Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tomato Willamette - A New Favorite

August, for me, was the beginning of three months of intensive harvesting and food processing. Kettles of salsa, tomato sauce, and corn dominated the kitchen in endless relays through the fall. Three large freezer chests were packed with cider, berries, and meat.
At the time, I believe this was referred to as returning to the simple life. Good for a laugh.
~ Ani Gurnee

I’ve talked to people here in the Pacific Northwest that have given up trying to grow tomatoes in their gardens, saying we just don’t have the hot weather for it.  Or do we?  We actually have a long growing season but is considered cool till August.  Forget Beefsteak or Brandywine here unless you have a greenhouse.  They need a long, hot growing season to reach their size, you’d be lucky to get one to ripen before frost.  So cool and iffy is our growing season for tomatoes, many gardeners stick with the cherry tomatoes. Such a small tomato doesn’t need a long, hot summer to give ample produce.  But read on and I hope to convince you to try growing larger varieties that prefer our cooler summers.

I’ve also talked with shoppers in the grocery store.  One man saw me choosing organic tomatoes and he complained that “tomatoes here (in the Northwest) have no flavor”.  He was from the east coast.  I told him he might try growing his own, so they would be fully ripened on the plant yielding more nutrition and flavor when he picked them.  The tomatoes in the grocery stores have been picked for transport so they are green, firmer so as not to bruise or crack and will ripen during transit or in the store.  Because they are picked green they never fully develop the nutrients and flavor of an on-the-plant ripened tomato.  Also the growers who supply grocery stores use those varieties that have been developed for more disease resistance and to have a sturdier fortitude for shipment.  The commercial world calls these “shipping tomatoes”. Flavor wasn’t necessarily the goal for hybridizers.

I have mentioned a few times on this blog that after trying several tomato varieties that Stupice, a roma type, became my favorite for its early production in my climate, meaty not too seedy, prolific harvest and reliability.  It’s the perfect tomato for growing in our cool, cloudy, unpredictable spring weather.  A Czechoslovakian heirloom, cold doesn’t set it back like most hot weather tomatoes.  Stupice has a 65 day maturity rate and is an indeterminate type, meaning it is more sprawling with vines that will need support and will produce longer into the season giving you a lengthy harvest. 

My new favorite is Willamette.  It is a determinate type, with a 70 day maturation after transplanting your seedling into your garden.  Determinate tomato varieties tend to be more compact, shorter and bush like that may not need staking and will give you more fruits all at once…great for canning, when you want to do batches.  However my experience with Willamette is that I wanted a trellis to support the vines, the tomato is so heavy it pulled them down.  The tomatoes are GEORGEOUS!  And double the size of Stupice with a beautiful multi-lobe shape like the beautiful heirlooms.  Willamette was developed at Oregon State University for our short growing season.  I will mention that while their maturity rates are registered at only 5 days difference, I think Stupice gave me ripe tomatoes much sooner than a 5 day difference.  Both last summer (Stupice) and this summer (Willamette) were cool, and wet well into July.  I had tomatoes way earlier last summer (Stupice) than this summer.

Like Stupice, Willamette is more meaty than seedy.  I don’t like tomatoes that ooze out half their weight in goopy seed stuffs before you actually get it onto your plate.

Both Stupice and Willamette fit well into the small garden but in my experience Stupice is a bigger plant which may need some pruning to keep it in its allotted space.

To have the best tomato variety to meet your specific needs and for your location I suggest you forgo the plant starts at the nursery or garden center and study seed catalogs for your region.  Then choose one or two varieties that have the characteristics you want, buy the seed and start your own.  That said most reputable nurseries do carry the most popular varieties that will grow in your region but you are limited to what they choose to sell.  I rarely find Stupice and haven’t seen Willamette for sale as plant starts.

I start my tomato seeds pretty early by most standards.  I start them indoors in February mostly because I’m antsy to get going in the garden again but it’s still way too cold.  As they grow I pot them up so they don’t get root bound so by the time mid May rolls around I’ve got a gallon size plant to transplant.  Now is when you start your countdown.  If the seed packet says 70 days to maturity, begin counting when you’ve transplanted your plant into the garden. Not when you sowed the seed.  So 70 days from my May planting date will be sometime in August for harvest.  Poor weather shouldn’t be a factor since I’ve chosen varieties that perform well in my climate, which can be cool and wet well into June.  Frost however is another issue.  My last frost date is April 15 so again it shouldn’t be a factor but be prepared to cover your plants if a late frost is predicted.

I don’t do canning, and I only cook for 2 so I don’t need a super prolific plant.  Even though one is a determinate and the other an indeterminate, both these varieties yield an easy amount, spaced out just right so I can share a few with neighbors and enjoy them on our plates without feeling overwhelmed by tomatoes!

Stupice is an heirloom, meaning its been grown for many years and the seed has been saved because of certain qualities of the plant/fruit and has been passed down through the generations.  Seed Savers is a company committed to preserving that tradition.  Willamette is a hybrid tomato, meaning a tomato that was recently (40 years ago) cross bred with other tomatoes for certain desired tomato qualities.  Make no mistake…hybrid is not GMO.  Genetic modification (GMO) is the controversial science and practice of taking genes from one species and inserting them into another, ie: animal genes inserted into plant genes. I do not use GMO seed or purchase GMO foods at market.  Never.

So, to recap. 

Stupice: indeterminate, a bigger plant (may want to prune it to keep it in check for a small garden), medium size roma type tomatoes, needs staking, harvest over a long extended period, cool weather friendly.

