Anita Hartel, Tomato Apostle, Brings Heirlooms to Midtown

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Tomato plants at mAmbu.
  • Tomato plants at mAmbu.
Anita Hartel, co-chef/owner of mAmbu, loves tomatoes so much that she occasionally gets carried away. This year, she bought seeds of more than 40 varieties and planted them all. Who could resist varieties with names like Arkansas Traveler, Silvery Fir Tree or Limmony, a fine name for a yellow tomato?

"There’s a story behind all these tomatoes — that’s what I like, " says Hartel.

Hartel is up to her porch in tomato plants, which you know if you've been to mAmbu recently. So she's having a sale on tomato plants. Previously priced at just $3 apiece (64 cents less than Home Depot), now they're a buck apiece.

Hartel's selection skews to indeterminate tomato varieties, which grow and set, and grow and set, rather than growing to their full size, then setting fruit all at once. That's great for home growing, because there's a steady supply of tomatoes. Her choices also run to beefsteak types, with several different purple tomatoes and Russian varieties.

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  • Thanks cottagegardener.com

Hartel included a few hybrid varieties for people new to tomato growing. The tidy habits, consistent-size fruits and abundant bearing will be reassuring. (Conversely, if you're new to growing heirlooms, it's worth knowing that they sometimes have sprawling, vinelike plants, inconsistently sized fruits and bear less than hybrids.)

The plants are for sale more or less during business hours, and servers can help you buy. The pots are numbered and there's a sheet describing the varieties, which is here. Hartel wanted to add that she's out of the following: Rosalita, Anna Russian, Costoluto Fiorentino (dang it, the one I wanted — it's the Italian paste tomato), Sioux, Shilling Giant, Isis Candy, Ukrainian Pear, Sun Gold Hybrid, Tiny Tom.

Just in passing, if you go by mAmbu, thank Anita for sending lunch last Friday to the flooded-out Bellevue residents still hosteling at the Jewish Community Center in Bellevue.

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