Lazy Ox Farm

  (Alton, Missouri)
Tomato variety trial notes, etc.

So many tomato varieties, so little space and time...

What is a gardener to do? There are as many choices in heirloom tomatoes to grow as there are shampoo varieties on a supermarket aisle. I don't know about you, but when confronted with that many choices my mind gets a little overwhelmed, my eyes get a little glazed, and I either just grab the cheapest or stick with the tried and true. I'll discuss cheap seeds in a future blog, and tried and true is always a sure bet. But, what am I missing? Maybe something phenomenal. So...

When choosing tomato varieties to grow, there are several things to consider. First and foremost is your climate. Most varieties do best in particular climates, but some are more widely adapted. A tomato that does well in Georgia probably won't do well in Montana. So keep your climate foremost in your mind. How can you know which varieties do well in your climate? Ask other local gardeners, check with your university extension, and read between the lines in catalog descriptions. If you are looking at our seeds or plants, shoot us an e-mail and ask. We hear from many gardeners all over the country about our varieties, so we have a pretty good idea of what does well where. One thing to always consider about climate is your night time temperatures. We farmed in a northern Idaho zone 6 and we are currently farming in a southern Missouri zone 6. The difference in what we can grow is astronomical. Idaho had cold nights, and we struggled to ripen any tomato outside of a greenhouse. Here in Missouri the nights are balmy and we are in tomato heaven!

Another important consideration is how experienced you are and how much you are willing to fuss with your plants. Some varieties take much abuse/neglect and still put on a good, tasty crop. Others are picky and need high fertility, or get diseases easily, or are just generally spoiled babies.

Here is a list of easy, widely adapted varieties:

Cherry tomatoes: Sun Gold F1, Peacevine Cherry, Juliet F1, Black Cherry, Honeydrop, Black Plum, Rosalita Grape.

Medium/ saladette size: Green Zebra, Juan Flamme, Nyagous, Garden Peach.  

Larger fruited: Japanese Black Trifelle,  Anna Russian, Arkansas Traveler, German Johnson, Legend, Rose de Berne, Stupice.

Huge: Well, honestly, few of the huge fruited varieties are easy to grow and widely adapted. I would say that in the North, and intermountain West, try Brandywine and Pineapple. In the South try Virginia Sweets and Brandywine. In the middle latitudes with warm nights and warm/hot (but not blazing all summer) days, try Orange Russian 117, Big Bill's, Joe's Pink, Giant Belgium, Goliath, Aunt Ruby's German Green, well, just about anything because you have an awesome tomato growing climate, if you can stay on top of the bugs and diseases! 

Paste types:  Orange Banana, Roma. In warmer areas, San Marzano is wonderful, as is Aminsh Paste. In the North, try Heinz 2653.

That's a good start in narrowing your choices down. Now you just need to consider color and flavor! Good luck, and have fun!


Spring is Just Around the Corner. Really!

The days are getting longer. There is a little more strength in the sun. So, there's snow on the ground. It won't last! What do groundhogs know about the weather, anyway? They stay underground and out of touch all winter. Spring will make its long awaited appearance before too long. I can feel my mood lifting with the lengthening days. Time to plan that garden!

Gardeners are an optimistic lot. Every year is a new start and a chance to grow our best garden ever. What new varieities will you grow this year? Our early seed sales are slanted towards black tomatoes. I think they are very "in" this year. If you haven't tried them, you should. They have fantastic flavor. We have a great selection of them. Our favorite from our trials last year is Japanese Black Trifele. It is a must grow if you like black tomatoes. Our best selling tomato of all the many varieties we sell is Black Cherry. By the way, "Black" tomatoes aren't truly black. They are deep reddish brown with varying amounts purple/brown in them. So if the idea of eating a black food is unappealing, don't worry. They have a very rich, deep, sweet flavor that is extremely satisfying. They are fantastic in salsa, and for fresh eating, or sliced on a pasta dish, or gobbled up in the garden before you make it back to the house so you don't have to share.

It already feels like spring in our greenhouse on sunny days. I highly recommend greenhouses for folks who don't like winter, like me. You can play in the dirt long before your neighbors or just sit in the warm sun, soak up some Vitamin D, plan your garden, and start seeds. We are starting seeds and getting ready to start shipping plants in late March. So, for those of you without greenhouses to start seeds in, check out our selection of heirloom veggie plants. No greenhouse required. We ship ready to plant starts to you at planting time for your area. We start taking orders in early March. Spring will be here before you know it!


