Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nightshades on Parade

Black Plum Tomatoes
Over the weekend, we went to our local feed store and purchased what will end up being our “early” tomato and pepper plants. The selection is pretty limited, but the plants are only fifty cents each, so we buy a pretty good stock of them to get us started. It’s still too early to set them out here, but we like to get them out of the one-inch starter pots and into bigger ones so we have some good-sized, well-established plants to set out in a few more weeks. I bought enough “Rutgers” and “Homestead 24’s” to plant a two hundred foot row, which is the length of our biggest garden area. I’ve grown both these heirlooms before and they do well here.

The manager of the feed store told us that the company they get their plants from is having a hard time filling orders this year and we’re hoping they’ll have some “Large Red Cherry” and “Porters” in sometime this week. The cherries are always our earliest tomato and I could get by all season on them if I could only plant one variety. They also make excellent sun-dried tomatoes. I’ve dried them alongside the traditional Italian sun-dried tomato “Principe Borghese” and couldn’t tell a difference in flavor. (I also use the cherry varieties as a “trap crop” for the chickens to keep them from sampling the GOOD tomatoes! “Yellow Pears” are a great variety for that too.) The Porters are a decent saucing tomato and they produce well throughout our dry, hot summers. Unfortunately, they’re a little small for skinning and chopping, so I prefer to make salsa from other varieties.

I may also grab a few “Beefsteaks” though I rarely bother with hybrid anything, except for “Juliet” tomatoes, which are one of my favorites. I could probably run a produce stand from that tomato alone, so prolific and perfect they are! The only other hybrid we’re growing this year is the “Ancho San Martin” pepper. We go through a LOT of those fresh and dry the rest for chorizo, enchiladas and tamales. If I’m going to have to fire-roast and skin the darned things, I like for them to be BIG, and the hybrids are the biggest!

We ended up getting only eight each of the jalapenos and cayennes, which will probably be more than we need. Curtis canned several cases of jalapenos last year and we probably have enough dried cayenne to last us for a couple years. I’ll grab a few “Cal Wonders” and “Big Berthas” when they arrive though. I’m not a fan of regular bell peppers, but it’ll be awhile before the really good peppers we start from seed will be ready, so they’ll fill in the gap. And I can always sell them to people who actually like them once the good ones are producing!

We’ve also started most of our tomato, pepper, tomatilla and eggplant seedlings.  Most of those won’t be ready to set out until the middle of May. This year, we’ve scaled the pepper varieties down to about thirty varieties (from the forty we did last year), and I’ve kept the tomato varieties about the same as last year (around thirty), but I’ve elminated some and added others. I’m trying a new variety of tomatilla this year, the “Cisneros”. It’s quite a bit bigger than the traditional heirloom “Toma Verde” and is closer in size to what’s available in stores now. I’m doing a full two hundred foot row of tomatillas this year and hoping to sell some.

We’ve never had much luck with eggplant, even though we both love it. Seems like it needs really warm weather to even get decent seedlings and by that time, the flea beetles demolish it. This year, we sprung for a couple cases of 2.5” and 3” blow-molded nursery pots to start our seedlings in and we’re hoping it makes a difference, especially with the size of seedlings come planting time. I ordered them from Novosel Enterprises and they’re very clean, heavy and well-made (no oozy plastic seams!) for a great price. We’re hoping that with good care, they’ll last us several years at least.

This year, our nightshade seeds came mostly from Tomato Growers Supply, with a few from Baker’s Creek, Totally Tomatoes and Willhite.  (I still have a few left over from last year from Pinetree, but I’ll be hesitant to order from them in the future after discovering their “Principe Borghese” was not true-to-type – it MUST have a pointy end and be indeterminate!) I’ve read some negative reviews on Dave’s Garden Watchdog about Tomato Growers Supply, but sometimes I think others think more highly of their seed-starting skills than are warranted. (It’s hard to take people seriously who claim their seeds didn’t germinate when all of ours germinated just fine!)

