Tomato Mania

Cherokee Purple x Carbon hybrid. So delicious!

By Alyssa S.

It’s the warmest, most flamboyant part of the growing season. There’s been a long, slow, damp buildup to real summer weather in the Puget Sound region this year. How are your tomatoes doing? Mine are on the slow side, and most everyone I’ve discussed it with locally is experiencing the same. I’m a mere dilettante gardener, and I encounter various problems with my tomatoes seemingly every year. So this year, I decided to try to do everything right, or at least try to plan for any number of pitfalls. I even set up a drip irrigation system! By my standards, that’s ambitious.

Trouble is, different sources provide variable and even opposing advice. Some recommend super high nutrient non-organic fertilizer, others say if you amend your soil properly you shouldn’t need to feed those plants at all. Every discolored or curled leaf has me searching in books and videos, cooperative extension sites, blog posts and discussion forums for answers. Did this or that happen because I gave them lime? Because I didn’t give them lime? Wrong kind of bone meal? Too much nitrogen? How often should I water them, and how? My tomatoes are in containers, so I have to be sure that what I’m consulting applies to container gardening. For personalized advice, I’ve consulted Snohomish County Master Gardeners Program, part of WSU’s cooperative extension, who can help via phone call, email, or teleconference.

If it’s so much trouble, why do we even bother? Because the results are truly rewarding. There’s nothing quite like a flavorful tomato you grew yourself, putting grocery stores’ pale, mealy offerings to shame. No wonder this nightshade, first cultivated in its native Central and South America, has been incorporated into culinary traditions around the world.

The varieties I’ve come to love best are good-sized, rich, complex umami bombs, which aren’t always the easiest types to grow here in the maritime Northwest. Many gardeners have found that Russian and Ukrainian heirlooms such as Black Krim and Moskvich are a great way to get that kind of decent size and rich flavor in a cool climate, along with varieties specifically developed for this region like Oregon Spring.

I’ve put together a list of tomato books that should help with mid-season tomato issues and questions, some narrative non-fiction to hold you over while waiting for the harvest to really kick in, and what to do in late August and September when you’re drowning in ripe tomatoes.

What are your favorite tomatoes? What’s your favorite growing advice? Do you preserve? Tell us in the comments.

More tomato reading

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2 responses to “Tomato Mania”

  1. Laura E. says:

    Epic Tomatoes, by Craig LeHoullier, is a fabulously involved, photo dense tale of all things tomato! Even though I’ve grown tomatoes my whole life I learned so many tips and tricks to up my growing game. Unfortunately, this beautiful book prompted me to seek out many varieties I’ve not yet attempted, and this year, as previously noted, has not been favorable for tomato growers! So, I’ll do what all gardeners do, try again next year!

  2. Gloria Hubacker says:

    There is nothing…NOTHING….like a fresh tomato…but in the dark days of winter when one might be tempted to buy an imported tomato. Stop. You will be disappointed.
    The best remedy is to slow roast with olive oil and herbs all those tomatoes ripening now, more than you can eat. After roasting, pop them in a container in the freezer, and OH MY GOD! Super hit of fresh tomatoes through those dark days! We started with 6 plants, last year we did 10 and still didn’t quite make it through, so this year we are at 12! Mostly cherries, but not all. Enjoy!

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