Tough skin on tomatoes

Early Girl, Cherokee Purple or Sweet 100? Readers share their tomato successes

We recently asked garden experts Scott Daigre, Mark Anderson and Yvonne Savio to share their favorite tomatoes and comment on the debate over hybrid versus heirloom varieties. Now it’s your turn. Readers wrote to us from all over California as well as Washington state and Louisiana to share their tomato successes and thoughts on heirlooms and hybrids. Was there a consensus? Read their responses to find out:

My favorite tomato from last year’s crop was a smallish yellow orb called a Lucid Gem. It was the taste test pick at our third annual Tomato Madness party. The Lucid Gem was voted the tastiest of my 37 homegrown varietals last year. Watch out: I have 51 different kinds of tomatoes growing now!

Brad Finn, Santa Clarita

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I grow 20 to 40 plants each year in ground and in pots. I usually go for a wide variety of heirlooms, because they are so interesting and flavorful. One tomato that really stands out is Pink Berkeley Tie Dye. Large, meaty, juicy tomatoes with the intense flavor of a Purple Cherokee, but covered in gold stripes! Just gorgeous to look at and to eat. Second place would go to Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomato, which is also big, juicy and meaty and mild, not acidic. I hit the mother lode with one of those plants last year! I didn’t prune it and it was a cascade of big tomatoes deep into the season.

Kaye Kittrell, Los Angeles

My favorite tomato is the Hillybilly/Flame. I love the taste — a splendid combination of sweet and acid. The tomato’s visual presentation is why I grow them. The reds, pinks and yellows on the skin offer a hint at what is inside. I never tire of cutting one open and just looking at it and enjoying its beautiful colors and patterns. It is almost a shame to finally eat them. I always do though.

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Thomas Harkins, Hacienda Heights

I love the Persimmon tomato — large fruit, very meaty and it makes wonderful salsa.

Lettie Silva, Denair, Calif.

My favorite last year was Cherokee Carbon, a cross between Cherokee Purple and Carbon tomatoes. They were tasty and productive and had good resistance to diseases that are common to backyard tomatoes. I saved some seeds and every one germinated this year. Don’t know whether they will be Cherokee Carbon or not, but in any event I should have some great tomatoes.

John Sauln, San Diego

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I have 42 tomato plants. I planted them three weeks ago. My favorite variety is Momotaro. It has a distinctive pink color and sweetness.

Billy Steinberg, Brentwood

My favorite tomato is the Persimmon. It is a beautiful golden yellow tomato and is very prolific. It’s a medium to large tomato and is delicious fresh, roasted or canned. Juicy and rich.

Carol Krusesky, Winthrop, Wash.

Paul Robeson is the best. Mr. Stripey is next. Then Old German. Of course the Brandywines and Cherokees. I grow 30 to 40 heirlooms every year and would never (with few exceptions) give up shape, color, etc. for hybrids/determinates.

Maureen Kopko, Los Angeles

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I plant Early Girl and Big Beef. One produces right away and for most of the summer. Tastes good too. Big Beef produces large, delicious fruit right into fall. One Big Beef is still alive from last year and has smaller fruit with good flavor.

Kathy Horbund, Venice

My favorites agree with the expert — Cherokee Purple and Black Krim. Great taste (I like dark tomatoes) and great production.

Mike Celeste, San Dimas

Our favorite tomato, which we’ve been growing in a very large pot since 2015, is Sweet Cherry 100. We live about 1.5 miles from the ocean, so it’s been difficult to grow tomatoes that don’t succumb to mildew. But SC100 is fabulous, combining an enormous yield and wonderful sweet flavor. A big plus is that in our area SC100 lasts through the winter, this year providing us with tomatoes through February. It also reseeds, which I didn’t think hybrids could do. We don’t always pick tomatoes in time and a few fall into the pot where, surprisingly, a few seeds sprout and grow into new plants that are just as wonderful as the parent. In the spring, I usually keep the most vigorous reseed plant and put in a new one from a local nursery. We planted in fortified potting soil from the nursery without local dirt mixed in and don’t use any other fertilizer.

Mag Parkhurst, Westchester

Brandy Boy has been a delicious success here in River Ridge, La., for the past four years. Misshapen sometimes, but just so good.

Velma Kantrow, River Ridge, La.

I always include at least one Sungold cherry tomato (it’s a heavy producer and wonderful tasty bite), Cherokee Purple for the lovely complex taste (some are show-stoppingly huge beefsteak-sized), Black Beauty (for color and taste), Berkeley Pink Tie Dye (stripey hot pink and lime green, juicy and great flavor).

