04 February 2008

Tomato Lust is Beginning....

One of the curious things that always happens every winter is that I develop an overwhelming urge for tomatoes. Mmmmmm, tomatoes. You know what I mean, don’t you?

Sun ripened, flavourful, juicy, tomatoes, not the hard, plastic-like nuggets that we’re seeing in stores at this time of year. Maybe they’ve been genetically engineered to store for approximately twenty seven years, and are mostly uniform in shape and size, perfect for slicing on top of that hideous fast-food hamburger. They’re just awful.

Even the ones that are greenhouse grown or supposedly ‘vine ripened’ don’t taste like much of anything. In desperation, I will resort to eating them, at least on broiled sandwiches or pizza or chopped up in salsa or salad, rather than be totally tomato-less for the months until we get real field tomatoes again. I wait for those first truly vine-ripened tomatoes with as much anticipation as we do the first strawberries, the first new potatoes, the first sweet corn. But especially the tomatoes.

Now, here’s a confession for all of you who struggle with purple thumbs, and which may cause vast amusement to the tomato pros among you. I don’t grow tomatoes well. This would have scandalized my dear, departed Dad, had he known. My father was the champion of tomato growers in his community, supplying neighbours, fellow pilots, and other friends with a horde of ripe, huge, delicious tomatoes; beefsteaks, cherry type, regular slicing types, he grew them all. We all used to refer to them as triffids because my father’s tomato plants were so huge and robust, tied up in his tiny greenhouse beside the garage, laden down with fruit of all sizes, pushing the tops of their leafy heads against the top of the greenhouse. Happily, they never pulled up stakes (or roots) and started walking. Nor did they eat people, at least none that we were aware of.

My problem with growing tomatoes is the climate here in my community. It’s regularly at least 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler up here than in the Valley; people come up here in the summer to get away from the Valley heat. But then they get here and find out that we’re wrapped in fog. Lots of it. Really thick, cool, moisture-giving fog, great for the perennial beds and lawns, but not so good for heat- and sunlight-loving tomatoes.

I do try. I have grown great seedlings, and other years bought transplants of heritage tomatoes from local nurseries that have carried a few speciality types. But it’s usually late September before I get any to ripen—even growing them in our little greenhouse, where they do get more heat, when the sun is out, but when we go for days on end in the fog, not much happens. Last year I did fairly well, although I was a bit worried when this was my tomato crop in mid-August (when many of you had been eating ripe tomatoes for weeks!)

Happily, we actually had a real bounty of tomatoes, I think because I covered the greenhouse floor with landscape cloth before planting the transplants. They got a little more heat, a little more regular moisture, fewer weeds and no dirt on them, and they did ripen earlier than in other years--and keep going until well into October.

It's frustrating work though, but I keep at it, and anyone who loves tomatoes right off the vine eaten like a fresh peach, knows why. There really is nothing like home grown tomatoes, (except the other thing money can’t buy, which according to John Denver was true love). And here’s your botanical bit of trivia, though any tomatophile already knows this. The tomato has had a number of other names in its storied career, and indeed the botanical name, Lycopersicon, means ‘Wolf Peach’--although now they’re Solanum lycopersicum; yet another point for the taxonomists to crow over!

What I like to grow is heritage tomatoes, not only because they come in a rainbow of colours and shapes and sizes, but in a world of flavours, too. ‘Caspian Pink’ is a sweet, and decidedly pink, tomato, delicious in sandwiches or salads; ‘Black Krim’ has this unique, smokey flavour that is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t tasted it. I usually have a yellow or red Brandywine, a couple of newer cultivars like ‘Lemon Boy’ or ‘Sungold’ both of which are different and tasty. And of course I have my staples, ‘Sweet Million’ cherry type, and ‘Scotia’, which tolerates the cool weather without a fuss.

In past years I’ve bought seed and started them, but I only need one plant of each of a half dozen or so different varieties. What, then to do? There was a nursery that carried a lot of the heritage tomatoes I love, and that I could buy one plant from, but it sadly closed after the 2006 growing season. Another nursery carried a few special varieties last year, but I don’t know if they’ll be open this year either. One of my newsletter readers is experiencing the same problem, so I may resort to starting a bunch of seedlings again, in which case, anyone want a few Black Krims? Or Green Zebra? Or Yellow Brandywine? Pity we can’t mail transplants electronically, isn’t it?

And this just in…I may have found a source for some heritage varieties from a grower who is encouraged to try. Stay tuned…I’ll get my Black Krims yet!


