It wasn’t the best of times and it wasn’t the worst. The warm season garden usually starts in February, but this year the beginning was more like late March, early April following back surgery. I still managed to set out 83 tomato varieties and allow a few volunteers to survive. All told there were a hundred or more tomato plants, also way too many peppers/eggplants/cucumbers and a few squash early in the season. The okra was a big success. I had several breeding lines that I had been working with including red okra varieties crossed with thick, meaty okra types that I had selected from previous crops. It was also too late to graft heirloom tomatoes on nematode resistant rootstock this year. I hope to start seeding in the greenhouse during January 2019 to be able to make some grafts in February and set out plants in early March. I especially need to clean out the garden and get some cereal rye (Elbon var.) planted this fall to reduce the root-knot nematode population.
With so many tomato varieties you’d think there would be lots to rave about—not really. I did discover that I generally like heart-shaped tomatoes. The flavor and texture of the hearts that I grew this year was great but the production not always so. Siberian Pink Honey, Sister Miriam and WRP (Work Release Paste) were the first three hearts to produce. All three were delicious with just the right acidity, sweetness and a smooth but not grainy texture. WRP only produced two tomatoes from two plants—not sure it’s worth planting again. Sister Miriam and Siberian Pink Honey were relatively productive with a slight nod to Sister Miriam for a little more flavor.
Tsalma and Red Anjou were pear-shaped tomatoes with good flavor. Red Anjou is an Italian tomato named after a red pear that I want to try again. It didn’t have a good location in the garden but it was very tasty. Unfortunately it got crowded out and I didn’t even get a photo—just a taste. The summer of 2018 was a hot, difficult and rather dry and trying garden season with lingering Sciatic nerve issues.
Bellini Hyb (cocktail sized) was delicious and productive as always, Big Pink (not hyb.) and Black Star were productive and tasty. Bush Goliath made a productive compact plant for container growing and Earl of Edgecombe made delicious medium-sized gold tomatoes. Mat Su Express (developed by a tomato growing genius in Alaska) showed potential with strong growth early in the season and lots of tomatoes but they developed really ugly tops in our Texas summer. Mocha Splash was delicious but it too suffered in the summer heat. Supremo F1 and Pompeii Sauce tomato were excellent paste tomatoes. One variety that I planted just because I liked the name “Bad Horsey” was described as a non-stable selection, and in fact I seemed to have two distinct types—one was yellowish and citrusy but not a favorite; fortunately, the other one was an intense, red beefsteak that was delicious. Guess which one I saved seed from. Hopefully these seeds will produce more stable and even more delicious tomatoes.
I found myself intrigued by a number of Middle Eastern varieties (both tomatoes and peppers) presuming that if they could produce in Turkey, Syria, etc. they should love our Texas weather. Turkish Zelve was one of the few tomatoes that produced and it was a smallish slightly acid tomato.
Though many of the peppers were from the Middle East I also had some from the Orient, South of the Border, Bulgaria and a few really hot hybrids that only a Chili Head could love. Peppers are likely to cross pollinate unless you go to the trouble of bagging the blossoms to insure self-pollination. So it’s not unusual to have seeds from small companies or individuals produce “not as described” fruits. What was touted as sweet may at best be not hot or not very hot. If the seeds came from fire-breathing chile heads then a mild to medium description may be “burn your lips off hot” for most of us. Most peppers are quite beautiful like Fatali Hot or pimento x reaper. If I’m feeling brave, I’ll begin tasting really hot peppers from the tip—I didn’t get 1/4 inch up the pepper on either of these before my lips became fire alarms signaling the rest of my mouth to back off. Aji Amarillo is a beautiful yellow pepper with a citrusy heat that I wouldn’t consume by the handful but they’re a nice addition to salsas, etc. Ethiopian Brown is hot but not much more than a standard jalapeno. Korean Green Mild Hot (it will eventually turn red) is very survivable. It’s just a fresh-tasting kinda sweet pepper but after a while your mouth begins to feel warm. It’s not choking hot; it’s just undeniable—and rather pleasant. The tips of Lombok chile are sweet for a ½ inch or so then as you approach the placenta this pepper gets your attention. It’s best for seasoning a pot of chile or salsa unless you’re a fire-breathing dragon. The Thai variety—Erawa was hot and large—eight inches or more. That’s a lot of spicy stir-fry! Mehmet’s Sweet Turkish pepper isn’t really sweet but it’s not hot either—it’s a personality challenged vegetable. Shishito peppers we also tried last year and love them fried in oil with seasoning salt (shishimi togarashi if you’re a purist-we liked Tony’s Creole Seasoning better). They’re also great tossed with some olive oil and seasoning and sprinkled on any good pizza. Stuff Enuff pepper from Burpee was a sweet elongated pepper that was best harvested when partially colored since it would quickly developed full red color indoors and out of the sun-scalding Texas sun.
