Mom grew up on a farm. My father’s grandfather was the first florist in New England and my grandfather and father grew up gardening. My siblings are avid gardeners. What I am getting at is that genetics means jack doodly when it comes to successful horticultury, and I am the proof, if my experience with tomatoes is any indication.
I’m late to this. I love flower gardens but my protocol is to jam things into the ground and pull them out if they die. Eventually most of what is visible is what thrived for no reason I’m aware of. It certainly wasn’t me. Entire tables of flower starts try to hide behind the asters when I go to the nursery. Vegetables get even less of my attention. Even when I grow a vegetable successfully, I forget to harvest it. Every year I’d plant peas, achieve peas, watch them turn yellow and dry, and pull them out at the end of the season.
But I’ve learned some things. Tomatoes: yes, the stores stock them in early April. If you plant them then, they will sulk until Memorial Day and then bitch about you to the other vegetables on the social media for the rest of their stunted lives.
They’ll take off nicely once it gets reliably warm but then shit happens. Blossom end rot. This produces a stout brown custard with a tomato hat on it. Fortunately, we have the internet. It’s a calcium problem, it’s a water problem, it’s a soil problem, it’s a pH problem; and those little princesses, the tomato plants, need to be on board too. You need to water in a consistent and reliable manner. Your soil needs to step up. You need calcium in the form of lime, eggshells, or ground unicorn horn; you need blessings from a priest and ideally you should plant at midnight on the Feast of St. Augustine. If that doesn’t work, the next year you add in shredded amulets. (Get the handy 3-cubit box.) Three years in a row of tomato failures and it’s time to plant sage and set the bed on fire. Then buy lima beans. Nobody cares if lima beans fail.
This year I planted at the end of JUNE in plain-ass soil without any lime or fairy dust and the tomatoes just keep on coming and there is no blossom end rot in sight. Also? No ripe tomatoes. Every day I take a look and think: Ah! Caprese salad tomorrow! And the next day, same thing. All of my tomatoes are ripe tomorrow.
Finally I realized the squirrels are systematically removing my tomatoes, taking a single bite, and leaving them on the fence. They can’t lift the acorn squashes so they just take a chunk or two out of them and leave them on the vine. Yesterday I found a nearly-ripe tomato and plucked it off to ripen on the windowsill, because we hardly ever have squirrels inside, and it had a green worm in it.
The broccoli that was wildly successful for the last two years pooted out a few little loose heads and quit. The collard greens were pasted with white flies and bolted. The kale looks like lace. The peas were great. They’re still out there, yellow and dry. I’m stocking up on squirrel heads and pikes in the handy 3-cubit box.
Oh, man! Squirrels are passive-aggressive little bastards, all right! We had the same thing happen a few years back for two years running. (Fortunately squirrels have a short life span, and it seemed to be just this one particular squirrel with an attitude.) A tomato would be ripe enough to pick tomorrow. Tomorrow would come and the tomato, instead of being on the vine, was right outside of my back door with a single bite taken out of it.
A few years back, we had WAY too much rain in the spring, the soil was leeched of its calcium, and most all of our tomatoes had blossom end rot. This year, Paul started being a Jewish mother to the plants. Fertilized them, watered them regularly — but not too much. Worst year ever for tomatoes. The plants put out smaller tomatoes and just won’t ripen, plus the plants themselves turned brown and withered really early. Other people in our area have said the same thing, so it may have been the abnormally hot weather we had this summer for a MUCH longer stretch than we usually do. Or it may have been Paul’s overzealous fertilizing. Next year, he’ll amend the soil and NO fertilizing afterwards.
Oh, and we learned from a YouTube gardener that you don’t have to leave tomatoes on the vine or put them on a sunny windowsill to ripen. You can pick them when they are semi-ripe and just put them in a bowl on the kitchen table, and they ripen on their own. We did that this year, and what tomatoes we had were just as tasty when they ripened as they always were. I’m used to having weekly canning sessions once they ripen, as we usually get more than we can eat fresh. This year — only TWO canning sessions.
You’re doing better than I am. Two canning sessions? I got two BLTs.
Murr, you still get an A for effort. I grew up on a farm, we had a giant vegetable garden–I mean half the size of a damn football field. Corn, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes. We lived next to a dairy farm, and supplied them with produce and got all our dairy from them. But I just remember hundreds of tomatoes! And to this day I can’t bring myself to buy them at the grocery store. I’ll buy grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, but nothing bigger. Overpriced, plastic-tasting crap. I’d sooner chomp into your tomato up top with that crawler coming out one side!
