Exploring Dry Farmed Winter Tomatoes in the PNW

Author: Amy Garrett, Lane Selman, and Asher Whitney (Undergraduate Research Assistant), Oregon State University, Small Farms Program

Publication: Fall 2021

In the Mediterranean there is a centuries old tradition of growing certain tomato varieties for storing either in boxes or hung in ristras (Photo 1) and put in the pantry or shed to consume throughout the winter months. While there are some farmers in the Pacific Northwest that grow a few of these varieties, we do not typically see locally grown tomatoes in the winter at local grocers, farmers’ markets, and Fill Your Pantry events. In addition, many of these winter tomato varieties (Table 1) are traditionally dry farmed. These realizations inspired a collaboration between the OSU Dry Farming Project, Dry Farming Collaborative, and the Culinary Breeding Network in 2021 to dry farm multiple varieties of winter tomatoes and evaluate their productivity, quality, flavor, and storability.

How are winter tomatoes different from other types? Winter tomatoes, like the prized ‘Piennolo del Vesuvio’ (Photo 1) from the Campania region of Italy, tend to have a thicker skin, lower water content, and firmer flesh than summer slicers or cherry tomatoes.

‘Piennolo del Vesuvio’ and many of the other winter tomato varieties (Table 1) are typically hung in bunches or stored in boxes in a well ventilated, cool, dry space after harvest. These tomatoes are then used in the winter months for pizza or pasta sauces and bruschetta in Italy, and for tapas like pan con tomate or grilled tomato bread in Spain.

Table 1: Winter Tomato Varieties



Where can you find seed for winter tomato varieties?
While winter tomatoes are common in Europe, they are harder to come by in the U.S, with only a handful of U.S. based seed companies carrying a variety or two. For the 2021 Dry Farmed Tomato Trial at Oregon State University, Amy Garrett was able to procure some Spanish varieties, with some help from Alex Stone (OSU Vegetable Crops Specialist) and connections via the Organic Seed Growers Conference, at Les Refardes (https://www. lesrefardes.coop/) in Mura, Spain during her trip there in February 2020. Lane Selman with the Culinary Breeding Network was key in sourcing some Italian winter tomato varieties with her connections via the Gusto Italiano Project.

Story of ‘Annarita’

‘Annarita’ was one of the varieties Lane procured for the 2021 OSU Dry Farmed Winter Tomato Trial.

In addition to the seeds, there is a rich history and story (below) that is shared with them that is just as valuable as the tomatoes themselves.

Annarita’s father drove trains for a living and brought seed of this storage tomato (aka
Pomodoro d’Inverno) from Puglia 50 years ago when he moved north to Padova. Annarita shared the seed with Italian plant breeder Andrea Ghedina of Smarties.bio in April 2019.

Annarita is harvested in August and September and can be stored until April. To store, hang the tomatoes
in a cool but sheltered place, like a garage. They store for 6 months or more. The ideal would be to keep them hanging in clusters so they are more ventilated. When it is not possible to hang them, they can be laid in wooden boxes.

It is most often consumed raw; on friselle (a special dry bread from Puglia) with a drizzle of oil and oregano – similar to bruschetta; or cooked to flavor dishes such as fish soup or sauces. It is not used to make tomato puree.

OSU Dry Farmed Winter Tomato Trial

The OSU Dry Farming Project initiated the Dry Farmed Winter Tomato Trial in 2021 and hired undergraduate research assistant, Asher Whitney, with support through E.R. Jackman Friends and Alumni internship program to lead the project. This trial sprouted from Alex Stone’s dry farmed tomato project with Western SARE evaluating hundreds of dry farmed tomato varieties for quality, productivity and flavor in the Willamette Valley. Alex’s project is focusing on larger slicer and sauce tomato varieties, rather than smaller cherry-sized tomatoes like many of these winter storage tomatoes, which presented an irresistible opportunity to try them out!

The 2021 Dry Farmed Winter Tomato Trial was held at the OSU Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture (OCCUH) in Corvallis, Oregon. Tomato seeds were started in the greenhouse on March 30th and transplanted in the field on May 18th. Multiple varieties of winter tomatoes (Table 1) are being evaluated for their productivity and quality in a dry farmed system, and then flavor and storability will be evaluated this fall and winter. In addition to the main trial at OCCUH, several of these varieties (Piennolo del Vesuvio, Mala Cara, and Pequeño del Ramallet) are being trialed by 15 growers in the Dry Farming Collaborative throughout Oregon, Washington, and California. These growers are dry farming these varieties in their respective locations and providing feedback via SeedLinked, which is an app we use to facilitate data collection from variety trials with multiple growers.

Projects like these are important to many of the participants because finding varieties that are successful dry farmed can be “difficult, frustrating and often costly.” Many growers in the Dry Farming Collaborative, dry farm out of necessity due to a
lack of water rights, and limited water and labor availability. In a dry farm system there is not irrigation to manage, and therefore, less annual weeds to manage as well. Climate resilience and food security is another important motivational factor. Asher highlighted that, “having access to winter tomatoes such as these could allow for food insecure folks to have more locally grown, healthy, fresh produce through the winter.”

Dry Farm Tomato Fest!
Outreach and education for the Dry Farmed Winter Tomato Trial and other dry farming research projects are shared via multiple events throughout the year, such as the recent and possibly the first ever Dry Farm Tomato Fest held on September 11, 2021 at the Wellspent Market parking lot in Portland! This event attracted more than 250 attendees and was organized by the Culinary Breeding Network, Wellspent Market, OSU Dry Farming Project and the Dry Farming Institute.

The purpose of the event was to engage and educate consumers about dry farming. Attendees had the opportunity to taste various varieties of dry farmed tomatoes from Alex Stone’s WSARE-funded project and purchase ristras of storage tomatoes to try this winter. 120 tasting kits were distributed and more than 30 participants walked away with ristras of winter tomatoes.

To learn more about future events and results from these and other dry farming research projects visit the OSU Dry Farming Project website https://smallfarms. oregonstate.edu/smallfarms/dry-farming and connect with the Dry Farming Collaborative on Facebook, Instagram, or our new YouTube channel!