Tomatoes are in. I mean in the ground, tucked in for their season. A relief when they’re snugged into little raised beds, blanketed by compost and red plastic, fertilized, safe and sound right where they belong, in our backyard. Already statuesque artichokes are standing guard nearby. We provide plenty of TLC these first few weeks, after that not so much.
Welcome back Sungolds, Sweet 100, Prudens Purple, Cherokee Purple, Early Girl, Fourth of July, Green Zebra, Striped German, Vintage Wine, Jauna Flamme, Japanese Truffle, Golden Pear, Yellow and Red Brandywine, and Amish Paste. When I was a kid tomatoes simply appeared some time in early July and the effort I expended was twisting the ripe ones off and indulging in the juicy snack that would leave me forever smitten. Reality is that there’s some effort involved at the beginning, but so worth it if . . . you appreciate a serious tomahto.
Years ago now, Bob researched tomato growing, gleaned from his own and our tomato experiences, and devised the version that has become our tomato-growing gospel.
We pull out winter’s brassicas and shovel fava greens into the bed along with *Steve Solomon’s not-so-secret fertilizer formula.
For years we grew our own starts. Now we get them from Billy, Stoney Plains and Langley Farms at the Farmers Market. They flourish in the comfort of homemade compost, red plastic groundcover, and a stylish PVC framed cloche which provides warmth and protection for a few weeks. And then we hope for sun and warmth.
By late June they’re robust, as in busting through the top of the cloche, and we set them free. They’ll need a few doses of fish fertilizer (mixed with water and sprinkled directly on to plants) and regular watering through July – after that we cut back on the water. We wait and watch, doting parents nipping and comforting periodically, pruning some indeterminants. Eventually we’ll pluck the season’s first, maybe a day or two sooner than we should, close our eyes and experience SUMMER via a sun-warmed and vine-ripened tomato.
PNW backyard tomatoes begin their run sometime in July, gain momentum into mid-September and bear fruit through October, not so sweet as mid-August, but still, tomatoes. Once they get going, if you have enough plants you can eat them off the vine every which way and still have plenty to freeze, dry or can. (Eight tomato plants per person was the guide for previous generations who preserved everything possible.) They’re as good, maybe better, mid-winter. Preservation intensifies their flavor and expedites a small carbon foodprint mid-winter. If there’s space, it’s worth planting a few extra and preserving some. In the meantime indulge them just a little, hope for warm sun, and wait for that first succulent bite of summer.
Last October’s final tomato:
From Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, Steve Solomon’s Complete Guide to Natural Gardening, *Steve Solomon’s not-so-secret fertilizer formula. (This is the guy who started Territorial Seed Co.)
Complete organic fertilizer – all measures by volume, not by weight.
4 parts seed or fish meal
1 part dolomite lime
1 part rock phosphate or 1/2 part bone meal
1 part kelp meal
He suggests adjustments for certain conditions, but this is the basic recipe.