30 March 2013

Saturday Spotlight - Tomatoes

I'm joining in today with Liz from Suburban Tomato for her Saturday Spotlight series.  I thought I'd review the tomato season which has sadly just finished.  The last couple of plants will be pulled out tomorrow, and then all that remains is what I've managed to squirrel away in the freezer.

In thinking back over the season it feels like we had a really successful crop this year, certainly better than last year.  But there were some failures, and when I analysed the figures... it's a good job I'm not an accountant!  But what's the definition of success?  We had a constant supply of delicious fruit for nearly three months, including enough to (begrudgingly!) give some to the restaurant; to preserve a fair bit for the coming months; and each time I picked a handful off the plants and ate them still warm from the sun they made me smile.  

There were 10 tomato plants grown this year in the Country Garden (and another two in the City Garden, which were both sadly cooked during the hot weather in January, so I'm not counting those ones).  Here's a list and my thoughts on the results of each one:

Grosse Lisse
Disappointing.  Very low yield and less "Grosse"than expected! Plant died off very early.

San Marzano
Disappointing.  Low yield and very little taste.  The Diggers catalogue states "It is so productive you'll never  need to eat an out of season hybrid again!"  Glad I wasn't relying on it to survive!

Amish Paste
Average.  Fairly low yield, but continued later than some others, so helped to extend the season.  What grew was tasty.

Roma x 2
Very good.  Reliable, long yielding right across the whole season (first to produce and the last plants left) and good size to get some bulk into sauces.  Taste was average but I didn't expect more than that.

Tommy Toe
Fantastic!  Really delicious and stacks of them, right through the growing season.

Black Cherry
Excellent/ Disappointing in that they were really delicious and looked great in salads, but the plant died off very early in the season so we didn't get many.  Worth trying again next year.

Green Grape
Excellent!  A bit slower to ripen than some of the others which helped extend the season, but worth the wait.  Extremely tasty and made salads look wonderfully colourful with their yellow/green tones.  Good yield.

Golden Peach
Excellent!  Medium yield but each one was like eating a piece of golden perfection.  So tasty, so juicy...yum!

Tigerella x 2
This for me was the winner!  The two plants produced masses of fruit that was absolutely delicious, looked beautiful and just kept going and going.

So the winners were definitely the smaller varieties this year.  All were planted as seedlings in raised beds and were watered regularly all Summer.  The beds also had marigolds and basil which have done amazingly well, and also some spinach early in the season.  They got intermittent feeds of seaweed solution.  Last year we had problems with rodents and blossom end rot but this year there were no problems at all, except for the unexplained loss of a couple of plants very early on (heat exhaustion?) and surprisingly low yield of the Grosse Lisse and San Marzano.  Unlike last year when we definitely planted too many together, it seemed that we had the numbers about right this year, although by the end of the season they'd all outgrown the stakes and a few had taken off down the side of the tubs (where they still produced lots of fruit).  I started out pinching out the shoots growing at the main junctions, tying them up and pruning the lowest shoots but did let them go after a while.

So all good until I looked at the yield figures that the Diggers Club quotes.  According to those we should have expected something around 115kg (!) but in fact it was more like 35-40kg.  If you take out the Grosse Lisse, San Marzano and Black Cherry (that I would call failures) it reduces the expected yield to about 75kg, making the result still much less than you would hope.

So maybe there were too many planted in the garden beds?  Did they not get enough water or food?  Or too much food?  Should I have pruned them more thoroughly to maximise the yield (I suspect this might be the issue)?  Or was it just a tough year for tomatoes given the excessive heat?  I have heard other people saying it was a bad tomato year, but I'm reluctant to say that 40kg of sensational produce is a bad result, and if I hadn't seen the expected yield figures, I'd be really happy with the outcome and proclaiming the season a big success!

What were your biggest tomato successes this year?  Did you have success with the ones that didn't go so well in the Country Garden?


  1. We grew three varieties in common this year and my experiences were very similar. The Tigerella did well and I'm hoping I might still get a few more out of it. My Tommy Toe did well after the rodents stopped raiding it. Although my black cherry plants have both now died so have quite a few of the others I did get a pretty good crop from it before it went though.

    1. Yay for Tigerellas! I felt very sorry for you losing so much early on to those pesky critters. Last year there was only one particular type of tomato that got attacked in the Country Garden, a really delicious one too. I can't remember the name, but I didn't try them again this year just in case!

  2. I grew Amish Paste last year and had great results, high production and very tasty. The year before I also had good results under more challenging conditions because of rats and even cooler than usual weather. I wonder if they prefer a more mild climate. My weather doesn't get very hot except on rare occasions for very short spells. I got my seeds from a gardener who also lives in an area that dooesn't get very hot either.

    I've tried Green Grape in the past with very disappointing results, but all my tomatoes fared poorly that year. Perhaps I should give them another chance.

    It's great to read a review like yours, the seed catalogs just can't be trusted too much with their glowing reviews!

    1. I guess they've worked out the optimum conditions and trialled everything a million times to get their results, as well as lavishing professional horticultural love on their plants. Maybe they should employ amateurs to write reviews as well?!

  3. You have an impressive variety of tomatoes! No tomato stories of my own, here, I'm afraid - I'm an apartment dweller and don't have a super green thumb.

  4. I won't be planting my tomatoes for at least another 4-6 weeks. ;-)

    I haven't heard of most of those varieties but I'm planning Amish Paste & Romas for sauce. I like the grape varieties & had the best luck w Juliets last year.

  5. Thanks for sharing this review. It's always great to read about other gardener's experiences with tomatoes. There are so many varieties that can perform so differently in different locations. My experience with San Marzano is pretty much like yours. Amish Paste is a fair producer here, but I think it might not like our hot and humid summers. Black Cherry goes nuts here though, and has been a reliable producer for several years. I've never grown the others.

  6. What a stunning array of tomatoes. Thanks so much for your excellent summary of the varieties - very useful.

  7. It sounds like Amish Paste does well all around the world! Actually I think those were the ones I grew last year that were attacked by critters. I might need to give them another go next year.

  8. Hmmm, Tigerella you say. Will put that on the seed buying list for next year! I'm yet to look back on my pickings officially but I'd say for me Garden Peach (maybe another name for your Golden Peach) and Isis Candy were the top toms.

    1. Yes definitely worth it I think. Garden Peach does look the same as what I thought was Golden Peach - must check the tag if I still have it. And I hadn't heard of Isis Candy but just looked it up and it sounds great. I'm going to put that one on my list for next year! I tried to grow from seed the year before last, but had mixed success. I suspect I started too late.

  9. hi,
    interesting article, I also had 9 different tomatoes, all seedlings purchased from Diggers, very poor yields, my other big problem was rats, wow what they did was amazing, I ended up concentrating on the destruction of the dammed, so I'll see what happens this year. I've also purchased about 12 different variety of tomato seeds from the USA, will see what happens