An ongoing and clandestine love affair

A green tomato waits for its moment in the sun.

This year, I swore no indoor seed growing.  Here’s why:

  • I really don’t have a place for them except the basement (where I’ll forget to water).
  • The seedlings get leggy from not enough light (although I use full spectrum, grow lights);
  • and quite frankly, I don’t wanna.

Photo of the urban community garden "Seeds" sign in North Carolina

After placing orders for those seeds I can direct sow (outdoors), I gathered up the  catalog multitude for recycling. Totally Tomatoes landed in a basket, and a small, lonely sigh escaped from within its depths.  I tried to ignore it, but then a tabbed page fell open to my deep, dark paramours.

Smitten by their charcoal beauty, I began leafing through their descriptions.

Carbon, Black Krim, Black from Tula, Japanese Black Truffle  or Trifele (new to me), Paul Robeson ((named after the African-American concert singer and activist) and Black Brandywine (more disease resistant in my garden than the original). Deep, rich, dark taste.  Sultry grace on a summer plate combined with an ability to co-mingle with the brighters colors in the tomato rainbow.  I confess we are in love, and, sadly, I’d nearly forgotten them.

Here, I would love to show a picture of one growing in my garden, but after looking through all of my photos, I discovered I don’t have a single one.  Apparently, I ate them too fast to take a picture.

As stated on the Cold Climate Tomato website, almost all of these originally hail from Russian locales.  I wonder if their darker color developed as a way to trap more sunlight.  At 75 to 80 days, many of them are mid-season tomatoes (another reason to love them).  They are indeterminate, and I like to grow a mix of determinate and indeterminate types.  Although black tomatoes were developed in a frigid climate, I’ve never had trouble growing them in Oklahoma (at least in those years when I could grow tomatoes at all).

Yes, I can buy plants of hybrids locally, but other than the now almost-ordinary Brandywine, heirlooms are bit hard to locate.  And, yes, I know I said hybrids will be my garden maintstays this year due to their built-in resistance to common diseases.  Ah, but the black tomatoes are nearly impossible to resist.

Carmen peppers, they're almost black

So, do I pull out the trays, or do I buy plants from Lisa Merrill, the Tomato Man’s Daughter?

That is the question.  She definitely has Carbon, Black Brandywine, Black from Tula and Cherokee Purple (which is nearly black).  I’m sorry Totally Tomatoes.  I’m taking the easy route this year and tearing up the asphalt to Tulsa.  I can also hit Whole Foods while I’m there.

Anyone up for a road trip?

She also has eggplant (the French aubergine is so much prettier don’t you think?) and pepper plants.  April 15, 2010 is her official opening day.

With all this bounty, my love can wait.


  1. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Hey, I’d go along solely for the great company … IF I lived close enough to do so! Have fun, Dee!

    Come on up Miss Cindy and take a ride with me!~~Dee

  2. Meredith says:

    I totally understand your love affair. I’m going in the opposite direction this year, with more heirlooms — but we had an excellent tomato season last year, with a hot and drier than normal August. I can sympathize with the desire to up the yield and protect against common diseases. (Rutgers is a disease resistant and uber-productive heirloom variety hereabouts, don’t know if it would work for your climate.)

    And when you go and get heirloom seedlings, I highly recommend Cherokee Purple. That is my personal favorite after growing for the first time this last year. It wasn’t amazingly productive — but the taste, oh, heaven! That had to be the best-tasting tomato I’ve ever had.

    Meredith, thanks for your thoughts and recommendations. I second you on both Rutgers and Cherokee Purple. Both are wonderful tomatoes, full of flavor and easier than most to grow. Hope all of your heirlooms take off and provide great fruit.~~Dee

  3. Thank you for that link to the Cold Climate Tomato site. Never heard of them before. My oldest daughter started all our vegetable seeds for the last few years, including potting the tomatoes on several times. She is now going to school full time, and I’m afraid the job will fall to me. Like you, don’t wanna.

  4. Rose says:

    The last two years I swore after losing so many of my indoor seedlings that I wouldn’t do this again…but I’ve succumbed to the temptation and ordered so many seeds, I know I’ll be getting out the grow light and cell packs once again come the end of March. Every year I learn a little bit more from my mistakes, so maybe this will be the year for success…or so I can hope. Besides, by the end of March I’m itching to plant SOMETHING!

    You’re so lucky to have a grower near you with such varieties available. It’s hard to find anything but the standard varieties of tomatoes here.

  5. Dee, Tomatoes have a lot to answer for, LOL! It was a container tomato plant on my deck back in the late 1980s that was my “gateway plant” that started my love of gardening. About 7 years ago, I indoor sowed tomatoes. I wouldn’t have done it for any other plant. And Hadn’t I indoor sowed, I wouldn’t have made the transition entirely to outdoor/winter sowing, which is how I start all my tomatoes (am trying Black Krim this year, too. Have extra seeds. Can mail them) and which is the topic I speak most about. Yep, I also have a love story with tomatoes, but I guess we are no lo longer clandestine! 🙂

  6. You know Dee, I’ll bet you’re right about those Russian dark-skinned tomatoes. Same thing goes for butterflies with black veins and black bodies. It makes sense.

    Ahh heck, I wish we all had more room for our seedlings.


    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  7. Kelly Bundy says:

    Awww, the Tomato Man! He was such a nice person. I purchased a few plants from him when he would sell at the Jenks Herb and Plant Show. My brother in law was a very close friend of his. He introduced me to those wonderful Cherokee Purples. Soooo good on a BLT!!
    Dee, now I’m so hungry for a homegrown t’mator!

  8. Gail says:

    I have never tasted the black tomatoes! Must see if WF’s will have them for sale. I so need a space to propagate plants~~and this winter I really need a space to escape to! ~~ gail

  9. I have to say, I made the same promise after dragging my leggy seedling outside only to see most of them fall to the wayside. I said I would never try growing them indoors again. Better and easier to buy established plants, but alas I have fallen prey to the wonderful spring time displays when I have gone into stores like Agway and Lowes. I could resist the catalogues, but not the stores with their bright promise of what I am longing for. So I will plant most of them outdoors but there are a few that I will try to grow indoors once again. Maybe next year , like you,I will listen to that common sense talking to me.

  10. Carolyngail says:

    I know whereof you speak, Dee, ’cause I’ve got the same predicament; no space or not enough light to grow all the veggies I’d like. Plus, working at the garden center I can purchase them at discount and they’re already pretty big.

  11. Cool seed pics… I need to get mine in the ground, too.

  12. Sweet Bay says:

    I love, love, love the black tomatoes. Unfortunately disease gets them here. But the taste is incomparable.

  13. It’s harder to go wrong with a purchased plant. I think you’ve got the right idea.

  14. Road trip? To buy tomato seedlings? I’m in! (Well, I’d be in if I lived closer to you and Tulsa. Sounds like fun.)

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