I won’t buy them at a grocery store, either. Those aren’t REAL tomatoes. They are NOTIONAL tomatoes. Even when I get a sandwich at a restaurant, I’ll pick their “tomatoes” out of the sandwich. Very occasionally, I’ll get some from a local farm market, who grow them hydroponically during the off-season. Still not quite like tomatoes grown in the soil of my own yard, but sometimes you just NEED a tomato!
Store tomatoes are fine this time of year, at least here–they get them from local farmers. I don’t think they’re good from ANYWHERE off season. You just don’t even try to eat tomatoes in the winter. Unless they’re canned or frozen or dehydrated or any of those other things I also don’t do.
PS. That’s pretty cool that your great grandfather was NE’s first florist! 🙂🌷🌸🌹🌺🌻🌼
Seems like an odd thing to me, but yes! I mean, who in the 1880s didn’t grow their own flowers?
I used to put whole tomatoes in the freezer and take them out when I wanted to make soup.
I’ve thought about such things but generally end up concluding that store canned tomato products are plenty cheap and I’ll take that route. Besides, I don’t get enough tomatoes to freeze!
Exactly! Store canned tomatoes are better than store-bought “fresh” tomatoes if you are using them for cooking. Freezer space is at a premium, so I would rather stock up in things that are NOT as good from the supermarket to put in the freezer (like STOCK, and big vats of chili, pulled pork, and lots of individually frozen breaded chicken, poached chicken, hamburgers, meatballs, and other stuff that I can use to pull together a good meal when I don’t feel like cooking. Which is more and more often as I get older.
I was going to give you an A for effort, but DougM gave you one so I’ll give you a gold star.
When you see tomatoes on the vine that will be ready “tomorrow”, pick them right away and they will ripen as mimimanderly said, in a bowl in your kitchen. It is air temperature that helps the ripening, not direct sunlight, which just burns them, in Australia anyway. Also, pick those dried yellowed peas and use them to make pea soup. I can never grow peas, they always get sooty mould. I’m great with green beans though.
Sorry, your last sentence sounded like something a cannibal might think.
Our father was notoriously picky about fresh tomatoes. One summer day, my sister was going to the Farmer’s Market and asked Pop if he wanted anything. He gave her a very specific task. He wanted red, ripe tomatoes that had NAMES. None of these numbered ones — they are crap!Cardboard! Worthless, dry, tasteless fake tomatoes. No, only a NAMED tomato would do.
Miss you, Pop. Always and every day. <3
They should name a tomato after him.
We live within walking distance of an excellent farmer’s market, so I’ve gotten garden variety yearnings a few times, but I lack commitment. I had real success with okra once, but never picked them. Then we began to compost a few years ago, et voilà! With no effort or awareness on our part, we began pulling in tons of volunteer strawberries, some edible cherry tomatoes, and this year cantaloupes! Just out there growing in the flower bed. I believe they grow as acts of hubristic autonomy and spite. Spiteful cantaloupes worry me. I don’t blame any plant for despising us, considering what we’ve done to their world, but I’m scared to eat those melons.
Congratulations on being the first human to use “spiteful cantaloupes” in a sentence!
I’m not highly skilled at much but I do well with tomatoes through no special effort- tomatoes and peppers and potatoes. Abby, when she was 10 yrs old and got a P-touch label maker for Christmas printed out “Tomato Queen” labels and plastered them everywhere. No to store bought any time but local. Once the season is over, it’s worth figuring out the very best brand of canned and sticking with it. Cento San Marzano are the ones I like and fortunately, Costco carries them at an affordable price, smaller cans just right for two, by the case. I put on my big girl pants, brave the lights and noise and buy several cases of tomatoes and a couple of lost leader rotisserie chickens to dissect and freeze. Good when the garden is done. Tomatoes are an important part of our diet around here; they go well with homemade pasta!