2011 Tomato Trial Results

     We trialed quite a few new varieties of tomatoes this year, some of which were outstanding. (Have I ever mentioned that I love my job?) What we look for in a tomato is flavor, production, disease and bug resistance, crack resistance, and beauty. We do very little to control diseases and bugs. Maybe it's because we are lazy and maybe its because we want beginner gardeners to be able to duplicate our results. I'm not saying. Anyhow, if a tomato variety does well for us, you can be sure it is easy to grow. Keep in mind, though, that we have a particular climate and a particular soil. Your results may vary. The winners this year are:

Virginia Sweets:  A huge yellow/orange/red bicolor with an extremely sweet flavor. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the tomato for you. It produced continuously for us even in the hottest parts of our steamy summer. It's beautiful, too.

Bill's Big: Not sure about this name. It might be Wild Bill's Big Red. Yes, its big! And it just keeps on producing big tomatoes all season. It is crack resistant and cosmetically unchallenged. It has that rich, red tomato flavor and the meatiness of a beefsteak. This is our new favorite red beefsteak tomato.

Orange Russian 117: Oo la la, what a beauty! This is a yellow/orange/red bicolor oxheart, and has the best attributes of both bicolors and oxhearts: Super sweet flavor, meatiness, and excellent production all season. It's crack resistant, too. This is a County Fair winner, for sure.

Well, its back to work for me. I need to eat a few more tomatoes. Did I mention that I love my job?


Seed Saving Time

     Being a small, family farm, our business works its way into our house on a depressingly regular basis, and never more so than at seed saving time. There are plates of tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds, bowls of melon, squash, and cucumber, seeds, baskets of corn still on the ear, and bags of dried beans, cowpeas, limas, and okra pods drying where ever I can fit them.  It is a busy, but very satisfying time. If all the seeds that are currently drying in our house were planted, they could probably keep an entire city in veggies for a year.
     Most of the seeds we save are just pulled out of the fruits and dried. Tomato seeds, however, need to be fermented for three days in some juice from the tomato. This does not smell good. This does attract fruit flies. We have discoverd that fruit flies are fond of Merlot wine. Not Chardonnay. Not Cabernet. They like Merlot. (We experimented.) Fortunately, so do we. We pop open a bottle, and then have the difficult job of drinking most of it. Once that is accomplished we leave about an inch of wine in the bottom of the bottle and set it on the counter next to the jars of fermenting tomatoes. The little buggers fly into the bottle and drown trying to get a drink. Silly little lushes!
    Another hazard of seed saving is working with hot pepper seeds. I try to be careful, but working with Habaneros, Scotch Bonnets, etc, is very painful. I somehow manage to get the juice on towels, sponges, cutting board, tablecloth, and myself. Everyone in the house ends up suffering sooner or later. One time my wonderful husband decided to shop vac the dust off of the ceiling fan (good hubby!) in the dining room, where I just happened to have many little plates of carefully labeled hot pepper seeds drying (bad hubby!). You can guess what happened. The seeds went everywhere and were a total loss. Plus, we all sneezed for days!

My Favorite Tomato Variety

We sell quite a few varieties of tomato plants and seeds, and I am often asked which one is my favorite. I pause, and  try to think of a nice way to say, "Do you really think that I would grow 60 or 70 varieties of tomatoes if I had a favorite?" Maybe I can narrow it down to 10 favorites. Here I go...             For a main crop red slicer, Abraham Lincoln is my favorite. It puts out a steady suply of medium to large, round, red, cosmetically unchallenged fruits. The best thing is its flavor. It has that good old fashioned rich and sweet flavor that says, "Tom-ahhh-to."          But, I love bicolors, too. We have three varieties of yellow/red/orange heirlooms that are amazing. Pineapple, Candy Stripe, and Virginia Sweets are all large, reasonably productive, gorgeous, and have an extraordinary sweet and fruity flavor. Can't choose a favorite. Flip a coin.          I've had a love affair with oxhearts going on for two years now, and Anna Russian is my favorite. It is pink, abundant, pretty, and very tasty. Whoops, I forgot about Orange Russian. It's a yellow/red bi-color oxheart. The best of both worlds, and simply stunning and very sweet.          Favorite smallish slicer:  Green Zebra. So productive and very tasty. Gorgeous, too.          Favorite red cherry:  Peacevine Cherry. Rampant growth and production of super sweet, little, red morsels.          Favorite yellow cherry:  Honeydrop. Yum! Ten times the flavor of yellow pear.          There's more, but I'm out of room. Just remember that my growing climate is probably different than yours, so try new varieties every year so you can find your 10 favorites!