 Willamette: determinate, a compact plant, large meaty tomatoes, minimal staking but still recommended, harvest over a more concentrated timeframe, cool weather friendly.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Borage, Caryopteris ‘longwood blue’ (bluebeard), Cimicifuga simplex ‘brunette’, Colchicum, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Cyclamen coum, Daphne aucasica, Echinacea, Fuchsia magellanica ‘hawkhead’, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Hardy Geranium, Heather(Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Hosta, Kirengeshoma palmata, Kniphofia ‘echo mango’Lobelia, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Oregano vulgare compactum ‘humile’ (compact oregano), Perovskia ‘little spire’, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rose, Salvia, Schizostylus, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Tomato, Veronica ‘royal candles’,

Author’s photos


Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

Oh I was so excited to see a JOAN post in my Google Reader! Yay!

This is GREAT info. I would have goofed and started counting days from the time I planted the seed indoors. We had no luck with tomatoes last year, so this year we skipped them. I'll give it a try next year again though because the tomatoes in my CSA box tasted like HEAVEN and I want more of that!

And thank you for sharing the variety that are less juicy and more meat. I feel the same way - I end up with a soggy sandwich when there's too much juice! I wouldn't have known that some come meatier. (I'm such a garden novice!)

Thanks for another super post!

Joan said...

Hi Shari,
Thanks, I'm glad to be of help. It may behoove you to ask your CSA farmer what variety of tomatoes you are getting. Clearly it's a good one for your area.
Thanks for reading!

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Joan said...

Hello! And thank you so much for reading and commenting! And thank you so much for telling others about my site. Cheers!

Kathy J said...

Joan: Yes!You've done it again- a wonderfully informative blog post! I learned so much; and, Shari B. I have had the luxury of being given some of those amazing Willamette tomatoes and they are the most delicious, meaty ones I have ever had. They are not being wasted as I incorporate them into at least one meal a day if not more.
Always looking forward to the wonderful produce from your garden, Joan; not to mention your next post.

Joan said...

Hi Kathy,
thanks ever so much for all the complements! Glad you enjoyed them, come by for more anytime!

Cindy said...

that is some amazing looking maters JOAN!!!

good for you! we actually had a pretty stellar garden this summer...only I take no credit save for helping to keep it watered and looked after...and enjoying salads all summer!!!

great info, and as always ... AWESOME

Joan said...

Thanks Cindy!
BASIK!!! You lucky duck! I just can't get basil to do well for me...not hot enough in my little spot. Friends and neighbors do but...alas, not me.
Don't sell yourself short...water is mucho important! Love summer salads!

Cindy said...

we all pitch in!

my roomate grew massive basil and tomatoes so I was always out there nibbling on the two! OH MY!!!

Debra Daniels-Zeller said...

Hi Joan, I tried to leave a comment but couldn't get any of the letters for about 5 times. I finally gave up. I'll try again. Great post!

Joan said...

Hi Debra,
oh oh I'm sorry about the problems. I hope it's resolved now as you got this comment to go through. Thanks for your perserverance.

Z Willys Wabbitry said...

Just discovered Willamette tomatoes this year. Mason county Washington usually bites for growing tomatoes. It is now the middle of October and I have more ripe tomatoes than I know what to do with. Friends are loving it.

Joan said...

Hello Z Willys! And welcome to my blog. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I'm so glad you are having success growing tomatoes in our region with Willamette. Do try Stupice too sometime! I'd love to hear how that one goes for you as well. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I live in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. I like Willamette because the fruit doesn't ripen and rot on me in the field but stays firm on the vine. Then, when I pick any fruit with any sign of yellow it immediately turns a fully ripe red in the house within a couple of days. This is Surprisingly fast and completely colored. I agree with other posts, the plants can use some support.

Joan said...

Hello Anonymous from Montana! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. It's great to know how plants I write on here in the PNW do in other areas of the country. Have a great 2016 in your garden!

Patrick Lee said...

Hi Joan, here we are at tomato planting time in 2017 - I'm hoping for another long, warm season for growing tomatoes! In this blog post on Willamette tomatoes, you mentioned that Stupice is a challenge to find in a nursery & that Willamette is nearly impossible. As the years have passed, that situation seems to have improved. I just bought Willamette at McLendon's garden center (Renton location)and saw Stupice offered there as well. McLendon's has been sold --- I hope the new owners don't change the plant offerings in a negative way.

In your most current post (April 22, 70th birthday!), you mentioned you'll be moving. Has that come to pass? I can empathize with you desire to take along important members of your garden. I anticipate a move to downsize my outdoor space and I know selecting the "must keeps" will be a challenge.

Oh, back to tomatoes...I generally grow smaller size tomatoes for the short season reason you mentioned. I progressed from Sweet 100's to Sweet Millions to Sun Gold to Sungella and finally to 4th of July. The last one is a Burpee hybrid and I got my first plant at a nursery on the Kitsap Peninsula...I now buy the seed from Burpee seed racks and grow my own. I guess it's considered a salad tomato (bigger than cherry types) and it has that "real" tomato flavor we all crave.

Patrick F. in SeaTac, WA

Joan said...

Hello Patrick Lee,

Happy belated birthday! And thank you so much for reading and commenting. I am always so grateful to my readers for the time they give to my blog.

I am also happy to hear your report that the PNW tried and true tomatoes mentioned above are coming back to regular availability, at least in a store or two. I haven't shopped tomato starts racks for quite a while now, so didn't know about that. It's also nice for you to mention here of a few of the others that work for you in our climate.

Yes for sure the smaller sized tomatoes will ripen in our shorter season. We sure have had a nice end of May haven't we? I stay away from national chain seed catalogs since they are not proven for our fickle climate, so thanks for pointing out a few that you like, perhaps other readers can benefit from your positive experience with them.

Here's to a great tomato growing season friend, which translates to a long warm, sunny, beautiful summer! Cheers!!