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Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time Paperback – December 30, 2014
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“All the descriptions and growing information, enhanced by the book's snappy cover art, engaging design, and clever interior layout, make it easy to see how anyone could be smitten by this remarkable and quirky fruit.”
— The American Gardener
“A must-read for all serious tomato growers…you’ll want to read this cover to cover as soon as you get it.”
— Sunday News Herald
“The ultimate in-depth and practical ode to heirloom tomatoes. ... Gardeners will find it a mouthwatering read, and the photography will make you yearn for scratch-sniff-and-taste paper.”
— Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier
“Revel in the amazing variety of tomato colors, tastes, and textures … LeHoullier's book is a treat for the senses.”
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* Volunteer in the greenhouse at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, specializing in propagation.
* Published in Texas Gardener magazine.
* Provide propagated landscape materials for local fund raiser/plant sales.
* Life member of Seed Savers Exchange, offering home-grown, organically grown, open-pollinated vegetable and flower seeds to members.
* Stabilizing two genetic lines of new open-pollinated heat-resistant paste tomatoes.
Distilling out knowledge and experience gained in decades of tomato growing, Craig LeHoullier produced a book that benefits every tomato gardener. Chapters include enough comprehensive information in one book to help even the novice tomato grower succeed, while inspiring the seasoned aficionado to greater heights of tomatodom.
Tomato history: Epic Tomatoes is replete with stories about heirloom varieties, some about America’s tomato breeders who created varieties that became tasty, reliable open-pollinated standards for home gardeners, and laid the groundwork for today’s open-pollinated revolution. (Craig also discusses hybrid varieties, and when they may be your best choices.)
Tomato Anatomy: Understanding the basics of tomato anatomy will make you a more successful gardener. Learn to pick the best varieties for your needs.
Planning your tomato garden: Learn how to ensure the best yield and flavor. Not all tomatoes need the same care and culture, but a little forethought results in a tomato tapestry. (Craig also shares his best tips on how to grow the most seedlings using the least space, time, and resources. These tips alone make the book worth buying.) There is also advice to help you decide if you want to start your own seed or buy starts.
Growing tips: Do you want to grow in pots or beds? Should you stake your tomatoes or cage them? Should you prune? Not all tomatoes require the same growing conditions. Epic Tomatoes offers advice for more successful production.
Harvesting tips: Get peak flavor from all your varieties. For example, a pink variety ripens differently than a red or purple. Craig covers all of them, including multi-colored fruits. There’s even a few recipes to help you enjoy all your hard work.
Preserving and seed saving: Tips on storage, including canning, dehydrating, and freezing. Craig discusses roasting, which condenses flavor. I roast non-paste varieties, then add them to the sauce cooked down from my paste varieties, creating a sauce that reminds us of fresh summer harvest even in winter. I also freeze bags of roasted tomatoes to add to other dishes as needed.
Being a long-time member of Seed Savers Exchange, Craig includes tips on how to save your own seed. While he offers options, I recommend trying the fermentation method. It’s actually easier than other methods, allowing me to process many varieties with the least amount of effort.
Breeding your own varieties: This “extra credit” chapter has been very helpful to me. I’ve been breeding a heat-resistant paste variety for a few years, which in turn means a continuous supply of home-grown sauce. (When you grow your own, you can make your sauce taste exactly as you like.)
There’s great appendix material, including Craig’s research on yields for many open-pollinated and hybrid tomatoes. This information can save you time and frustration by helping you pick varieties more likely to give you the best yields for your effort. (I’ve copied his methods to produce my own spreadsheets to guide my own breeding project.)
At the advice of many online experts, I eventually spent quite a ridiculous amount of money on pots, grow boxes, soil amendments, lights... you name it. And -- this should come as no surprise to anyone -- the "experts" all contradicted each other. I followed the advice of one "expert" in my kind of tomato-gardening-difficult area (Pacific Northwest). Bad decision. As a result, I started my tomato seedlings indoors a month too early and six times as many seedlings as I should have started.
Eventually, thanks to more online recommendations, I bought a different book (Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, 35th Anniversary Edition: The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening -- which contained a lot of interesting information, to be sure, but mostly only confused and discouraged me.
Then -- again thanks to online recommendations -- I checked this book out of the library.
Within two chapters, I knew that I had to buy a copy.
I'm now about 2/3 of the way through the book, and it just gets better and better.
This book is eminently readable. It answers ALL of my questions. LeHoullier spells out what to do, when to do it, and pros and cons of different approaches -- and explains WHY very clearly with just enough detail to make sense but not enough to have you saying "Enough already" and skipping parts.
At this point, thanks entirely to this book, I actually feel like my too-early start will be correctable. (I fixed the "too many" part by giving away dozens of seedlings.) I no longer feel overwhelmed and confused by online "experts" all offering contradictory advice. I only wish I'd bought this book to begin with, because I'd have saved myself a lot of money in unneeded (and, sadly, not returnable) supplies.
If you're embarking on a tomato-growing journey -- even if you're not doing it as cluelessly as I started off -- be smarter than I was, do yourself a favor, and start by buying this book. Seriously