Red, Rich, Robust Tomatoes

By Bonnie Grant | July 9, 2021

Tomatoes are one of those crops whose varied uses make them a must have in the garden. The little ones are like candy, the plum varieties make an unmatched pizza sauce, while slicing tomatoes are the essential ingredient for a BLT. Summer simply wouldn’t be summer without vine ripe tomatoes, but there can be too much of a good thing. Canning and drying helps but at the end of the season, we always have more than we can use. 

How Many is Too Many

We have a little issue. One of us, who shall not be named, thinks we need up to six tomato varieties. There are only two of us. You do the math. In my opinion, two adults need one roma or plum and one slicing variety. That gets us through the summer and we still have plenty for sauce and canning. I’m still trying to use up dried tomatoes from two seasons ago and, quite frankly, get a little sick of trying to add them to every recipe. 

We started from seed and I composted the vines on site, which means we already have about fifteen volunteers at this writing. Yet, in another part of the garden, there are two purchased tomato varieties, and four more that I started in February indoors. It is really a bit of an obsession that creates so much processing time, other crops are rather neglected. That means foot long zucchini instead of sweet little baby ones. The basil goes to flower and the cucumbers become huge and bitter. 

Perfect Growing Conditions

The problem really, is that growing tomatoes here is too easy. Last season, we started very late in the end of July and by the time we had a surprise freeze in September, we were drowning in nightshade. 

You need full sun and warm temperatures for growing tomatoes and we have that in spades here. We have also been using red mulch to enhance ripening. Using red mulch warms up the soil, reduces weeds, and conserves moisture. The combination produces a bumper crop. You can plant your tomatoes earlier and expect up to 20% more fruit. While this is a pleasure to note and a delight to watch, the resulting crop load becomes a bit of a drain. 

Harvesting, Preserving and Sharing

While harvesting the vines as the fruit ripens is a constant process, so is using them up. During summer, when it is hottest, you will find us idiots in a hot kitchen making sauce. We add everything to our sauce from fresh herbs to excess zucchini. It really is delicious but then we have to can it after standing over a sizzling stove to make it. The key is to roast the tomatoes or put them on the grill before you make the sauce. This adds a smokiness and brings out the sweetness in even under ripe fruit. 

In addition to canning, we dry tomatoes. They are great as a snack or reconstituted and added to sauces, salads, etc. Dried tomatoes are one of our mainstay holiday gifts. Everyone gets a bag full at Christmas, a gift that I am sure is always appreciated. When soaked in water and pureed, the fruit takes on an even more interesting flavor as a salad dressing or sauce. Plus, dried tomatoes last seemingly forever. 

The rest of the harvest that we just don’t have time to get to is also put to good use. There is a food bank in town and a free senior lunch program. We give the excess to both to help our neighbors and friends that don’t have gardens. I still think we have too many tomato plants, but as long as they don’t go to waste, it is a pleasure to grow and share these delicious fruits.

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