. Wide fluctuations in fruit temperature can also be a cause, especially if your tomato plant has lost a large amount of leaves. The fruit will expand as it heats up during the day when the sun shines on it. After sunset, the fruit rapidly cools and contracts. That cycle over and over again stresses the tomatoes skin and can also cause splits or cracks.
Our Brandywine tomatoes (first year grown) would split even while green and we lost at least half of our potential harvest throughout the summer to the splitting. Once they split, cucumber beetles would burrow into the tomato and create a home and eat until they rotted the entire fruit. The cucumber beetles were one of the worst pests we encountered this year and they attacked just about everything they could get their little legs on. Cherokee Purple tomatoes were also hit hard by splitting. Chocolate Cherry, Ultimate Opener and Amish Salad tomatoes proved to be very split resistant.
The biggest producers in our square foot garden this year proved to be the Chocolate Cherry, Ultimate Opener, Amish Salad and Brandywine. This plants had the most success with setting fruit and growing an abundant crop. While we lost a lot of the Brandywine tomatoes to splitting, both the Chocolate Cherry and Ultimate Opener persevered through the long, hot and dry summer with little guff. Our one Chocolate Cherry tomato plant produced at least a quart basket of tomatoes each week, more than enough to top our salads throughout the week. We found the Chocolate Cherry to be more acidic than we like but would definitely grow them again based on how prolific it was.
Ultimate Opener put on a huge flush of growth after getting established in the square foot garden and at its height, reached about 8 feet tall. This tomato flowered profusely and set fruit easily during the first half of the summer growing season. The fruit is rather small, not good for slicing, but was really tasty. Like the Chocolate Cherry, Ultimate Opener produced a quart basket or two of fruit each week. In the triple digit heat wave the plant had obvious problems getting tomatoes to ripen so most were picked while showing a slight hint of red. They colored up on the kitchen counter just fine though. As we headed deeper into the heatwave there was a noticeable drop in blossom production and there was even some leaf loss. The Ultimate Opener is looking bare but still alive and ripening a few golf-ball sized tomatoes each week.
Amish Salad produces a large, oblong cherry tomato perfect for salads of course. This tomato plant grew rapidly and produced a half to full quart of ripe red tomatoes each week. The heat didn’t seem to impact fruit set or ripening at all. Unfortunately I planted this tomato too close to two others, Cherokee Purple and Tloculula Ribbed. They grew into each other and just crowded each other out with growth later in the season. This created a remarkable decrease in fruit.
The Brandywine tomatoes that made it to harvest were huge, weighing in at close to a pound each.
Brandywine tomatoes with their big, potato-like leaves, grew rapidly and didn’t let the oppressive heat stunt them. Fruit set was great and during the first half of the summer these plants produced tomatoes that I would gather weighed about a pound. They were huge…at least the ones that didn’t split and get attacked by cucumber beetles. Their pink, purple and green colors inside made a feast for the eyes. The Brandywine flavor was also superb especially with a dash of Pink Himalayan Salt across the fresh slices.
For every success there were also some duds this year. I wasn’t impressed with Oregon Spring, touted to be one of the first producers of ripe tomatoes. This plant struggled most of the year and blossom set was slow at best. It has produced less than five tomatoes the entire season, none of which did well trying to ripen in the heat. Yesterday though, in the cool of fall, I noticed the most beautiful deep-red and ripe tomato awaiting our morning garden walk. I guess Oregon Spring redeemed itself and left me with a good memory. Last impressions count, right?
Thessaloniki was another heirloom variety I was excited to try but ended up disappointed by the results. The tomatoes are said to get to baseball size but in triple digit heat, most of mine only reached the size of a golf ball. Fruit set was also pretty poor.
Tlocolula Ribbed heirloom tomato was a dud for most of the season but now is turning into a winner. The plant was slow to grow but later bushed out and blossomed frequently but was slow to set. I think being planted too close to another tomato plant also caused some problems for this one. It didn’t set fruit well in the heat and has just recently produced a flush of fruit. Their texture is wild to look at in the garden with all sorts of different, deeply wrinkled shapes. I’m inclined to try it again next year to see what happens.
I think this Cherokee Purple tomato was smiling that it never did split and was off to our table
Another dud that I plan to give another shot is Cherokee Purple. This tomato was quickly crowded out by others growing next to it and that seemed to be a major detriment. It produced a few fruit early in the season but proved to be very susceptible to splitting. The extreme heat seemed to bring fruit production to an all out halt. Now that it is cool, Cherokee Purple has produced another tomato or two as we sprint deep into fall.
Just this afternoon we picked another basket full of green tomatoes, trying to beat a heavy rainfall expected for our region tonight. Some of the tomatoes were showing signs of splitting (probably due to the cool overnight temps) and we wanted to stop them before they went bad in the rain. Even though there is less than a week before we hit the month of November, our still producing tomato plants would make you think it’s still summer.
What is your favorite tomato variety to grow and why? Share your experience below and maybe we’ll discover a new tomato variety together!
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