Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Most of these were enjoyed in Aurelia's Birthday dinner salad.

Tomatoes symbolise the purpose of having a food garden. It was The End of Food by Thomas F. Pawlick, I believe, which explained the mystery and annoyance of the ubiquitous cardboard supermarket tomato.

I was never allowed to eat tomatoes in the winter: we couldn't afford them. If my mother did give in to my high pitched pleadings, I was invariably disappointed. They were tough, they tasted awful and the expensive booty was left to rot in the fridge.

In the summer, by contrast, we would slice a tomato each, layer it on two pieces of soft brown bread slathered with mayo, dust them with salt and devour them standing over the kitchen sink letting the juices fall down over our chin and harmlessly into the drain.

When was the last time you had a tomato like that?

Blame it on the Unions. Blame it on migratory workers wanting a living wage, for heaven's sake. Blame it on the big tomato producers who found a way to get rid of unionized decent-wage demanding migrant workers. Blame it on mechanical pickers which can only pick a tomato of a certain size and weight. Blame it on chemicals and transportation. Blame it on the discerning consumer.*

We are now in the odd situation where canned and processed tomatoes are actually healthier than the red, chemically ripened globes in the fresh produce aisle. The latter don't have to be "perfect", you see, so they are allowed to ripen a little longer, get a little bigger before they are picked by a mechanical arm.

So what's a chin slobbering fresh tomato-loving gal to do?

Grow my own.

I did it wrong, though.

What I did right:

I picked a good variety--"Early Girl." As we have a teeny tiny growing season, I wanted something that would actually ripen before September. Since I didn't give it any thought until late May, I bought two already started.

I planted them in "container soil" in a large tub.

I watered them faithfully, even through all the rain we had. One night as we noticed hail about to bounce from the sky, the husband and I picked up the tub and carried it inside the playhouse.

I mulched them with spent coffee grounds. I did this mostly to keep the dog away from them, but it turns out to have been a good thing.

I put a cage on them to support them.

What I did wrong:

I planted them side by side. They need two to three feet between them, or one tub each.

I put the cages on them: upside down.

I didn't fertilize.

I didn't prune.

Outstanding early variety of tomato for short season gardens. Proven, dependable, tasty uniform 4 to 5 ounce tomatoes. Excellent for home gardens (24 seeds approximately). Early Girl is an indeterminate variety (tall growing) so provide some support as plants grow. Approximately 62 days to maturity from transplanting.
From Ed Hume's Seeds

"Indeterminate" varieties need to be staked and pruned. Basically, you find "one main leader," train it up a stake and snap off any "branches" which come out from the leader and head sideways. Trimming them out allows air and light into the plant and prevents all sorts of problems like mildew.

A "determinate" variety, on the other hand, should be let to sprawl on the ground and the suckers allowed to develop.

(And, of course, given my penchant for procrastination, I only found all this out this week.)

My first tomato was nice and large: big enough for a sandwich with some left over. I meant to eat it that way, but somehow it got tossed into a scrumptious salad. I couldn't believe my daughter when she refused it at supper.

"I don't want tomato," she said.
"You've ever had a tomato like this one," I said, "give it a try." (It killed me to say it, actually. I would have been quite happy eating it all myself.)
She protested some more, so finally, I said, "Just take a no-thank you bite. Here."

She actually thanked me later for making her try it. And she requested the same salad for her birthday dinner.

The tomatoes, since, though, have been quite small. Too small for a sandwich. I have hope, yet, though. Along with a bunch of little ones, there's one which looks quite promising still on the vine.

And I'm not going to share it.

*This line always trumpets through my head as I prowl through the produce: "Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees, pleeeeeeease." From Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell.


scb said...

At least you've got tomatoes! And next year you'll be all prepared.

Mmmm, real tomatoes. When I was a kid, I didn't like tomatoes. I am so glad I learned to like them! Mmmm. (Love the idea of a "no thank you bite"!)

Anne (in Reno) said...

Oh I'm so jealous! I finally ate my two cherry tomatoes and resigned myself to a fall spent building proper raised beds. Maybe I should just use tubs!

Also, the no-thank-you bite is a genius invention. What kind of tomato salad do you make? We've got such a plethora of basil that I've just been tossing with basil and garlic, and then drizzling with a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It really brings out the flavor. Also, BLTs are super tasty with turkey bacon, FYI, and the cleanup is much less gross than with actual bacon.

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