Tomato Testing, Grafting and Tasting

An article in the “Science” section of last week’s New York Times about the search for a better tasting tomato (isn’t that vegetable’s holy grail?) led me to muse about this season’s tomato crop.

While overall, it has been a slower season than usual for me, not helped, of course by the fact that deer browse stunted all my tomatoes, there are certain things that have been successes.

The first thing that has been a success, at least in terms of disease resistance, has been the grafted tomatoes. I can’t say that they have grown or produced fruit any quicker than the un-grafted varieties (but that may be due to the deer browse problem and not due to any fault of the tomatoes themselves).

I planted 3 types of tomatoes, and I planted a grafted variety next to an un-grafted variety. In each case, I gave the grafted variety slightly better positioning in the garden so that it got slightly better sun. It didn’t seem to make much difference–but that again may be because the deer ate the tops off at a crucial time in late June.

Where the grafted tomatoes really shone was in disease resistance. By late July there was nothing left of the un-grafted ‘San Marzano.’ It had completely succumbed to a disease or blight–I wasn’t really paying attention because I was focusing on warding off the deer at that point. I suspect it was a disease, however, since none of the other tomatoes in the garden succumbed and blight, from what I understand, is highly contagious.

The grafted ‘San Marzano’ is still going strong and producing fruit–so that is ample reason to speak up for the grafted tomatoes. At least in my garden, every year there is some reason that something attacks the tomatoes.

This year was the perfect storm of attacks on the tomatoes too–or the “everything that can go wrong, will go wrong” year. In June it was the deer and the over-abundance of rain (if there can be such a thing) leading to disease.

In July, it was still the deer, and disease.

In August, I found hornworms, something I don’t think I’ve ever had–or if I have, I’ve had them with the beneficial wasp larva on their backs so I could remove the worms, sequester them somewhere safe and let the larva do their work. This year, no such luck. No larva to be found. And I’m such a sucker, I still can’t kill the big lugs. I just cut them off the plants and put them way over in the woods. They probably die anyway, removed from their food source. But I figure if they have a chance of transforming into a moth, they ought to have it.

So needless to say, with all that going on, there haven’t been a lot of tomatoes yet. I’ve got a lot of green ones on the plants but I haven’t had a lot of red ones. But there’s still time. And if all else fails, I know a few great methods of ripening the green ones. I’m just not into fried green tomatoes and I don’t have the patience to make my Dad’s green tomato relish.

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