Summer 2011, what worked, part II: Tomatoes – food for my soul

I didn’t talk about tomatoes last time because I realized that when I looked in the bag of seed packets I had saved, there were no tomato cards. I checked my garden shack to see if maybe that’s where I tossed them when I put the tomato cages away in the fall. No dice. I found just one – a card for cherry tomatoes (Chef Jeff’s Sweet 100, 62 days to maturity).

I should let it be known that I don’t plant tomatoes from seed, mainly because the one time I did they only got about 12 inches tall, and were really spindly. Yield was terrible. Another reason I like to buy tomato plants — I want red tomatoes as soon as possible. Like yesterday. It’s all I can do to wait until July/August for ripe ones. Tomatoes have always been my favorite vegetable, err, fruit. I put tomatoes in the vegetable category, although that’s a discussion for another day.

Anyway, back to last summer’s tomatoes. Although I can’t exactly remember what brands of plants I bought, I know there were at least a few other Chef Jeff tomatoes.

Big, wonderful tomatoes.

Big, wonderful, beautiful -- did I say big? -- tomatoes

In addition to the one cherry, I also had one grape tomato. Both grew like crazy (note the photo at right), spilling over their cages, and I had to stake them so they wouldn’t fall over. Both were laden with fruit (hmm, did I just call them a fruit?) and both produced hundreds of tomatoes. The cherries were a bit more acidic and were perfect for salads. The grapes were sweet and best when you just popped them in your mouth. A plastic bag of grapes accompanied me many a day to work during the summer. None ever made the return trip home!

I had four plants that yielded bigger tomatoes, and I remember there was at least one Early Girl and one Better Boy. Another one, a short one that couldn’t have been more than 18-24 inches high, produced very few tomatoes. The other three held their own and gave me a variety of sizes. The bigger ones made for plenty of tasty BLTs, in addition to slicing tomatoes. I consider my garden my summertime diet because of all the fruit and veggies I eat.

Tomato harvest

Yummy, yummy for my tummy!

A plate of sliced tomatoes has always been a huge part of that – they’re my evening snack and even my afternoon snack when I’m home during the day.

The promise of a fresh, juicy, red tomato from the garden has, I’ll admit, has probably clouded my judgment when buying plants each spring. My mouth waters just thinking about being able to pick one off a vine and savor the smell before slicing and eating it. I probably buy plants too big when I should vary their age so I can have mature tomatoes longer into the growing season.

The question is, will I be able to resist the temptation of buying those bigger plants when I hit the garden centers this spring. The rational side of me says “yes.” The restless part of me says “Buy ‘em bigger. Buy ‘em bigger.” Guess I’ll have to wait until May to see which one triumphs. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your tomato-growing secrets. What works for you? And how can I (or should I?) resist the temptation to buy plants in the spring that are further along but done bearing fruit by the end of August?

Next up: Crazy crops of lettuce and onions.

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