The tomato that wouldn’t die

IMG_20160105_091810306_HDRWe’re down to our last tomato from last year’s garden — and what a tomato! We picked it green about three months ago, and there it sits, intact, unblemished, finally red and ready to eat.

It came from a paste tomato plant I bought last spring at Andrew’s Greenhouse in South Amherst. I don’t remember the variety, but it should have a name like Superkeeper. It’s unusual for a tomato to still be fresh and edible a month after it’s picked. Three months is unheard of.

It was a great tomato year in 2015, with little of the Late Blight that bedeviled growers in previous years. We have 36 quarts of canned tomatoes in the basement, and about 10 quarts of tomato soup in the freezer.

This is the coldest day of the winter so far, so it’s a good time to think about next year’s vegetable garden. This will be the first year that I  have sole responsibility for deciding what is planted and where, as Betsy shifts her focus to the perennial gardens.

We have about 20 vegetable beds, averaging 25 square feet. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing what’s gone where in previous years, figuring out which beds can do double duty (such as spinach harvested in June to make way for peppers), and what plants can deter insects best (such as flowering radishes protecting zucchini plants).

The main change is that I’ll buy more young plants from Andrew’s Greenhouse and start fewer from seed. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli and zucchini will all get Andrew’s professional care in their youth. This will cost more than starting seeds, but will reduce our worries about whether seedlings are getting the right amount of light or water. And I like supporting local businesses.

We’ll still order seeds that go directly in the ground, such as peas, beans, carrots, spinach, beets, celery, rutabaga, cucumbers, butternut squash and lettuce. We have put peas, beans and cucumbers along three-quarters of the garden fence to give them a place to climb, and this year we’ll increase our dry bean crop by using the entire perimeter.

For the first time, we’ll grow sweet potatoes that are offspring from last year’s. Betsy made cuttings from vines in the garden, rooted them, and they’re growing like house plants. And I’m going to try neighbor Jane Mildred’s technique of growing zucchini plants one to a hill and covering them in June to protect against vine-borer moths.

Gardeners usually rotate their crops to minimize pests and disease, but I’ve read that tomatoes are an exception. I got good results last year from placing tomato plants around a half-submerged bucket half-filled with compost, with holes drilled into the bottom, and red plastic mulch covering the bed. So I will do the same thing in the same bed and see if it works well again.

Many questions remain, but for now the one I’m thinking about is: What should we do with that last tomato standing from the 2015 garden?

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