summer's bounty. all two pounds of it.
It’s time to change out the garden. I hung onto my tomatoes far longer than was reasonable, hoping that I would get some yield out of the crops. I was so careful with them this year- you wouldn’t have recognized them as belonging to the same person who grew my tomatoes last year. Last year I was a devout subscriber of the “ laissez-faire“ style of gardening. This style involves putting a bunch of things together in a way that seems intuitively to make sense and then not trimming or watering and letting nature have its way. I ended up with a primeval forest of tomatoes, corn, beans and squash that even I was a little intimidated by. I got some vegetables, and the ones I got were good, but I also had too much of a mess to really negotiate I attracted all kinds of pestilence and even lost my dog in there a few times, (this is a 24 square foot garden and a 75 pound dog.)
So this year I subscribed to the Linda Worthman style of gardening. Linda is my neighbor, great friend and gardening and rabbit-raising guru. Her tomato plants grow beautifully neatly, evenly, and efficiently. She builds a frame in her raised bed and ties pieces of rope between the frame and anchors in the beds. As the plants grow she wraps them (widdershins) around the rope and they twine happily up. She showed me how to pinch off the suckers (branches that won’t grow fruit and just suck the plant’s energy) and keep the plants to one large stalk with some fruit-bearing branches.
I edited my tomatoes this year. I limited the water on the recommendation of my husband, who says it works for grapes, planted fewer plants, interplanted them with basil and marigolds. I got NO pests at all which is astounding to me, considering how profoundly vexed I was by aphids and rats last year. (Rats apparently like tomatoes. So do hound dogs, for that matter speaking of pests.) I dutifully pulled suckers and wound stems and trimmed back wildness. I added compost, rabbit poop, and coffee grounds to the beds.
And it never got hot. This summer was another very cool summer in an area where we have typically cool summers anyway. Growing tomatoes here is kind of shooting the moon. Tomatoes love hot nights and stretches of heat that last for weeks. Here, anytime it heats up at all the inland temperatures suck in fog of the cold Pacific ocean and we get socked in. Tomatoes do Not. Like. Fog. I will get strawberry crops that come and go from March until November, and can grow greens and other temperate crops year-round. My olive and lemon trees couldn’t be happier. But it’s not really tomato climate.
So here it is, nearly Halloween, and I got my one and only humble tomato harvest last week. After one final puny heat wave (a single 90-degree day here is a heat wave, and it was 50 when I got up at 4:30 that morning) I did finally get a few colored tomatoes. The Juliets and the Sungolds fared best, and were, in the end, delicious. Worth an entire summer of tending and fretting? We will find out come Jaybird’s birthday in April next year, which I have designated as tomato planting season opener. In the meantime, I have a few dozen jars of picalilli (green tomato relish) and pickled green tomatoes to get through. Right now, I have done what Linda calls ‘The Dr. Seuss Thing’ to my plants in a final effort to get a little more fruit- I pulled off everything but the tomatoes that look like they could turn, given just a little more sun, so the stalks look like some tall twisted naked thing out of The Lorax. Time to pull out my shooting-the-harvest-moon empty stalks and replace them with the trusty Bloomsdale spinach, nettles, Sicilian fennel, breakfast radishes, and spigarello that we will eat all winter long. Now that the fingernail biting summer season is over, just when the rest of the world is tucking in their beds for the year, it’s my turn to plant the things I can count on to grow. I can’t wait for the favas…