Fresh Tomatoes in December?

Yes! We are eating fresh tomatoes from our garden in Zone 6 on December 8, and anticipate having some with Christmas dinner. The vines died over a month ago, but we had the foresight to pick all the unripe fruits before the first killing frost. We put them in crates in our pumphouse, and we take them out as they show color and bring them in the house. There they continue to ripen. Do they taste like sun ripened tomatoes? Honestly, no. But they are a sight better than supermarket tomatoes and are ours and are organic.

You don't have to have a root cellar to do this. Our pumphouse is an ancient out building on our farm that is constructed of concrete blocks held together by ivy. The tomatoes need to be kept cool, but not allowed to freeze. They need moist air, too. It rains in our pumphouse, (not enough ivy on top, I guess), but our veggies are happy there as long as they don't  sit in water. You can store root crops and tomatoes and peppers in a crawl space under your house. If your crawl  space is uninsulated you may want to insulate a small area with rigid insulation. It needn't be complicated or fancy. Just keep them cold and moist without freezing.

Out of the 40 or so varieties we are eating from our "root cellar" these days, the Japanese Black Trifele is by far the tastiest. (JBT is an all around awesome tomato, and you should try it.) We have so many  tomatoes that I process a big batch into sauce or salsa every week.  I cheat and add a little sugar to mimic sun ripened tomatoes, and it turns out great. It is so much nicer canning in cold weather than in hot!


Crates and Crates of Green Tomatoes

Well, its over. Sigh. We had our fiirst killing frost 3 nights ago. No more sweet, juicy tomatoes until next summer. This is the saddest part of the year for me, looking at our frost ravaged tomato plants, I have a hard time saying goodbye, so the day before our first hard frost I pick every green tomato that looks like it stands a chance of ripening, and some that don't. I put them all in crates and move them into our pump house. Every few days I sort through them and bring any that are starting to color inside. There, they continue to ripen. No, they don't have the flavor of sun ripened tomatoes, but they are still far superior to supermarket maters.

The varieties that I picked the most green tomatoes from are Japanese Black Trifele, Anna Russian, Arkansas Traveler, San Marzano, and Big Italian. These are the varieties that had the most staying power in our garden this year. The Japanese Black Trifele even have a very good flavor after ripening inside. This may be my new favorite. Or maybe Anna Russian. Oh well, you know how it is with tomato favorites... My favorite is usually the one I am eating.

Now is the time to make green tomato chow chow, green tomato salsa, and any other green tomato recipes you like. We had a super abundance of green tomatoes this year due to our long, very mild and dry fall weather.  I put so much effort and love into our tomatoes that I just can't let them go. There are ripening tomatoes perched on every available space throughout our kitchen and dining room. Perhaps I should start a local chapter of Tomato Lovers Anonymous. We could talk about tomatoes all winter. Sigh. I have a hard time letting go.


Veggies for a Hot Summer Garden

We didn't intend to do hot summer garden trials this year, its just one of those things that happened to us. Gardens were failing all around our area, but we ate well and had an abundance to share. So, we thought we should share our successes with other folks who live where summers get blisteringly hot for a couple or three months. I'm not talking about you Florida and Gulf Coast folks. You are a breed apart. I'm talking about lower Midwest, Upper Texas, Oklahoma, Inland California, Upper South, Mid-Atlantic, etc.    

Tomatoes were not a groovy thing this year. Oh, we had some varieties that did okay. But, none of them thrived, that's for sure. So, we are not going to talk about tomatoes. Here is a list of what did extremely well for us:

Sweet and Hot Peppers, Okra, Cow (Southern, black eyed) Peas, Eggplant, Yard Long Beans, Sweet Potatoes, Melons, and Watermelons.

There's some pretty good eating in there. The yard long beans are really fun and beautiful, and produce well during heat that sends pole beans packing. We will have seed of one variety that we think is outstanding for next year.

