The secret to a great tomato is to grow it yourself. Whether you have one pot growing outside your backdoor or a large vegetable garden in the country, there is nothing as rewarding as the flavor of a freshly picked and sliced tomato, sprinkled with a little sea salt and perhaps drizzled with extra virgin olive oil that mingles with the tomato juices.
Ask anyone who has a summer vegetable garden what their favorite crop is and the answer will usually be tomatoes. For all the pleasures of growing the perfect tomato that you will talk about for years, tomatoes may be one of the most challenging crops to grow because of weather, disease, and critters. In the end, is it worth it…absolutely.
I like to grow mostly heirloom (heritage) tomatoes. While not as disease resistant as many of the new hybrid tomatoes that are available today, I grow them because I believe their incredible flavor can’t be beat. There is certainly no comparison between a homegrown heirloom tomato and the perfectly shaped, blemish free but totally tasteless red ones that you buy in your local grocery store.
I start my tomatoes from seeds, either in late March or early April, germinating them in my home. Once the plants have their first two sets of true leaves, they are then moved out to my heated potting shed. They are coddled while they are growing under lights for sixteen hours a day. When they are three inches tall, they are transplanted to four inch pots and then later into six inch pots. Once the weather has turned warm enough, I take them out of the potting shed for a few hours each day to harden off and get used to the weather they will face when they are planted outdoors.
At the end of May when the weather is warm enough for the tomatoes to be planted, we place the large tomato plants in our car which we nickname “the rolling green house” for the occasion and make the two hour drive from our New Hampshire home to our summer home in Maine where they will then be planted in our lakeside garden.
Unfortunately, the weather this year has not been ideal for planting the vegetable garden. There have been heavy rains, temperature swings from the 50’s to the 90’s and back again and 30 mph winds. We decided that it was best to delay the planting and used another “rolling green house” of sorts until the weather improved.
All the tomatoes were placed in the wagon of my John Deere garden tractor. During the day, the wagon was placed in a sheltered location out of the wind and where there was lots of sunshine. At night, the tomatoes were rolled into our garden shed. After several days, we decided to plant half of the tomatoes and some of the herbs in the garden after amending the beds with eight cubic feet of composted cow manure and peat moss.
We saved one tomato from each variety to bring back to the potting shed in New Hampshire until tropical storm Andrea had cleared the area.
The nearly three feet tall plants are being considered insurance…if the wind and heavy rain has damaged the tomatoes we have planted, we will still have nine tomato plants that can replace them next week when the weather improves. After all, I can’t image going without homegrown tomatoes. Just think of the pasta sauces, sandwiches, salads and other meals to be made all summer long with delicious tomatoes.
If you grow tomatoes, do you worry about and baby your plants like they were your children? I would love to know your secret to a great tomato.