Chilly, erratic maritime weather can make success with heat-lovers challenging for Pacific Northwestern gardeners. Since tomatoes are America’s favorite backyard crop, it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve. For starters, choose varieties with a strong regional track record. Cherry, grape and other cluster-type tomatoes also ripen reliably in cool-night climates like ours.
Another key to success is growing grafted tomatoes, which give tasty tomatoes super-sturdy root stock that takes temperature swings in stride. For the past few years, grafted veggies, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil, have all outperformed ungrafted counterparts in my garden. Last fall, after a bountiful summer crop, I harvested more green tomatoes off a grafted Brandywine tomato than the ungrafted one produced all season.
In my kitchen, the favorite tomato was Indigo Rose, a dusky beauty that rivals blueberries for nutritional benefits. Bred in Oregon, Indigo Rose was hand-crossed from dark-colored heritage tomatoes and wild forms collected from Chile and the Galapagos Islands. The result is a full flavored tomato with midnight purple skin and rosy red flesh packed with anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that support human health.
Among the most nutritious tomatoes on earth, Indigo Rose tastes fabulous when ripe. (When fully ripe, the skin changes from glossy blue to dull reddish brown.) Its only rivals are the earlier ripening Indigo hybrids, a cluster of blue-tinged tomatoes with similarly lavish supplies of anthocyanins and other phytonutrients. Most grow 3-5 feet high and need sturdy cages or trellises to climb on (especially the indeterminates, which are strong growers).
The Indigo family includes a growing number of super tomatoes. Among those commercially available are Indigo Chocolate Blues, an indeterminate grower that produces 2-1/2 inch, green fleshed fruits with blue-tinted shoulder and vivid green stripes. Indigo Blue Dawg is semi-determinate, producing salad-sized blue tomatoes with juicy red flesh.
Those who prefer tiny tomatoes will delight in Indigo Blue Berries, which offers clusters of midnight red cherry tomatoes with sparkling flavor. Indigo Ruby also looks cherry-like, with plum-shaped and plum colored fruits with dark red flesh. Tastiest of all is semi-indeterminate Indigo Kumquat, which produces large crops of fragrant, sweet-tart peach-colored grape tomatoes with deep blue shoulders.
Also semi-indeterminate, Indigo Sun produces generous crops of sunny yellow cherry tomatoes with purple streaked shoulders and warm yellow flesh with a bright, spunky flavor. Plum-shaped Indigo Dwarf Shadow Boxing is an indeterminate plant with midnight red fruit blushed with blue and pleasing to the palate.
Want to make any tomato taste better? In a recent Rutgers University study, tomato plants were given a single dose of seawater. The resulting tomatoes were significantly more flavorful than those that did not get a sip of seawater. When I tried this myself, my household was favorably impressed with the enhanced flavors. Ever since, I routinely give each tomato plant a cup of seawater mixed into a quart of plain well water. This one-time dose boosts the natural flavors without disturbing that crucial sweet-tart balance that makes the best tomatoes sing of summer.
Want to learn more?
May 31, 12-1pm
Molbak’s Garden + Home
Featuring Tomato Breeder Tom Wagner and Alice Doyle of Log House Plants.