By Mary Peryea
Count me among the 95 percent of home gardeners who want to grow tomatoes – and among the many who count on the expertise of the veteran Saratoga Farmers’ Market vegetable plant growers to help me do it.
When I shopped for tomato plants in mid-May, I wanted an heirloom variety that would produce large tasty fruits for my favorite tomato sandwiches. Hybrids are bred so that the plants are more disease resistant and higher producing. The fruits also have a longer shelf life. However, some say that this means that the flavor has been bred out of them, too. I do know that I had tasted heirlooms at last year’s market and found their flavor superior to the conventional hybrids.
Charles Holub of Scotch Ridge Berry Farm showed me his Brandywine and San Marzano plants, saying that the latter was better for sauce.
Brandywines are among the most popular heirloom and are known especially for flavor. Dating back to 1885, the tomatoes ripen late in the season, but delight with huge tomatoes with even bigger flavor. Their growth type is indeterminate, and they can grow as tall as nine feet.
According to Holub, heirlooms take much longer to bear fruit than the standard hybrid tomatoes and are less disease resistant. As a result, I also chose to purchase a hybrid variety known as the Jet Star, which is a hybrid variety from the 1950s and is said to produce a large, tasty, low-acid fruit. Unlike the Brandywines which take 85 days to bear fruit, Jet Stars can be ready for picking in 72 days.
That’s still a long wait for my tomato sandwiches, but I can pick up tomatoes from the farmers’ market while I wait for my plants to ripen.
I asked Holub for his planting tips: Number one is to plant deep. If you look at your transplants, you’ll see the bottom two inches or so of the stem is indeed purple. Holub said to pinch off any leaves growing there and plant to a depth that reaches the top of the purple. He also recommends feeding tomato plants with fish emulsion, which is rich in phosphorus. Phosphorus encourages flowering, and therefore fruiting.
Of course, there are several variables that can affect how well tomatoes will grow. I’ve heard that more direct sunlight results in sweeter tomatoes. It’s also said, though, that too much water can dilute the flavor of tomatoes, which might be an issue given how rainy it’s been. And of course good soil will encourage good growth. With that in mind, I’ve added composted manure to my sandy soil and have bought a big bottle of fish emulsion.
I’ll check back later this season with an update on the tomatoes. Stay tuned.
The Saratoga Farmers’ Market is 3-6 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at High Rock Park. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Recipe adapted for Saveur
Makes 1 sandwich
*Ingredients currently available at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market
• 1 really ripe tomato (big, red-blue beefsteaks are best—all flesh and juice, with not too many seeds)*
• 2 slices of bread – toasted*
• Salt and fresh black pepper
• Add cucumber, thinly sliced – if desired*
1. Thickly slice tomato.Butter toast, slather a thick layer of mayonnaise on both pieces, then lay on two or three tomato slices and season with a generous sprinkle of salt, the tiniest pinch of sugar, and a few good grinds of black pepper.
2. Roll up your sleeves and bite through the crisp buttered bread and into the sweet taste of summer.