Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Homegrown tomato connections

M R Gardens 2009 harvest
Seed saver profile: Jean Taylor
...And M R Gardens tomato selection for 2012

"What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes?
Only two things that money can't buy...
That's true love & homegrown tomatoes..."

Three things come to mind when I think of tomatoes. 1) The lyrics to Ray Clark's song "Homegrown Tomatoes" (also covered by John Denver); 2) The taste of the first ripe heirloom tomato of the season, alongside mozzarella cheese, basil and balsamic vinaigrette, and sprinkled with pepper; and 3) Jean Taylor of Taylor's Greenhouse in Robbinsville, NC. 

Jean Taylor, Robbinsville NC
I got to know Jean in 2010 while I managed the WNC AgOptions program.  --> A woman of few words and a big heart, Jean epitomizes the unassuming yet proud nature of many farmers and gardeners I have met in the Appalachian Mountains. Her nursery tucked in the hills of Graham County attracts big crowds with just a few advertisements in the local newspapers. She told me about how a coveted tomato variety "didn’t last like a June frost" and about how "taird" she is by the close of nursery season in July. (I enjoyed hearing her Appalachian pronunciation, for in my family's rural Ohio speak, "taird" means really really tired.) 

Excited about how WNC AgOptions helped her grow her business, Jean sent me home from her nursery with a handful of flower and vegetable plants to thank me for my work. Her generosity continued long after the heat of tomato weather had passed, even though 100 miles separates us. Several months after I had visited her, I returned home after a hectic day in the office to find a package with a return address of Robbinsville on my doorstep. Jean had mailed me a homemade wreath, arranged with evergreen branches and other greenery. The Christmas gift reminded me why I invested so much energy and so many hours into the program—so that operations like hers continue.

M R Gardens 2012 seedlings
Jean and I continued to keep in touch, and she graciously shared some of the rare heirloom seeds she collects from growers throughout the Nantahala area. This tradition of sharing seeds not only preserves history and ensures that the tastiest vegetables survive, but it also maintains connections between gardeners. Now Jean Taylor is not only connected to me, but to all of my customers who have an heirloom tomato from her seeds in their backyards, and enjoy the unforgettable flavor of the season's first ripe tomato.

Below are descriptions of the tomatoes and peppers that I currently have available. Note that the tomato plants are indeterminate, which means the plants climb up to 10 feet, so they need to be trellised and most likely suckered.


Cherokee Purple
Cherokee Purple is a variety originally from the Tennessee area that was cultivated by the Cherokees. The productive plants produce dusky rose to purple colored, 12 oz. - 1 lb. fruits. The tomato's rich, complex and sweet flavors make it a popular market variety. See more information here.

Oxheart produces large, deep pink heart-shaped fruits that have few seeds and a sweet, rich, complex flavor. The tomatoes are meaty while also juicy. The variety was originally brought over from Russia. Read more about the tomato.

Ruby Orr
Ruby Orr is a variety typically only found in Southwestern North Carolina. It is similar to German Johnsons in size and shape. It produces a meaty, flavorful fruit that turns pink and yellow when mature. It is excellent for BLTs.

Yellow Roma is a unique variety that retains the great flavor of the Roma but has an exotic color. It is very productive all season. The thick wall of the small oblong Roma makes it the perfect tomato for home-canned salsa, sauces and catsup. 

Arkansas Traveler
Arkansas Traveler is a 100-year-old southern heirloom variety that produces well in hot weather, humidity or drought as it is highly resistant to cracking and disease. The smooth, rounded rose-colored tomatoes are 6-8 oz. and very flavorful and sweet. Here's a guide for the tomato.


Cherry tomatoes with basil

Sweet One Million Cherry produces high yields of super-sweet bite-size tomatoes that have excellent, hybrid disease resistance. The large vigorous plant has long chains of smooth, dark red, 1 to 1.5" fruits. It matures nicely and continues producing until frost.


Sweet Big Red
Gamba is a green bell pepper that turns red if left on the plant long enough. It excels as a frying or stuffing pepper. The thick, meaty flesh holds up well and sweetens during cooking. It produces flattened bells, 3" in diameter and 1.5" deep with rich red color.

Corno Di Taro
Corno Di Taro is an Italian variety. The tall plant produces large amounts of narrow, slightly curved 8-10" long fruits. It is best roasted or fried.

Sweet Big Red is a high yielding variety that produces a sweet, thick-fleshed bell that ripens green to red.

Golden Treasure
Golden Treasure is an Italian variety, excellent for frying, roasting and fresh eating. Long, 9" fruits ripen from green to shiny yellow. Sweet flavor with medium thick flesh and tender skin.


Golden Summer is a yellow mild and sweet pepper with exceptionally thick walls. It starts out lime-green, then turns a sunny gold at maturity.
Email M R Gardens at gardens@wncmretc.com or call 828.333.4151 to make an order or request a full plant list. All plants are grown in organic potting soil. M R Gardens sells on a sliding scale so that all people in the community can enjoy healthily grown plants.