Rebecca Ruvalcaba, Los Angeles

I have lived in the same location for over 30 years and grow veggies in raised beds with drip irrigation. I have grown at least 20 different varieties of tomatoes, but for our use we prefer the Juliet. It is an indeterminate grape hybrid and fruits average 2-inches long by 1-inch diameter and there are lots of them. Cherry style varieties Sun Gold and Sun Sugar are like candy. Juliet has a skin you can live with, has incredible disease resistance, good flavor, crack resistance and hangs off the vine in a ripe state longer than any other tomato I grow. When we can’t use or give enough away we put them fresh picked, single layer, about a pound, into a food-saver bag, vacuum-seal them and freeze for later use in things like pot roast. .

Larry Sweet, San Jose

Brandywine, hands down, is my favorite. That being said, I count myself lucky to get three or four in a season, which may be the result of living so close to the beach. But they are heavenly, big, meaty without being too firm. They are low acid, which I prefer, and make wonderful sauces for fish and any number of pastas in no time. Yep, it is Brandywine.

Lynda Adams, Newport Beach

I have a Box Car Willie that I’ve gotten three crops from and I’ve recently cut it back for the third time and it is sprouting green leaves. Such fun to watch.

Sue Carlton, Arcadia

My favorite is the determinate hybrid, Bella Rosa. Uniform size and color, lots of fruit and meaty for the salsa I make with them.

Terry Ruhland, Peoria, Ill.

I am retired and growing tomatoes is my hobby. I lecture at garden clubs and organizations throughout Southern California. My favorite heirlooms are probably the Brandywines and Cherokee Purple. These are thin-skinned beefsteak-size with great homegrown flavor. For hybrids, Better Boy would be my No. 1 favorite for beefsteak-size tomatoes. Better Boys are thin skinned and nice and sweet once vine ripened. Probably one of the best and easiest tomatoes to grow in Southern California.

Dave Freed, Cypress

My favorite tomato is Taxi, an easy growing bush type determinate plant that can be grown in a pot and typically does not require staking. It’s a bright yellow tomato that grows between the size of a golf ball and baseball. It has a meaty flesh with a mild-tasting sweet flavor. The acid level is pretty low and it’s great for salads, salsas and sandwiches. Can you say, “my favorite time of year”?

Marvin Mitchell, Inglewood

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Top 10 tomatoes

W hen s omeone asked me recently to name the perfect tomato, my reply was “perfect for what?” By which I meant that some tomatoes are perfect eaten straight from the plant, some as meaty slices with a sprinkling of salt and a dollop of olive oil, others cooked slowly into a thick, flavoursome sauce, or roasted underneath a golden crust of Parmesan and breadcrumbs.

“Perfect for whom?” is the other important question. Do you like your tomatoes cherry-sized and ultra-sweet (ideal for salads, garnishes, roasting) or prefer them as fist-sized, fleshy beefsteaks (great for grilling, stuffing, eating sliced)? Have you the space, time and inclination to grow a glasshouse full of cordon type plants that will need careful staking and nipping out of side shoots, or do you want a dwarf bush variety compact enough to suit a hanging basket? The very best varieties will also have good disease resistance and the ability to crop well in an average Irish summer.

So back to that thorny question of the perfect tomato. Following a poll of gardening friends, I’ve come up with a list of 10 varieties. None of them perfect in everyone’s eyes, but each, in their own way, close to it.

Whichever variety you choose (and my advice is to cover your bets by growing several), sow the seed between now and mid-March, under cover, in heat (21 degrees), and into trays of warm compost. Prick out young seedlings into individual pots and give them the brightest spot you can find, out of the way of cold drafts, and warm enough (18 degrees) so that plants don’t suffer a check to growth. Pot them on again into their final containers once they’re roughly 15-20cm tall. If you plan to move them into an unheated glasshouse/polytunnel, wait until late spring, then harden them off and protect with fleece until night-time temperatures rise above 10 degrees.

Remember to water them regularly, and give a fortnightly potash-rich liquid feed once the first trusses have set. Eat the ripe fruit the way that you like best and then, when you have a minute, please let me know how they tasted.

‘Gardeners Delight’ (AGM): A classic variety and reliable cropper, with flavoursome, tangy, cherry-sized fruits reminiscent of those delicious tomatoes your grandparents once grew.
‘Rosada F1’ (AGM): This heavy-cropping grape/ baby plum modern hybrid variety is prized for its thin-skinned, richly flavoured fruits, but pay careful attention to side-shooting/feeding.

