Nutrition Mafia Series:

One Good Eclair

Sedona O'Hala Series:

Executive Dirt

Moon Shadow Series:

Ghost Shadow

Now Available:

Soul of the Desert

Tomato Plants

Amish Paste

This is my first year growing Amish Paste–it’s an heirloom type tomato. Heirlooms for me are never heavy producers and Amish Paste is typical so far. What’s not typical is the taste. If I didn’t know it was a roma, I wouldn’t know it was a roma. It’s sweet, very meaty and delicious. I will probably grow it again despite the lower yields than I’d like. Oh–and it’s a large roma with no “empty” air. All in all, it may be the best roma I’ve ever eaten. I’d like to compare it to the opalka, but I didn’t find one. I’m trying it from seed, but as late as it is, there’s little hope.

I also grew the Italia Viva this year. I’ve grown it before. It’s a fairly prolific producer, but its taste is more typical of a roma–lots of pulp and a decent flavor. In short, it’s not an Amish Paste!

Posted: May 28, 2012
Filed in Tomato Plants

Chart of Tomatoes

Here is a list of the various types of tomatoes I’ve tried growing in Texas along with how each tomato performed. For a good book on varieties and how to grow them, you might want to try: Epic Tomatoes. For a general overview and when to plant in Texas, I wrote this post: Tomatoes in Texas.

Tomatoes are bothered by spider mites, leaf hoppers, tomato horn worms and a few other nasty bugs, but most are readily controlled by neem oil. If you don’t want to buy neem oil,  try insecticidal soap–two to three tablespoons of liquid hand-washing soap (such as Dial) per gallon of water. Do NOT use laundry soap or dishwashing soap. Use a very mild hand or body soap. Spray during cool parts of the day. If you’re spraying daily, rinse the plants with plain water every few days.

For horn worms, there’s a specific spray that affects only the worms–Green Light 27316 1-Pint Organic BT Worm Killer. It works because the bateria cultures in the spray are eaten by the worm and then the worm stops eating. Check at any gardening store for this product.

