Thom, the Tomato Man, expert on all things tomato says….

 

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Thom the Tomato Man, tomato expert and all-around Superman. 

Every year, SCLT connects with Thom the Tomato Man, the all-around champion of tomatoes in Providence, and one of our favorite members. 

He is guest-blogging for us today and here is your guide to all things tomato at our Plant Sale; weird, not weird, and always gorgeous and delicious.


 

It’s Spring in New England which means Summer will be here before long and that means it’s tomato season. Soon our recent far too long Winter will be a distant memory erased by the flavor and smell of fresh tomatoes right off the vine.

But before you harvest those tomatoes you have to pick which ones to plant. Which is harder than it sounds – we’ll have over 50 different tomatoes to choose from this year for our annual plant sale. Whatever your tomato needs, we’ve got the tomato varieties to meet them:

  • Need good canning tomatoes? We’ve got that.
  • Need good slicing tomatoes for Tomato sandwiches? We’ve got that. 
  •  Need to have the first tomatoes on your block? We’ve got that.
  •  Need spectacular looking tomatoes for tomato plates? Yea, we’ve got that too.  
  •   Organic? Heirloom? Rare? Of course, yes we have all of them.  \
  • Need a Tomato for full shade? Sorry, that we can’t help with you. Tomatoes need sunshine – 6 hours a day is usually the minimum.

To paraphrase a bit of seasonal doggerel this year we’ve got:

Something Old, Something New

Something Borrowed, Something Indigo, 

Something Weird, Something Disease Resistant

Something Old – Cherry Tomatoes – Cherry tomatoes are the Rodney Dangerfield of the tomato world – they get no respect from their bigger brethren despite being the most requested type of tomato.  I’m not sure why they don’t the respect they deserve, maybe it’s their easy abundance and diminutive size. But whatever they lack in size, they more than makeup in flavor, sweetness and production.

We have 15 different varieties this year including old favorites like Sungolds, Super Sweet 100s and Black Cherry. We also have new varieties like the Purple Bumble Bee and Bing Cherry Tomato. While cherry tomatoes are hard, but not impossible, to slice for a sandwich, they shine in tomato and mozzarella salads, are great for drying to use as sundried tomato and most importantly they taste great right off the vine warm from the afternoon sun.

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Transplanting tomatoes in City Farm’s greenhouse in preparation for the Plant Sale.

Something New – Mule Team – This tomato is new to me, but it is an heirloom tomato so named because the plant is sturdy like a mule team – it just works and works. The fruits are red, excellent balanced flavor, 8-12 ounces each in clusters of 3-5 fruits with very high yields and have good disease resistance and drought tolerant without being too susceptible to cracking. These tomatoes are great sliced and are also good canning tomatoes.  If you are new to growing heirloom tomatoes this is a good first plant.

Something Borrowed – Pink Brandy Wine – Before the days of seed catalogs and gardening stores, people had to grow and keep their own seeds. These seeds were passed down through generations.  And if your neighbor had a tomato you liked, you’d borrow a few seeds in order to grow it yourself. Pink Brandywines are one of the classic heirlooms heralded for their beefy size (1-2 pounds) and their rich complex balanced favor. The fruits are pink in color with potato leaf leaves.

Something Indigo – Indigo Rose – It may not rhyme with new but the Indigo Rose is one of more beautiful and interesting new tomatoes to hit the Tomato world. (yes there really an insider’s tomato world, If you want in, I know a guy…) The Indigo Rose is so named because the fruits are a deep, dark purple, almost black. It is a very striking tomato that is full of anthocyanins – the same powerful anti-oxidants present in blueberries and other fruits.

The fruits are plum sized, meaty and they ripen slowly with a good flavor. Pick them when the fruits are black-purple and have lost some of their shine. Last year we sold out of the Indigo Rose in the first hour of the plant sale, based on demand we planted a whole lot more this year, but as always the early birds get the best selection so come Saturday morning.

Something Weird – Hillbilly Potato Leaf – Potato Leaf tomatoes are so named for obvious reasons – the leaves look like potato leaves. This variety is originally from West Virginia (hence the name) and to be honest it really isn’t that weird but it is a big juicy bicolor beefsteak tomato that is great for slicing and looks beautiful on a plate with fresh basil drizzled with olive oil and ground pepper. Beautiful yellow fruits streaked with red towards the blossom end weighing in at about 1 pound. It produces very well and with a sweet juicy flavor. 

Something Disease Resistant – Rutgers vFast – Gardening in New England is tough. The Season is short and the weather can be nasty and brutish. The ways in which mother nature can turn your beautiful plants into yellow, shriveled and stunted specimens are numerous – early frosts, late frosts, Early Blight, Late blight, horrendous heat waves, the Wilts – both Verticilium and Fusarium, Aphids, Hornworms, and the list goes on. But as tough as Mother Nature can be, New Englanders are even tougher and occasionally a little smarter (although that is debatable)

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One of the tricks up the smart gardener’s sleeve is to plant a few disease resistant tomatoes. Our favorite this year is the Rutgers VFAST. It’s has good flavor, a gorgeous red color, and it’s versatile.  The Rutger’s is good for canning, cooking or slicing and most importantly it is resistant to Fusarium Wilt, Verticilium Wilt, Tobacco Mosiac and Alterneria Stem Canker. It’s indeterminate so it’ll keep producing until the days get too short or there is a frost. The fruits are red, round and about 7-8 ounces.


Thom the Tomato Man, lives in Providence with his family and is almost always thinking about either growing or eating Tomatoes, sometimes both at the same time.

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