Anyway, here’s the list of nightshades we’re growing this year. If anyone from the Wise County area is reading this, we may have a few extras to share, plus tomato cuttings later in the year for fall harvest.

Amish Paste (new)
Anna Russian (new)
Arkansas Traveler (new for me – my stepdad loves it)
Black Plum (grew last year – salad variety for eating fresh and drying)
Box Car Willie (new)
Costoluto Genovese (new)
Djena Lee’s Golden (new – free seed packet from Totally Tomatoes)
Early Wonder (free seed pack last year from TGS – loved it!)
German Orange Strawberry (grew last year – for slicing and saucing)
German Red Strawberry (ditto)
Hillbilly (new)
Homestead 24 (grow most years)
Hungarian Italian (new)
Juane Flamme (grew last year – chickens “sampled” most of them)
Juliet F1 (grow most years – best salad tomato I’ve ever eaten)
Kalman’s Hungarian Pink (new)
Large Red Cherry (grow most years – early, productive, good dried)
Mama Leone (new)
Martino’s Roma (grew last year – great sauce tomato)
Opalka (grew last year – one of my favorites)
Pink Ponderosa (grow most years – big, meaty slicing tomato)
Polish Linguisa (grew last year – my 2nd favorite tomato)
Porter’s (NOT improved – grow most years)
Principe Borghese (grow most years – great fresh and dried)
Purple Russian (grew last year – use fresh, it turns sauces and salsas brown)
Rose de Berne (new – I have high hopes for this one)
Royal Hillbilly (new)
Rutgers (grow some years)
Sausage (grew last year – my favorite tomato EVER for saucing!)
Sioux (new – I’m really excited about this one)
San Marzano Lapadina (if you can only grow one, pick this one!)
San Marzano Redorta (grew last year – the fruits are HUGE)
Virginia Sweets (new – free seed packet from TGS)

Mild/Hot Peppers
Anaheim TMR (our standard for ristras, very fragrant dried)
Ancho San Luis (good dried, a little small for poblanos)
Ancho San Martin F1 (hybrid – for poblanos)
Fatali (new)
Golden Greek Pepperocini (same as the Italians from BC we grew last year)
Guajillo (we dry these)
Habanero (I made ONE batch of salsa last year with these – whew!)
Italian Pepperoncinos (the ones from Totally Tomatoes are different than BC)
Jalapeno M (the standard hot jalapeno)
Leutschauer Paprika (quite hot, but delicious – I’ve been using it in sausage)
Mulato Isleno (ho hum, but we had some seed left from last year)
NuMex Big Jim (new, supposed to be bigger than Joe Parker’s)
NuMex Joe E. Parker (nice ristra pepper)
Pasilla Bajio (smoky-flavored dried pepper)
Serrano (the standard for pico de gallo)
Tabasco (nothing like them, but they’re a pain to pick!)
Tomato (a new variety from Baker’s Creek)

Sweet Peppers
Chinese Giant (grew last year, but I’m still not sure about them yet)
Cubanelle (my favorite frying/grilling pepper, bar none!)
Giant Aconcagua (new – TGS, just had to try them!)
Giant Szegedi (grew last year, very productive)
Golden Marconi (new)
Paprika (from Pinetree – who knows what it actually is?)
Paprika, Alma (grew last year – plants didn’t do well)
Pimento L (grow most years)
Quadrato, Red (grew last year – plants didn’t do well)
Quadrato, Yellow (grew last year – delicious)
Red Cheese (we’ve not had much luck with this one, but I keep hoping!)
Red Marconi (my favorite pizza/salad pepper along with Corno di Toro)
Sweet Cayenne (new – thought it might make good paprika)
Sweet Cherry (grow most years – my favorite pickling pepper)
Sweet Pickle (grew last year – growing as ornamental this year)

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