What’s It Mater

Yes, it is that time of year again. Spring! And time for us, in the UK to come out of our hills like ants. Perhaps more so now that lockdown is easing. But that also means, it’s time to get started back out in the garden. And as usual, I’m behind already at our @HomeCrazzyHome #urbanfarm & #homestead.

Maybe not quite as far behind as last year though. I already have peppers, cucumbers, and my blessed tomatoes coming up. In fact, those tomatoes are today’s topic in our blog. I spent the past two days transplanting all the seedlings that have come up. And I have about fifty, yes, I said 50 to share with friends and neighbors.

As you remember, I lost almost all of my maters to blight last year. Only the half dozen Tumbling Toms that I brought inside survived. I swore that I would not go overboard again this year.

So, why have I?

Part of it is the old saying, ‘You can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl.’ There is absolutely, positively nothing like a mater.

What’s a mater, you ask?

A mater is not to be confused with a tomato or a To-MA-toe. A mater is the fruit of a tomato plant, plucked freshly from the vine and popped into your mouth while still warm. You can taste the sunshine and that slight tang of grassiness from the vine. You cannot buy a mater in any store. And no matter how hard you try, you cannot adequately capture it with canning, freezing, drying, or preserving. A mater is a special gift from the goddess, PachaMama, Mother Earth. And available for a limited time only. The thing is not all tomatoes, and certainly not those To-Ma-Toes, can be maters.

So, despite an exceedingly disappointing 2020, I am at it again. Attempting to cultivate that illusive to the UK fruit – the mater.

I have though altered my strategy rather significantly. After some research, I have branched away from those Money Makers and Gardeners’ Delight that are the staple of many. I have focused on my efforts in two directions:

  1. Heritage/heirloom varieties that are breed for cool and wetter climates.
  2. Dwarf plants like those Tumbling Toms that can be brought inside during especially rainy periods.

Did you know there are over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes?

Yes, >10K!

So, how do you know which one is right for you?

The answer, I’m afraid, is to do like I am – EXPERIMENT. Give different varieties ago. But as you do that there are three things to keep in mind.

Type of Tomato Produced:

There are four basic types of tomato fruits:

  1. Cherry – Tiny fruits that can be eaten in a single bite and are perfect for salads.
  2. Salad – These medium-sized fruits are good all-around in salads, sandwiches, or in soups & sauces.
  3. Beekstake – These are massive fruits. Some larger than a fist and ideal for sandwiches.
  4. Plum – These tomatoes can be either cherry or medium-sized, but they are oval rather than round. They have less seeds and juice and mroe flesh, making them great for sauces, soups, or preserving.

Type of Plant:

Tomatoes grow on three basic vines types:

  1. Cordon/Indeterminate – These plants grow tall, over two meters sometimes. To produce the best harvest, you need to pinch out the stems and leaves often.
  2. Bush/Determinate – These plants don’t grow as tall, in fact, you can find some that are dwarf and perfect for hanging baskets.
  3. Semi-determinate – These are similar to the Indeterminate but they don’t grow quite as tall.

Type of Seed:

There are only three basic types of seeds:

  1. F1 – These are hybrids and their seeds are sterile, meaning you cannot grow plants from the seeds.
  2. Seeding – I made up that word, but basically it means that you can save seeds from this year’s crops to grow next year’s plants. You won’t necessarily see this mentioned, but it is safe to assume if it is not labelled F1.
  3. Heritage/heirloom – These are seed varieties that are historical, usually to that region. Many growers are bringing these old varieties back into fashion.

So how might you apply all that to figure out what variety is right for you?

  • Think about your needs – If you are big salad eaters then a cherry or salad variety might be best for you. If you crave a mater samiche (recipe below) then only a beefstake will do. But if your passion is homemade sauces, then opt for a plum variety. If you have limited space and like a good all-around tomato then salad types all the way. Of course, if you have space, why not grow some of each?
  • Think about space – This is perhaps the biggest concern. If you live in a small flat, then growing an eight-foot behemoth isn’t practical. But you can grow those dwarf varieties any place with lots of sunlight.
  • Planning for the future – The seed type is probably not a big deal for most people. But for those urban homesteaders and permaculture types likes us, F1 varieties don’t make sense. While experimenting with unusual heirloom/heritage types does.

For more information and charts with some of the most common varieties, click here (This is NOT an endorsement of their products.)

Before I go, that recipe for a Mater Samiche…

  • Two slices of your favorite bread (sadly, mine is usually plain old white)
  • Mayonnaise (if you live in the American South, nothing beats Dukes)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • A huge beekstake mater freshly picked and still warm from the vine – do NOT wash, just brush it off on your shirt.

Sadly, most beefstake varieties are cordon. So, unless you have a large, heated greenhouse, it is virtually impossible to grow them from seed to ripe off the vine. Our growing season just is not long enough or hot enough. But this is my long-term goal.

Until then, I’m focusing on those cherry, bush, and heirloom varieties.

From our @HomeCrazzyHome to yours!

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