Feature

7 varieties of heirloom tomatoes shine in the sun.
Backyard harvest thanks to Herrick’s Seed Library. Photo by Holland Weekly.

Tomatoes for America

By Kathleen Schenck
September 13, 2019

I don’t know about you, but something about last night’s Democratic debate just makes me want to talk tomatoes.

Holland Weekly has published more than one story about our local library’s loving attempts to arm every man, woman and child with heirloom seeds. Herrick’s Seed Library started in an old card catalog in 2018, and has succeeded in making backyard gardeners of us all for two years in a row now.

The results are delicious.

In the name of serious journalism, Holland Weekly planted 48 tomato plants of 8 heirloom varieties. After Herrick’s free gardening workshop last March in which participants walked away with six brandywine tomato seeds in potting soil and trays and the knowledge to see them to fruition, we watched our brandywines germinate and sprout into happy little seedlings in a sunny room just waiting for the great outdoors. We added to the family the following varieties: yellow candy currant, black cherry, moskvich, rose de bern, san marzano, cherokee purple, and green vernissage.

In our sandy Holland soil, we bugged Michigan State University Extension to learn how to properly amend it. Several additions of biochar and compost made from grass clippings later, the backyard was transformed into a tomato making machine. The yellow candy currants were the first to ripen–and ripen, and ripen, and ripen. We keep gifting them to our neighbors and freezing as many as we can. They earn an A+, meaning we love them for their flavor, ease of growing, and productivity. We would happily grow them again.

On the other end of the scale lies the green vernissage. No way, no how do we want anything to do with these tricksters again. They are green, after all, so knowing when to pick them is nearly impossible. One must squeeze each and every green orb in order to detect just the right “give” in order to pick a ripe tomato. We lost interest. I can see them now, rotting on the vine as I type. F.

The brandywines were the most delicious slicing tomato. The moskvich grew quickly and easily, but the taste was a bit too commercial. The rose de berns seemed finicky, as did the cherokee purple, and although both ripened eventually, they suffered from lack of flavor. The black cherry, on the other hand, actually tasted like black cherries. No joke. Very flavorful, prolific, and easy to grow. A+.

The san marzano tomatoes, having gained recognition in the last few years in part due to Lidia Bastianich plugging them every chance she gets on her PBS cooking shows, were a disappointment. They suffered from blossom end rot in containers, and though prolific in the ground, they were not as flavorful as expected. They are known as a sauce tomato, but with all the other options available, I would take a pass on the san marzano tomato in the future and grow more brandywine, yellow candy currant, and black cherry tomatoes.

Tomatoes are the number one vegetable grown in the United States, followed by cucumbers. Though biologically a fruit, tomatoes were classified as vegetables by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893. Seems tariffs were involved.

Even tomatoes can’t escape politics. Sigh.

Fear not. No tariffs required at Herrick. And it’s never too soon to start planning your garden for next year.

Have fun. Grow tomatoes.