Name Taste Size Cracking Yield
Merced—Very heat tolerant, produced in 90+ degrees. (Houston) Average Medium None High
Big Boy and Better Boy—Wonderful tomato, hates the heat. Don’t bother to baby through the summer heat. The tomatoes are large, slow to grow so start them inside early and enjoy what yield you get. Large vine. In hot weather will crack. These are not easy to grow in Texas, but they are one of the most delicious tomatoes ever. Very good –Favorite large tomato. Large Cracks when hot and doesn’t set fruit about 90. Medium to high
Celebrity—good all around tomato. Does okay with the heat, but won’t produce above 92. The plant can live through the summer and start producing again when it cools down. In hot weather will crack deep around stem. Very good –Favorite large tomato. Large to very large Cracks when hot and often the shoulders stay green. Medium to high
Grape—these have such good taste! “Tami G” — not wilt, heat or insect resistant. Produced some tomatoes before it succumbed to thripes. Requires babying and spider mites love it. Be prepared to spray weekly with soap and/or neem oil. Plant VERY early (January). Excellent small None High
Roma—does well and is disease resistant. Excellent salsa tomato. Did better than any other tomato in the heat in both Houston and Hill Country. Good for Roma. Medium to large None Very high
Amish Paste, Roma. Grow in partial shade. A very rich taste and a great eating or canning tomato. It was slow to start growing and was a wispy tomato plant. Decent resistance to spider mites. Very good Med None Decent
Viva Italia, Roma. This is another of those romas that is supposed to have a really good taste. The first time I grew it in full sun and wasn’t too impressed. In 2013 I grew it in partial shade and I must say–VAST improvement in taste and yield. A very rich taste and a great eating or canning tomato. It was slow to take off in the Texas heat. I think all romas I’ve grown have had fairly good resistance to spider mites. Average Med None Decent
Olpaka Roma Type. This tomato did okay, better in the fall than in the spring. In the spring it was slow to get going, slow to put on fruit. The fruits were decent, although I think I liked the plain roma better. This is supposed to be packed full of flavor. I think it suffered from the heat. It produced tons in the fall–some odd shaped, some small to medium with a few large ones throw in. I’d bet this one is best for up north. Good, maybe a tad mushy Medium bell-shaped, none Slow to grow, but decent yields.
Health Kick – Newly developed Roma with higher levels of lycopene (antioxidant). Resistant to most diseases. Very pretty and firm. Sauce/salsa tomato. Good for Roma Large None Medium to high
Brandywine—vigorous plant; early tomatoes were better than late ones, huge plant, but did not produce in heat. Same results when grown in NM. Average to good. Slightly mushy. Very large Yes Extremely low
Early girl Excellent taste, but no production above 90 degrees. Have seen it produce again in fall, but isn’t as good and plant is weak in the fall. Not as disease/bug resitant as other types. Very good Small to medium Some when hot Medium
Opener – This is an very nice looking early tomato. It produced tons of tomatoes. The taste was probably not as good as early girl, but the plant was much healthier–handled both heat and cold better than early girl, had larger tomatoes and more of them. The taste is not as good as Celebrity either, but it’s a much earlier tomato and an impressive one to give away. It did produce again in the fall, but not enough that I would keep it going again through the summer. It was decently bug/disease resistant. I’ll grow this one again for its early, large size and good yields. Very good Med-large Some when hot Very good
Husky Good early tomato. Very Good Medium Less splitting than Early Girl. Good
Rose Heirloom Not a lot of blossoms or yield, but the fruit was good. Good Very large Some Low yield
Ruby Cluster Large cherry tomato—I’m not a big lover of cherry tomatoes. My favorites are the grape tomato and Juliet. This tomato was kind of boring and bland. Average Large for cherry None High
Yellow -I like yellow tomatoes but the plants I’ve tried haven’t been particularly good at resisting insects. Most have died of wilt or spider mites after producing none or a low yield. From seeds, I had a very low ratio of seeds that germinated-the plants were also weak. Good Flavor Medium to small Split in heat Low
Beefsteak sprawling plant, fruits just a tad mushy in Texas. I’ve had these grown in NM and up north and they are excellent varieties in cooler climates Average to good Large Some when hot medium
Johnny’s 361 Beefsteak medium to large beefsteak with average taste. Beefsteaks apparently aren’t my favorite and/or don’t do that well here in the heat. Average to good Medium to large Some when hot Medium
JS 2000 Seemed to get a slow start growing, but is supposed to be an early tomato plant.
Didn’t produce many—too hot.
Okay Medium Average production, but I started the plant late Low
Juliet A large grape tomato that does much better than the smaller varieties. It did well when planted in the spring and again when planted in the fall.
I’d recommend it over other varieties of grape tomatoes. The taste is almost as good, yield is better and plant does better against insects. Did very well in the heat, probably better than any other tomato I’ve grown.
Very Good Large for a cherry type tomato. Some now and again, but only on overripe tomatoes High, high yields.
Homestead I found the fruit a bit on the mushy side, although the taste was good. Prefer Celebrity. Okay Medium Lots of cracking Low to medium yield
Red Grape New try for 2007. This tomato produced well and early. The taste is similar to Juliet–in other words, a grape tomato that isn’t quite as sweet as I was hoping for. However, it seems to have good disease resistance, and heat tolerance (we’re in the nineties so far). Since it doesn’t seem overly unique, I’ll probably stick with the Juliet, although it did produce and ripen faster than Juliets–likely because it is a smaller grape. Good Small Unknown Pretty high.
Old Wisconsin 55 2008. This was an early, wonderful tasting tomato. I’d say it had a taste at least as good as Celebrity, maybe better. Trouble was, it didn’t handle the Texas heat well so it only produced a few tomatoes (nice sized). I kept it alive all summer to no avail. I did not get any late tomatoes (there might have been one that fell off.) The leaves curled quite a bit when attacked by spider mites and when I pulled it up, some of the farther roots looked like they had been attacked by nemotodes. All in all, while I loved the taste, not enough yield in the high heat. Great Med-Large Some cracking Low Yield in Texas.

