A tomato review

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” -Lewis Grizzard

Although our recent cold snap didn’t kill our tomatoes, the season is definitely wrapping up. Our daytime temperatures remain warm and pleasant, but overnight lows stay steady in the low 50s, and tomatoes do not thrive in this weather; as one would expect, they start to taste refrigerated. To mark the natural conclusion of the warm-weather crops, we offer you a review of this season’s tomatoes.

Peacevine Cherry

Peacevine Cherry was a new tomato for us this season and one of our top two of the varieties we grew. This tiny heirloom cherry tomato is a prolific indeterminate producer on small, compact plants, which would make it ideal for container tomatoes. The tomato was dehybridized from the F1 Sweet 100 by Dr. Alan Kapuler; it’s called Peacevine because it contains exceptionally high amounts of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a naturally-occurring amino acid that acts as a sort of gentle tranquilizer. It’s also one of the tomato varieties highest in vitamin C. We loved its punchy sweet-tart flavor and diminutive size and will definitely plant it again.

Red Pear

Red Pear is a classic heirloom. The flavor isn’t spectacular, but its productivity somewhat makes up for what it lacks in palate fireworks. It’s a perfect snacking tomato and ideal in salads; I also like to roast trays of these tomatoes in a moderate oven with lots of olive oil and basil and garlic, then keep them in the fridge for adding to pastas and layering on toasted sourdough. Red Pear isn’t showy or flashy, but rather loyal and consistent, and the tomato garden needs some stalwart supporting players in addition to its stars.

Chadwick Cherry

This tomato is named for Alan Chadwick, a brilliant English horticulturalist and a leading innovator of many modern organic farming techniques. Chadwick Cherry was our first producer this year, and offered lots of flavorful fruits that were a bit smaller than a golf ball. The plants themselves were massive and sprawling, and will need better staking and support in future seasons. The Chadwick Cherry tomatoes we grew weren’t absolute knockouts in terms of flavor, but their early ripening and high productivity means we’ll likely grow these again.

Possibly Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye?

These tomatoes were a bit of a surprise; about seventy percent of the plants I had marked as Green Zebra actually turned out red and striped. This could be an odd cross-pollination, which is uncommon in tomatoes but not impossible, or it could simply mean that seeds were mixed up. (Remember to separate and label your seeds carefully!) No matter how they appeared in the garden, the tomatoes were delicious; I plan to save seeds from these to see if they breed true next season.

Jaune Flamme

These Jaune Flamme tomatoes, which translates from French as “yellow flame,” are making a repeat appearance. I love their bright apricot-orange color and their sweet-tart flavor. Our plants weren’t as productive this year as last, but that may be due to the odd weather we had. These tomatoes hold their color when simmered or roasted, and I made a gorgeous sauce from them last fall. I likely won’t have enough of these to repeat that this season, but we’ll certainly grow Jaune Flamme again.

Yellow Pear

Like its sister Red Pear, Yellow Pear tomatoes can be counted on to produce massive quantities of small, bright yellow fruit. Unfortunately, we found these to be rather mealy this year, and a friend who also grew these a mile up the road had the same experience. I think our elevation and cool overnight temperatures aren’t kind to this tomato; these do grow really well in the Denver area. This season’s lackluster results mean we likely won’t devote space to Yellow Pear again, despite their productivity.

Green Zebra

Though most of our Green Zebra plants turned out to be something else entirely, a few are clearly true Green Zebras. This is a stunning tomato, honestly. It can be difficult to tell when it ripens, but the bright green and yellow striping is spectacular in the garden and on the plate. We focus on smaller tomatoes because of our short and erratic growing season; this is the largest tomato we grow and its lovely coloration and tart flavor means we’ll probably keep this on as a standard.

Lucky Tiger

And finally, far and away this season’s top pick: Lucky Tiger, developed by a legendary tomato breeder named Fred Hempel. The tomato itself is an oval shape, like a Roma or San Marzano, and its coloration is a striated red and green with hints of gold. As with Green Zebra it’s challenging to tell when this tomato is fully ripe; you have to go more by the feel of the flesh rather than its color. When ready, though, the flavor is incomparable. It is a perfect blend of tart and sweet, with jolts of acidity, and it’s a tomato that demands to be appreciated on its own or with just olive oil and salt. This is a stunner of a tomato, both visually and on the palate, and will be a staple at Quiet Farm in future growing seasons.

And thus concludes our 2020 tomato season. We’d love to know what you grew this year! Was there a particular tomato you loved? Something you had high hopes for but that ultimately didn’t impress? Are you saving tomato seeds? Please share in the comments below!

Gone to seed

We’ve talked a lot about saving seeds here at FQF, and since fall is definitely underway, they’re on our minds more than ever at the moment. In addition to all of our canning and preserving projects and other preparations for winter, collecting and storing seeds is a big part of our autumn task list.

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Collect your sunflower seeds before the birds and squirrels do!

