Thursday, October 17, 2013

My Tomato Garden

I've never had much of a green thumb, but boy do I love home grown tomatoes.  So this year I decided to put forth a little effort, and see if I couldn't successfully grown some tasty tomatoes.  I did some research, and learned that tomatoes need lots of things to thrive, including calcium and magnesium.  Egg shells have lots of calcium in them, so I saved my easter egg shells, and crushed them up. Epsom salt is actually magnesium (and not sodium), so I sprinkled crushed egg shells and magnesium in the holes where I gently planted six little tomato plants.  I had also worked some good natural fertilizer into the soil.  Meaning, alpaca poop.  Soil needs to be replenished of all sorts of good stuff, and I didn't want to plant a garden in depleted soil.  I waited until mid June, until the threat of late frost had passed.

I arranged a drip irrigation hose, and then covered the earth with a couple of black plastic trash bags.  Black absorbs heat, and tomatoes love heat, plus I didn't have to worry about weeding!  How convenient!  And with the irrigation hose in place, I just hooked the hose up every two or three days, and turned it on for a bit.  Easy, thorough watering.

Just six weeks after I planted tiny little plants only a few inches tall, I had these big, beautiful plants.  Lots of blossoms, and lots of promise of tasty tomatoes.  Although by then it was July, and well, we just don't live in the South where they get ripe tomatoes by the 4th of July.

But by late July, I was finally seeing some color.
The pants had grown so tall that they were no longer being supported by the tomato cages, and the branches started bending to the ground.  Had they been upright, they would have been six feet tall.  I almost couldn't believe how well they were growing.  If fact, the San Marzanos got so tall and so heavy, that they actually pulled the tomato cage over, and the whole plant was lying on its side.  Thankfully I was able to wrangle the thing back into an upright position, and the plant was just fine.

August was wonderful. All of my work finally paid off.  I had so many wonderful, yummy tomatoes.  Yellow pear, red pear, San Marzano, Tall Vine Rose, and the not-so-early Early Girls (and a few strawberries).

But then with September comes the threat of frost here in Idaho.  And I still had sooo many green tomatoes waiting to ripen!  I considered picking them and bringing them inside and laying them in my pantry or basement.  But I read that vine ripened tomatoes have the best flavor.  And the small green ones will continue to grow, even with cooler temperatures.

So we picked up some PCV, and made a little greenhouse.  Bryan really did most of the work.
All ready for the first frost.  The top lifted off, so the tomatoes got good air circulation and plenty of sun.  But at night, I would cover them up.  And I started watching the weather forecast like a hawk.  As soon as the first frost was predicted, I started my warm milk jug routine.  I filled up five milk jugs with hot tap water, put on my head lamp, and trecked them out to my tomato bed.  I tucked them inside the greenhouse, and then they slowly warmed the ground and air, keeping it a good 10 or 20 degrees warmer than the air outside.

The tomatoes were happy, and kept right on growing.
I read that to picking off lower branches, and snipping off blossoms and new growth would encourage the tomatoes I had to ripen, and it must have done the trick.

I had wonderful, amazing tomatoes in late September.  It was glorious.  I ate them with everything.  And sometimes with nothing more than a little sea salt.  I oven-dried some, packing them in olive oil, and later putting them on sandwiches or pizza.  I made delectable sauces, and consumed them over buttered angel hair pasta.  They were heavenly.

Then finally, when the weather was predicted to drop regularly into the 20s, I figured it was time to bring the plants inside before they met their demise.  Again I considered just picking the green fruit and bringing it inside, but if best flavor come from the vine, then on the vine they shall stay.  So Bryan helped me dig them up, and we carefully carried them into the basement, and rigged this tomato holding contraption: a 6-foot ladder, two mops and an old shovel handle. It still wasn't tall enough to keep the plants off the ground.

Update: Then I found out I was pregnant, and the morning sickness kicked in.  I couldn't stand the thought of most foods, so the tomatoes were left to ripen.  Bryan would pick some occasionally, and use them on sandwiches.  I had my mom pick the last of the ripe tomatoes the day before Thanksgiving.  They were a little shriveled, and not the best for eating fresh, but they worked great in chili. I was so pleased that all of my hard work provided fresh tomatoes at the end of November.  I never would have guessed.

So there you have the saga of my tomatoes.  Maybe my thumb is a little green after all.

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