June – Two Tomatoes

Yes – I picked two tomatoes already – right at the end of June. But this year, I am also trying two different ways of growing tomatoes to see which works better. So far, I can’t tell.

The tomatoes in the garden on the east side of the house are growing on strings that help to keep them tall as they climb higher and higher. The tomatoes in the garden on the west side of the house are in traditional tomato cages. And they’re doing just fine too. They are both setting fruit and so far I picked one tomato from each garden.

I’ll probably weigh how many tomatoes I get from each garden so I can compare which side did better by the end of the year – but it’s not a fair comparison. The ones on the east side get more sun, got planted too early and were stunted by the Mother’s Day cold snap and are planted in rocky soil. The ones on the west side get afternoon shade, were planted once the weather had warmed up, and the soil is much nicer. So it might be difficult to say whether strings or cages make a difference. So far, I think I like the strings, even though it takes a bit of time to always keep the top of the plant twisted around the string – but it’s easier to move about between the plants.  In the end, as long as I have enough tomatoes to put-up a lot of tomato sauce, pizza sauce, vegetable soup – and make a summer’s worth of BLT sandwiches – I don’t really care whether they were grown on strings or in cages!

The garden looks like a plumbers paradise with pvc piping running up and down and across. The perfect frame to tie my strings so the tomatoes can climb.
I just keep wrapping the top of the tomato around the string as it grows.
And the tomatoes in the cages are just doing their own thing.

March – Are 168 Tomato Plants too many?

I may have started too many tomato plants.

I love this time of year. I get to play in the dirt in the dry and relative warmth of the basement. I work at a folding table with a bucket of potting mix and some little black plastic seed trays. This year I got a little carried away with how much fun I was having.

I have seven varieties of tomato seeds I want to grow – three are paste tomatoes (San Marzano, Amish Paste and Salvaterra), three varieties are for nice big slicing tomatoes (Brandywine Red, Beefsteak and Mortgage Lifter) – and just one cherry tomato variety. That’s not that much – right?  The seeds are so tiny and I thought they might not all germinate, so I put two little tiny seeds into each cell of the six-packs. One six-pack of each variety didn’t look like that much – so I did two six-packs of each. That’s just 14 little six-packs – not that much, until Chris did the math.  Apparently I planted 168 tomato seeds. The garden can only accommodate about 30 tomato plants – if I want to save room to grow the 60 pepper plants I also accidentally started, and the 30 Loofah sponge plants.

I put the trays on the heated mat under the grow light, and guess what? ALL 168 tomatoes came up. I should pluck the weaker of the two sprouts from each cell to allow the stronger plant to flourish; but I can’t just throw out 84 little seedlings. Once they get a little bigger, I’ll be busy transplanting 168 plants into individual pots – and at some point I’ll have to pick my favorite 4 or 5 of each variety and give the rest away.

I’d be tempted to plant them all – but I still need room for beans, cantaloupe, carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, watermelon and lots of squash. I have seven varieties of squash too. I hope I use more restraint planting those than I did with tomatoes!

Our neighbors may wonder about the plant light glow that emanates from our basement windows – but it’s only tomatoes, peppers and Loofah sponges.
Yep – 168 little tomato plants
I’ll have a lot of transplanting to do – but think of the amazing tomatoes we’ll have.

September – Eye of the Storm

Remember back when I said the garden was DONE!  I was wrong.  That was just the eye of the storm.  It was calm and quiet for a few weeks.  It was so quiet, in fact, that we even sneaked away for a long weekend of vacation — since there wasn’t much happening here.  Maybe it was the extreme heat followed by the unseasonably cool weather that stunted the production of tomatoes, peppers and squash; but now they are back with a vengeance.

I came back from vacation to find a garden full of ripe red tomatoes, red and green peppers and more squash!  In fact, I picked 14.5 POUNDS of tomatoes.  Time to get busy canning again!

Eye of Hurricane
Thankfully — we weren’t affected by the hurricanes…
But we’re in the middle of a tomato tornado



August – The Tomato Tree

Tomatoes are supposed to grow on small bush-like plants, but our tomato plants are some sort of mutants.  The plants are so far over my head, I’ll need a ladder to pick
them. Maybe it’s because we mixed in well-composted manure, or because I planted the tomatoes with my Grandfather’s secret fertilizer formula – but whatever the cause – our plants are out of control. They are taking over, and I’ve given up on chopping them back.
The tomatoes ripen from the bottom of the plant, moving higher each week with more ripening fruit.  Right now, I can comfortably pick the produce of the week – but in another week or so, they will be out of my reach.  And maybe that’s a good thing.
I’m about at the point that we have enough jars of tomato sauce for a weekly spaghetti supper, enough dried cherry tomatoes to toss into many a pot of stew or soup, and enough roasted tomatoes with olive oil, oregano and basil to use for Friday night pizzas. So, other than those delicious summer-time bacon and tomato sandwiches – I’m about done with tomatoes.
The fence is six feet tall — that makes this tomato plant a TREE!
I pick this much almost every day.
And we have a great variety — yellow pear tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes, green-purple zebra tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes, Amish paste tomatoes and nice big slicing tomatoes.

