Tomato Season 2017: Digging Those Eastern European Heirlooms

Well, I admit it. I start thinking about the upcoming tomato season in December. Seattle is ridiculously dark and rainy during the last month of the year, but without fail that’s when my tomato and garden catalogs trickle in and that’s when I leave the holiday hubbub at the door and start to plan for the spring.

This year, we are having a ridiculously cold and rainy spring and everyone is wondering when the dreary weather will hit the road. No one has any answers and the media even salts the communal wound by publishing articles saying this is the rainiest season EVER for the Emerald City.

That being said, I am still marching forth on my tomato planning but I am also preparing for what will most likely be a late and truncated tomato season. When I moved to Seattle from New York over twenty years ago, I got turned on to the Eastern European heirloom tomatoes. I was told that these varieties are naturally conducive to Seattle’s maritime climate and that they produced flavorful unique tomatoes that defy the odds. Indeed, varieties such as Black Krim, Moskvich, Gregori’s Altai, Cosmonaut Volkov, Stupice and Siberia have been the backbone of my tomato beds for year.  These varieties sit alongside the classic heirlooms such as Carmello, San Marzano, Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine.

I often push the envelope and plant my tomatoes around April 15th but NOT this year because nighttime temperatures are still dipping to 40, which is way too cold. Hence, I’m coddling my plants at the kitchen table and at locations throughout my little house until the days get warmer and brighter.

If you haven’t gotten your tomato game plan in order yet, fear not because there’s still lots of time to reach for some of the Eastern Europeans. I grow some by seed but I also rely on the plants grown by Langley Fine Gardens on Vashon Island. You can find them at  Sky Nursery in Shoreline, at Swanson’s Nursery in NW Seattle and at select farmer’s markets during spring.  Or, you can simply order live plants directly from Territorial Seed in Oregon.



Tomato Season 2015-A Whopper!

Heirloom tomato harvest
My late September harvest of heirloom tomatoes.

Well, I’ve been growing tomatoes here in the Pacific Northwest for at least twenty years now. And, without a doubt, I have to say that the Tomato Season 2015 was a blockbuster. Given that we had a warmer than usual spring, I trusted my instincts and planted my tomato plants one month earlier than usual. This was indeed a risk on my part because I normally don’t plant until May. That being said, I sensed that the tomatoes would do okay and much to my delight they flourished…yielding an abundance of big fat tomatoes in large quantities.

I always lean towards the heirloom tomato varieties and this year I opted for Black Krim, Mortgage Lifter, German Striped, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Stupice and a multitude of others.  I’ve been growing Stupice, an heirloom variety from Czechoslovakia for many years now. It yields a moderately sized tomato and does well even in those years when the Seattle weather doesn’t exactly cooperate with an abundance of sunshine. My Stupice tomatoes were some of the first to ripen this year and the plant is still producing.

Matt's Wild Cherry heirloom tomato

One of my biggest surprises this year was Matt’s Wild Cherry. I had never grown this heirloom before and I opted to buy it this year because I wanted to experiment with cherries. I purchased one plant and nestled it into a far corner of the yard, planting other varieties nearby.

During the course of the summer, I tried to keep that tomato bed under control by clipping and pruning the plants but somehow I never got around to tending Matt’s Wild Cherry…it was just too far back in the garden. Well during my fall cleanup yesterday, I uncovered Matt’s Wild. Over the summer,  this plant clearly had its own agenda and went wild in the back corner…rambling over the wood pile and up the fence. I was thrilled to find a jackpot of mini tomatoes back there. Growing in little clusters, the very small tomatoes have a wonderful sweet flavor and a great snappy skin. I think they are quite elegant and can easily see them being used as a brilliant little garnish on a salad or an hors d’oeuvre tray. This variety is going on my tomato list for next year.

How did the tomatoes grow in your neck of the woods this year? Did you grown any new and unusual heirlooms or varieties?