Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tomato lessons

This year was not a good tomato year for me, and I don't expect much from the rest of the season. I hope when I look back, I can say that I learned a lot from this year. I grew enough other vegetables that we didn't really feel the lack of tomatoes, but I have to say that I did miss the overabundance, the beauty of the glowing yellow varieties, the colorful stripes, the deep, dark scarlet color that indicated perfect ripeness.

Out of all the varieties I planted this year, the watermelon beefsteak was a stellar performer, producing 10-15 huge, beautiful heirlooms within a couple weeks. The costoluto genovese also produced beautiful lobed red tomatoes, more gradually over the course of the summer. We got a few tomatoes here and there from our purple/black varieties, and no yellow ones whatsoever. It was a disappointment.

My system for growing the 24 roma tomato plants consisted of staking each plant with its own stake, pinching off side shoots and letting two main shoots grow up the stake. That would have worked well for the tall, vine-like heirloom tomatoes, which I couldn't keep contained in their cages, but it didn't work so well for the short, bushy romas.

This year I had 30 tomato plants - 24 romas for sauce, and 6 heirlooms for salads. Next year, I'll grow 12-18 romas for sauce, and 12-18 heirlooms for sauce and slicing, still for a total of 30. Having heirlooms fill both requirements will also give me flexibility - if I don't need more sauce, I will have delicious, juicy heirlooms for other things. If I do need more sauce, I'll have some hefty toamtoes to bulk up my supplies - the romas are heavy producers, but the fruits are pretty small.

The romas I'll grow like last year - one stake every three plants, held up by twine strung horizontally from stake to stake, trying to limit the number of side shoots, but not being religious about it. Heirlooms I'll stake individually, limiting the main vines to two per plant.

I'll also be growing them in a different spot in the garden, which may work well, as it's a bit wider. I think the tomatoes can use the extra space.

One of the nicest things about the end of a season is thinking ahead to next year. While I'm picking the last of the tomatoes, waiting for the weather to (finally) cool off and the leaves to change, I'll be dreaming of next year's crop - always thinking about how much better it will be. A gardener is forever an optimist.

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