Awesome August

"Fairest of the months!

Ripe summer's queen

This hey-day of the year

With robes that gleam with sunny sheen

Sweet August doth appear."

                              R. Combe Miller

August, for me, is the month of tomatoes. This is the time when tomatoes really come into their own, bursting upon the scene, ripening quickly and offering up an endless supply of juicy bounty. This year, I tried over 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes with varying degrees of success. With 2 plants of almost every one of these varieites, I should have plenty of tomatoes to enjoy and share.

The seed companies, and most gardening books, tell you to plant your tomato seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost date for your area. For me, that would mean starting in late March or early April, since frost can occur up until the end of May here. However, since I want to be able to have beautiful, big plants to offer for sale, and also since I can't wait to plant, I usually start my plants in February. This gives me an excuse to play in the dirt, and think of summer. One important thing to do when planting tomatoes, especially so early, is to continually "pot up" or replant the tomatoes in increasingly larger size pots as they grow. This encourages the plants to develop a better root system and results in a stronger, more vibrant plant. Each time they are repotted, the stem is buried, and the plants grow thick and sturdy.

I prefer heirloom tomatoes to any of the hybrids, ever since I grew my first tomatoes over twenty-five years ago. As long as you can deal with fruit that may not be perfect, heirlooms are by far preferable to modern hybrids in terms of taste, texture and variety. Heirlooms can suffer from cracking, cat-facing and other tomato defects, as well as fusarium wilt and other diseases. But for the home gardener, it's worth it to try them, as they can be just plain fun, as well as absolutely delicious.

The crazy weather this year had the tomatoes developing earlier than normal. My earliest tomatoes were appearing the first week in July, truly a record for me. Stupice, an extra early tomato that I planted in a Wall of Waters container in early April to protect it from the cold, and the cherry tomatoes that I didn't plant until the last week of May (along with all the other tomato plants) were the first to appear. Reinhard's Goldkirsche, a bright yellow-orange cherry, Peacevine, with extra amino acids said to cause a calming effect, and Snowberry, a creamy, pale beigy-yellow, really took off, and were extremely flavorful, too. The extreme heat we experiences, though, with temperatures in most of june and into July above average, set things back a bit. Day temperatures in the high eighties and into the nineties, and night temperatures not dropping much are very hard on tomatoes and can cause them to not set flowers or fruit. We had lots of good rain in the spring, but things have been very dry for the last month. I hand water the plants every three or four days, soaking each plant thoroughly. Overhead watering is not only wasteful, but it can cause diseases to spread from wetting the leaves. As a result, the plants are fine, though not as tall as they've been in past years.
Tomatoes
Several tomato varieties including Speckled Roman. Emerald Green, Resienstraube

One tomato that has quickly become my favorite is a paste variety known as Speckled Roman. This is a gorgeous fruit, with red and yellow stripes, good sized and very flavorful. It does tend to develop blossom end rot, which means I need to add calcium to my soil. The plants themselves look rather spindly, and I was concerned about how they would hold up in the heat and whether their yield would be affected. They are going great, though, and I am harvesting several good sized fruits each day. I make a simple sauce out of them, which is great on pasta or on the eggplants that are also enjoying this heat wave. First, in a large skillet, saute some minced garlic (2-3 cloves) and a small hot pepper in olive oil. Then add 2-3 cups of chopped tomatoes, skin and all, into the pan. Simmer about 20 minutes until it thickens a bit and reduces. Add a couple of tablespoons of chopped, fresh basil and you have a quick, delicious tasting sauce.

There appear to be some clear winners in the great tomato test this year, as well as some losers. Kelloggs Breakfast, an orange beefsteak that I always plant since it is said to perform well in adverse weather conditions, has produced enormous fruit this year. White Queen, a smaller white tomato (really a creamy color) has good taste and has been early. Emerald Green, a tomato that is ripe when green (actually it has a yellowish tinge to it) has been a good tomato but the plants are small and not doing well. Pruden's Purple, which usually has good yields of large pinkish purple fruits, has yet to ripen. The biggest tomato by far is Blosser Pink, which looks as though it may have fruits of two pounds or more! These big fruits take some time to ripen, and I am waiting as patiently as I can. Paul Robeson, for which I had high hopes, has not done too well, but at least there are fruits to try. This is a dusky purple, almost dark colored tomato which has many devotees that swear by it. Brandywine and Black Brandywine are doing OK, and it looks as their fruit may ripen before Prudens Purple, though it is supposed to be a later tomato.
Tomatoes
Just to show the size of the tomato, that's a quarter!

If you bought any tomato plants from me this year, drop me a line and let me know how they are doing. It would be good to know how they perform under different conditions. The input will help me decide which types to grow next year. I had two people ask me for Blue Beech Paste, saying it was the best paste tomato that had ever grown. Since it didn't perform well for me, I didn't order it this year. There was actually a seed failure, so I couldn't have gotten it anyways. But I promise to grow it for next year.

Have an awesome August!
Karen