Burpee’s Gardening
Cook’s Gardening

Posted: July 23, 2006
Filed in Tomato Plants

Mariglobe Tomato

I had the first mariglobe tomato today. I’ve never grown them, but they are a popular tomato to grow. For Texas, (remember it’s hot here) they did crack a bit–couple of fairly deep cracks and we’ve only hit 90 a few times. Nothing major. They were pretty firm, with perhaps just a bare touch of mushiness. They ripened well, very little green left on the shoulders. Taste? Pretty dang good. This is a pretty slicing tomato–nice and round, good definition. I’d put it up there in taste as very close to that of the Celebrity, which is a good standard tomato that does well in home gardens. So far the Celebrity cracks a little less, but I do have the Celebrity in half shade this year–that helps. The mariglobe has full sun until about 5 o’clock. The flavor is worth growing again, but I don’t think it’s quite a prolific as my Celebrity plant. The size and taste would make an EXCELLENT BLT. Juicy but not overly watery. Really, overall, the flavor is something to write home about. It’s got a nice touch of acid that bursts in your mouth with a tomato shout.

It probably does even better in cooler climates, but that is the case with just about ANY tomato. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Burpee’s Gardening
Cook’s Gardening

Posted: May 26, 2012
Filed in Tomato Plants

Not So Clever Disguise

I buy particular varieties of tomato plants because over the years, I’ve learned which ones taste best and which ones produce enough to matter. Last year I grew an Amish Paste from seed and it was delicious. Not particularly hardy, but it produced well-enough and the tomatoes were wonderful tasting. They made great salsa and great tomato sauce. Of course I had to grow it again this year. Seedlings can be finicky so when I lucked upon a plant at a nursery already 8 inches high, I snapped it up. Sure, it was early, but I re-pot and protect them until it gets warm.

Amish Paste is a bright red roma tomato, similar to the red ones in the picture below (those are actually Italia Viva). Quite unlike the tomato shown in the center that I picked this morning from my “Amish” plant.


Not a very good disguise, Mr. Striped Roman.

In other failed camouflage we have lazy cat Scamper pretending to be a board. She’s not quite flat enough.


Posted: May 27, 2013
Filed in Tomato Plants

Storing and Freezing Tomatoes

To help keep tomatoes fresh longer, first rinse with cold water. After they have completely dried, microwave them for six seconds. If you microwave more than one at a time, make sure the tomatoes are not touching one another. If they touch, they will begin cooking. This microwave trick works for both freshly harvested or store-bought tomatoes.

Microwaving onions or tomatoes in this manner kills bacteria and helps preserve the vegetables longer.

Freezing Tomatoes

Freeze without Blanching
Freezing tomatoes is very easy. You can wash them, dry them and simply put them in freezer bags. When thawed, the skins fall off easily. If you use your tomatoes in stews or crockpot recipes, you must thaw the tomatoes and remove the skins before putting them in the pot.

To avoid having skins at thaw time, blanch the tomatoes first, then freeze.

Freeze after Blanching

Blanching tomatoes is simple. Place them in boiling water long enough for the skins to crack and peel away (2 to 5 minutes).

Boil water in a large pot. (Stock pots are great for this).
Using tongs, place tomatoes in the pot one at a time.
As you add tomatoes, make sure to spin the ones already in the pot so that the surface of each tomato is covered or subjected to the hot water.

When cracks begin to appear on the tomato skins, use the tongs to take the tomatoes out.

If the tops of your tomatoes have green shoulders, the green part of the tomato will not peel. Cut that part off AFTER you blanch them and before you put the tomatoes into freezer bags.

Drain and cool. The skins will peel away easily. You can chop the tomatoes at this time, or simply put them whole in freezer bags and freeze.

I like to freeze them in the quart-sized freezer bags. Each bag holds two to four more tomatoes that you would find in a 14 oz can of tomatoes. I do not squish the tomatoes into the bag; rather just press them comfortably together.

Having some of the tomatoes chopped in the freezer saves time later; however chopping them is messy (juice runs all over the place!) It is easier to chop them partially thawed just before use.

Green Tomatoes
Freezing tomatoes should work with green tomatoes also, but I have never tried. I’m not certain how well they would peel using either method. (Many people like to eat fried green tomatoes.) I do not think the green tomatoes would be very good for frying after being frozen, but they could be used in stews or sauces.

Posted: July 29, 2006
Filed in Main Dishes, Tomato Plants

Texas Tomato Gardening 101

I get asked about tomato growing here a lot, so I finally decided to put my thoughts all in one place.

For people just starting out gardening, I usually recommend a topsy-turvy–one of those hanging tomato plant contraptions. They are much easier to take care of because you don’t have to lean over or dig in the soil. You need a sunny place to hang it–for winter hanging go for at least 6 hours of sun if you can get it; 4 will do. Best case scenario, you have a beam in the garage where you can move it on freezing nights. You can hang a hook from a strong tree branch if it sticks out into the sun. In the winter, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting morning or afternoon sun. If you do it for summertime, you want morning sun only.

