With the summer food garden now on the downward slide towards autumn, I’m starting to assess my hits and misses in the tomato patch.
On the whole it’s been a good growing season. Lots of sun, lots of heat and not too much rain (lately). I planted four varieties of tomatoes – all ‘heirlooms‘(‘’ because I didn’t inherit them): Garden Peach, Bloody Butcher, Ox heart, and Black Krim. All but the latter performed well and have been keeping us in toms for some weeks already, with no immediate end in sight. My favourite of the lot is Garden Peach (pictured), a beautifully sweet yellow truss tomato with a velveteen-fuzz skin. Such a charmer of a fruit and tough as old nails in my neck of the woods.
But that’s just the trouble with so called ‘heirlooms’. Sure, they often look and taste great, but you can never be sure that a particular variety will perform where you live, until you try. They’re so nerve wrackingly hit and miss. Some thrive for me here in maritime Auckland while others – like Black Krim – sulk like teenagers scorned until winter finishes them off, or sooner if one of the local bovver-boy blights catches up with them.
The reason for the fickle temperaments is very simple, but rarely expanded upon by seed merchants. Heirloom tomatoes are mostly varieties that were developed over time to suit the conditions of very specific locales. Black Krim originated near the Crimean peninsula, and like nothing better than growing in a spot that reminds them an awful lot of the Crimean peninsula.
But because most of us cut our tomato growing teeth years ago with (mostly) fuss-free varieties like Beefsteak, Roma and Grosse Lise, we expect the same versatility from heirlooms. Take comfort though in knowing, if your heirlooms failed it wasn’t your fault. The variety just wasn’t suited to where you planted them. Oh, you could probably squeeze a few fruit out of them if you doused the garden in various toxic sprays all summer, but that’s rather like keeping a person on life support when they’re brain dead.
It would be great if we could slowly build up a database of heirloom tomato growers’ experiences New Zealand-wide, but I doubt enough of us actually care about the issue. Thing is, I’m greedy – not just for volume, but for flavour and variety too. I want to grow as many different tomatoes as I can, but only if I know I’ll have something to eat at the end of my toil.
Let us know what you grew this summer. What worked? What failed? What slowly fizzled?