Tomatoes: love and fear

100_3151I pay more attention to my 40 tomato plants than to any other crop. But there is a sinister, invisible force lurking out there, waiting for the right time to come and destroy them all.

First, the good news. About 35 of my tomato plants are doing very well, reaching for the sun, flowering, branching out and fruiting. About 25 of them are inside 5-foot-tall cylindrical cages I made out of concrete reinforcing wire. These provide support for the sprawling branches without the bother of tying them to a stake. I have always pruned the suckers off tomatoes, but I’ve let up on that a little this year after hearing that caged tomatoes don’t need to be pruned.

I love the names of  tomato varieties. This year I’m growing Mortgage Lifter, Big Beef, Prudden’s Purple, Bobcat, Honeydrop, Cosmonaut Volkov and some unknowns I was given. I love the Cosmonaut Volkovs because they grow straight in the cage, unlike the Big Beefs, which I’ve found tend to veer off, so I’ve had to put in supports to lure their main stems back to the center. The Honeydrops are a cherry variety and are branching out all over the place. The Bobcats are a reliable determinate variety that grow 3 feet tall and then stop, making them suitable for smaller cages.

I’m particularly happy about two tomatoes growing inside a larger cage that are making heroic comebacks after having their tops bitten off by critters early in the season. They are growing outside the main garden fence, so today I put some netting over them to deter the woodchucks and rabbits, which are more numerous this year. I’m also eager to see the results of my experiment in growing tomatoes over red plastic mulch.

Every tomato grower will soon be vigilant for signs of Late Blight. This fungal disease attacks in extended periods of warm, moist air, and can destroy an entire crop overnight (it’s related to the potato blight that caused famine and immigration in Ireland in the 1840s). I was worried about Late Blight when we had three days of rain last week, but figured it was too early. This weekend, before the next humid stretch, I plan to start weekly spraying with a copper-based fungicide that protects tomatoes, or at least delays the blight. I also placed the tomato plants three feet apart instead of two, to give them more air circulation.

We still have nine quarts of canned tomatoes left over from last summer! Here’s my favorite recipe for tomato soup, which I have for lunch every other day: Saute 1 chopped onion, 2 stalks of chopped celery and 1 grated carrot in 2 Tbsps of oil. Add 3 cups of peeled tomatoes, 1/2 tsp basil, 1/4 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp of pepper and 1 tsp of salt. Simmer 15 minutes before adding 1 quart of vegetable or chicken stock.

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One thought on “Tomatoes: love and fear

  1. What do you think of the theory that Black Nightshade is ancestral to tomatoes? Some varieties of Black Nishtshade are said to be edible, but I have never eaten any.

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