Planning the Heirloom Tomato Garden — Aiming for Transcendent Taste

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The perfect tomato arrives in August in Baltimore. There is nothing that can be done to change that timing. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. The first flush generally comes in all at once — while you’re at the beach. We’ll talk about managing that problem in a few months.

To get the perfect tomato in your garden, planning starts in February if you grow from seed or May if you buy plants. I start all my tomatoes from seed mostly purchased from Territorial Seed Company. They are raised under shop lights on a heat mat in the basement. I become very attached to my seedlings and went so far this year as to name some of them.
This year’s heirloom varieties of choice are: Brandywine; Cherokee Purple; Pineapple; and Kring. Two of each. The selection is based on anticipated flavor. Brandywines are, in my opinion, the best tasting tomatoes of them all. One perfect Brandywine is worth an entire gardening season. Cherokee Purple and Pineapple are added for color and I wouldn’t waste garden space if they didn’t have fine flavor, as well. Kring is saved seed from a friend whose family has had the variety in its garden for generations.

My tomatoes went in the ground last Saturday, a week before Mother’s Day. It’s too late to start a tomato garden from seed, but not to late to order plants or buy them from a local nursery.

Politically, the perfect tomato is grown locally, organically and with open-pollinated seed. Even though I grow mostly heirlooms which fit the politically correct definition, I feel the need to bolster the heirlooms’ limited production with bounty and beauty. Bounty and beauty aren’t the best words to describe an heirloom tomato. Although they look pretty in these photographs.

A lovingly tended, properly placed Brandywine plant with a minimum of 8 hours of sun each day will still only give you about 10 fruits. And they’re not particularly beautiful hanging on the vine. Brandywine, like most larger heirloooms are deep-lobed, but are more pink than red and mine generally have cracked skin around the stem from irregular watering. So, just in case I only get one perfect Brandywine after 8 months of anticipation, I plant some tried and true hybrids — Super Marzano Italian Roma-types and Cherries. That way, come August, while I’m at the beach, my garden is overflowing with tomatoes.

Click any photograph to buy the plant.

I just found this over at Gardenrant, a favorite irreverent gardening blog.The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden. I can’t wait to read it. My $64 Brandywine.

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