Growing tomatoes is a tradition in our family. My mother used to grow them at our home in Lewisville, NC and later at our family home which is now the Sobotta Manor Bed & Breakfast.
I started growing tomatoes in 1972, the spring after I moved to Nova Scotia. Our farm on the shores of the Bay Fundy was a great place to learn how to garden, but it was a challenge to grow tomatoes there in the fog of Nova Scotia.
In the fall of 1974, we moved to Tay Creek, New Brunswick. While it was much colder in the winter, it was also much warmer in the summer. Vegetables like corn and tomatoes did very well there. However, ripe tomatoes didn't show up until the middle of August at best.
After a few more stops, we ended up in Roanoke, Va in 1989. Sometime in the mid-nineties, I started growing tomatoes once again. Not many years after that, a friend living in North Carolina and I started the Great Tomato Race, a friendly competition to see who could get the first ripe tomato of summer.
With Roanoke being in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, and my friend being located in Lewisville, NC in the warmth of the North Carolina Piedmont, I didn't have much of a chance. However, I did win one year in the first three or four. Eventually it got very hard to grow tomatoes at our Virginia place because of deer.
While I didn't win in 2007, our first summer on the coast, I came very close. The next year on June 1, I got the first tomato in the contest.
I repeated as tomato king in 2009 with the first ripe tomato being picked on June 5.
In 2010 I was dethroned by another coastal grower with a May 31 ripe tomato. This year I actually conceded early in the year, because I was growing my own plants from seed, and I got them started late.
Even with a late start and growing my own plants, I managed to get a ripe tomato on June 9.
Since then it has been an exceptional crop, even better than last year's strong crop. I managed to pick over 100 tomatoes in one day around the Fourth of July. Even a portion of that day's crop was impressive.
One of the reasons that I grew my own plants from seed this year was to find a solution to my plants dying early in the season.
The first two summers we grew them here on the coast, we had tomatoes well into December. The record date for my last tomato picked off the vine is December 19.
Last year, I had to pull my tomatoes out in August and early September. I am hoping the new varieties that I am trying and some improved tomato cultural practices will fix my problem.
The four regular size tomatoes were are evaluating are all hybrids that we got from Totally tomatoes.
So far, I am leaning towards the Big Beef Hybrid as an all around tomato. The tomato slices on the plate in the picture at the top of the post are from a Big Beef Tomato.
We are still evaluating for taste, texture and disease resistance. Hopefully the season has several months left in it, and we will have some clear results.
You can follow the season in pictures at this web album.
Tomatoes are one of the three plants that I think every true Southerner should grow.
I cannot even imagine summer without tomatoes.
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