We use the idiom “go to seed” to refer to someone or something that’s let itself go. It’s become messy or unattractive or disheveled or unkempt; it no longer appears tidy and neat. It’s obviously a phrase of agricultural origin, and this is the time of year when it takes on significance in the garden, as most annuals are coming to the end of their natural lives. In their quest to reproduce, the plants have gone to seed: typically they flower first, then the flowers produce seeds, which are spread by wind, insects, animals or human intervention.

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Lettuces are one of the easiest plant families from which to save seeds.

It’s unfortunate, truly, that so many gardeners are offended by the appearance of plants gone to seed, and especially in perfectly manicured suburban settings are likely to rip plants out at the first sign of flowering. Letting plants proceed through their natural life cycle teaches you a lot about botany and helps you become a better grower. Plus, if you’re careful and diligent, you can start building your own unique seed bank, which will both save you money and improve plant diversity.

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Many of these collected onion seeds have already been replanted for a fall crop.

Saving seeds is so much easier than many people think; annuals are typically desperate to present their seeds to any creature who might help disperse them, so collecting is often simple. In most cases, know that you need to leave the plants alone long past the point of edibility for the greatest success. I always abandon a few tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, tomatillos and cucumbers on the plants for as long as possible so that these internal seeds have plenty of time to mature, no matter how big or shriveled or overripe the fruits might get. (The exception here, of course, is if a hard freeze is forecast; you’ll want to bring all fruits in in that situation.) Greens often turn intensely bitter once they’ve gone to seed, but can be replanted quickly.

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Most of these Peregion beans are destined for the soup pot this winter, but a handful will be saved for next year’s crop.

Some seeds are obvious, because they’re the part of the plant we eat: think beans and peas. To collect these seeds, let the pods dry on the plant until they rattle; then shell, bag and label. Others can be trickier; lettuces often take a while to go to seed, unless the weather is very hot; once they do finally turn, the leaves will be bitter and almost crispy, but you’ll see dozens of tiny puffballs on the top of the plant, and these can easily be collected in a paper bag once they’re thoroughly dry. You’ll want them to almost crumble in your fingers when you try to harvest; if some of the little cottony puffs have already started flying away, you’ll know it’s a good time to harvest the seeds. I think lettuce offers the best return on seeds of any edible annual; each single plant will produce thousands of seeds.

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Don’t try to plant the little packets from your favorite pizza place.

Saving seeds from other edible crops can be a bit trickier. It’s no surprise that tomatoes, the garden’s high-maintenance princess, require more attention. Tomato seeds should be fermented before storage; this extra step actually creates a sort of antibacterial coating around the seed, offering an extra layer of protection. To ferment tomato seeds, simply scrape the seeds and their gel out of the tomato with a spoon; the flesh can still be eaten. Place the seeds in a small, shallow container and cover with just a little water. Let this mixture sit at room temperature for a few days until mold has formed. (Don’t be put off by the fragrance! That’s nature at work.) Once all the liquid has evaporated and the seeds are thoroughly dry, carefully separate the seeds with your fingertips, bag, label and store.

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Save seeds from the vegetables you love! And maybe even the vegetables you don’t love! Just in case there’s a pandemic!

Saving seeds is one thing, but storing them properly is just as important, if not more so. Never blend seeds from different vegetable varieties, unless you’re intentionally looking to create something like a greens mix. Store all seeds properly labeled in individual seed bags or envelopes, and always keep your seed bank in a cool, dark and dry location, away from bugs or insects. The wildfires decimating the West right now have forced a lot of anxious contemplation of what I’d save if we had to evacuate; I’ve realized that my irreplaceable seed bank is one of those items. Seeds matter. Self-sufficiency matters. And the ability to grow our own food – without the pernicious influence of megacorporations – matters the most.

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These arugula seeds have already scattered to the four winds.

Like so many other things in the early days of the pandemic, people panic-bought pretty much all the country’s seeds for their quarantine gardens. I’d love to know how many of these impulse seed purchases actually made it into the ground, and how many remain unopened in a forgotten Amazon shipping box in a dusty closet. Considering how quickly the seed companies’ inventory vanished this spring, seed saving has become more important than ever. If you grow anything at all – even if it’s just a pot of basil on a sunny windowsill – consider letting your plants go to seed so you can collect and save that seed. If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that nothing about our food system is secure, and seeds are no exception.

This week in flowers: September 7

Slowly but surely, summer is giving way to fall – or winter, really, considering Tuesday night’s forecast. From a high today of just above 90, the thermometer will plummet sixty degrees to a projected hard freeze Tuesday night, and possibly snow, too. This shockingly early first frost (it usually occurs in the first or second week of October) is on-brand for the utter debacle that is 2020, and it will likely kill all of our tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, flowers and delicate herbs. None of these plants are even close to finished for the season, so our overall yields will be cut in half, at least. It’s a terrible, heartbreaking situation for any farmer, and we’re no exception.

At the moment, though, we still have lots of blooms on the farm, and it’s fascinating to watch the flowering plants shift with the seasons. Here are a few we’ve spotted recently (see blossoms from earlier this season here and here). After Wednesday morning, all of these will have vanished.

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