The okra crop was a fun adventure this year. I grew some new varieties like Fife Creek Longhorn- a good producer with lots of branching- and some old favorites like Stewart’s Zeebest- skinny pods but meaty and a good producer. I also had some of my varieties like Bill’s Skinny okra (similar to Zeebest and likely carrying some Zeebest genes), Bill’s Thick okra and Bill’s Really Thick okra. The most fun though was a couple of crosses with red okra varieties and Bill’s Thick okra. I should explain my okra selection criteria—I like a meaty okra (no thin walls and hollow inerds) plus good branching for maximum production. I used Bill’s Thick as a seed parent, taking pollen from the two red varieties and in theory producing seedlings with some red coloration that would indicate a successful cross. This also makes the presumption that Bill’s Thick doesn’t carry red genes—it’s a Tokyo Gokaku okra offspring. I tried to plant all of the seedlings with red pigment (which left them a bit crowded) in clumps of 2-4 plants. I’m glad I saved as many seedlings as possible since there were noticeable variations. In one case, seedlings from all red pods like the pollen parent Aunt Hettie’s varied from solid red pods to green with red flecking pods. The cross using Candle Fire (a relatively smooth pod) and Bill’s Thick okra didn’t show as much red. I’m currently allowing seed pods to mature on these varieties and next year we will see what the F2 plants look like. Frankly the F1’s would be a plant breeder’s culls but they sure “ate good”. These red varieties and crosses seem to be mostly “top of the plant” producers but some of this tendency may be a crowding response. No controlled crosses were attempted in 2018 so we’ll see what the bees produced.
I also got carried away with eggplants this year and had good production and lots to give away (not always easy to do). Of the varieties I planted, I would plant the Louisiana Oval Green and, Behold Hybrid (elongated, purple/white striped) again. There were several others but I didn’t get good photos and the seeds are not readily available anyway. Two or three eggplants are all any sane gardener needs to grow unless they want to freeze a bunch of eggplant parmesan casseroles and/or they have a lot of eggplant eating friends.
The cucumbers were a bit disappointing this year but other gardeners related similar disappointment due to early spring rains. I planted a bit late and tried my usual selection of odd varieties—white ones (White Star), half white/half green ones (White Sun), a prolific chunky one (Kira Boy) and my favorites—Beit Alpha varieties—like Garden Oasis. Fortunately we managed to put up two batches of bread and butter pickles before they gave out. I’m the only one in the family that likes fresh cukes so there weren’t a lot of complaints.
The fall garden will feature kale, broccoli and maybe a cauliflower or two. Lettuce and radishes are also favorites in the cool season garden. A collard or two and a few Asian greens will likely make the cut. More onions from seed are on the menu and the multiplying shallots will be set out from left over bulbs as usual. The cool season crops are easier—not as many weeds and insects. The hardest part is cleaning out the summer garden—dead tomato plants, okra and WEEDS, lots of WEEDS. I’m determined to plant some Elbon cereal rye to reduce the nematode population but knocking this stuff down in the spring at planting time is a chore too. It can certainly improve your chances of a good tomato crop if you’re like us and don’t have enough garden to rotate nematode susceptible crops on a five year cycle.
For you tomatoholics I have to mention the website tomatoville.com. If nothing else it will confirm your suspicions that there are lots of tomato-loving gardeners on this planet. Some of the tomatoes in this year’s planting came from shared seed with other tomatovillians (you’ll be one if you register) and some came from the well known seed suppliers—like Burpee and the more exotic—Evergreen Seeds. You can count on Beverly and Arbor Gate to have the best plants and seeds on the planet (check out the Grow Italian seed rack) but if you must have the only unknown tomato variety on the block, I’ll try to help you find a source. Garden Like You Mean It!