By Karen England.
Like all events everywhere, the Vista Garden Club's May 2020 Annual Flower Show and Plant Sale was canceled. And, as a result, the plant sale chairman was left saddled with all the many tomato plants that the club had lovingly grown in order to sell at the show. Tomatoes are, after all, the thing of garden mania. "Tomatomania" is a local institution, (link to tomatomania here) a sellout event across the southland for years now, and the Vista Garden Club would most certainly have sold out of all the tomato starts offered had the flower show occurred. Not to have all their hard work go to waste, instead, a scientific study was born, and I was fortunate enough to participate. In fact I'm still participating, since I'm still harvesting tomatoes in 2021 from some of those tomato plants I was given, with no end in sight, and I'm still reporting.
Everyone who participated in the project, and even some who didn’t, were given plants in April 2020 to grow in order to report their findings throughout the study about which tomato varieties do well in Vista, CA. I was lucky enough to be given a dozen of those tomato starts, amounting to seven different varieties. I shared half of them with my best friend who lives in Fullerton, CA (outside of the study parameters), as something for us to do together, since because of the pandemic we couldn't go to Tomatomania, our annual tradition.
My tomatoes grew great, with two varieties still going strong. I also planted one tomato variety not from the study and it is also prolific, supplying me several tomatoes daily, in fact, I'm eating one now as I write this. I'm told that my Fullerton friend's plants did not do as well as mine and none have made it into 2021.
I'm so surprised at my success, especially considering I'm not pruning them, the suckers run amok at my house, I'm not watering them much, I'm not fertilizing them at all, they are only getting compost. They are growing in nice new raised beds, on vintage redwood tomato towers. The raised beds are lined with critter wire to stop gophers and the tops of the bed walls are taped with copper to discourage slugs and snails.
I do not have privy to the official study findings, but I do know what I have found out as a result of participating. Of the seven varieties I was given, two were the BEST tomatoes I have ever grown or eaten, 'Momotaro' and 'Heirloom Black', and, funnily enough, they are the two that are still producing! The other five, 'Sweet Aperitif', 'Red Strawberry', 'Caspian Pink', 'Cherokee Purple', and 'Chef's Choice Orange' were just okay and a couple of them were complete duds, both in my garden and kitchen. I won’t be growing those again. My 'Cocktail' tomato, not part of the study, is a tomato producing machine. Before I even knew about the study, it was grown from a mealy grocery store tomato, called 'Cocktail' on the packaging, that I unceremoniously tossed off my front porch into a new, empty, nearby raised bed to see what would happen. What happened is a delicious, consistent producer that shows no signs of slowing down or stopping.
You don't need a scientific study to get started. Head over to your local independent garden center, preferably one of our San Diego Horticultural Society Sponsors (see President's Letter link here), and see what tomato starts are being offered for growing in your neighborhood. And if you see, 'Momotaro', 'Black Heirloom' or 'Cocktail' tomato plants for sale, grab some, no matter where you live, I bet you are going to love them!
Momotaro tomato blossoms, January 29, 2021, Vista, CA. No end in sight for these delicious tomatoes.