This is the time we've been waiting and working for all season. Our
tomatoes are finally ready! Back in March, we sowed seeds in flats
indoors. Now, after six months of tending, transplanting, pruning,
mulching and staking, our plants are producing an abundance of delicious
fruit. Fresh ripe tomatoes are one of summer's real treats. For the next
month or two, we'll pick, eat and sell what we can of August and
September's bounty and preserve the rest for our eating enjoyment
throughout the year.
Tomatoes, like sweet corn and locally-grown fruit, are in greatest demand
at the Farmers Market because those products are among the hardest to
transport. The flavor and texture of most "long-distance" tomatoes makes
them simply not worth eating. The average shipped-in tomato used in salads
or sandwiches shares little more than its name with a local garden product.
There are probably a few exceptions, but they most likely have been
transported from Israel, Holland or British Columbia which consumes lots of
fossil fuel and creates plenty of pollution. Because we choose to
participate less in this long-distance food system, our work in growing our
year's supply of tomatoes each season is even more valuable.
Each year, we grow six or eight varieties, just a few of the over 3,000
kinds of tomatoes which are listed in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog.
Open-pollinated, heirloom varieties produce plants very much like their
parents. Hybrid varieties have been developed with specific traits such as
disease resistance, early ripening, or the sturdiness to withstand
transcontinental shipping. We grow a few of each type and from the best
fruit on the non-hybrid varieties we save seeds for planting the following
There are other characteristics to consider, also. Tomato plants have
different growth habits. For example, determinate ones grow to a specific
size and then ripen their fruit. Indeterminates (which we prefer), just
keep on getting bigger, more like their perennial ancestors. Over the
centuries, northern growers have worked to develop early tomatoes which
require less heat to produce fruit. These northern varieties usually
produce smaller tomatoes. We prefer Early Cascade in this category.
For our main crop, we grow the old reliable hybrid, Jet Star. It produces
tasty and beautiful tomatoes which seem to be free of diseases and
blemishes. For best fresh eating and the most "tomatoey" flavor, we grow a
few heirloom varieties each year, as well. Prudens Purple and Brandywine
(which produce huge but delicate fruits) are widely regarded as the
best-tasting tomatoes. They've increased our admiration for the sturdiness
and productivity of the hybrid plants, too.
Paste tomatoes have more solid flesh and less water. The heirloom
Gilbertie is about our favorite for flavor, although it takes a long time
to ripen. Paste tomatoes are perfect for sauces and dehydrating. For
early and sweet cherry tomatoes orange-colored Sun Gold and red Sweet 100s
are hard to beat.
I've found that staking tomatoes and cutting off vigorous suckers produces
more harvestable fruit. We use poles that end up about six feet tall
(after they're stuck into the Earth) and carefully tie the main stem to
them as the plants grow. The suckers originate just where the leaf meets
the main stem and may also bear fruit, usually too late in the season to
For the time from late October until next July or August when the new crop
is ready, we depend on what we store in jars and the freezer. One of our
favorite methods for preserving tomatoes is dehydration. We cut 1/4 inch
slices and spread them on the rack of a five-tray dryer. This devise blows
slightly warmed air through the racks to remove the water from the fruit.
After eight-to-twelve hours, the slices are dry and ready to store in glass
jars. These sweet slices with their concentrated tomato flavor are great
as a snack or when cooked into many dishes. Suzanne is very good at
putting whole tomatoes, sauces and salsa in the freezer for winter eating.
Growing a few tomato plants is a great way to begin to garden. For this
season, however, if you haven't grown your own, enjoy the fresh local
tomatoes now available at your nearest Farmers Market.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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