Thursday, May 13, 2010

After rocky start, cherry tomatoes show promise by Jody Headlee

After rocky start, cherry tomatoes show promise
Jody Headlee is a contributing columnist for The Oakland Press.

    One of the exciting treats in the spring, when you are a garden writer, is the arrival of catalogs with exciting promises.
    Often national seed producers will send out special catalogs introducing new releases to get the information into the hands of the public early.
    This year was no exception. Sakata Seed America Inc. of Morgan Hill, Calif., mailed me its slick vegetable catalog and included a separate glossy introduction to Sweet Treats, a pink cherry tomato.
    I happen to be an all-out advocate of cherry tomatoes, and when I saw the magnificent photography in the separate folder as well as tips on growing this new miracle, I was sold.
    Particularly, when tucked inside was the message that I’d find a packet of its seeds so that I would be sure to try them.
    Only problem: Somebody had forgotten to put in the packet, whetting my appetite to find out more about this exceptional hybrid that was making its debut.
    I gave Joey Kitagawa, sales and marketing director, a call and by return mail, received an apology and a brilliantly colored packet of the missing seeds – 12 in all. Tiny and creamy white, they looked pretty defenseless scattered in my hand to better inspect them.
    Once carefully replaced in their packet, I headed to our basement stash of plastic pots and other planting necessities.
    From my many open packages in the potting area — typical of a grandmother chef in her kitchen — I added compost, sterilized potting soil, Perlite, peat moss and a few pinches of black sand.
    My “soil” combo had one problem. The ingredients had been resting in their open packages near the furnace. To say the blend was dry was the understatement of the year.
    Even mixed, its parched presence stood out. It was obvious I haven’t been doing much planting since that red-light accident some four years ago and just the puttering made me as happy as a piglet in the barnyard. It took me three days of soaking and playing with the mix before its ingredients had absorbed enough water to consider it worthy of planting material. Once proper consistency was reached, the seeds were distributed.
    Normally, I would have scattered them in one container, waited for them to germinate and then transplanted them individually.
    Instead, I gently placed each seed and my blessings in its new surroundings. When looking at the finished product, they were so tiny, they had just slid into a soil crevices and disappeared. I knew they were there but only because I put them there.
    As usual, I covered each container with a clear, plastic cover, stashed them in an aluminum Thanksgiving turkey roaster and carried all to the desk in the guest bedroom. Regular readers will recall it is our version of a “greenhouse,” offering lots of light but the ability to control sun rays that burn tender leaves in the snap of a finger.
    With the seeds on their own, I felt like an octomom-plus-four as I waited.
    Stupid? Nope, you have to be a gardener experimenting with the unknown to understand.
    All I had to do was watch these empty-looking pots, make sure they were kept moist but not enough to encourage mold and wait.
    On the seventh day of my rounds, there were nine spindly, two-leafed babies reaching toward the light. That meant there were three more to come or three that bypassed the chance to join the experiment. Time will tell.
    They were alive but they looked mighty leggy and fragile. Would they live?
    I hope so and will keep you posted. Cross your fingers, I need all the help I can get.
    I do so want to judge and taste these Sweet Treats that Sakata claims carry an “uniquely balanced flavor of sweetness with the low acidity of pink tomatoes, yet are the size of a cherry tomato.”
    In addition, they offer high crop yields and are hardy, making them very grower friendly. Who could ask for more?
    Headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, Sakata was the first Japanese company to export seed and has been involved in the development of new and improved plant varieties around the world for almost 100 years.
    Favored in the Far East, pink tomatoes dominate its tomato market. Genetically different than the traditional red tomato, experts claim it’s the balance of the pinks’ acidic sweetness that make them special. I’d like to take that taste test. Wish me luck!

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