5.28.2009

The Local Food Report: 150 and counting

Imagine this: one day, you go to the store and pick up 150 different varieties of tomato seeds. You go home and plant every one, and by the time the farmers' market opens, you have 150 varieties of tomato seedlings for sale. It's crazy just as a thought, don't you think?


The amazing thing is, Clare Bergh of Bon Terra Nursery in Brewster—she actually lived it out. She planted Black Princes and Rosalitas and Green Sausages and everything in between. She planted the whole zebra family—green zebras and black zebras and big zebras and red zebras—inspired by a photo she saw in a magazine. She planted every sort of cherry and grape, big tomatoes, small tomatoes, tomatoes of every size and shape. She went tomato wild, if you know what I mean.

The biggest tomato she planted has one heck of a name: Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter. As the story goes, in the 1940s, MC Byles—a radiator repairman from Virginia who preferred to go by Charlie—was having trouble paying his mortgage. He planted 10 tomatoes in a circle—the biggest varieties he could find—with a single German Johnson seedling in the center. He moved pollen from the outer 10 varieties to the flowers of the middle plant, and over the course of seven years, developed an absolutely enormous tomato. He sold the seedlings for a dollar a piece, and eventually, paid his mortgage down.

I don't know about you, but if I could develop a tomato so big it could lift my mortgage, that would be a beautiful thing.

All of Clare's tomatoes seem to have a names with stories like this. She's got one called Bloody Butcher, named for the deep red color of its fruit, Fourth of July, gauranteed to produce by the holiday, and something called Zapotec Pink Ribbed—an heirloom Mexican variety that Clare calls the weirdest looking tomato she's ever seen. From what I gather, it looks like a flat, ribbed pumpkin on the outside and a Cosmo flower when you cut a slice.

It makes my plain old Sun Gold cherries look pretty darn boring.


Happily, thanks to Clare, I now have some crazies mixed in, too. I have an Aunt Ruby's German Green and three Green Grapes and a Zapotech Pink Ribbed. I still have a whole row of Sun Golds and Amish Paste, but there's room for everyone. There will certainly be nothing ordinary about the patch as a whole.

If you have any interest in adding some crazies, check out this list of over 600 tomato varieties. Or head over here, where they have fewer types but longer descriptions, or if you have an idea of what you want to learn about, it's worth perusing this exhaustive database. Lastly, if you'd rather just talk to a human, Clare's around. She's at the Orleans Farmers' Market every Saturday, from eight to noon, and starting in June, she'll be at the Mid Cape Market, too. Start by asking her about the Zapotec, and you're bound to get a whole load of good stories.

Happy planting, everyone.

3 comments :

Anonymous said...

Elspeth,
You have seen Zapotecs. I gave you one late last summer. They grow to about 8" in diameter and are delicious. You should get one for your garden. I'll make sure I stop by to see Clare in early June. Anither favorite, but only 1 1/2 inches in diameter are Blackberry tomatoes. Beautiful purple with a good balance of sugar and acid.
Joe

Andrea said...

Well, I've got a modest planting in, but it is a big variety for me! This is my first year starting my own plants from seed (ones I started on purpose, that is). I got my seeds from a great organization: http://wintersown.org/wseo1/YourChoiceTomatoSASE.html
They give out 6 varieties of seed for free! All in an attempt to get people saving seed themselves. I actually received more varieties than I requested and got a few other veggie extras thrown in! Couldn't be more pleased. I didn't plant all of them, but this year I have: 3 celebrity, 2 san marzano, 3 isis candy, 2 red pear, 2 principe borghese, 1 stupice, and 1 tiger-like. We'll see how they turn out in a few months!

Elspeth said...

Hi Joe:

I had a feeling those might have been them...as they were pretty strange looking!

I did get one for the garden which is safely tucked into its cage now, so we'll see.

Andrea:

That sounds like a nice goodie bag. I want to hear about the tiger-like when they come in!

All the best,
Elspeth

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