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Tomato Harvest

08-Sep-2009
 
 
 
 
 
I am generally blessed with gigantic tomato plants that grow amazingly tall and produce like crazy.  Although I take very good care of my tomatoes and have a great spot to plant them, I know some of it is luck because of one very specific thing.  Tomatoes deplete the soil pretty extensively and, especially in our damp northwestern climate, they are subject to all kinds of maladies and diseases.  So they should never be planted in the same place two years in a row. 
 
Well, I have a small yard and don’t really have room for crop rotation.  In fact, other than herbs that are planted throughout the yard, strawberries that have managed to spread everywhere, and a few things grown in pots on my deck, tomatoes are the only crop I grow.  So there’s nothing to rotate them with.  This means that I’ve been planting them in the same exact place for over ten years.  And yet each year they grow so tall and produce so emphatically that I find myself searching for new ways to support the vines and hand out tomatoes like crazy to anyone who expresses even a passing interest in them. 
 
But this year the spell was broken.  Last fall I didn’t amend the soil as well as I normally do.  And I planted very late this summer.  There were a few other things that slipped this year, too.  Although I don’t have the bumper crop that I’m used to I still have lots of tomatoes.  I’ve been eating them like crazy and even with that they are gaining on me.   I planned to can a few jars this past weekend but had a little stove incident late last week and so have to hold off until I can get the stove serviced.  Keeping my fingers crossed that it’s back to normal tomorrow… And I’ll continue to have tomatoes ripening well into October.  Some years it’s been into November!
 
In the meantime, I love looking at all the beautiful colors and shapes and sizes.  I plant several different varieties since each has their own special use. Some are better for slicing, some for sauce. Plus, I love to create colorful recipes that use several varieties.  It’s nice to have some that ripen earlier in the season, and yet I love the heirlooms that take a little longer to achieve their full flavor and color.  In my garden this year I had two red varieties, Early Girl and San Marzano; a prolific yellow Roma style called Golden Rave; the giant Yellow Brandywine, which is actually orange colored; the striped Green Zebra; and a purplish-red variety that was marked as Vintage Wine but appears to be something entirely different.  Each has their own flavor and texture but all have that wonderful fresh from the garden tomato taste. 
 
If you have not planted vegetables in your yard before I encourage you to make a plan now for next year.  You don’t need much room to grow.  The area I use for the tomatoes is about 2’x12′.   Select an area that gets a lot of sun.  For many people the planting strip between the sidewalk and the street works well.  If you want to grow tomatoes they will benefit from a location protected from wind and that holds the heat.  For instance, I plant mine next to the south-facing side of my house.  The area stays warmer overnight as the heat accumulated in the wall of the house releases once the sun has left the area. 
 
Once you’ve chosen your location you can take steps this fall to give your plants a head-start in the spring.  Weed the area so that nothing is pulling nutrients from the soil over the winter.  Amend the soil with 2" to 3" of good compost so that it has a chance to become part of the growing medium.  Cover the area with something to protect the soil from our winter rains.  I generally use leaves that I’ve picked up with my lawn mower, so that they are cut up into smaller pieces thereby breaking down easier than whole leaves.  But whole leaves will be fine, as is straw.  In the spring you’ll remove this cover and add it to your yard waste or compost pile. 
 
In the spring you’ll be rewarded with nice, rich soil ready to support whatever seeds or plants you select.  A little work now pays off later.  So start your planning so that you are ready to go in the spring!
 
 
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