Monday, July 15, 2013

Tomato Trials

Fairy harvests what she can get her hands on.
Home-grown tomatoes are the holy grail of the vegetable garden.  Sure, we grow peas and radishes, beans and squash, potatoes and garlic, along with the other usual suspects. It's not that we don't love the full-range of veggies that put forth the energy to feed us. We delight in finding yet another use for kale. We encourage small children to pick peas, even when entire vines are lost. We toss carrot seeds between rows, hoping a few will take root.  Haphazard harvesting is part of the fun, and inspires some creative salads; but NOT when it comes to tomatoes.

In our house, tomato season begins in January, when the seed catalogs arrive in the mail. It's nearly impossible to resist the mouth-watering descriptions, but we must remind ourselves that we really do love our other veggies, and alas, we have very limited space.  Through exhaustive and sometimes sticky research, we've determined that our favorite tomatoes are Sun Gold, San Marzano, Jelly Bean, Carmello, and Amish Paste.  For the past 7 years, we've started seeds in late March and transplanted outdoors on Mother's Day. That is, until this year. 

July 2013 tomatoes
A late spring frost resulted in transplants held up indoors until late May. Seedlings were busting out all over their light stand, begging for a taste of real warmth and sun. We finally tucked them into good rich soil, installed trellises, arranged soaker hoses, and brushed the dirt off our hands. It rained. We were happy - no need to water, right? It rained some more...and more and more. The tomatoes tried to grow. I know they did. I watched them creep, centimeter by centimeter, up their 7 foot supports.  

By mid-July, we should see a jungle of vines. I should be writing about pruning back to one main stem and removing suckers from between branches. Instead, it is with a heavy heart that I report I purchased tomatoes at the farmer's market on Saturday. This is the first time in many years that we've not had a bumper crop of tomatoes. What happened? 

July 2012 tomatoes
Too much rain and not enough sun seriously stunted growth. It may pick up, now that we're heading into a more typical hot, dry period. The rain depleted the soil's nutrients, so we added some organic fertilizer and composted manure. Unfortunately a few of the transplants may have succumbed to root rot. I'll keep an eye on them, but I'm loathe to pull them up before giving them a second chance, now that summer's really here. Who thought we'd ever long for the dog days of summer in D.C., when it's too sticky to go outside between 10am and 3pm? If it helps my tomatoes, I'm willing to take the heat. 


  1. Sad to see your tomato situation. We bought some from a local farm but they were his hot house tomatoes and they do not taste the same. Our peach tree has some peaches on it and I am hoping I beat the critters to them when they are ripe! Coming home from work tonight I came upon a BIG BEAR right in the middle of the road at the edge of our property---headed towards the wild berries or Leon thinks the pond to cool off. So much for my evening walk....

  2. Hot house tomatoes are just not the same, I agree. Our farmer's market tomatoes were not too bad. We grilled some eggplant and age them with the tomatoes, with a little vinaigrette. It was quite good. I guess you have to watch your back while picking berries at Buck Valley Ranch!