Okra takes getting used to if you did not grow up in the South. We find it is delicious when stir fried with some of those sweet peppers and yard long beans. Cooking it quickly on high heat and a little oil keeps the slime from making an unwanted appearance. It is crisp, hearty, and yummy. No need to deep fry it. I'm getting hungry. More later...





Tomatoes for Hot Summers

You never know ahead of time what type of summer you are going to have. Had we known we would have record breaking heat and drought we would have done a heat tolerant tomato variety trial. But, last year we had unusually cool and wet, so who knew? Our temperatures rose into the 90's and 100's in late June, and did not drop down into the 80's until very late August. Nights were mostly in the 70's. We were hot, and so were are tomatoes.

Of the 60 or so tomato varieties we grew, these were the stand-outs: Juan Flamme, Homestead, Anna Russian, Nyagous, Thai Pink Egg, Sun Gold F1, Super Sweet 100 F1, Juliet F1, White Beauty, Speckled Roman, Rose de Berne, Black Cherry, and Green Grape.

These did okay, and were worth growing: Abraham Lincoln, Legend, Orange Banana, Speckled Roman, Black Zebra, Arkansas Traveler, and Amish Paste. 

And here is the list of "don't bother" if you have hot, hot summers: Ananas Noire (We have not harvested one single fruit!), Reisentraube, Isis Candy, Marmande, Old German, Pineapple, Bush Beefsteak, and Prairie Fire. Some of these grow exceptionally well where summers are moderate, but don't grow 'em in Texas!

More on Tomatoes Varieties

Ahhhhh, tomahhtoes! We love them. We can't get enough of them. They are piled all over our kitchen counters waiting to be processed into seeds and sauce. We have little plates with drying seed covering every horizontal surface that isn't already covered. We live tomatoes this time of year.

The current stand-outs from our tomato trials this year are Japanese Black Trifele, Nyagous,  Anna Russian and Reisentraube. JBF and Anna Russian are the heros of our late summer garden, pumping out plenty of beautiful fruits when most varieties are slowing down. Honestly, it took them a long time to get going, probably because of our record breaking heat and drought. Most of our tomatoes spent the better part of August sulking about the weather.

Japanese Black Trifele is a "black" tomato - really brown/red with green shoulders. It has a unique shape - like a little pouch drawn up with a string. The flavor is sweet, rich, and juicy. The greenish shoulders are very firm, which I believe discourages the fruitworm and the grasshopper - the scourges of our late summer garden! 

We grew Anna Russian in an attempt to identify our "Joe's Pink" variety, which was given to us without a name. It is a pink oxheart, but not even close to Joe's Pink. It is very similar to Cuor di bue, another pink oxheart we offer. They both produce plenty of medium large to large, pink, juicy, and very sweet and flavorful fruits. They are so similar, we will probably only offer one of them as a plant, but both of them as seeds.

We are out of room for today. More later!

















Tomato time!

July 28, 2010:

     The tomatoes are coming on hot and heavy now. They're a little late because we were so busy growing and shipping plants for you all that we got our own garden going later than usual.

     The German Johnsons and Joe's Pink Oxhearts are stand-outs right now. "Wow" is all I can say! Big, productive, and just beautiful. Oh, and extrememly tasty, too. The German Johnsons were not so great last year. I guess they like our exceptionally hot summer this year. The Joe's Pink, having been grown is this area for years, are supremely adapted. What an awesome tomato! I feel like a super star growing these.

     On the "Why Bother" list so far are Orange Flesh Purple Smudge and Old German. OFPS is currently all the rage, and it looks so beautiful in pictures. Well, ours have no purple smudge and the flavor is so-so. Its a small, yellow/orange tomato. I think Juan Flamme is better if you want a small. orange tomato. It is more productive and tasty. Old German is a small, yellow/orange tomato, too. It also is lacking flavor. I don't think we will offer these two next year, although I have not written them off yet. They have a couple more months to impress me.

     Look for Thai Pink Egg in our offerings next year. What a very cool tomato! It sets loads of perfect, firm, small, egg-shaped maters that are a gorgeous pink color. We grow lots of pink tomatoes, but this one is in a color class all its own. Now, I must admit that I am not sure about the flavor yet because my 5 year old daughter, who is a pinkaholic, picks and eats them before they are fully ripe. She is drawn to them like an ant to honey.


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