Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tomatoes in the Garden

A couple of months ago my sister-in-law, Marie showed me a copy (of a copy, ad infenitum) of The Gardens for All Book of Tomatoes.  I am grateful to her because even though I had already planted all 14 of my tomatoes for the year, there was so much I had to learn. 

My parents were avid gardeners, and my mom still is.  Regardless of where she lives she always has a cacti and orchid collection.  She would forego buying a new outfit to buy an unusual specimen.  Such is her passion.  When I started living with my mother-in-law I observed how she planted a small vegetable garden every year.  There is a raised area in the backyard enclosed by railroad ties that hosted tomatoes, carrots, radishes, etc.  Since she went back East each August she always missed the harvest, and thus lost some interest in planting vegetables.  One summer I was free from work and decided to plant a garden.  However, we live on a hill on the coast of Southern California where snails are rampant.  And then we were besieged by gophers.  I purchased 4 planter containers from Earthbox ( and suddenly I was getting produce!  Snails were still a problem though.  Then last year we embarked on a family project.  We removed all of the soil from the raised garden, up to 1 foot below the ground level, and laid a thick plastic mesh.  The soil was sifted for small rocks and replaced.  No more gophers yanking plants from beneath the surface of the garden.  Our garden did well! 

This year I got more ambitious and converted parts of the lawn into planting areas.  My main crop: tomatoes.  I planted 14 seedlings (11 varieties), and have 2 volunteers.  I had read that the Glacier variety does well in cool weather.  Predictably, we had homegrown tomatoes in May.  Oh how sweet they tasted!  Of my grape tomatoes (red, yellow and green), the green was sweetest.  But the sweetest of all are the Sun Gold.  Thanks to my other sister-in-law, Jeanne who introduced me to that variety!  It’s a good thing I planted two them.  What a delight it is to pluck some of the little tomatoes and pop them into your mouth like candy!  So these are what I planted this year: Marglobe, Red Grape, Sun Gold, Yellow Grape, Green Grape, German Queen, Juliet (Roma grape), Mariana’s Peace, Champion, Glacier and Black Russian.  I think one of the volunteers is a green grape.  Next year I plan to add a couple kinds of plum tomatoes like San Marzano and Roma.  The little ones are great in salads like those in my post the other day.  The large ones are great sliced and tucked into sandwiches.  When I have an assortment I like to chop them up and have a fresh tomato sauce with pasta.

Gardens for All, The National Association for Gardening was a non-profit organization established in 1972.  It is now known as the National Gardening Association.  They published a series of gardening books in the 70s and 80s.  I bought a (hard copy) book from Amazon (ninth printing – 1984) and treasure it!  It is the be all and end all of how to grow tomatoes.  Even if you’re a veteran tomato gardener you are sure to learn something new from this book.  It takes you from preparing the soil to transplanting to supporting the plants to fertilizing to treating common problems to harvesting.  There is even a short section on canning and recipes.  One of my favorite parts is a list of tomato varieties that are categorized by season (number of days from transplanting to harvest), resistance to disease, and growth pattern.  It also includes comments for each of the varieties.  The book is 35 pages long and has lots of illustrations.  It may be old but the information is timeless.

When we visited Jeanne in late June I noticed that her tomato plants were small but had a ton of fruit.  Mine on the other hand were big and lush but had few fruits.  I guess it’s because of where we live.  I’ve been lamenting that although we have had a very mild summer, no days over 75 °F, my tomatoes have been heat-starved.  Since May we have had fog every day.  Some days all day.  I placed strips of mylar tape above the plants to deter birds from feasting on my tomatoes.  However, they don’t glint because it isn’t sunny and the birds come.  So I wrapped tulle around the plants and that works.  It is only the middle of August and sadly my tomatoes appear to be saying good-bye.  I guess the fog and cool temperatures are telling them to shut down.  Oh well.  Maybe it will be better next year.

Do you grow tomatoes?  What is your favorite variety? What do you like to do with them?

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