And the award for the first tomato variety to ripen this year is a tie between Hawkins Plum and Black Cherry! Both were picked on May 31.
Unfortunately, the first ripe Hawkins Plum was rotten on the bottom and full of bugs feasting upon its spilled guts (yuck!). I'm not sure if it was because of BER or it touching the ground or both. The one in the picture wasn't quite ripe all the way, but I went ahead and picked it because it was starting to show signs of rotting too, and I didn't want it to get as bad as the first one. As it is, the rotten spot is small enough that it can just be cut off to save the rest of the tomato, and it's ripe enough that it can go the rest of the way on the counter.
I confess I usually prefer to pick tomatoes when they're not quite ripe and ripen them the rest of the way in the kitchen. This time I wanted it ripe all the way for photogenic qualities, but see what happened? This is why I like it pick them early, just in case. Less time for bugs or birds or other critters to get them, and once the tomato has started to turn to its mature color, it can ripen the rest of the way off the plant without a noticeable difference in flavor. This is different from the tomatoes from the store, which were picked while still completely green, and then ripened with ethylene gas, because at that early stage they wouldn't ripen on their own without help. That's part of the reason why they taste like crap.
By the way, BER stands for Blossom End Rot. It's supposedly caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil, but I doubt it because, well, have you seen my soil? It's MADE of calcium! On the other hand, it could be a calcium uptake problem, which means it doesn't matter how much calcium is in the soil, if the plants can't absorb it. I don't really worry about it too much because it seems like only certain varieties are prone to it, namely the plum category of tomatoes, and those seem to only get it on their first few fruits and then grow out of it. And, like I said, if it's not too bad, I can always cut that end off. Hopefully Hawkins will get over this BER thing soon enough once most of the tomatoes ripen.
The Black Cherries could maybe use a bit more ripening on the counter too. It's hard to tell. They don't look as dark as I thought they'd be, more of a light purple than black, with green shoulders (in tomato speak that's when the area around the stem of the tomato stays green even when the fruit is ripe). Basically, Black Cherry, as the name suggests, is the cherry version of a black tomato, another category of tomatoes that are very dark purple in color and often have green shoulders. They're also known for having a rich flavor. So far the only black tomato I've grown so far was Cherokee Purple, but I was sure happy with it. It made an excellent BLT.
The other tomatoes haven't shown any signs of ripening yet, not even the Yellow Pears, another cherry sized variety (even though they're pear shaped) which should ripen early. They've got a lot of green pears on them though.
I found this blog here where the author does tomato tastings every year of the varieties she's grown. That sounds like a good idea and I may steal it, if nothing else than to keep track of the tomatoes I have grown for my own reference, because there's so many varieties out there. Also, the flavor of a tomato can depend a lot on the growing conditions, so a variety of tomato grown in Texas may end up tasting a bit different than the same variety grown in Ohio. For example, the famous Pink Brandywine tomato doesn't do well here at all. It can't take the heat and drops most of its blossoms. On the other hand, black tomatoes like Cherokee Purple do great, while I've heard that in cooler climates they never really develop to their full potential color and taste-wise.
This is why heirloom plant varieties are so good, because they are diverse enough that you can find varieties that are adapted to your specific habitat, you just have to do a little research. Of course I'm not that interested in tomato varieties described as ripening early in cool weather, but I'm always on the lookout for ones that are touted as being heat-tolerant.
Well, enough rambling about tomatoes. As you can see from the picture above, I also harvested the first of another summer favorite, squash! Yellow Crookneck, to be precise. Actually, those pictured had gotten a little too mature and were a little on the seedy size. Summer squash are best harvested before the seeds have hardly developed at all, and in this variety the rule of thumb is to harvest them before they've started growing those cool warts. However, I am making one exception, since I need more seeds. I'm letting one squash on each of my six plants mature so I can harvest seeds. Supposedly letting any of your summer squash mature will cut down on production since the plant figures it's job is done once it's made some mature seeds, but with how prolific summer squash is, I'm not too worried about that.
On the other hand, when they're at this stage where they've gotten a little on the seedy side, they're great for stuffing, since you scoop the seeds out and are left with a nice container. But these guys ended up sauteed with some of my Chet's Italian Red garlic.
Finally, on that day of harvesting, I should also note that I dug up the last of my potatoes, the Rio Grande Russets. It was another disappointing yield of only 4.62 pounds. Now I'm pretty sure that it's not a variety thing, since all my potato varieties did lousy, but something to do with bad conditions for potatoes in general. I decided to give Rio Grande another chance as well, and separated out the smallest tubers for seed to plant this fall along with the Purple Viking ones I saved. I'm going to have to do some more research to find out what went wrong. The plants and potatoes themselves looked healthy, so I don't think it was a disease or anything. I just got pitiful yields. Maybe they need some kind of fertilizer.