Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Truth in Tomatoes.

Posted on | October 9, 2015 | No Comments

The various tomato seeds I bought in February in a fit of winter doldrums (well played, seed catalog, well played) have shown themselves.  This summer the tomatoes exploded and, in an amazing triumph, the plant labels were still intact.  So I actually knew which variety was which and how it performed.  Oh, there were struggles in the beginning.  When the fruit first set, I found an assortment of the usual problems—-bacterial speck, blossom end rot, and early blight.

I even had some leaf roll in the newest tomato bed which I attribute to the manure being too hot or too much nitrogen from the shredded leaf debris that made up the base of the bed.

But I pruned the plants heavily this year.  Very heavily—all the stems were pinched off below the first blossoms, leaving the bottoms bare, and the foliage was trimmed so sunlight came through easily.

I immediately picked off green tomatoes with any signs of disease and cut away any branches with speckles or spots of any kind.  The plants got some doses of raw milk at the roots and a couple sprays of epsom salt on the foliage.  The results were impressive.

I have no idea if pruning increases or decreases the output of tomatoes.  Apparently this is a hot topic of debate among tomato enthusiasts, but in order to answer that question I’d need control plants and pruned plants and proper record-keeping and blah, blah, blah, don’t the ag scientists get paid for that?  That sort of gardening is not suitable for people who start pruning plants while in their pajamas after putting a kid on the bus in the morning.  But I do know that pruning stops blight in its tracks.  The only plants that showed signs of blight after the first couple weeks were the determinate varieties that I had not pruned.  So I pruned them, too.  Because I planted 42 tomato plants this year.  If the 6 determinate varieties didn’t produce every tomato they were capable of producing because I pruned them, that’s OK.

During the first part of the summer we struggled with cracking.  We tended to have heavy rainfall every 3 or 4 days, which saved us from irrigating.  But it also meant I had to harvest as many almost-ripe tomatoes as possible right before the rain arrived.  If I didn’t get them in time, they were swollen and cracked after the flooding ceased.

We placed almost-ripe tomatoes on the window sill to gather a couple more days of sun and set a bunch of rue in the middle to keep the fruit flies at bay.

I’ve had rue in the herb garden for years and never used it for anything.  But this summer we kept entire flats of tomatoes on the counter before distributing them and a small cup of rue in the middle kept fruit flies out of the crop.  Amazing.  Better than any half effective vinegar/dish soap combination we’ve tried in the past.  I’ll be using it next summer in the scrap bowl, too.

Several tomato varieties turned out perfect round and red tomatoes, including Big Boy

Early Girl

Beefsteak

and Rutgers.

Grandma’s Pick had a wonderful shape—almost like a pumpkin.

Although the shape made it awkward for cutting into slices and better for chunks of tomatoes in salads or other dishes.

Mortgage Lifter had the same appealing shape but stayed more blush than red when ripe.

Out of the large varieties, Country Taste was as huge and juicy as predicted.

But, although Goliath was big, it almost always split at the shoulders.

And Dinner Plate was delicious but wasn’t any bigger than a Beefsteak.

My Celebrity tomatoes always had these gray lines around the shoulders. And never really turned bright red.

But despite their less-than-perfect appearance they were some of the best tasting slicing tomatoes in the garden.  That’s how Mother Nature fools the supermarkets and rewards the home farmer.

Health Kick was a huge surprise as it produced so many tomatoes that the branches kept threatening to snap off.

The tomatoes were super red and perfect for salads and pasta as they held their shape and their juice, even when sliced.  No sloppiness at all.

The only other variety that gave them a run for the money was Fourth of July.  True to its name, the first tomatoes were ripe and ready on the 4th.  And it continued to produce a stream of juicy, red, fit-perfect-in-the-palm-of-your-hand tomatoes.

On an odd note, a friend told me that he also raised Fourth of July tomatoes and his also were always ripe on the 4th, too.  Which was almost kind of creepy.  How is it possible that a tomato raised under an unending variable of conditions is always ready on the same week?  That seems less like crop science and more like voodoo.

The colored varieties were a 50/50 split.  Carbon and Pink Berkeley Tie Dye were utter flops.  Didn’t even produce tomatoes worth photographing—-just measly little stubs of tomatoes that turned brown and fell off the vine.  But Lemon Boy was a beautiful ray of sunshine.

And Oxheart was pretty and prolific.

The yellow and orange varieties were supposed to have less acid than red tomatoes.  They tasted exactly the same as red tomatoes to us.  But they did add great color to everything from salads to chilis to sauces.  Plus, the plants were vigorous and healthy so we’ll definitely grow Lemon Boy and Oxheart next year.

The Indigo Blueberry cherry tomatoes were disappointing.  It was hard to tell when they were ripe and they were very small.

But the Purple Bumblebee cherry tomatoes were adorable.  They looked more like mini-watermelons than purple but they were sweet and juicy and a bit bigger than most cherry varieties.  Perfect for snacking!

By September the tomatoes had overgrown their trellis, were terribly leggy, and blight was creeping up the stems again.

So I gave them one last heavy pruning.  And I was surprised at how many tomatoes were remaining on the vines.  A whole crop hanging in there until frost.

Or so I thought.  Then we had 2 weeks of heavy rain. Which showed us every spiderweb tucked among the tomatoes.

But when the showers ended, they left a whole lot of tomatoes on the ground.

So the crop might be finished even before the frost arrives.  Just making a simple batch of summer succotash required using the dregs off the vines.  The kinds of tomatoes that would have gone to the pigs or the chickens just a few weeks ago.

And even after a bumper crop of all those tomatoes, I never canned a single batch of salsa, or pasta sauce, or anything.  Instead, the majority of them went to the slew of tomato sandwiches I consumed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Because they were just too beautiful to resist slicing and nibbling any time of the day.

Oh, well.  The lack of canned tomatoes in the pantry will just make next year’s Fourth of July tomatoes taste that much sweeter when they come in.  And I still have a nice selection of my favorite seeds left over for spring planting next year.

So I won’t get sucked into the catalog frenzy this winter.  Unless….

Wait a minute…..

Oh, my….

Someone stop me.  Please.

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