Friday, June 27, 2008


Decided to take a break from roses for a while and talk about something else near and dear to my heart.

The photo is from Burpee's website featuring their catalog covers over the years. Their hand painted pictures are beautiful. Makes you want to run out and order a couple packs right now;)

This morning before leaving for work I stopped to check my tomatoes. They are just not doing well this year. Late frosts and heavy rains delayed planting this spring. The entire month of May and the first half of June were unseasonably cool. The tomatoes grew very little. Now, almost the first of July, it's finally getting hot and humid and they are just starting to put on growth.

This year I planted two each of Cherokee Purple (my favorite), Black Krim, Brandywine, and Sweet Million, and one each of Big Boy, Better Boy, Early Girl, and Beefsteak. If you have never tried Cherokee Purple or Black Krim you are missing a great tomato experience:)

I love to have friends over and serve a variety of tomatoes, fresh baked bread, and maybe some cheeses. It's fun to compare the different flavors of the heirloom tomatoes. We have tomato taste tests at work. We try the different heirlooms and hybrids and pick our favorites. I'd love to hear from tomato lovers. What's your favorite tomato? Have you had success or failures with the heirloom varieties?

There are some great stories to go along with some of the old heirlooms. One story goes like this: Radiator repairman Charley Byles (who knew nothing about tomatoes) managed to cross several varieties and create an outstanding plant. Radiator Charlie sold the first seedlings of his new tomato in the 1940's for one dollar each to customers who drove up to 200 miles for his famous plants that bore tasty tomatoes averaging two and a half pounds. With these sales, Charlie managed to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in only six years, and so the tomato was named Mortgage Lifter.

If you garden in a cold zone like mine, you know that the tomato season is very short. This year it looks like it will be a whole lot shorter. Very depressing.

Everybody have a great weekend!

"What is a weed? A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." -- Emerson


Rose said...

There is nothing like a fresh tomato from the garden! Loved the story about the Radiator Charlie.
I've never grown heirloom tomatoes, but usually stick to my tried and true varieties. I'd like to hear more about Cherokee Purple or Black Krim.
My tomatoes are actually doing very well, considering how late I planted them. But we've had a lot of rain.

Mary said...

Hi Marnie,
The best tomatoes I ever had were grown by the father of a childhood friend. He was an Italian immigrant, and had a wonderful garden. I don't know the name of the variety, but they were big and gnarled, and looked very similar to the Ugli variety I see occasionally in stores. His were better, however, never having been refrigerated.

Thanks for your sweet comment on my blog today. I am just learning photography myself, so I cannot really imagine being an inspiration to anyone, but thanks all the same! :)
Enjoy your weekend!

A Wild Thing said... good news for tomatoes this year at my ranch either. This year reminds me so much of '93, when we lost all of our crops and fruit trees. Trees were actually dieing of too much watering. COME ON Mother Nature...throw us a bone!!!
At least the cabbages are doing well.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Rose. Both the tomatoes you mention taste far superior to today's hybrid varieties. They are not orange but rather pink, the tops sunburn a little and turn a darker purple. They aren't perfectly round like Early Girl or Better Boy, and sometimes they bulge in places and ofter crack. None of this affects the flavor.

Do a photo Google for Cherokee Purple and see what I mean. On Garden Web's tomato forum, CP was voted best in one of their frequent taste surveys.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Mary. I just loved today's photo--and yesterday's too. Looking at photos I admire and trying to do something similar, that's how I've learned what little I know.

Thanks for stopping over. See you soon.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Sharon. I could almost cry. We may not have tomatoes 'til sometime mid to late August. I'm very serious about my tomatoes. This might send me into a depression;(

Been watching the local doppler radar. Looks like it's raining every day in Iowa. Mother nature hates Iowa. What did you guys do?

tina said...

That is a cool story. Wish I could do that!

My tomatoes are late this year. I was surprised I even had one growing. There is still time, don't despair.

Owlfarmer said...

Your comment on my "Cabinet of Wonders" blog led me to check out yours, and it seems that we have quite a bit in common. I also envy your living in Illinois (even the northern part). We lived in Chicago for two years while my husband was in grad school at DePaul. We had a little flat in Wrigleyville, and the two years we spent there were pure heaven, compared to living in the suburbs of Dallas.

The best thing (next to the Cubs) about Chicago was my garden, where I grew gorgeous tomatoes and peppers, and big blobs of nasturtiums--and where I lined the fence with J&P "Simplicity" roses that did beautifully. Even though the growing season was at least a month shorter there than here, the fact that the summers didn't turn into hellfire in late July and August meant that I got bigger, better, and more produce.

This year the tomatoes (only two--a patio and a Celebrity--because I was quite literally burned last summer) are better, so there's promise of future success in my newly relocated kitchen garden.

Great blog--I can't wait to spend more time here. Candace

Rosy Inspiration said...

I haven't grown my own tomatoes yet, but I loooove eating them for sure, even semi-dried ones, I love them all. Cheese and tomato toasties are one of my favourites for lunch, simple and yet oh-so-delish! Oh! I wouldn't mind paying off our mortgage in six years like that. Great story! Changing the subject, our Belle is a Papillon (French breed) and Chihuahua cross. Funny how you asked if she has Collie or Shetland Sheepdog, my mother-in-law has a Shelti and I often think Belle looks a little like that too.

beckie said...

