The Seventeen Tomato ExperimentOctober 4, 2009
How it all Began …
I thought this would be a relatively unambitious gardening year . . .
I would try a few new vegetables – Brussel sprouts and celery and carrots. I would open up a small third bed so I could better rotate my crops to avoid soil depletion. And I would put up fencing to protect my tender plants from my voracious hens.
Then, I had the idea of placing my tomatoes in pots instead of in the actual garden soil so that I could have them in the spot where there is maximum sunshine, but, alas, a thick layer of concrete. And then, when I went to the pépinière, the local garden shop, I couldn’t choose between all the varieties on offer so I brought home six different types and planted them. And then, that night, I kept regretting my choices, wondering if I missed out on the ultimate tomato, the one that my taste buds would merely glance at before bending knee and proposing a long and happy life together. So, I went back and bought four more varieties. A week later, I saw a Russe Noir, and I couldn’t resist. And then my girlfriend complained that of the 11 varieties I had none were her favourite, the Zebra tomato, so I went back and bought a Green Zebra. As for the last five varieties, I just got obsessed, I saw them and I couldn’t say no. Which is probably the same obsessive instinct that has led to my extravagant pumpkin displays, my vast collections of Kinder Egg toys, and, of course, my many nights of excessive drinking.
So, that’s how I arrived at the Seventeen Tomato Experiment. I will be posting photographs at various stages of their development, and I am eager to see which breed is best for the Marseille climate, which offers the most abundant crop, and which, of course, is most pleasing to the palate. I also look forward to serving dinner guests salads composed of six or seven types of tomatoes. So, if you have a hankering for tomatoes and are in the neighbourhood, drop me a line.
Onward mighty tomatoes!
Update : July 9
Disease has struck. I’ve been coping with a fungus that causes yellowing, then blackening of the leaves for the past three weeks. Locals here call it the ‘cul noir’ or the ‘black ass’ sickness and it is aggravated by giving the plants to much water over too short a period of time. The truth is, I need a drip/spray watering system if I want to become a truly effective gardener, but it’s hard to justify the expense for what amounts to a minor hobby. As my daughter tends to pull leaves off the plants and put them in her mouth, I’ve rejected any chemical solution for the fungus and instead have taken to watering the plants while drinking a can of beer so to numb the heartbreak of my suffering tomatoes.
Update : August 19
Okay, the photos are finally completed. I had been waiting on the official Coeur de Boeuf shot because my tomatoes didn’t resemble the ones in the shops. The ones in the shops have beautiful rippled crowns, while mine pretty much resemble your normal round tomato. It now being nigh the end of August, and after a dozen or so non-rippled Coeur de Boeufs, I figured I wasn’t getting the ripples … so voilà.
Also, early polling has the colourful tomatoes in the lead – the yellow Ananas, the green Green Zebra and the purple Russe Noir … is the beautiful aesthetic swaying people’s taste buds ? Final results in September, along with the five breeds that will get planted again next year.
September 15 – Judgment Day
What good all this? Well, based on the taste of the fruit and the productivity of the plant, this experiment has determined what five breeds of tomatoes I will grow next year. In hindsight, I should have set this Tomato Experiment up like a reality television show and voted one tomato out of my garden each week starting in July. Alas, all that potential for drama gone.
Still, results are results. First, the taste of the experiment. The tomatoes were judged in both official and non-official manners. In the official trials, tasters were given a score card and asked to judge the tomatoes on their taste, appearance, and texture. These official trials involved at least eight different varieties per sitting with palate-cleansing bread in between each tomato. The non-official trials? Drunken barbeques and rosé afternoons where tomatoes were lazily bit and opined upon.
The results? Well, the colourful tomatoes were the universal favourites, with Ananas (yellow) Russe Noir (purple) and Green Zebra (green) always finishing on the podium in varying orders. Among the red tomatoes, the Russe and the tiny Brin de Muguet were the favourites. Meanwhile, the cooking tomatoes such as the Roma and the Rio Grande, bred for their voluminous production, and the Supersteak and Agora, bred for its resistance to bruising and hence supermarket friendliness, were universally condemned for their lack of flavour.
In terms of production, the Marmande, the Green Zebra, the Brin de Muguet, the Rio Grande and the Roma had the most impressive yields.
Final Voting Results, Taste (18 different tasters)
2) Green Zebra
3) Russe Noir
5) Brin de Muguet
6) Andine Cornue
7) (tie) Saint Pierre & Marmande
9) Coeur de Boeuf
17) Rio Grande
Top 5 Most Productive Plants (as of Sept. 15)
1) Brin de Muguet – 68 tomatoes*
2) Roma – 44 tomatoes
3) Rio Grande – 42 tomatoes
4) Marmande – 33 tomatoes
5) Green Zebra – 28 tomatoes
* these are tiny tomatoes, a little larger than a cherry tomato, and hence a single plant yields much more fruit
And the winners are …
The five tomato plants that have earned a place in my 2010 garden :
Green Zebra, Ananas, Russe Noir, Brin de Muguet, and Marmande
The Full Tomato Grid
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