Tag Archives: Cherokee Purple tomato

first tomatoes and artichokes



It’s hardly May, and I have my first tomatoes of the season already, this gorgeous pair on a seedling of the heirloom Cherokee Purple.

Okay, I cheated a little. These are actually hothouse tomatoes. Some seed I planted in the greenhouse last spring didn’t germinate until last fall. Transplanting the plants outdoors in November would have meant certain death for the little tomatoes, but I didn’t have the heart to pull them out. One of them set down roots through the drainage holes of the pot and just kept growing. Although the greenhouse is too shady and unheated, the plant survived. And now I have these first two tomatoes, with more on the way.

I’ve never used the greenhouse for anything as practical as growing veggies, so this will be an interesting experiment.


The first artichokes of the season are also on some plants that were almost accidents. For years we had a clump of an especially good selection growing in the veggie garden. But a room addition on the house put the garden in shade, and the plants went into decline. I dug them out and was going to toss them, until I decided to try a couple stems in the back of a new raised bed. The combination of more light, more moisture, and fresh compost-rich soil worked their magic, and the plants are now looking as good as they ever have.

I like to think that I earned some bonus points for showing some mercy and not tossing the tomato and artichoke plants into the greens recycling. But in the case of the artichoke, at least, it’s another life lesson in trying to find the right location for an underperforming plant.

Are there any plants that you’ve had similar experiences with? Any “rescue plants” that ended up rewarding you as much as others you’d planned for?

tomato sculpture

I was browsing the web for recipes for caprese salad, the classic salad of Capri using plum tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil salt and pepper. I didn’t encounter any revelations as far as ingredients or proportions, but I found several images of a presentation method where the tomato was sliced and then reassembled with slices of the cheese and basil interfiled.

Caprese salad tomato tower
Caprese salad tomato tower
Cool, I thought. But what if you use two tomatoes of different colors? Here’s a first draft of this idea, using Mr. Stripey with the first fruit from Cherokee Purple.

Before I add this to the menu at Spago, I’d try to be sure the tomatoes were more similar in both size and shape. Also, cleaner, more uniform cuts through the buffalo mozzarella would have made for a neater presentation.

in the garden

I’ve been working on printing some of my Yellowstone photographs. While I wait for the scanner to scan and the printer to do its thing it’s a perfect opportunity to step outside and snap some random pictures of what’s going on in the garden.

The first Cherokee Purple tomato
The first Cherokee Purple tomato

The first Cherokee Purple tomato, grown from seed saved from farmer’s market tomatoes last year: I’ve been watching it turn color for a week now, and I thought it was finally time to pick it. It’s smaller than most of the other fruits on the plant, but I’m guessing it’ll be pretty tasty…


Peruvian daffodil (Hymenocallis festalis): John’s sister sent down a little package of presents the last time she visited over ten years ago. A bulb of this plant was in that package. That one bulb has multiplied all over the place, some in places where we put it, others in places where soil with the some bulb offsets was moved to. And some are even coming in places–like the lawn–where it probably have only arrived via seed.

This plant clearly has a life wish. No problem. We like it. It’s happy with little or heavy watering, dappled shade to full sun. And it smells great.

Moth-eating drosera
Moth-eating drosera

A moth that died in the arms of Drosera dichotoma ‘Giant,’ a carnivorous sundew in the bog garden: When I first put out some carnivores I was thinking, “Ooh cool! Bug-eating plants!” Now that I’m starting to see all the carnage–this moth, plenty of gnats, and a beautiful orange dragonfly–I’m starting to worry about my ethics. I’m a vegetarian, so why can’t the plants be too? Still, I guess it’s some sort of karmic payback: I eat veggies, so some of my veggies eat meat.

Drosera Marston Dragon flower
Drosera Marston Dragon flower

The flowering stem of another carnivore, Drosera x ‘Marston Dragon.’ Droseras have a reputation for reseeding like weeds. No weeds spotted so far, but it’s early yet in the season…

Wedding lupine
Wedding lupine

This sad little lupine is the descendant of a package of seeds that were given out at a wedding we went to on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. There was a bare spot in the yard, so the package got emptied into it. But there was a reason the spot was bare: The area got almost no water and even weeds had a hard time getting a hold. The lupines never have attained much size–this one is less than four inches tall–but enough keep coming back to remind us of that misty summer day.

