Golden Bison Tomato – A Review

Other Chicago gardeners will empathize with me when I say that waiting until August for tomatoes is a painful exercise in patience. I scan the tomato bounties for sale during every farmers market trip, angry that mine remain green on the vine back home. I can’t help but compare my progress to theirs. Every trip before August leaves me seething with envy! Since “green with envy” is not a good look, I bought some Golden Bison tomato seeds from Victory Seeds as a remedy.

Golden Bison tomatoes were developed by the North Dakota State University breeding program in 1932. They are a determinate variety that has been developed for the short growing season up north, as so are typically ready to harvest 59 days after being put into the ground. That makes Golden Bisons some of the most early maturing non-cherry tomatoes. There are Golden Bison plants in my garden. Two are in the raised bed and two are directly in the ground.

These plants were the first to produce fruit, which came in heavy clusters around mid June. Because of the amount of fruit produced, a cage was necessary for each plant. The plants themselves have grown to approximately four feet. The plants in the raised bed are a bit taller.

Top row shows the most varied fruit shape-wise, while the bottom shows the most typical.


Each plant has been moderately resistant to disease. The Golden Bisons in the planter are the second most heavily affected variety by verticillium wilt, after the Yellow Pears. The plants directly in the ground have had less problems. I had to prune a few of the plants that had yellowed leaves, but the upkeep was much less intense than that of the plants in the raised bed.

The plants are still producing a tomato here and there, but the initial heavy flush has not been repeated. Nonetheless, each plant has been a remarkably heavy producer, with about 20, if not more, tomatoes on each. The fruits themselves have been moderately resistant to cracking, and have miniscule to no catfacing. A few fruits tend to drop from the plants after a rain or during a windy day, so I picked up fallen fruit once in the morning and once in the evening. The dropped fruit was not always ripe, but the plants did not drop any green tomatoes.

The fruits themselves are typically golf ball sized and shaped, but tend to get bigger. A few fruits grew to be tennis ball sized. They range in color from lemon yellow to goldenrod. A fruit will tend to have green shoulders when lemon yellow. The green shoulders will mostly disappear when the tomato is fully ripe, and turned goldenrod. The tomatoes have a thicker than typical skin. This skin is easily peeled when the tomato is ripe.

Golden Bison tomatoes cut length-wise and width-wise.


Golden Bison tomatoes have a mild flavor, which is earthy at first, then very fruity. There are sweet notes throughout. The tomato is juicy, with thick walls and a thick inner core of pulp that does not have to be cut out. There are few seed chambers. The tomato meat disappears before the skin in one’s mouth, so you’re often left chewing on the skin. Overall. Golden Bison tomatoes have a good, simple flavor. I would recommend them for any gardener that enjoys yellow tomatoes early in the season.

Readers, are there any other early yellow tomatoes I should know about for next year?


Fish Pepper Seedling Update. Things are looking fishy!

Well, it has been now been a month and a half since our initial fish pepper germination and twenty days since we first sowed the seeds. The seedlings are coming along nicely, the leaves are getting bigger, and finally showing signs of variegation. As mentioned in my previous post on these guys, fish peppers are an African American heirloom pepper from the Chesapeake Bay Area popular in seafood thought to be from the Caribbean.

Fish pepper seedling one month
A month and a half of growth and a week after first topping.

I am growing these at the recommendation of my sister and while I am primarily excited about all the fun history of the plant (food history is the best kind of history), something else that I love about it is its variegation. Some of our seedlings were so white that the amount of albinism they had meant an inability to photosynthesize and they died almost immediately after popping out of the ground.  The splashes of white on the leaves make the plant beautiful and on top of being tasty, a great ornamental addition to the garden.

So where does variegation come from and why is this the only pepper we have heard of to have it? Well, it’s just a wonderful freaky mutation and we don’t get out much! The white spots on its leaves arise because of a lack of the green pigment chlorophyll in a blotch of the plant cell. Those white patches cannot photosynthesize. Since green is still the dominant color of the plant, it survives and thrives. This variegation is usually the result of a cell mutation, and in fish peppers is apparently genetic (it has also been chimeric in other plants).  I imagine what happened is that a hundred fifty years ago the mutation occurred in the plant and as can happen, the characteristic stabilized in the plant’s offspring. From some reading, it seems that a season’s climatic condition can affect when leaf variegation and fruit stripe appears.  It can sometimes appear at first or second set of true leaves, but sometimes not till a bit later in the season for a plant. Anecdotally, mine have been all over the place  in terms of pepper variegation. Since these peppers cross pollinate so easily, I would be interested in setting out my fish peppers near some sweet peppers and seeing if I could come up with some sort of hybrid!  As for why this is the only pepper I’ve heard about for variegation, it seems like I simply have not done my research! There are plenty of other variegated hot pepper varieties such as Trifetti, Variegata, Filius Blue, and Golden Nugget. These are going to have to be a few varieties I consider for next season.

