New tomatoes show their stripes

01/17/2014 2:56 PM

01/18/2014 8:02 AM

I didn’t even let myself look at the seed catalogs that started arriving in my mailbox in December. I couldn’t handle one more distraction. Plus the delay gave me something to look forward to in January.

So here we are. I’ve started flipping through the pages, highlighting a few entries, remembering things I used to grow that I haven’t in a while – tiny Alpine strawberries, for example. They make sweet edible ground covers under tall trees. I used to pick the berries and eat them while I mowed the lawn.

I also remember catalogs I’ve had in the past that I haven’t received. So I re-request the catalogs – and then sometimes the catalogs show up the next day. Oops.

Of course, you can access catalogs online, but I’m a newspaper girl, and we like our hard copies.

Extension agent Rebecca McMahon has long experimented with unusual varieties, so I called to see what new vegetables she’s looking forward to trying.

Off the top of her head, Rebecca said that a couple of new tomato collections were eclipsing everything else. That’s mainly because tomatoes are the most popular thing to grow, and everybody wants to know about the new tomatoes – including us.

Turns out stripes are all the rage.

The new Artisan collection consists of seven varieties of striped tomatoes in the cherry-size range. “It’s cool that … they released all seven at one time,” Rebecca said.

They include the Pink Bumble Bee, which is a round pink cherry tomato striped yellow and orange; the Purple Bumble Bee, a round purple cherry tomato with metallic green striping; and Sunrise Bumble Bee, a yellow cherry with red stripes and pink interior marbling. The four others in the collection are elongated Juliet-type tomatoes, one of which, Green Tiger, ripens green.

While you may be envisioning stripes like those on wallpaper, I think of the striping more as striation.

I mentioned seed catalogs, because I don’t know if these specific tomatoes will be available in plant form this year at any garden centers. What I usually do with seed and plant catalogs is familiarize myself with the ones I like, order the ones I must have no matter what (very few if any), and then leave the names tucked in my memory to pull out when I finally get to the garden centers to shop in the spring. If I see a plant that jogs my catalog memory, it almost always lands in my basket.

Of course, I always prefer to shop locally. Sometimes just the inspiration of something like stripes will open your eyes to unexpected seed and plant discoveries at the garden center.

One thing about trying new tomatoes – or any new plant – is the uncertainty. We decide that novelty is more important than a sure thing. We don’t know how the tomatoes will perform here or, more importantly, how they’ll taste.

“If they look cool, people will grow them once,” Rebecca said. “If they look really cool and taste good, they’ll stick around for quite a while.”

The second noteworthy new tomato collection is the Indigo series. Indigo Rose, a cherry that darkens purple to black, came out a few years ago.

“The biggest issue is it didn’t really taste like anything,” Rebecca said. Yeah, it’s hard to get past that. I love a bowlful of beautiful marbled tomatoes as a still life on the dining room table – but I’d just as soon they tasted good, too.

I do like the names of some of these new Indigos, and maybe they’re better tasting than Rosie: Indigo Apple, Indigo Blue Berries, and Indigo Kumquat. Nothing like naming a fruit or vegetable after another fruit or vegetable to get the intrigue going.

“I’m a little hesitant,” Rebecca said. “But it’s still something people who are looking for new-and-different might want to try.”

A small California company that Rebecca likes to keep an eye on is one that’s had a hand in the Blue Berries, and one she’s worked with in the past – Wild Boar Farms in Napa Valley.

Writes owner Bradley Gates on the farms’ website, www.wildboarfarms.com: “Using heirloom genetics and mutations as a foundation, I have been fortunate to discover and then improve on some very remarkable tomatoes. The main focus is on bi-color and striped varieties with extreme flavor and fascinating looks.”

One of the tomatoes he’s developed is Large Barred Boar, a pink brown beefsteak with metallic green stripes and really good flavor, Rebecca said. When I looked over the website, one that struck me was Berkeley Tie-Dye. The hippie description:

“Warning: High acid content may cause flashbacks. This tomato blows me and a lot of my customers away. A favorite to many of my chefs. Mid-late to late, 75-90 days. Indeterminate. … 8-16 oz. Fair to good production. Green fruit with yellow and red stripes. Interior is a true tri-color. Creamy green flesh infused with various shades of red and yellow. Each of these colors has a different flavor, resulting in a spicy, sweet, tart tomato with good acid all in one fruit.”

Peace, man.

Rebecca said that the master gardeners are planning their demonstration vegetable gardens at the Extension Center. She expects seed-starting to begin in February, and planting in March.

I’d like to hear about any interesting seed varieties you have your eye on this year – edible or ornamental. And whether you’re going for good looks — or good flavor.

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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