Wednesday, May 6, 2009

And now. . . Tomatoes!

It's not too late to set down some tomatoes in your patch of yard for a bit of summer yumminess! For the uninitiated, I'll go over some basics on selecting, planting and taking care of the little guys that will guarantee some serious abundance. Follow these steps and you will be up to your ears in tomatoey goodness.

For those of us in the summer fog belt, we've been dissuaded before: "Here dearie, put that tomato plant down. How about a nice selection of lettuce mixes?" Even here in the Bay Area, however it is possible to get a bumper crop if you just follow a few guidelines.

  • Select a tomato variety that matches your climate. I recommend Sun Golds, which are lovely orange cherry tomatoes, highly snackable, and Early Girls, which are medium to large and have a great flavor for stuff like bruschetta or salsa and are out of this world when fried green. When you're purchasing your start, you want a tomato that isn't growing out of its little pot all cocky; you'll want something more humble with a few fully developed leaves and many more ready to spring out in the near future. Shy away from yellowed or spotted leaves and don't even go near white, powdery plants. Powdery mildew is krypton to Bay Area tomatoes and can spread to other plants in your garden.
  • Tomatoes' style does not like to be cramped. Be sure to select an area that will allow for a long tap root (think 3 to 4 feet deep). That means you'll need to dig a bit, but the results will be worth it! I don't recommend growing tomatoes in pots (sorry, apartment dwellers), but if you must I would select the largest pot you can muster. Also, you want to select the sunniest, hottest part of the yard to plant it. (Don't forget the sunscreen.)
  • Now for soil. Do not scrimp on soil! Soil is key to giving the plant everything it will need to do its thing. I tend to buy whatever the stoner kids buy. Tomatoes have very similar nutritional needs to. . . other plants and I find that they respond very well to Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I buy mine at the Super Long's on Broadway and 51st. If you can't justify spending $12 on a bag of dirt (and I don't blame you), consider making your own compost in a bin you can buy from, but at the very least buy something that says "planting mix" and never buy anything that says "potting soil". Even if you're putting it in a pot. Potting soils usually have a bunch of fluff and not enough substance, so after a while your plant will not have the vitamins it needs and the potting soil will dry out faster than a mix with more nutrients and substance.
  • So you have a hole in the ground, your plant, and the dirt- what next? Mix the bagged soil with a little bit of the dirt that came out of the hole. Break up any clumps and fill the hole about 1/3rd of the way. As you work your way up, start mixing in more of the good soil and less of the other stuff. By the time you've filled the top, you should be using straight compost, but try to put as much near where the roots will be when you plant it. One plant will typically use 3/4 of a cubic foot of soil. Use the extra soil from digging out the hole to form a berm around the center about 18" or so in diameter. This will be your air traffic controller to the water coming out of the hose. Can you just see it in an orange vest swishing it's flags? "The tomato! Stay near the tomato!"
  • Take the tomato out of it's mini-pot and give it a nice and gentle root massage. The soil should fall away and any roots that were coiled at the bottom of the pot should be loosened up. The goal is ditch the square shape of the pot. This will encourage the roots to explore and the plant to grow.
  • Now, have a little faith for this next step. Plant the tomato so that only the top-most leaves are sticking out of the ground. Trust me! Any other plant will curse you for this, but tomatoes will develop a stronger root system from the sides of the stem if it's underground. It will look puny for a week or two, but will catch up in no time.
  • Water the little sucker and put in a tomato cage. When picking out a tomato cage, think optimistically and buy the biggest one. I never take my own advice and the giants end up forcing the tiny cages out of the ground, so learn from my mistakes!
  • Water deeply once a week. Remember, it's developing long roots, so the water needs to reach them. I'd say stand there with the hose long enough to send and receive a text message or two. If it wilts a bit in the sun, wait for the sun to go down. If it doesn't perk back up, give 'em a little drink.
Here's a great recipe from "Joy of Cooking" that will help you dispose of your harvest:

Golden Tomato and Ginger Jam (Page 936 in the 75th Anniversary edition)

Wash and slice in half, catching the juice:

2 pounds orange cherry tomatoes

Combine in a bowl with :

2 cups sugar

Cover and steep for 4 hours

Wash ginger and lemons. Peel and slice in thin strips:

4 ounces fresh ginger

Strain the tomato syrup into a large saucepan, reserving the tomatoes. Add the ginger and:

Finely grated zest and juice of 8 ounces lemons

Slowly bring the syrup to a boil, then boil rapidly until it falls from a spoon in heavy drops. Blend in the tomatoes. Boil rapidly, stirring frequently, to jelling point. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam. Ladle into hot 1/2 pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process for 10 minutes.

See also tomates confites courtesy of

1 comment:

  1. oh no! i've come to the end! i've had a ball the last few nights. thank you. i'll check back in periodically. ls