A few weeks ago, I wrote about my watermelon in November. What I didn’t reveal was that I also have tomatoes in the garden. It’s late for tomatoes, I know this and it’s a little embarrassing to be giving tomatoes any coverage this late in the season when I should be writing about kale, or spinach, or beets. I had good intentions on July 3. That’s when I started new seedlings for fall. I babied them, grew them under a shady tree, kept them watered, and they grew into strong little juveniles. Unfortunately, I was behind on building my raised beds, so they didn’t get planted right away. Tropical Storm Lee came along and pummeled them into twiggy stems. Sometime in September, the beds were ready and in went the sad tomato twigs. This is my reality of growing food.
I started with 16 heirloom varieties grown from seed that I wanted to test. Of the 16 varieties, 10 survived with a total of 18 plants. It’s November and they are just now putting on fruit. The cooler nights are stunting their growth a bit and I don’t expect much out of them, but I keep them around because like the watermelon, they are full of surprises and a worthy study.
In order to keep them growing, we need to give them a little assistance. The days, though shorter, have been relatively nice with temps in the 70’s. The nights are becoming a problem. This week the temps are scheduled to dip into the 40’s. We constructed a hoop house over the tomato bed with reused 1″ irrigation pipe. We never know what we’ll find in our back yard – treasures abound. This will be covered with a huge sheet of 4 mil. plastic in the evenings. The key in the sunshine state to extend crops using a hoop house, is to keep close tabs on their micro-environment. Typically, the plastic will need to be removed or well vented during the day because it can quickly create a greenhouse affect and burn up tender plants. We also use 1 gallon milk jugs filled with water and black dye as a heat sink. These absorb heat during the day and radiate it back out in the hoop house at night.
Which tomatoes are performing best? Not what I expected. The two top performers – keep in mind, these are for a late fall planting – are the Cherokee Purple and the Beam’s Yellow Pear. The Beam’s grows like a weed. No surprise there. It’s loaded with fruit and sprawling out of control. I really didn’t think the Cherokee would produce any fruit, but it is steadily ramping up nice sized, cat faced tomatoes. The other tomatoes that have surprised me are the Isis Candy cherry tomato and the Russian varieties: Siberian, Nyagous, and Glacier. I thought for sure they would do well because of their tolerance for cooler temps. Seems that hasn’t played out to their advantage.
As for taste, the verdict is still out as none have yet to ripen. I’ve heard that fall tomatoes aren’t nearly as flavorful as spring and summer tomatoes, but certainly they must be an improvement over store bought tomatoes, no? We’ll see if we can be spared a frost for just a few weeks longer in hopes that the immature green fruits have a chance to grow to full size. Chilling injury can occur and lycopene is no longer produced at 50 degrees. Harvesting green and ripening indoors will probably be the best we can hope for now. Green tomato chutney may be in my future. Anyone have a good recipe to share?
* Many of the varieties mentioned are available at our heirloom seed shop.