How Can I Find Perfect Heirloom Tomatoes?
Linda Grasso - Ever heard of Omar's Lebanese, Mong, or Mortgage Lifter? Neither had I before I went to the annual Tomatomania in Encino, CA. This year, I went to the tomato seedling sale on a serious mission. You see, I was disappointed by my selections last year. Although I did quite a bit of research on what the most delicious heirloom tomatoes are, I ignored some other important factors. The problem with my picks last year was two-fold. I did not get a big crop from any of the varieties and none of my choices yielded large tomatoes. They were all about the size of those Campari tomatoes you buy at the grocery store - a mid-size tomato that you need three slices of to cover a burger. My husband kept saying, "Where are the beefsteaks?" Can you imagine someone being so pedestrian? I grow heirlooms, dude!
When I spoke to Scott Daigre (see photo above), the owner and producer of the festival, he listened intently to my gripes about last year's purchases. After giving it some thought, he offered some suggestions. Between Scott's advice and what I learned from other customers at the sale, I made my selections. (Chatting with other buyers is part of the fun - you should hear the tomato lore!)
Mortgage Lifter - This variety is a giant among tomatoes. It's bigger than a slicer and a beefsteak. It's got high acid and high sugar content and it's a good producer. It can also take intense heat.
Omar's Lebanese - This is a more unusual variety and was among the first to sell out. It has a very large fruit, one of the largest of the heirlooms. The tomato is a combination of yellow and red, and it also can handle intense heat. As one customer put it, "this is the Rolls Royce of tomatoes." How could I resist that?
Jaune Flamme - Although just a medium producer, I still had to get this variety of heirloom. It's the all-time favorite of most growers and customers. The fruit is the color and size of a tangerine. Considered a good producer, sometimes it has a pretty pink blush. Scott told me this variety can also work well in containers - but beware - if you live an an especially hot climate (95 degrees and above), you will need to water every day during the summer.
Nyagous - When I asked Scott what his three favorite picks were, he pointed to Nyagous. It's a medium-size tomato that has a caramel/chocolate color, but is green inside.
Jenny - This is an orangy yellow cherry-size tomato. I decided to get two varieties of cherries this year as my space is limited and I knew I needed to do two plants in containers. Cherry tomatoes do well in containers. I flirted with a small yellow pear, but several people warned me that they'd gotten them last year and they were mushy and not very flavorful.
Sungold - I got this variety last year and it was a decent producer and the bite-size tomatoes were incredibly flavorful. I'd put them in colorful bowls and my kids would eat them like popcorn. I was also interested in Gardener's Delight, another favorite of Scott's, but it had already sold out.
T.C. Jones - I make it a habit to always include a yellow tomato. I think they're so pretty on a plate next to bright reds and purples. I wanted to get Pineapple, which sometimes is varigated, but they quickly sold out (note to self: buy first next year, talk later). I settled on T.C. Jones, which Scott has on his list of all-time favorites.
Champion - I decided to get a hybrid variety this year (guess I can be a little pedestrian!). I really wanted something that would start producing early and would produce a high yield. Scott said this was his favorite hybrid because it is "quick and keeps popping" all summer.
So with my 8 tomato seedlings, 2 spices, two bags of soil amendment, 2 peat moss pots, and a bag of yummy worm casings (pictured below), I spent $104. When you consider heirlooms are typically $7 - 9, in my book, it's money well spent.
Linda Grasso is the energetic engine that drives SheSez. Her site exemplifies great living, with a California flair, for women of style and substance. Its mission is to inform, inspire, and entertain. Linda says,
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