And oh yeah, here are a couple of the images I’m printing up. The first one: Undine Falls, Yellowstone National Park. The second: Tower Falls Viewpoint, Yellowstone National park.

Undine falls
Undine falls
Tower Falls viewpoint
Tower Falls viewpoint

barbie's excellent garden adventure

Realtors have their location, location, location mantra that they recite as the factor that contributes most to a property’s value. A similar thing could be said for predicting how well a plant will do in the garden. Even if you follow the basic instructions on a plant’s requirements–basic information about its preferences for sun or shade, for instance, or its preferences for more or less water–lots of other variables can figure in the equation for how well the plant will do for you.

Here are a couple pairs of pictures of Barbie posing by plants in the garden so you can get a sense of scale. In each pairing, the plants next to Barbie went into the ground on the same day. But you can see how much difference the location of the transplants made in how much they liked their new homes.

First is Barbie next to plants of Rudbeckia hirta ‘Green Eyes’ that were planted last Fall:

Barbie and Rudbeckia #1 Barbie and Rudbeckia #2

In the first location, in the front yard, the plant is hanging on but not happy. It gets sun virtually all day and gets watered infrequently. The soil is fairly dense clay with minimal amendments, and the location has no mulch. With multi-year-old plantings nearby, much of the water is sucked up by roots of the more established plants.

In the second location, the plants are doing much better. The exposure is East-Northeast, meaning the plants get sun in the morning, with some additional boost reflected off the house. Watering is generally about once a week. The soil is clay, similar to the first location, but it received a few amendments at the time of planting. A layer of dark pebbles serves as mulch. Though the plants are next to a shrub, the shrub was planted at the same time and the rudbeckis, meaning the roots from the shrub weren’t running through the area and didn’t interfere with these plants getting established.

My conclusion? Though frequently considered a fairly drought-tolerant plant, rudbeckias do appreciate some moisture. Competition from nearby plantings can have a dramatic effect on how well a newly-introduced will do. Increasing the watering of the little front-yard plant could give it a better chance, and doing a little root-pruning with a shovel about a foot away from the base of the plant would help reduce competition from its thirsty neighbors. Some sort of mulch could help preserve soil moisture in this very exposed location.

Next we see Barbie posed next to plants of the tomato, Cherokee Purple:

Barbie and Cherokee Purple #1 Barbie and Cherokee Purple #2

Both locations face West-Southwest, assuring strong sun from before noon into late afternoon. Both locations receive light-to-moderate watering. The soil in the first spot is moderately heavy garden soil amended with organics. The location is part of a retired fishpond where the concrete on the bottom had holes drilled into for drainage, making this in essence a large container set into the ground. The soil is probably less than one foot deep, and the spot isn’t mulched.

The second plant is in a raised bed with deep, sandy soil that wasn’t amended before the plant went in. The plant benefits from a light layer of wood-chip mulch.

The tomato appears to appreciate a deep soil that would encourage a strong root system. Since I can’t do anything now to increase the depth of the soil in the first situation or to improve its makeup, some mulching could help keep the moisture level more uniform. Also, since the plant is essentially containerized, applications of low-nitrogen fertilizer would help equalize its chances for success with the plant that can set its roots deep and wider in search of nutrients. For next year’s plantings, replacing the current soil with a mix more appropriate for containers could also let the plantings fare better.

After this photo shoot in the garden Barbie had to come back inside for a rest. It’s tough being a supermodel.

attack of the killer tomatoes

I mentioned coming back from vacation and almost immediately going after one of the tomato plants that had taken over its spot in the new ornamental bed.

