Indigo Children: The New Black Tomatoes

 

Indigo Rose’s Babies & Nutrition’s Top Tomato

For the past few years, I’ve been growing an unusual new tomato called Indigo Rose, which has proven to be a terrific performer despite our fluctuating, often cool maritime Northwestern weather. Blue-skinned Indigo Rose is outstanding in several ways; for one, it boasts remarkably high levels of anthocyanins, the potent antioxidants that make blueberries a superfood. For another, it tastes amazing; bright, tangy, and sweet-tart. Finally, it’s stunning in a salad and gorgeous on the plate.

Happily, no genetic engineering was used to create this new super tomato. Instead, Dr. Jim Meyers at Oregon State University patiently hand-crossed dark-colored heritage tomatoes with wild varieties from Chile and the Galapagos Islands. The result is a dazzlingly delicious, 2-inch tomato combining midnight purple skin with a rosy red interior. However, since it never turns red, it can be hard to tell when it’s really ripe. The secret? When the skin turns from glossy blue-black to matte purplish-brown, the amazing taste will be at its peak.

New Blues For You

While Indigo Rose was winning gardener’s hearts across the country, hybridizer Peter Mes was busily breeding a whole crop of new baby blues. These blue babies are as healthy and wholesome as their mom, packed with anthocyanins and a host of other phytonutrients. Most grow 3-5 feet high and need sturdy cages or trellises to climb on (especially the indeterminates, which are strong growers).

The Indigo family now includes INDIGO Apple, an indeterminate grower that produces 2-4 ounce, round fruits with blue-black topsides and rosy bottoms. These succulent sweeties are excellent for eating fresh. INDIGO Blue Beauty is also indeterminate, producing hefty, pink 4-8 oz. beefsteak tomatoes with dark blue shoulders and rosy flesh.

Blue Cherries

Those who prefer tiny tomatoes will delight in INDIGO Blue Berries, which offers clusters of midnight red cherry tomatoes with sparkling flavor. They really look like cherries but have that true tomato taste that makes it hard to stop popping them in your mouth. INDIGO Ruby also looks cherry-like, with plum-shaped and plum colored fruits with dark red flesh. Tastiest of all is semi-indeterminate INDIGO Kumquat, which produces large crops of fragrant, sweet-tart, peach-colored grape tomatoes with the familial deep blue shoulders.

Also semi-indeterminate, INDIGO Sun produces generous crops of sunny yellow cherry tomatoes with purple streaked shoulders and warm yellow flesh. These share the family’s high anthocyanin levels and offer a bright, spunky flavor to boot. Another golden girl, INDIGO Starburst, is a determinate plant with plump yellow fruit blushed with purple and sweet on the palette.

Tomatoes On Seawater Seem Sweeter

A few years ago, I read about a Rutgers University study in which commercially grown tomato plants were given a single dose of seawater. The resulting tomatoes were significantly more flavorful than those that did not get a sip of seawater. I decided to try this myself and was favorably impressed with the enhanced flavor. Ever since, I routinely give each tomato plant a cup of seawater mixed into a quart of plain well water. This boosts the natural flavors without disturbing that crucial sweet-tart balance that makes the best tomatoes sing of summer.

Grafted For Greatness

All my tomatoes are grafted these days, thanks to the excellent results I’ve had for the past few years. When erratic weather stunted my control plants, the grafted ones just kept on growing, despite cool nights or sudden heat. After years of struggling to grow tomatoes well in my cold Northwestern gardens, I’m totally sold on the benefits of growing grafted tomatoes. That is to say, I now get great harvests of RIPE fruit as well as the usual masses of green ones in late fall.

If you give grafted tomatoes a try, DO NOT follow the usual practice of deep planting or mulching, since roots formed on the scion lack the advantages the rootstock brings to the union. Keep the graft well above ground and pinch off any shoots from beneath the graft. Handle grafted plants gently and cage or stake them well, providing ample support to avoid damaging the graft. Feed and water as usual, pruning off excess foliage to direct more energy to fruiting.

How To Succeed…

You’ll find explicit, clear information on grafting and grafted vegetables at http://loghouseplants.com/plants/library/grafting/. Please do read it; it’s critical NOT to use the usual techniques when we plant grafted tomatoes, because doing so negates all the benefits grafting can bring. Good luck, and may this summer be fruitful!

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