Monday, 13 September 2010

Bellestar Tomatoes

Bellestar, so far as I can see, is the correct name for this tomato, although it is more often spelled "Bellstar". It was bred in Ontario, at the Smithfield Experimental Farm in 1981, by Jack Metcalf. It's an open-pollinated variety that was bred to provide an early, determinate processing tomato. I just ran across it last year for the first time, and I have to say I'm impressed.

I normally prefer heirloom tomatoes - I'm a sucker for the romance and variety of them, I admit - but as someone who cans a lot of tomatoes these have some real advantages. We acquired them last year from a farmer who let us go out and pick them ourselves, as he had had no time to deal with his tomatoes. It was also a terrible, terrible year for tomatoes, having been cool and wet throughout the season. We were thus surprised to squelch out to his field and find it absolutely stuffed with good, ripe tomatoes. Nice!

The plants had produced so many tomatoes that they had collapsed, but that didn't seem to slow them down noticeably. We had the same experience this year with our Bellestar plants grown from seed we saved from last year. The plants are quite short and didn't grow high enough to be supported by our modified Florida weave system. A regular tomato cage would actually have worked well to support these. It had better be a sturdy one though; as noted, these are just loaded with tomatoes. They didn't quite ripen all at once for us, but we did get them off in 2 waves a week or two apart. They are now finished for the season and pulled out, leaving the space free to plant our garlic. Nice!

A number of descriptions of Bellestar regard them as good enough to eat fresh. We didn't think so; not compared to Amish Paste or Opalka paste tomatoes and certainly not when compared to our favourite tomatoes for fresh use. We also didn't think their cooked flavour was quite as good as those first two either, but on the other hand we rated the flavour higher than any of the Italian style paste tomatoes we grew this year, whether hybrid or heirloom. Nice!

Bellestar tomatoes are about 4 to 6 ounces each, a little rounder or more heart-shaped than most paste tomates; a good size. They are listed as taking 72 days to maturity. Bellestar is described as resistant to verticillium wilt, but it is probably not otherwise too disease resistant. However, we have had no problems. It's also described as resistant to cracking and easy to pick cleanly (neither stems or holes left when pulled off) and we found both those things to be true. Because the plants are so compact, this is a great tomato for people with limited garden space or even for growing in containers. They did equally well, as far as I can see, in a cold wet summer and in a hot dry summer.

In short, I'm impressed... very impressed... and we will definitely be growing these again next year in larger quantities.

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