“Best” is such a challenging word. I guess most people would think about the best-tasting tomatoes they’ve ever grown. To give that perspective justice, you’d have to be the type who tries new varieties every year. That’s never been me …. I find something I like and stay loyal. Of course, this approach has its pros (always a known, enjoyable quantity) and cons (maybe I’ve missed out). Take ice cream. From a little kid, it’s always been mint chocolate chip for me. I’ve tried other things but mint chocolate chip has remained my favorite. Fast forward to adulthood here in Ft. Collins when Coldstone Creamery opened. They had mint but it was too minty, so I branched out to coffee with heath bar bits on top. YUM YUM!
Back to tomatoes. For years, it was Early Girl. They worked pretty consistently in Colorado. Then, it seemed every year there was always something that went wrong. A few years ago, my next door neighbor (Carrie) gave me some Brandywine and Purple Cherokees she’d grown from seed. We tried them, loved them, and they had survived a nasty whitefly infestation that decimated the Early Girls, and a Mortgage Lifter. Both Brandywine and Purple Cherokee had great flavor and were great for BLTs. They became my number one for pure flavor. (Remember, I haven’t tried hundreds of varieties so they seem perfect to me). But they were a bit juicy for canning, so last year we also planted Roma plum tomatoes, which were quite good for canning and very prolific.
I’m sure there are many out there who have experimented with other varieties who could suggest other things for me to try. And I’d give them a shot, so don’t hold back. But it really wasn’t just flavor that made Brandywine and Purple Cherokee “best” for me. “Best” was that thanks to Carrie, when I branched out and started growing my own tomato plants from seed. When growing open-pollinated tomatoes, I could collect seeds from tomatoes I’d grown, save them, and use them the following year. So this worked well with the Brandywine, Purple Cherokee, and Roma.
But collecting the seed in the summer, starting seedlings in the spring, transplanting them outside over Memorial Day weekend, and watching them grow all summer is what has made for the “best” experience. First, it reminded me that things are often far less daunting than one might imagine. Growing from scratch also gave me the satisfaction of knowing what had happened to my tomato plants every step of the way. No more hoping that the store where I bought the plants knew to bring them in when nighttime temps were below 50 degrees. No more waiting till Memorial Day so that all the plants that had been exposed to cold nighttime temps had already been sold. And last, I learned a bunch of new things – exactly how to collect the seeds, hot to pot-up the seedlings to prevent them from becoming too leggy, and taking advantage of all warm days in the spring to put my seedlings outside when temps were above 50 degrees and bringing them in at night. Which all goes to prove that you can teach an old broad new tricks!