  1. I can't imagine waiting until September to get a ripe tomato. I usually harvest my first tomato around July 20th, and every year I try to beat that date. I hope before September you can go down to a farmer's market in the valley and get some good homegrown tomatoes to enjoy!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  2. I love fresh tomatoes right off the vine. YUM! I had rather not even eat them in the winter. They have no taste and are just plain gross.

  3. I am NOT letting Hubby come over here to see this post. He'll start tearing up. That man is a tomato lover of major proportions! Thankfully, I can put mine in around the end of March.

    Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

  4. I love picking tomatoes on hot summer days. My dad plants so many different varieties that I tend to grow only cherry tomatoes in pots.

  5. I'm not surprised that you have trouble growing tomatoes with the kind of climate you garden in. Personally I'm amazed that you have managed to grow quite a few decent tomatoes, even though you had a late harvest. So well done you, Jodi!

    I love eating tomatoes fresh of the vine as they taste so wonderful! My dad hadn't eaten a tomato in years but he ate mine when they were ripe and he loved them.

    Sure, send me some Black Krims, Green Zebra and Yellow Brandywine, I always love to try out new things. ;-) I have Marmande, Purple Cherokee and Tom Thumb. Wanna swap? Well, we could if we lived anywhere near each other. sigh!

  6. Now for this you deserve great sympathy, that is until you showed the pix of the beautiful varieties together. Such high art, such bounty, however late. I love the look of those krims, they fit the 'black' theme. We tried Black Seaman and Cherokee Purple last year for the first time. The drought did a number on them, major splitting, but very tasty. Tomato seeds seem to remain viable for several years, so save those extra seeds for later.

    Frances at Faire Garden

  7. You are making me hungry Jodi. In the past I could go to Mom and Dad's to pick right off the vine. Now I go to the Farmer's Market. Sigh

    I have never heard them called Wolf Peaches. Intersting because Mishka,the dog I had before Luna, loved tomatoes. He did not endear himself to neighbors with tomatoes grownng. Not only did he eat them but thought them fine balls to play fetch.

  8. Mmmm---tomatoes. Yes, I know exactly what you mean! I'm starting to crave them, too. Happily, I'll be starting my seeds in a couple weeks. Then at least the feeling goes from pure craving to eager anticipation :-)

  9. Ah, it's tomato time again! Have you tried using extra light for them? Full colour flourescent light do wonders!

  10. Those look so good! You can't beat fresh, home-grown tomatoes. I don't do well growing them, but can rely on good farm markets that do. Yummm.yummm.

  11. I feel your pain of having a poor spot to grow tomatoes. We've moved to a low, wet and cold spot after years of growing on a south facing hilltop.

  12. Mmm...makes me drool just looking at your pics! My Dad was also a champion tomato producer, but he usually grew his in his greenhouse. He always grew an abundance of cherry tomatoes for my daughter when she was little, who would eat them by the quart container in one sitting. :) She still loves them. You'll have to keep us posted on your crop this year!

  13. beautiful photos...I also love growing tomatoes & seeing them hanging in the branches is a lovely sight...nice reading the description too!

  14. Hi everyone: if your comment hasn't appeared, it appears Blogger is alternating between eating them and making them in quadruplicate. If they're saved (and not eaten by Blogger) find them eventually, so please be patient and don't think you're being ignored.

    Carol: yes, 'normal' tomato harvest starts in mid July for many, so I can get fresh tomatoes then. I do resort to eating hothouse tomatoes from a greenhouse down in Middleton until then--they aren't bad, but still not what we want.

    Robin, I'm with you...altough the hothouse ones aren't terrible if they're local. Hothouse from Ontario or elsewhere is just as bad as those fieldgrown marbles from whereever they come from.

    Cindy yes don't let Hubby see my tale of woe. Though you'll all be amused to know I ate a toasted tomato sandwich for breakfast. Couldn't help myself.

    Kate, don't they taste awesome in the heat? Like a sun-ripened strawberry.

    Yolanda, it would be so great if we could do seed/plant exchanges the way we do stories. I talked to a small nursery operator who is sourcing some seeds now, and will put in plants for me and a few other hardcore tomato addicts. Those Black Krims are just amazing. I've had Purple Cherokee and thought they were delish, too.

    Frances, aren't tomatoes amazing, the variety? Can you think of any other plant with so much variation in fruit size, colour, shape, taste? I feel sorry for those who don't like them, like my sister and son!

    Lisa, that's a cute story about Mishka and the tomatoes. I had a cat once who would eat slices of tomatoes, and Spunky Boomerang, who loves to roll anything round, pushes cherry tomatoes off the counter and plays kitty-hockey with them.