That’s why I love canning our excess tomatoes (when we have them.) Not only do they cook down for tomato sauce for pasta, but I use them in soups, chili, and any dish that calls for “28 ounce cans of tomatoes.” I also prefer my own stock to the expensive “bone broth” that stores sell. I get chicken wings from the farmer’s market, along with some veggies, herbs, etc. and cook it in a pressure cooker. 35 minutes and it’s done. And SO much more gelatinous than store bought. Very easy. Plus, I pick off the meat to use for soup or a stir fry. I rather enjoy finding uses for things that most people would throw away. (I use the skimmed off chicken fat and beef fat for when I’m making dishes with chicken or beef.) OMG! I just realized you said HOMEMADE pasta! Kudos to you! I make homemade pie crusts and homemade bread, but have never tried doing pasta! But there is a very good organic brand in our area, and I stock up for the cold season, as I can only get it at a local farm market that is closed during those seasons. (I COULD get it if I were willing to drive a bit… but I’m not.)
Shoot, homemade pasta. Well, I’ve seen it done, so I know it’s doable. I avoid wheat and have really taken to chickpea pasta (Banza) myself. In fact, I think I prefer it. I never saved schmaltz. I do have a jar of filtered bacon fat in the refrigerator and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with it.
Oh, man…. What DOESN’T taste good with bacon? You can use it to fry eggs. You can make a warm dressing for a salad. (I used to date a guy whose mother made something she called “Dutch Lettuce Dressing” for her salads, and it had bacon fat in it. I wish I had gotten her recipe. As well as her recipe for “Bourbon Hot Dogs”, which were cut up hot dogs in her special sauce, speared with toothpicks that she served at parties. Her foods were simple and easy, and most of all — good.
My dad grew edible stuff, my mom grew flowers. After they were divorced and my dad re-married, he and my stepmom kept up the same division of labor. This year, my tomato plants got much happier when the heat wave ended. Well, three of the four did. Cherokee Purple, which was already miserable, just gave up. Siberian Giant, which I’m told the Russians call Сибирский Великан Розовый (Siberian Giant Pink), produced all of three fruits so far this year, and though it’s leafing out nicely, there are no more blooms. Black Beauty is doing sort of well. (Tasty but stunted.) Jetsetter, an absurdly prolific plant the first year I tried it, is doing so-so. I don’t even bother with Sun Gold any more, which did great one year and awful in subsequent years. I’m growing in pots, because decades ago when I didn’t know any better, Grant’s Ant Stakes were still full of arsenic trioxide, and I assume I contaminated the soil with them. I fertilize and lime every fall and let the winter rains wash it in, and add earthworms whenever I find them on the sidewalk. (Can they get overcrowded?) I read that crop rotation is helpful, so next year I’ll plant cucumbers (which were only marginally successful this year) in the tomato pots and tomatoes in the cucumber pots. Might help, who knows? I don’t get enough pollinators in the back yard (they’re all busy with the dwarf rosemary in the front yard), so I’m going to try parthenocarpic cuke varieties next year. For tomatoes, I’m picking out some varieties that look intriguing (and disease-resistant!) in the catalogs. This year I learned about pruning tomatoes. It seemed to help. Whenever I see a sick-looking branch I pinch or cut it off. We’ll see. Our squirrels and raccoons don’t seem interested. Sometimes a Western Scrub Jay will peck at a tomato, but only the topmost one. (Summertime, and the perching is easy! ♫) Thanks for another great column, Murr!
I’ve found that the best varieties of tomatoes that grow for us are the indeterminates (they give fruit for the entire season.) The “heritage” varieties, unfortunately, bring forth fruit for a small portion of time, and that’s it. We have a small area for these plants, so heritage varieties are OUT. If I absolutely WANT these varieties, I can always get them from the farm market.
Same here. Indeterminates only. And the only way I’ll get enough disease resistance is with modern hybrids, no heritage varieties. I once asked a nurseryman “What’s the most disease-resistant variety you’ve got?” and he pointed me toward Jetsetter. But now I peruse the catalogs looking for even lonnnnnger strings of resistance factors than Jetsetter carries. And yes, farmer’s market when I want Cherokee Purples.
I think Jetsetter is one of the ones I’m trying this year. Hasn’t been a stellar year at all, but I have low expectations for everything in my garden. The best thing about my garden is it’s full of stuff that is not lawn, but some of the stuff is dead and the rest isn’t what it should be. I just keep dumping stuff in the soil, which I really should just have tested for once.
Oh wait. It’s not Jetsetter. It’s Jet Star.
Crop rotation works best when an above ground crop is followed by a below ground crop and even better if a “green” crop is grown then chopped down and spaded in and left for a season.
I’m trying to imagine a crop rotation here that wouldn’t just look like a do-si-do.