Fish Pepper Variegation
First signs of variegation

But for this summer, I am super excited about these fish peppers. They are a great ornamental addition in the garden, and unlike all my squash, I don’t think all the Chicago critters will be able to chomp down on these too much!

Track the growth with us:

  1. Early March: Sowing the seeds.
  2. Late March: Germination!

Thyme is not always on our side

I love thyme. It’s my favorite herb and I cook with it as much as I can. The distinctive strong aroma and bold taste means it easily stands on its own as the star of a dish but the flavor profile also blends well with many other herbs and seasonings from warm climates, creating beautiful medleys on the stove top and in the salad bowl.  I always have some on hand in the spice cabinet and when in doubt with what to add to a meal I’ll usually give it a few shakes of thyme.  The only problem is that the dried version is nowhere near as flavorful as the growing plant and much to my chagrin I can never seem to keep a thyme plant alive! We’ve tried to grow a thyme plant in a container the last few years and all have kicked the bucket on us. An attempt or two directly in the garden failed as well. This year, instead of leaving the fate of our new thyme plant up to fate and our incapable hands, I’ve done some research and aim for better success for our humble plant this year.

Growing Thyme

Our thyme plant will be a primarily indoor plant with some time spent outside during the summer months, so most of my planting plan is built around that.  Thyme originates from the Mediterranean region and likes a well drained soil on the sandier side.  In retrospect, this was our most common mistake, as we have planted it in potting soil designed to retain moisture as well as garden beds heavy on clay in the past.  This year, I’ve mixed some cactus soil (heavy on sand and perlite) with potting soil to create a more hospitable environment for our thyme plant.


In addition to this, thyme requires mostly full to full sun to grow. Last year we had it on our back porch, which gets only a few hours of the morning sun. No wonder it died so quickly! Heavy potting soil and limited sunlight does not do a thyme good.  We will be keeping it in our front windows with the occasional trip up to our roof deck for the summer months. Hopefully the better sun and soil conditions will yield a healthy thyme plant whose leaves will impart their fragrance to our cooking this summer, instead of the usual dried out and dead mess we have by June.


(Here it is in its new home! Hopefully the more spacious confines will give it space to fill out over the next few weeks.)

Anybody have any other tips for growing thyme or other herbs? We’d love to hear them! Also, if you have a favorite recipe featuring thyme please feel free to share! We always love trying out new recipes in the kitchen.

You’re Going to Germinate So Much…

…you’ll be tired of germinating!  But then we’ll just germinate some more!

Truth be told, I started writing this post on Thursday night and was sidetracked before I finished.  On Friday, they were looking a little worse for wear and I was worried my excitement was premature.  We were out of town this weekend and with the absence of our tender care for thirty-six hours I was worried we would be coming back to a mass die off.  My fears were mostly misplaced as the majority of the seedlings have survived thus far.  The d’Esplette peppers are more finicky than I imagined they would be.  They germinated at a fairly high rate and faster than most of the other peppers we grew but life has not been kind to them.  Two look strong right now but the others have either died or look on their way to the grave.  I planted another couple of seeds just in case.  This was the variety of pepper that got me back into the garden this year and I would hate to miss out on making some of my own d’Esplette seasoning because I was too frugal to start a few more seeds.

This is what they looked like Thursday night:


And here we are today:


The pimente d’Esplette are in the container on the left in both pictures and the petite Marseillas are on the right.  As you can see, the petite Marseillas are doing great and I don’t think we’ll need to worry about starting anymore of them.  The pimente d’Esplette have not improved much over the last few days.  Hopefully between the few surviving seedlings in this first batch as well as the couple I planted today we’ll manage to get a few peppers.

I conducted my germination blind this year, pushing the seeds into the pods and hoping for the best.  I think next year I’ll do some more experimentation to see what leads the highest germination rates, best growth, and highest survival.  Super_C# has mentioned paper towels so maybe we’ll try that, but I’ll have to do some more research too.  Plants are growing out of the ground everywhere, after all, so it can’t be that hard!

A Dream of Spring

This weekend was the beginning of the spring season here.  Sure, the official start was about two weeks ago, but for me spring doesn’t really get going until my eyes are itching and my nose is congested from allergies.  Fortunately, the outburst of tree pollen fades in short order and the increasing temperatures and sunlight persist for the coming months. Those who live in the north mark their lives through the coming and going of the seasons, an uncertain method matching the uncertainty of our lives.  Sometimes spring comes late, summer is unusually hot, or winter unusually harsh; people come and go, as does work, we move around.  Despite their variability the seasons lend our lives a comforting backdrop.  They happen in a regular order, spring always following winter, giving way to summer, and crisp fall days guide us gently (sometimes not so gently) back into winter.  A predictability all of us crave at times.

Of the four, winter is the most maligned.  It is often considered a period of dormancy for plants and animals alike.  The leaves have left the trees, plants have died, man and animal have either migrated or shifted into a period of relative inactivity, some more than others.  I am one of those who tries to stay active during the winter, picking up winter sports and trying to find the beauty in the outdoors when the weather is inhospitable even if it must happen underneath the protective layers of a thick jacket, hat, and mittens.  I would be lying if I said that the long winter nights and the sometimes unrelenting bleakness did not get to me, especially in those bitterly cold January nights and damp and chilly February days, where spring seems so close yet still so far away.