June – Uh-oh, What Have We Done?

The gardens are overflowing, and it’s not even the end of June yet!  Already I’m up to my elbows in canning and freezing.  When the plants were so tiny, it seemed like a good idea to plant a lot of them.  There was so much space between them in the garden that I couldn’t imagine them filling it in.  Even Chris commented that I hadn’t over-planted this year and there was actually space to walk between the rows.  I was proud of myself for my restraint, but with two gardens to fill, I didn’t feel the need to shoe-horn stuff in like I’ve done in the past.  This year would be different.  A spacious garden, everything in it’s place, perfectly placed rows — I could picture it in my mind.

Then came lots of rain and hot sunny days, and the garden took on a life of its own.  I think I must have bought my bean seeds from Jack, and the cucumbers too.  The vines are reaching for the sky.  I keep piling them onto up-side down tomato cages to give them something to climb on and still they grow.  I’m thinking in investing in a bunch of extension ladders to line the garden rows so everything can just keep growing and growing and growing.

I thought a variety of squash would be fun this year — butternut, acorn, spaghetti, etc.    Again I exercised such restraint.  I only planted about four plants of each.  They were barely a few leaves tall, with lots of space between each plant.  Now, the garden is so overgrown with vines that it will take a machete to fight my way through to harvest them.  What was I thinking?

Already there are cherry tomatoes, peas, beans, beets, zucchini, cucumbers, broccolini, scallions and spinach.  Even if we were vegetarians, we wouldn’t be able to keep us with what is coming in — and so every other night or so, you’ll find me in the kitchen freezing and canning… canning and freezing.  There’s nothing better than seeing the freezer fill up, or hearing the mason jar lids ping when they seal.  And maybe this winter I’ll be glad I apparently over-planted the garden, but for right now… I’m not so sure.

The tomatoes are outgrowing their cages.
Even the tomatoes are ripening already.
How am I even going to get into this squash patch to pick my squash?
Almost enough cucs to make pickles already.
Just a few beets for dinner.
And peas to freeze.

May – Tomato, Tomahto

No matter how you say it, we’re going to have a lot of them this summer — I hope.  It started with an impulse buy at Home Depot.  I can’t help myself.  It was back in mid-March when it was cold and snowy — and they had tomatoes!  I only bought two Beefsteak Tomatoes and two Husky Cherry Tomatoes and nurtured them in the greenhouse, up-potting them numerous times as they out-grew their pots.  And then I started seeds — San Marzano tomatoes, tiny yellow pear tomatoes (Arianna’s favorite) and some green/purple striped tomatoes (another impulse buy when I was at the Philadelphia Farm and Food Festival).  And then there was the trip to my Amish food market, which unfortunately is positioned right next to an Amish garden center — and they had 4-packs of Amish paste tomatoes for only $1.29!  Another impulse buy — that got up-potted and grew like crazy over the last two months.  My greenhouse was over-run with tomatoes.

Sunday was Mother’s Day — that magical day of the year when you can finally plant tomatoes in southeastern Pennsylvania.  And… the forecast is for continued warm weather for the foreseeable future.  So I planted.  There are two huge Beefsteaks, two almost huge Husky cherry tomatoes, two really big Amish paste tomatoes, two yellow pear tomatoes, four nice-sized San Marzano tomatoes — and four purple/green tomato plants that are kind of wimpy because they got a late start.  That’s sixteen tomato plants!  I have more in the greenhouse — but no room in the garden.  I’ll just have to be content with 16 tomato plants.

The internet says a single tomato plant can produce 20 to 30 pounds of tomatoes.  Let’s just average that at 25 pounds per plant by 16 plants.  I’ve never been good at math — but I think that’s a BIG number.  Come mid-summer when I’m up to my elbows in dripping tomatoes and hot jars for canning all of these tomatoes — remind me I may want to check my math next year.

It started with the tomato plants I bought and nurtured in the greenhouse.
And then the seeds I started.
The green/purple zebra tomatoes have a ways to go.
But I can almost taste these tomatoes.