The Joys and Frustrations of Tomatoes
Everyone who has a garden grows tomatoes. I am no exception. We usually grow them on a grander scale than most, cutting back in recent years to around 50 or so plants when we were on the farm. As homeschoolers, all our gardening and canning was considered a part of our curriculum – home ec, phys ed, biology, chemistry, math, etc. On our pantry shelves in October one could find homemade pizza sauce, ketchup, whole tomatoes, the best tomato soup you’ve ever tasted, dried tomatoes, and in the freezer would be the tomato paste I needed for next year’s recipes.
This year, we planted close to 60 tomato plants, some out back and some in the yard. They do fairly well in the boxes, although the ph and the compost can cause some imbalances which we are learning about. Between weather (cool and damp) and the diseases floating around this summer, the harvest of the crop was less than one would expect considering the number of plants. The indeterminate plants do much better in the system of gardening I am using, but I hadn’t started enough seedings of them, so I ended up using some determinate plants out in the boxes. Determinates take up alot space in the boxes and drape on the ground because they don’t climb up the support fences. I got very few tomatoes off those plants because the ones on the ground would invariably be diseased or broken into by some creature or insect causing them to spoil. If they could have been kept off the ground, they would have performed much better.
The indeterminate varieties of tomatoes did well. The training of the vines is rather labor intensive and my daughter and I kept up with it for awhile, but then just let the plants go. Unfortunately, as the plants got heavier on top, the tops of the vines tended to fall over the metal fence being used as a trellis and split or break allowing a way for pathogens to enter the plant easily, as well as plopping the tomatoes on the ground again with all the troubles tomatoes on the ground bring. People picking the tomatoes roughly also broke the branches and damaged the plants.
So, as I look at the end of the season and take a mental inventory, I estimate that I harvested around two or two-and-a-half bushels of tomatoes. We have enjoyed eating them and I have had some to can. Others have enjoyed them as well – legally or illegally. They didn’t ripen well on my picnic table – I think that had something to do with the diseases spoiling them from the inside out.
I grow open pollinated tomatoes almost exclusively and start them from seed myself in the winter. Some fared better than others against the enemies this summer. The paste tomatoes did the best. They don’t look pretty sliced on the table for sandwiches, but they make a terrific pizza sauce! My favorite slicing tomato – an heirloom called Rose – did the worst (except for those varieties that touched the ground and rotted).
Next year, I plan to grow more slicing tomatoes (am I really the only one in Buffalo that uses paste tomatoes for canning??). I also hope to keep up with weaving the plants into the fencing thereby giving them more support. As for the rough pickers . . . they are the ones that come when we are not out there and help themselves. I hope to reduce that damage by being more available and educating people on what the Wilson Street Urban Farm is all about. It really isn’t a “help yourself” garden. I have encountered several people who have told me they were told by someone that the garden was a “community garden” – apparently meaning that anyone can just help themselves. My family and I work hard on that garden and all the funding comes from our own pockets right now. It is not a “free” garden.
The time has come to begin cleaning the old plants out of the garden. But that is for another rambling blog . . .
Cheers for the autumn!