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I’ve never considered myself a tomato fan. They’re often pale and tasteless and mushy… if you buy them at the store. Whenever I had some of my family’s or relatives’ homegrown tomatoes, it was a different story. I think my grandparents kept a few heirloom plants, but we really only grew a couple of varieties of sandwich tomatoes and a few cherry tomatoes from seedlings started at big box stores or nurseries.
A couple of years ago when on a quest to grow good, organic and heirloom food, I discovered Park Seed and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Their catalogs are beautiful each year, but Baker Creek’s is absolutely stunning. I want to try every plant in the book.
My vernissage tomatoes
One tomato I saw was Baker Creek’s Black Vernissage tomato. It isn’t colored black, but is deep red with dark green stripes.
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of “vernissage” is, “a private showing or preview of an art exhibition.”
Vernissage has its roots in the old practice of setting aside a day before an exhibition’s opening for artists to varnish and put finishing touches to their paintings-a tradition that reportedly dates to at least 1809, when it was instituted by England’s Royal Academy of Arts. (One famous member of the Academy, Joseph Mallord William Turner, was notorious for making major changes to his paintings on this day.) English speakers originally referred to this day of finishing touches simply as “varnishing day,” but sometime around 1912 we also began using the French term vernissage (literally, “varnishing”). Today, however, you are more likely to encounter vino than varnish at a vernissage, which is often a gala event marking the opening of an exhibition. – Merriam-Webster
Baker Creek doesn’t say why these tomatoes are named Vernissage, but I have a guess. They start out pretty and green, and just when they’re ready to pick, they change to a deep, beautiful red with green stripes– putting on their finishing touches!
According to NatureWord, black tomatoes are darker than the typical red tomato because they have an extra amount of anthocyanins thanks to a pigment called lycopene. Like blueberries, black carrots and others, black tomatoes may provide lots of antioxidants that can help protect us from free radicals.Like blueberries, black carrots and others, black tomatoes may provide lots of antioxidants that can help protect us from free radicals. Click To Tweet
My seeds germinated quickly, and I soon had strong plants bearing light green tomatoes with darker green stripes.
When we moved last year, I had to transport my entire container garden. It took several loads to get it all, and it was extremely difficult transporting some of my plants without damaging them. My tomato plants still had a few late fruits, and I wasn’t sure if they’d hold up.
The plants had been growing on a sunny porch with a roof, and I’d been carefully watering and staking them. When we moved, I put them in a sunny location on our patio. While there was a bit of protection from a nearby tree, they gained quite a bit of sun all at once.
It didn’t take too long for the plant to die since it was going into autumn, but they performed well for the rest of season.
Growing Black or Green Vernissage tomatoes
I grew Black Vernissage Tomatoes last year and will grow them as well as Green Vernissage Tomatoes this year. I purchased the Black Vernissage seeds myself and I believe the green variety was a free seed packet gifted by Baker Creek, though I would have purchased it myself, anyway. (They include a free seed packet with every order, normally sending more than one if you order several packets. They choose what to send.)
I start mine indoors in seed trays about 6-8 weeks before I plan to move them outside. Check your last expected frost date for your growing zone before transplanting them.
Tomatoes like to be well-watered but not soggy– don’t let them sit in water. They do best in well-drained soil partially composed of compost and fertilizer. When I plant mine, I add stakes or cages when they’re small and use twine to help support them as they grow. These fruits don’t get large, so they don’t need as much support as larger tomatoes do.
The Farmer’s Almanac recommends pinching off the lower leaves and planting the transplants deeply.
These beauties like full sun and will bear fruits that are about 2 oz. each. According to Baker Creek, they’re good in sauces– I’ll have to try that this year.
All of Baker Creek’s seeds are non-GMO.
Cost and environmental savings
As of March 25, 2018, Wegman’s sold snacking tomatoes for over $5 for 1.5 pounds. A container of grape tomatoes retailed for $2.29.
At the time of this writing, Baker Creek sold packs of 25 seeds for $2.50 per pack. You can get a LOT of tomatoes from 25 seeds! If you want, you can save your seeds each year and you won’t have to buy any more tomato seeds (unless you find another variety to try!)
Depending on what resources you already have, your growing zone and weather, and your soil type, you may have to put a little more time, effort and money into growing your plants if you water them more often, have to buy tomato cages or stakes, purchase fertilizer, etc., but it doesn’t have to be expensive. None of those items cost much, and you can typically re-use your stakes, cages and containers for years.
You also help the environment by doing your part to reduce the shipping, processing, pesticides and packaging that goes with most store-bought tomatoes.
My garden this year won’t be as huge as I’d like since we have a lot going on and I don’t have a tiller, but my landlord gave us permission to plant, so we’re doing it! We planted some flowers in one flower bed and are clearing out the others. I’m putting some plants outside the beds and will also have several in containers. I already started some seed trays!
One of my favorite plants to grow in a container is a dwarf blueberry plant. Mine died when I was sick during a high-risk pregnancy, but I’ll probably order one or two more to put in a large pot again this year.
What’s your favorite tomato variety? Have you ordered from Baker Creed Heirloom Seeds before?