‘Brandywine’: This large fruited, slow-to-mature, beefsteak heritage variety needs a warm, sunny summer to do well, even when grown in a polytunnel/unheated glasshouse. But in a good year, it produces heavy trusses of fleshy, pink-red fruits. A favourite of Dermot Carey, the gardener recently entrusted with restoring chef Richard Corrigan’s walled kitchen garden at Park Lodge in Co Cavan.

‘Pantano Romanesco’: Another vigorous, heritage beefsteak variety that produces intensely flavoured, very large fruits, this versatile variety is a favourite of Dublin-based organic gardener and tomatophile Nicky Kyle. But be very stern when it comes to sideshooting/staking as otherwise it sprawls at an alarming rate.

‘Sungold F1 (AGM)”: Easy-to grow, heavy cropping sweet cherry tomato. Close rivals include ‘Sweet Aperitif’, ‘Suncherry Premium’,‘Piccolo’ and ‘Sunsugar’. This variety produces masses of small golden fruits.
‘Caro Rich’: A great favourite of Cork-based organic gardener Jean Perry of the Glebe Gardens, this is a prolific, delicious heritage variety, with large, golden sweet fruits.
‘Paul Robeson’: Another great favourite of Jean Perry’s. “An amazing tomato – if I could grow only one, then this would be it.” A Russian heirloom variety with large, dusky red fruits and what she describes as “a smoky, earthy flavour with the perfect acid/sweet balance.”

‘Hundreds & Thousands’: The perfect dwarf bush variety for a hanging basket, hugely productive, vigorous and easy to grow, with masses of juicy, sweet cherry-sized fruit throughout the summer.

‘Maskotka’: Another excellent, high-yielding, tasty, dwarf bush variety specially bred for growing in containers, with an abundance of sweet red fruits produced throughout the summer months.

‘Dr Carolyn Pink’: Not especially high-yielding, and tricky to grow, but still the tastiest tomato I’ve ever eaten.
Unless described as a bush variety, all of the above will reach an average height and spread of 2m x 50cm.

The Thick Skinned

Here’s an important rule for life: It’s not all about you. To develop a thick skin you must first remember that you are not the center of the universe. Yes, sorry to say, you are not the fixed point around which the universe turns.

Say someone isn’t paying you enough attention. You brood and brood. “Is she mad at me?” “Did I say something wrong?” Your gloomy thoughts intensify, leaving you emotionally crippled and thinking that you have ruined everything.

Yet there may be a good reason for her inattention. Maybe she’s having a rough week at work, and she has ten projects to complete by Friday. All of which are putting her in a foul mood. Or think about it in another way. Maybe she is behaving badly and being a jerk. But why are you fussing over it?

If this is how your mind works, you may indeed be overly thin skinned. And some rethinking is in order. You will need to learn a few skills and think outside yourself.

Here are a few tips to developing a thick skin:

  • Don’t take things personally. Sometimes you may need to reframe a person’s bad behavior by remembering that it’s not about you.
  • Don’t let others get to you. Refuse to get overly responsive to the negative feelings and provocations of others. Adopt strategies that regulate emotional arousal; otherwise negativity hijacks the thinking brain. Try simple deep breathing or declare time out.
  • Remember that everyone gets rejected sometimes. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few times to get it right. Successful people are rejected over and over, but never stop trying.
  • When you’re rejected or something doesn’t go your way, counterpropose a new solution. Often, the person declining your offer is not rejecting you. He may even want to hear another idea. Successful individuals come back from rejection with new proposals. They’re creative at coming up with additional ways of looking at things and solving problems.
  • Don’t hesitate to unstick sticky situations. If you’re discussing an issue and the conversation is going off track, stop it and restart it on the right track. You could say: “This isn’t going productively. Let’s reshoot this scene from the beginning” or “Can we take it from the top?”
  • Don’t be self-focused. If you do focus on yourself, you’ll likely dwell on your shortcomings. Instead, think about your goals and what steps you need to get there.
  • Stop the self-talk. Counter self-defeating self-talk with truth talk: “You can be your own worst enemy, so give yourself a break.”
  • Don’t worry about looking stupid. If you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, you can simply say, “I need to think about that and get back to you later.”
  • Learn to be patient. Don’t be impulsive or react to a situation without giving yourself time to cool off.
  • Don’t be quick to blame. Recognize that other people have their ups and downs.
  • Think about others. Enter social interactions with this thought of making the experience itself enjoyable. Ask yourself, “What can I do to make you feel more comfortable.”