My killer tomatoes

Just one week later and it seems like I’m continuing to relive scenes from that 1970s schlockbuster, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. (It was a movie so awful you had to love it, and it had the added bonus of being filmed right here, in San Diego, much of it in Mission Valley, not more than 3-4 miles from my house. Imagine a horror flick where the evil elements are little tomatoes that jump up and go after the jugular of the person preparing to put them in his salad. Lots of tomato juice was spilled in that flick but all in the name of a ridiculous plot line. Unfortunately, all that seems a little sickly prescient these days when people are being advised against eating tomatoes for fear of salmonella poisoning…)

My tomato problem began with two plants from the garden center, the heirloom Mr. Stripey, show in the back of the photo, and the ubiquitous modern hybrid Early Girl, which is shown in the front, a week after I’d already chopped a third of the plant. Both are indeterminate vines, which means they keep growing and growing throughout their short life spans. The good consequence of that is that they continue to bear fruit for months. The bad is that they can grow out of control–I measured Mr. Stripey and he’s already eight feet across and four high, and this at the start of only June! There are tomato cages in that picture, but can you seem them?

One lesson learned out of all this is that tomatoes can respond to too much water by growing like crazy, while not necessarily producing any more fruit. These two monsters were planted in the “guilty pleasure” flower bed, where some higher water-use tropical necessitate watering more frequently than I would in a vegetable garden. You can restrict size of the plants somewhat by reducing the watering–or by pruning shears.

A couple months ago I’d written about saving seeds from Cherokee Purple, that ugliest and most tasty of tomato varieties. Those transplants so far are a lot better behaved. The one below is only about fourteen inches tall and two feet across, and it’s been blooming for three weeks–But then again small and well behaved is how the killer pair in the ornamental bed started. At least Cherokee Purple has a reputation for balancing plant size with productivity and high fruit quality.

Cherokee Purple tomato plant

If the plants don’t overrun the garden this should be a banner tomato year, and I’m already getting ready to whip up salsa, caprese salads and plates of fresh tomatoes dressed lightly with basil and olive oil and a little salt. In the meantime I’ll be standing guard with the shears.

winner of an ugly contest

Last summer John and I were at the farmer’s market in Ocean Beach, a funky, alternative neighborhood of San Diego. We were looking over some of the offerings at a stall when someone behind me starts laughing and shouts out over my shoulder, “Look at those ugly-ass tomatoes!”

Obviously someone used to the perfectly shaped (and perfectly tasteless) grocery store tomatoes, he was pointing out a pile of Cherokee Purple tomatoes to his girlfriend. “They’re, like mutant. Who’d buy that?” To be sure, the tomatoes were flat, irregularly shaped and sized, partly green and partly reddish-purple. Nothing to win a spot on a pinup calendar of tomato varieties. But these tomatoes have their rabid followers, and I count myself one of them. They’re like the best tomato you’ve tasted, and sliced up they’re actually pretty attractive.

The above is a picture from the Seed Savers Exchange catalog [ source ]. These are prettier examples than you usually find of this variety.

One person even has a domain name, cherokeepurple.com attached to his blog entries about trying to grow this variety (without much success) in Arkansas. I might not be that rabid, but last year I decided to save some seeds from the best examples of Cherokee Purple from the farmer’s markets so that I could grow my own. This is an heirloom, open pollinated variety, so they should come true from seed.

I consulted Saving Seeds, an older book by Marc Rogers that’s still available via Amazon (and probably a few other sellers). If you own the book, give it up–You’re a plant geek. There, the basic instructions were to first clean the seeds as best as you could. Next you drop them into a jar full of water for a few days until the gummy pulp surrounding the seeds ferments and liberates the seeds. When that happens, the previously pulpy seeds–which floated–would sink to the bottom of the jar. Finally you drain and dry them and store them away. I followed the instructions, but I was worried that there was still some pulp attached to some of the seeds when I was done with the process so that not all of them sank.

The acid test came three weeks ago when I put some of the seeds into pots. Maybe not all the seeds were processed perfectly, but I’m now the proud parent of six pots of Cherokee Purple seedlings!

I have a few spots around the yard selected for them, places where I’ve never put tomatoes, so I’m hoping they’ll take to their new locations and thrive. I’ll probably give them a couple more weeks in their pots, and then it’s time to set them loose. I’ll post the baby pictures as they grow up…pictures so ugly only a parent and lover of Cherokee Purple could love.