    Colleen, glad to hear from you. Are your cravings for other reasons besides seasonal :-) ??? Anticipating fresh anything is part of the delight.

    Rosengeranium, it's not so much the light as the lack of heat units (well, okay, and the fog). That sounds like the perfect recommendation for growing them indoors (a story I'm researching right now).

    Mary, good to have good farm markets nearby. We have some also, and they help keep my cravings down while I'm waiting for my own.

    WiseAcre, that sounds problematic for so many reasons! Can't you grow them at the nursery?

    Nancy...I love cherry tomatoes (and grape tomatoes) in all colours and flavours, although I tried Ildi two years ago and didn't care for the taste--but they were cute yellow grapes. So I hear you on your daughter's love for the little ones. (and the medium ones...and the big ones...)

    Ummmm....maybe I'll have a tomato sandwich for lunch, too!

  15. For all that we have in common, Jodi, here is where we part ways. I don't like fresh tomatoes. :-o I'll eat them cooked in soups, and I like salsa, but that's about it. It's probably a good thing, as far as the garden goes, because I've never had much luck growing tomatoes. Cherry ones, yes, but regular ones, no. Those black krims are GORGEOUS though. Maybe I'll have to grow those for the same reason I grow ornamental peppers. They look good!
    I knew that about "Wolf Peaches" and actually have a blog post by that name from last summer!

  16. What is it about that 'Black Krim' that gets our tomato lust going? I've never seen one in person but still want to try it.

    With such a small tomato plot, we're in the same situation as you are, Jodi, in not needing more than 1 or 2 of a variety. We've found interesting varieties at local sales and nurseries - hope your new source works out!

    Our tomato track record was great in IL but not so good in Texas - drought and early heat in many years, and being practically drowned last year. We may have almost opposite reasons for small harvests, but bet we both try again.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  17. Hi Jodi -

    Tomatoes grow well outdoors in Sydney and normally a few plants yields a large crop! I've tried to grow them in my backyard, but I back onto the bush and have no fence. This means each night (well, most nights) 4-10 swamp wallabies descend into my garden and eat anything that's not poisonous or spiny!

    I'm in the process of building a fence around the vegetable area.


  18. Hi Jodi,

    Thanks for Picking my posts for today :)

    As a Blotanical newbie it's much appreciated!

  19. "17 comments" here as well! I have Comment Envy - LOL! Tomatoes are my FAVORITE summer treat, but I've never grown them. This may be my year to try it just for grins, buy they'll have to go into a pot. xo and stay warm - Debi

  20. By the way, the Black Krims sound positively decadent and their color is luscious. I'm a smokey red kinda gal, from color on a wall to wine in my glass to taste in my mouth, so the Black Krims would fit right in. Gotta have 'em. Wonder if they'll grow in the deep south?

  21. I love fresh field tomatoes. I rarely buy any tomatoes over the winter as they really don't have that tomato taste.

  22. A timely topic - I just ordered more tomato seeds today, but I won't start them for another few weeks. I'm trying some strange-shaped ones this year. They call Piriform pear-shaped, but it looks to me like a Beefsteak that sagged at the bottom. And the black varieties are soooo good. There's something so very tomato-y about the taste.

  23. Great! Another indoor gardener! :-)

  24. You'd never know you had difficulty judging by your beautiful tomato photos! Wish we could send you a little of our overbearing August sunshine to help you out -- we suffer from just a tad too much about that time! Our tomatoes are going dormant then for a while because they can't set in all that heat.

  25. No tomatoes is one of the worst parts of winter. I refuse to buy the "tomatoes" in the store during the winter months. What's the point?

    Keep us posted on which heirlooms you're be trying. I have a bunch of new varieties on order this year. Fun!

    --Robin (Bumblebee)

  26. I think it great that even though you are so are north, you are still trying to grow tomatoes. I agree that they are worth the wait. I would be figuring out how to grow them too. The tomatoes in the store at this time of year aren't worth the price, except for the small cherries and grape tomatoes, but they don't go in a sandwich too well.

  27. We have a similar problem with tomatoes! This post was very interesting - thanks for all the info & thanks for visiting TopVeg

  28. my tomato crop is never brilliant, and I tend to grow the 'heritage' kind of varienties and love every precious tomato I produce. think last year I let Rosie have one. . .

  29. Did someone say something about tomatoes? YUM! Yes, I know all about the cravings for a real tomato. It truly is a crime what they try to pass off for a tomato at the supermarket.

    I never even considered that it was such a challenge to grow tomatoes to other climates. There's really only one thing you can do. Move. :)


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