The beams have to be able to hold about 40 pounds because that’s what some of them can weigh when filled with dirt, water and the plant as it gets large. The plants are easy to spray for bugs because you can do it all standing up. Watering is easy as well; they need to be watered daily in the summer for certain. You can probably get away with every other day in the winter, but it depends on the temperatures. Not hard to check it! If you have any kind of trellis beams, you can actually run a small drip hose to the plant and use an auto timer to water.

I’d recommend a Juliet (tomato name) if you can find one. They are heat hardy and do pretty well in the cooler temps as well. Great producers once they get going. They are a grape tomato, but because winter time is a slower growing season, they are totally the way to go. If you have room for two, I’d go with a Celebrity as the second kind. It is a medium sized tomato that handles the heat and bugs of Texas fairly well. Good, good flavor. Very little cracking and they ripen nice and evenly. If you want to try just one, go with the Juliet, but it may depend on what you can find!

For dirt, you can get any good potting soil. I mix my own, but we already know that I’m the way overboard gardening type.

For bugs, I recommend Neem oil, soap and cinnamon oil. OR for ease of taking care of things, you can get just insecticidal soap from any gardening place. These are mostly “on contact” killers, especially the soap.

Neem also keeps bugs from reproducing, which is why I use it, but it is expensive premixed. Shoot, it’s expensive not premixed, but all of the bug killers are. All of the above mentioned bug killers are completely organic. If your dog accidentally rolled in the entire bottle and licked it off, it wouldn’t hurt him. The soap aspect might give him some issues, but on the bright side the neem would kill any fleas he had. 🙂

If you don’t happen to have insecticidal soap around when you need it, you can mix your own hand soap with water and spray the plants. It’s an easy cheap way to kill most bugs. Soap doesn’t work well on beetles, but they don’t bother tomato plants very often. I spray every few days in the summer time, but in the winter, you won’t have to spray anything very often. In Texas, it’s actually easier to grow things in the winter. I recommend trying your first tomato plants in the winter–just make sure you have a place to carry them or take the plants for the freezing nights!

If you have questions, just ask. If you want the pots on the ground, nothing much is different. You may have to stake the Juliet as it is a vine plant and when it gets going, it GOES!

Posted: October 4, 2012
Filed in Tomato Plants

Tomato Plants 2010

Three new tomato varieties that I just *had* to try out:

Chica – an Italian tomato that supposedly can handle the heat. Okay, well let’s hope so because I haven’t found one that can and Chica didn’t handle cool weather at all. It’s a tiny plant making almost no progress in growth in two months and counting. A third seed I put in the pot a month ago finally came up. Soil too cold or were you just making a grand entrance???

Mama Mia Another Italian paste tomato. I found this one at a nursery. No one could tell me much about it (I hate nurseries with people who say, “can I help you find something?” and then it turns out that they know next to nothing about the plants.) Mama Mia has a great name and it looked homeless so I decided to bring it to the garden and give it a try!

Burpee’s Big Boy Most of the big boy family and any beefsteak tomato are failures here in hot Texas. At least they haven’t been good producers for me. When I do get a tomato they tend to be on the mushy side–a side effect from the heat. I’ve heard that this strain in particular is *the* one to try so…I grew some from seeds and also came across a lovely specimen in the nursery. See “homeless” reference above.

As in the past, I’m growing Juliets (large grape), Celebrities and some combo of Italian paste tomatoes from leftover seeds from two years ago (last year, I did not get any Italian tomatoes.) The Juliets are blooming and one bloom has already collapsed as though a tomato is inside!!!

The snap peas were coming along gorgeously, until 30 mile an hour winds this morning. Three branches WITH beans and blossoms have snapped against the trellis. Waaaaah. I hate when that happens. I count every bean as a victory…

Posted: April 6, 2010
Filed in Tomato Plants

Tomatoes 2009

tomatoI know you’re all eagerly awaiting the list of just what type of tomatoes I’ll be growing this year. Well, the plants have all pretty much either sprouted or refused to sprout so here they are:

Roma – A plain variety so that I have a comparison with some of the specialty romas I’ve been trying.