The Secret to Developing Thick Skin

If there’s a defining feature that sets apart smart creatives who are able to sustain themselves at a high level of performance, it’s thick skin. They’re persistent in their work and resilient to outside opinion and rejection. They’re able to put themselves out there, time and time again, and deliver. And while this might appear to be a natural talent, it’s far from it. It’s a skill that takes years to develop, and it begins with renegotiating expectations.

Many talented people struggle with this–entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, writers. While they might be brilliant in their work, when it comes to putting themselves out there, they end up demoralized or enraged by the slightest hint of criticism.

This becomes a downward spiral that throws off the entire creative process. Even if you are able to correct course, it’s an unnecessary distraction that disrupts your focus and pulls you away from more meaningful work.

Internal vs. External Expectations

To offset this and develop the thick skin required to put yourself out there, you must first differentiate between internal and external expectations, assigning each their proper weight. Internal expectations–the expectations you hold for yourself and your creative process–should always take precedence.

How your work is interpreted, received, or recognized, is beyond your immediate influence. It’s not that this is completely irrelevant, but it should matter far less because it’s an unreliable metric against which to measure yourself. The greater the importance you assign to external expectations, the more dependencies you introduce, and the higher the likelihood that you’ll end up pissed off, burned out, or distracted from the work that matters most.

Self-sufficiency is the path towards effectively managing expectations. In the opposite direction are dependencies–evidence of placing a premium on things you can’t affect.

When you prioritize the internal expectations you hold for yourself, you naturally develop the thick skin required to put yourself out there and consistently produce at a high level. Instead of seeking value in the recognition, you begin seeking value in the creative process itself. And this is the only sustainable path forward.

“The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.” Marcus Aurelius

Turn your attention back to what’s within your control. Put in the work. Focus on your craft. Create something that resonates with you. When you limit the external dependencies and surrounding noise, the more relaxed, concentrated, and effective you will be.

Feedback vs. Criticism

This is not to say that you shouldn’t seek feedback–which is critical to further developing and growing your skills. But feedback is to criticism as internal expectations are to external expectations.

In other words, the source is fundamentally different. Feedback comes from fellow creatives with skin in the game–the doers–who are taking risks by putting themselves and their work out there. These are the people whose opinions and judgment you should respect most. Criticism comes from insecure bystanders, shouting from a distance, who are incapable of creating anything meaningful of their own.

The intention behind feedback is also different. Criticism is often shallow and malicious in nature–focused on breaking you down. True feedback, from an inner circle whom you respect, is diligent, constructive, and objective. Its purpose is to challenge you to improve yourself and your craft.

In short, it’s about growth–which is a painstaking process in its own right–not about praise, telling you what you want to hear, or making things easier. It’s up to you to draw the line and determine who has your best interest in mind.

Create Your Own Momentum

When the inevitable criticism does come, use it as motivation and redirect that energy to create momentum of your own. With the right perspective, it becomes almost laughable.

Consider how much time and energy it took that person to criticize you–it consumed them. Nothing is a more sad, ineffective use of time–so let the childish tantrums end there. Refuse to allow yourself to be distracted by those without skin in the game. Their opinion holds no validity.

“An opportunist in life sees all hindrances as instruments for power. The reason is simple: negative energy that comes at you in some form is energy that can be turned around–to defeat an opponent and lift you up.” Robert Greene

For most talented, hardworking people, it’s just a matter of time. Which means you need to find the energy to keep going–to continue creating. The more dialed into yourself that you are, the less outside opinion should matter, and the more resilient you’ll be in your creative process. If you rely on external validation to keep you going, you’re going to have a short career.

A meaningful, fulfilling creative life demands hard work and tough decisions. Those who aren’t cut out for it will lean towards the path of least resistance, as defined by mindless consumption or shallow criticism. It’s easy to live that life.

If easy is what you want out of life, feel free to join the ranks of the unremarkable.

But those who make a difference show up, bust their ass, and sustain themselves at that level by having their expectations in order. They’re able to differentiate between internal and external expectations, valuing self-sufficiency over dependencies and feedback over criticism.

If you take the time to develop these skills–resilience, persistence, and mental toughness–outside opinion will lose its grip and you’ll be able to better carry your own momentum forward.

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