LAKE MACBRIDE— To supply all the tomatoes a household needs, I planted a large tomato patch with eleven or twelve varieties, and two different cages. In all, there were 36 plantings, some with two seedlings in them. I used short cages leftover from previous years, and new ones cut from four-foot wire fencing. The whole plot was mulched deeply with grass clippings.
The endeavor was an unqualified success, and now it’s time to analyze, think and learn.
The seeds came from a couple of sources.
Leftover from last season were Acer and Best Boy. They produced well, however, they matured late. By the time they were ready, the end of the season was upon us, and our tomato needs largely met. Acer is a slicer, the seeds purchased at a grocery store (I think). There are better ones to use going forward.
Best Boy was also leftover from last season, and intended for canning whole. When we organized our canned goods, it became clear we have enough canned tomatoes from last summer to make it another year, so they weren’t needed for the intended purpose. Olivade and Monica are plum tomatoes purchased through Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They will replace the Best Boys going forward.
The organic Beefsteak seeds were purchased at a home center, and they have traditionally been our favorite. They too didn’t ripen until late in the season, and while we used some, a lot went to compost when bugs got into them.
Having a variety of small tomatoes was a joy this year. I planted Cherry, Gold Nugget, Sweet Olive Grape, and Black Cherry. The seed packets were leftover from last season and from Johnny’s. They came in early and were great for salads, snacking and pasta dishes. We froze some whole as an experiment, and look forward to seeing how they eat once thawed later in the year. One seedling of unknown variety was provided by our CSA. The Black Cherry plants grew very tall. Next season, they should be planted in one of the four-foot cages.
Rose and Italian were our early maturing slicers. They were also purchased through Johnny’s, and the Italian seeds were at a reduced price. If they are offered again, both will be purchased for next season. The Italian did well with short cages, and the Rose would do better in four-foot cages. I bought an extra roll of four-foot wire, so some of the old cages can be retired or used for other crops.
Upon reflection, tomatoes are best used fresh, either in the kitchen, or given away as gifts to those who don’t grow their own. Likewise, they are welcome at the food pantry until there is a glut. Fresh tomatoes are an essential part of why we garden, and most of the focus in using them is fresh.
My thinking about canned tomatoes changed. For making pasta sauces, chili and soup, plum tomatoes are the best product to use. Seeded thoroughly, cut in half, and then cold processed, I put up about a dozen quarts which weren’t really needed, although the abundance led me there. They will serve most needs.
I had been canning diced tomatoes, but any application that calls for them could use halved plums, so diced will fall from my repertory. That is, unless there is an abundance of slicers, which is what I used to make canned diced tomatoes. We’ll see how it goes.
A favorite canned product is hot sauce, but like with plain tomatoes, there is an abundance in the pantry ready for use from previous years. I have a gallon fresh in the refrigerator, and there is an abundance of hot peppers for making more, but at some point one has to stop.
There is never a shortage of juice as a byproduct of canning. I’ll continue to can it as it is produced, and any remainders will go to that end as the season finishes.
Growing tomatoes is a highlight of garden life. By using my sketch booklet and keeping track, I have been able to learn what works and what doesn’t— part of a gardener’s outlook in daily living, with lessons to our broader sustainability. Despite all the negative press this year, the tomato crop was excellent.