Viva Italia – A specialty roma variety. I want to compare to last year’s olpaka–which was a long-lasting variety. Opalka and Viva Italia are both supposed to have very good taste. I tried to grow both last year, but the Viva’s didn’t viva.

Ultimate Opener This is an early tomato. It’s very large, beautiful shape. The taste is a bit average if you ask me (still, waaaay better than a store-bought tomato), but they come in early and very strong. I do this one for its early tomatoes and also to give away because it produces enough that I generally have extras!

– I plant these every year. They rock. They taste awesome, they do okay in the heat and they are disease and bug resistant. They do crack a bit, but they last through summer and have a decent fall season as well. Production is medium of medium to large-sized fruits.

– Wonderful, large grape tomato. Not as sweet as the smaller variety, but this thing produces out the ying-yang and the fruits keep extremely well.

Wisconsin – This is an indulgence. The plant didn’t produce a lot last year, it wasn’t particularly bug-resistant, it didn’t produce again in the fall…but the tomatoes were early and the taste was awesome! I plan on getting my early tomatoes and then pulling the plant when the heat sets in.

Siberian I grew this one indoors starting in early November, planning on having tomatoes through the winter. Well, there is one on the plant, but it has sat there. Green. This is the only heirloom I grow. The tomatoes are medium-sized, very good taste, especially in the spring and the plant does well overall. Next year I’ll try planting it in October.

As for cucumbers, I always do the bush, eating type. That’s worked out very well. This year I may try a sprite melon in addition to the mini-cantaloupes.

Burpee’s Gardening
Cook’s Gardening

Posted: February 14, 2009
Filed in Tomato Plants

Tomatoes in Texas

I read a lot of articles on tomatoes—which ones to get, which ones grow best where. Everyone has their own tastes, so it’s hard to figure out which ones to grow. For what it is worth, I’ve compiled a list of tomato plants that I’ve grown in Texas—both the hill country and in Houston. I suspect that some of these strains grown farther north probably taste different and also produce differently so take into account your weather. Texas generally has temperatures near 100 in the summer with warm nights in the mid-seventies.

In summary, my favorite tasting tomato is: Celebrity. It grows decently in Texas, medium to large sized, very tasty fruits. Second, and I grow it for yield, resistance to pests, and tolerance to heat is: Juliet. These large grape tomatoes are not as sweet as some of the the smaller ones, but one plant produces enough to keep me eating tomatoes all summer when production of other tomatoes is over.

Last, but not least, Roma tomatoes are also high yielding, tolerant to heat and pests–I grow these for salsa and freezing. My favorite varieties are: Oplaka, Amish Paste and Marzano.

Here’s a good book on tomatoes and how to grow them, you might want to try: Epic Tomatoes

When to Plant

Tomatoes start producing in Texas in May—if planted in mid-February to mid-March. The same holds true for most other plants, including chiles. I always plant in late January or early February. Sometimes a late freeze means I plant twice, but when that doesn’t happen, my yields are high and delicious!!!!

Best Method: Pot them in a large pot. Leave outside most of the time, but bring them in during freezes. The plants will produce all winter.

If you plant them directly into the soil, the plants will freeze–but I’ve had them make it through most of November (covered on any freezing night).

I’ve tried potting Celebrity over the winter, but the tomatoes grow too slowly and have to get too big before harvest. I got a single medium-sized tomato for my trouble. I highly recommend cherry or grape tomatoes over larger varieties for fall planting!

Tomatoes are bothered by spider mites, leaf hoppers, tomato horn worms and a few other nasty bugs, but most are readily controlled by insecticidal soap. If you don’t want to buy insecticidal soap, you can mix your own–two to three tablespoons of liquid hand-washing soap (such as Dial) per gallon of water. Do NOT use laundry soap or dishwashing soap. Use a very mild hand or body soap. Spray during cool parts of the day. If you’re spraying daily, rinse the plants with plain water every few days.

For horn worms, there’s a specific spray that affects only the worms–Green Light 27316 1-Pint Organic BT Worm Killer. It works because the bateria cultures in the spray are eaten by the worm and then the worm stops eating. Check at any gardening store for this product.

For a chart of the tomatoes I’ve tried growing, see Chart of Tomatoes.

Posted: February 15, 2006
Filed in Tomato Plants