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Sunday, March 2, 2014

It's Tomato Time.. Tomato Time...

From Google Images
Yeah I know it's all of 2 degrees outside as I write this and the woodstove is doing it's best to heat the old farmhouse, but believe it or not, it's time to plant the tomatoes!

Tomatoes are one thing I grow really well in my clay soil. This is good as tomatoes are my number one thing I can every year. In general, I can at minimum 50-75 quarts of tomatoes, several pints of pizza sauce, several quarts of spaghetti sauce and last year I did a few quarts of enchilada sauce. So we utilize our tomato harvest!

Why grow tomatoes? For many reasons. 
  1. You have a limited choice in the supermarket in tomatoes because supermarkets carry onlythe breed of produce that ships well.Why is this an issue? Well, tomatoes, like wine, have different flavors due to different sugar content and their makeup. Some tomatoes are sweet, some tart, some acidic, some mellow. If you buy just what is in your market, your doing your taste buds a disservice based on what is simply convenient for the supermarket.
  2.  Different tomatoes have different uses.                             
    While you can, and I have, used salad tomatoes for sauce,
    in general paste tomatoes are best. Their cell walls                     
    are thicker with fewer seeds and their purpose is for
    thick sauces. Beefsteak tomatoes are generally used for
    salads, BLTs, juice anywhere that you want to use it raw. 
    Pizza Sauce with homemade dough
    for pizza night!

    Currant or grape tomatoes are for salads, popping
    hole into pastas (with basil and Parmesan) or
    eating but the handfuls.
  3. Tomatoes are no harder to grow than lettuce.For years I shied away from growning tomatoes too thinking that they were too difficult to grew. Know what? They aren't. Tomatoes just take a long time to grow (about 8 weeks) so you have to plan about two months prior to wanting to transplant to put them in the ground. My experience is that they have to be transplanted, they don't generally do well just plunking a seed in the ground although anytime I spread my compose on any of the gardens, I generally have "volunteers" that show up in the flower garden, etc. (I simply call them "flower garden" tomatoes and consider myself blessed that my flowers have a new friend that I can harvest from later.) In the north this is especially true due to our short growing season. By the time the plants had set fruit, we'd be worrying about frost.
  4. Plant/fruit diversity.In your typical garden center     
    you are going to find only these varieties:
    a. Early Girl
    b. Big Boy
    c. Better Boy
    d. Best Boy
    e. Cherry Tomato
    f. Maybe Mortgage Lifter
    g. Maybe a "cherry" yellow pear tomato in the more exotic stores.

    So many seeds, so many different types of tomatoes!

    That's it. I've gone to big box stores, the garden centers, and department stores. This is pretty much the selection I see every year. Again, why? Because this is the generic plant versions that they know that they can sell. There is such a bigger world out there full of tomatoes you didn't even know existed. I purchase my tomatoes from a great company out of Florida every year called "Tomato Grower's Supply" They have literally hundreds of different types of tomatoes. Did you even know that there were hundreds of different types. Here are some of the general different types of tomatoes. I'll admit here that I have issues with tomatoes as I always buy much more than I should but in my defense, there are such interesting varieties, how can one choose?

    a. Early season, mid season, late season
    b. Currant vs cherry vs. pear
    c. Oxhart vs. oxhart paste vs salad tomato
    d. Red vs. pink vs. black vs. orange vs. green vs. yellow vs. stripey
    e. Determinate vs. Indeterminate
    f. Potato Leaf
    g. Tomatillos (which no one seems to grow in my area)
  5. You can follow your food from seed to plate knowing exactly how it was raised and what was put on it.

    While I don't consider myself an alarmist, our food is generally pretty safe in this country, much safer that it has been historically, that doesn't mean that there isn't cause for concern. Major corporations have embraced the Genetically Modified Foods and spliced all sorts of things into seeds in an effort to boost production and eliminate problems with plant diseases and pests. While in some respects this is good, in many respects we have no idea what is being added to our food. Think this isn't an issue? Have you ever heard of DDT? Ever seen the movie "Soylent Green"?  When toxins get introduced into a ecosystem, each layer gets effected until the top end user, in this case us, gets the highest concentration. I've often wondered if this is the reason we see such a high explosion of kids that have peanut allergies. When I was a kid in the 1970's, no one I knew had any issues with peanuts, it wasn't heard of. Now every other kid seems to have an issue. And, anytime you let a corporation be in charge of making genetic changes in a food product, you run the risk of profit overcoming any basic common sense. In general, they aren't in social welfare mindset as much as the profit based mindset and that is mindset is dangerous to the public health. Choosing your seeds from a reputable company, growing them yourself and bringing them to your table assures you the freshest, most vitamin packed vegetables you can come across with the piece of mind of how they were raised.
So today I started my seeds. I plant a lot of seeds. I put them in these grow containers with the greenhouse tops and water in the tray beneath the seeds so they can slowly wick up. I use seed starter medium to give them the best chance to germinate.  Start them now as tomatoes take at least 8 weeks to be ready to transplant. I typically transplant them into a bigger container when the plant has at least three leaves so they can spread out and grow in a potting soil medium. I want to give the plants a good chance to develop a solid root system before setting them out into the garden in May. I always end up with way more than I need but as we probably use
tomatoes more than any other vegetable it is never an
issue with them taking over the majority of my garden.

So, ladies and gentlemen, get out there and get your seeds today for the best selection and try growing your tomatoes from seed. You'll be glad you did when you bite into that first tomato of the season and realize that there is a whole world of different tomato tastes you've been missing. Growing your food from seed allows you to become an everyday gourmet. Grow something today!

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