Tomatoes at the heart of summer; four varieties reviewed

Heritage tomatoes

It’s such a pleasure to go outside each morning at 8 a.m, still tottering on sleep legs. My brain starts opening like a book as sunlight breaks over the pines. Sometimes I dig a few potatoes, or run and grab my camera to photograph dew on the dill.

We’ve reached the very heart of summer in Ontario. Hard work and patience are reaping benefits in the garden. A few days of cooler weather don’t seem to be bothering the tomatoes, which have started coming on fast and furious. The more heat units, the better for them, but apparently we have had a good overall mix of sun and solid rain this season.

This is my third year vegetable gardening here, and the first time I’ve had such a satisfying crop. Last year, as I recall, we had cherry tomatoes in July, but no other varieties before mid-August.

We’ve already tasted four varieties, shown here with some shallots and a red onion from the garden.

Cosmonaut Volkov (centre) is Ukrainian, apparently good for cool climates. Ours are not as large, colourful or tasty as they’re reputed to be, and the plant is the only one affected by blight so far. It’s a good early tomato, but not my favourite.

Sun Sugar (bottom), on the other hand, is super sweet, flavourful and large for a cherry. It might be less productive than other cherry varieties, but with tomatoes I prefer quality to quantity. This hybrid I will grow again.

Purple Plum (left) is a repeat in my garden: nice colour, flavour and productivity. My only regret is that I only bought one plant this year, as it’s great for sauces.

Black Sea Man (the big guy) is a Russian heirloom tomato. It’s wonderful to have a big, delicious beefsteak tomato ripening so early in the garden. The colour is even more spectacular when you slice it, a work of art alongside anything from the barbecue. It’s another one to remember. By happy accident we’ll have lots of them. I meant to buy seven varieties, one plant of each, but arrived home with two Black Sea Man and no Earl of Edgecombe. But I could have done worse, and we’ll fit the earl in next summer somehow.

Even the Brandywines (below), a later heritage variety worth the extra wait, are ripening nicely and will be ready in another day or two. Coming along slowest of all is the Black Cherry, which is supposed to be ready 15 days earlier than the Brandywine. It’s just starting to ripen, so we’ll soon find out whether it’s worth the patience. Cherries are supposed to provide quick gratification while we’re waiting for the beefsteaks.

Brandywine tomatoes

Many tomato fans consider Brandywines a touchstone of tomato flavour, practically a meal in themselves with a little salt and fresh basil. I grew some many years ago and they were the best I had ever tasted. They were pink, gnarly and ugly.

There seems to be a lot of variety in Brandywines. Last year I had a plant, but the fruit didn’t ripen until the cool of September, a disappointing harvest. This year’s plant is doing much better. The tomatoes are more orange and nicer to look at than the ones of memory. Hopefully their flavour will be up to par.

Still the best part of having a garden is just – having a garden.

Dew on Mammoth DillSome mornings I simply stand and watch bumblebees in the visiting the borage and anise-hyssop flowers. A garden is pleasure, and I soak it in. Life is a collection of moments; some we should treat with special honour.

Vegetable garden in July

6 thoughts on “Tomatoes at the heart of summer; four varieties reviewed

  1. “Life is a collection of moments; some we should treat with special honour.” Agreed!

    One of my favorites is Black Krim, which is also from Russia, or Eastern Europe somewhere. It’s growing in my garden this year along with Cherokee Purple, a potato-leaf variety of tomato, and something else I forgot the name of, plus a volunteer from some previous year that survived the breakdown of composted vegetable scraps. So far squirrels have been minimal. I’m surprised at that but have not let down my guard yet!

    1. Those sound good, Joe. Years and years ago I grew another Russian hybrid called Kotlas. They were smallish red tomatoes packed with delicious flavour. I’ve tried in vain to find seeds for this variety again.

      We’re not feeding birds (squirrels) on our deck this summer, so we haven’t had much problem with tomato thieves. Something stole the very first Sun Sweet cherry, but they haven’t returned. Good luck!

  2. I miss having a garden SO MUCH, and of all the gardens I’ve left behind, I miss the last one the most. It was a joy.

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