Taking part in the preparation for planting season this year has changed my opinion on winter being a time of inactivity where rejuvenation awaits the spring thaw.  Watching seeds come to life in mid-February, when the sky is still gray and snow is on the ground, was proof enough for me that winter is as much a time for life as the gentler seasons.  Late winter is when the birds start to come and sing their songs once again, filling the void they left when they went south the previous autumn.  Forest mammals begin to emerge from their winter homes.  Particularly ambitious plants poke up out of the ground. People begin to plan their spring and summer activities knowing that even though they may still seem far away they’ll be here soon enough, often sneaking up without warning. It is thoughts like these that keep me going on those days in the depth of winter and hoping for warmer days, tromping home from work when it’s dark at four in the afternoon or watching from underneath a blanket as my street is buried by yet another snowfall.  Even at its worst, spring is always right around the corner.  Soon these plants, which emerged at the end of winter, will take root in the garden in the spring, grow throughout the summer, and bear fruit in the fall before winter claims them.  Not long after it will be time to plant for another year.



Fish pepper. We’ve got germination!

It took twenty days, but we have our very first fish peppers finally germinating! My beautiful variegated African American heirloom hot pepper. So far, my germination rate has not been great. Out of maybe 20 seeds plants, I’ve only got four germinated. I am hoping that it is still just early.

As I mentioned before, I am growing these peppers in honor ofishpepper_seedlingsf my sister who introduced me to them. She went to college in Baltimore where these peppers originate. An offshoot of serrano or cayenne peppers (oral history makes these things blurry), these peppers pack a punch while maintaining a pale colored flesh. Popular in shellfish recipes for their ability to keep a white sauce white, they were often the secret ingredient to making a sauce extra special. I am looking forward to bringing these peppers to a shellfish boil my transplant friend from the South holds every year. Hopefully these peppers produce by then.

In terms of growing this pepper, I am starting a lot of seeds. Some seedlings tend so hard toward albinism that they are not able to even photosynthesize. I already had one tiny white seedling die and rot on me. I plan on over planting these and keeping the most vigorous growers. While the growing is slow, the rate increases with every leaf that pops up on the plant. The past few days in Chicago have been cloudy and dreary so these seedlings are getting moved under a light for an extra little bit of care.


I have too many seeds!

I love seeds. Laying in bed with a beer and flipping through seed catalogs is one of the things that gets me to winter. I get buzzed. I look at all the peppers, tomatoes, funky flowers and drift off into into a wonderland of spring and summer planting. I breathe life into the pun of hoardiculture.

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

So with my very limited space and my propensity for hoarding seeds, I have accumulated a lot through the years. I hate wasting and thus try to stretch out the longevity of my unused seeds as much as I can. I keep a rotation to make sure that none of the seeds I save for next season are more than two or three years old. That is when the germination rates really drop. Here are my tips to help you germinate and grow old seeds! If scientists could germinate a 32,000 year old seed, maybe we can have luck with a three year old one.

  1. Store you unused seeds in the best possible environment. That means keeping them dry by placing them in an airtight container to keep out moisture.
  2. Keep them dormant. That means cool and dark. I store mine in plastic ziplock bags in my fridge. Stratification is tedious, but important.
  3. Stay organized. Label all of your packets and the dates they were original packaged. Trust me, this is for your own sanity later on.
  4. Don’t waste peat pellets. Check your germination rates. Do a patch test of a few seeds on a damp paper towel. If after 1
    0 days (depending on your plants), you’ve got about a 50% germination rate, you should be good to go!
  5. Know thy plant. Certain seeds are just more viable in old age than others. For example, corn and pepper have a hard time lasting longer than two years, like a cucumber will be quite successful even six or so years later than it was packed. Other seeds like chamomile require light to germinate.

What is the old plant you guys have germinated? Today I decided to give a watercress from 2007 a whirl

Hello, hot peppers!

Today was an unusually warm early March day in Chicago. It hit a whole fifty degrees! I’ve been trying hard to start some fish peppers. My sister went to college in Baltimore where these peppers originate and she has always raved about them. These peppers have beautiful variegated leaves and hit anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 on the Scoville scale. Historically, they were used to spice up seafood dishes in the Mid Atlantic in the African American community. Because it was so popular in seafood dishes, it was named the fish pepper! I tried to germinate only five seeds a few weeks ago and only had one seedling germinate and promptly die when I forgot to check on it and it rotted in its covered container. Hopefully setting them on my radiator germinator and being more loving will speed things up.


Hot peppers in general take a very long time to germinate, so I am trying to start them well in advance of the last frost date in Chicago. I’ve got some more mild peppers (ostra-cyklon and sigaretta di bergamo) peppers which germinated in about a week.

I would love to hear if anyone else has had success growing these peppers!