Marnie, how interesting. I have heard of heirloom tomatoes, but have never seen or tasted one. I look forward to seeing pictures of all of yours. I am growing English tomatoes this year(2 actually) Cheryl from My Wildlife Sanctuary sent me some 'gartenperles'. Looks a little like grape tomatoes. They are blooming but haven't set fruit yet. So mine may be a while too. Thanks for the info.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Marnie, yep, it's been raining a lot in Iowa the past few days, but it seems to have let up chez nous tonight. Actually it was getting dry in spots in the gardens so some was needed, but the déluge we got yesterday flooded our intersection and almost floated our trash cart away. No water in the basement though, so that was encouraging.

That Cherokee Purple sounds great ... do you find plants or start it from seeds? My luck with heirlooms has been pretty spotty, because when they've set on fruit, it's usually so late in the season they don't get a chance to ripen, so I gave up.

We just plant Better Boy and Celebrity now, after trying other varieties. We abandoned cherry tomatoes (e.g. Sweet 100) because they tended to split open after dry spells and weren't really worth the effort.

I'd like to try some more heirloom varieties again, but we surrendered what used to be prime tomato territory in the veggie garden to sweet corn this year, first time we've grown it. It won't be "knee high by the 4th of July" but it's remarkably doing well so far, even with the rains.

Don't fret too much about your tomatoes "just sitting there." I remember one really rainy June when I had gotten them out really early and they just refused to grow until the really hot weather showed up. I bet yours will too!

beckie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Tina. It's hard not to be a little worried. Mine just are not growing. I've always grown them 100% organic but this summer I may resort to a little Miracle Grow for the first time.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Good morning Candace. I'm surprised you would choose Chi over Dallas. You must not mind the cold winters. I'm that way too. I would rather endure the bitter cold than the heat of the southern states.

I plan to stop by your blog and see what's new.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Rosy. Your Belle has the markings and long hair of a sheltie but she must get the hair from her pappillon parent. She does have a much higher forehead than shelties/collies. She's a cutie!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Beckie. That's interesting. I wonder how much different the English tomatoes are? Let us know how they grow and how they taste.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Good morning Iowa Victory Gardener. I had Celebrity last year and it did very well. We have a couple places around here were you can get started heirloom tomato plants. I don't do seeds. Funny tho, I have volunteer tomatoes coming up everywhere in an area that has flowers this year. Two years ago Early Girl in a pot grew there. Toward the end of the season I didn't harvest them all. It has produced volunteers for 2 years.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hi Marnie,
I'm going to look more for Cherokee Purple. Know what you mean about tomato volunteers, for several years after we gave up on cherry tomatoes they still came back and got yanked, lol. Had some yellow sweet pear tomatoes do that too, but got rid of them finally. Yeah that sounds heartless, but they were horning in on our other tomatoes we liked more. :-)

Roses and Lilacs said...

Morning Iowa Victory Gardener. I've never heard of sweet pear tomatoes. Sounds interesting. My friend had peach tomatoes last year (fuzzy skin and all). They are supposed to be good for you but they were more of a novelty than something you would prefer over regular tomatoes.

I can not wait for my first BLT with fresh tomatoes!!!

carolr said...

I cannot really leave a commnet about growing tomatoes, since I do not. However, directly behind me, lived a real, live Mr. McGregor. He lived to garden, no kidding. He began in mid-March and worked till Oct., and his veggies, especially his tomatoes, were to die for. I kind of remember a Big Boy?
Also, your pet pics are perfect.

Naturegirl said...

Nothing better that a fresh tomatoe picked from the vine! I love Charley's story! We planted a wee cherry tomatoe plant and only now are getting the odd tomatoe.
I loved looking at your roses in previous post and your kitty so sound asleep..I love to get up close when they sleep and just stare. So calming for me!Purzzzzzzzzzzz, NG

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Aren't the old seed catalogs the best?! My friend Carole and I have spent hours in archives poring over them, doing research for an 1860s garden we planted. Love the Burpee tomato cover!
~ Monica

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Carol. I know one of those 'live in the garden guys'. Retired military. Runs his garden like he ran things in the Army. He has this Troy Build tiller (big as a Buick) that he uses all the time. No weed would dare even blow seeds into his garden. Perfection. I think he ties his tomatoes to stakes with some kind of military knots;) His wife cans and freezes with precision.

I joke about their efficiency, but they are the nicest people who donate much of their garden to our local food pantries.

Roses and Lilacs said...

NG, the purr is very relaxing. Like one of those comforting white noises. To me, everything about cats is calming.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hello Monica. Yes I love that old art whether it was on garden catalogs or selling elixir in a newspaper add.
I would like to have an old catalog cover to frame. I love antique anything;)

troutbirder said...

Just discovered "Seed Savers" near Decorah recently and am trying some heirlooms for the first time. Makes you blog especially interesting for me.

troutbirder said...

Very interesting. I'm trying some this year from "Seed Savers" near Decorah

Jeanie said...

This is a fabulous image! I love that style of art. I'm growing tomatoes -- but only in pots, as I have bad dirt. Still, I get a huge thrill when the little flowers are replaced by green fruit the size of marbles that keep growing larger and redder! Maybe in a month or so!

Thanks for visiting The Marmelade Gypsy! I love the photo of Ivan here -- I used to have a collie, and they remain my favorite breed!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Troutbirder. I never have any luck with tomato seeds, I have to pay extra and buy the plants in pots. Hope the seeds work out better for you. Please let me know what you think of the heirlooms.

Roses and Lilacs said...

Hi Jeanie, thanks for stopping to visit. I've seen a lot of people growing them in pots lately. They look pretty staked or caged in big pots with the bright fruits.

I love your kitty, Marmelade is it? Most of the folks I meet on blogs are cat people;) I agree with you, collies are the best!

Tara said...

Hi MArnie

Nice to stop by your blog, it's lovely here! Hope you can take a hop over to mine--I'll be back!