TomatoMania: The Miss America (and Other) Syndromes

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a perfect heirloom tomatoWell, big news at SippitySup. First things first. It’s Monday and we have Scott here for more tips and encouragement for all of us TomatoManiacs.

Just in time because my harvest is starting to come in. I have quite a few small orange cherries from my Jenny plant. I even have one beautiful green-shouldered black tomato called, Nyagous. I picked it the morning I left for Sonoma and decided to let it sit and sweeten on the window sill a bit more while I was away for the long weekend.

You can imagine how excited I was to get back here and slice into that beauty and have my first real taste of a big juicy summer tomato.

But life, she is a bitter muse. Because she dealt me an irony that is almost epic in its comic proportions.

I broke my jaw in Sonoma and have had my jaw wired shut. It may be closed tighter than a tin can for the next 6 weeks! Can you stand it? A food blogger that can’t eat! I would be laughing right now if it did not hurt so much…

I have spent countless weeks attempting to grow perfect tomatoes and now I can only look at them. This photo from the first of my harvest is going to have to satiate my tomato appetite.

And before anyone asks about the mysterious circumstances of my accident. Let’s just say it involved 7 kids and one foolish adult in a game of tag. Because what happens in Sonoma stays in Sonoma! GREG


Ripening tomatoesThe Miss America Syndrome

Are you picking? 
Here’s hoping you’re starting to reap the benefits of all your hard work.  And if you’re not, tasty tomatoes are surely just around the corner. 
Where you garden (and live) has everything to do with the start of your fresh tomato season.  In my home state of Louisiana, and through much of the south, fresh crops are in and tastings were held last month, before the biggest heat and most humid weeks of the summer set in. After all, most gardeners there put plants in the ground before the 15th of March. 
In the northern parts of the country the shorter window of your season just began in late May so your plants should be in prime shape and ready to flower. We’re two weeks into our crop in Ojai, CA and I know Los Angeles TOMATOMANIACS who have been picking since mid-June.  The best news?  It looks to be a good season.
Whether you live in the north or south, east or west, you’ll all go through that watershed moment when your perfectly green, perky and magnificent plants start to flower and begin the job of setting fruit.  At which point your plants can begin to look haggard and tired, altogether uninterested in your plans for a long and fruitful tomato season.  If you’ve given them consistent and measured care you’ve done your job.  Relax.  That’s all you can do.  Don’t stop, however, just be careful you don’t overdo it. 

We all want each one of our plants to look perfect, be perfect and fruit perfectly until frost.  Or until our fresh tomato lust is satisfied — for a moment or two.  I call that the Miss America Syndrome. 
This not a garden reality friends.  While fruit trees tend to hold up pretty well under a heavy cover of fruit as we pick and enjoy their bounty, garden vegetables aren’t designed that way.  One season is all we can ask of them and they do tend to show some wear as the season goes along.  And no, you can’t fix that with loads of fertilizer and tons of water.  In fact, that’s the worst thing you can do right now.
That said, different tomato plants do behave differently.  “Why don’t all my plants look like THAT one?” you ask yourself as you review your crop.  Well, the answer to that is…all tomatoes are different.  Some varieties will handle summer and the task of fruiting with ease; others really look as it they’re working at it.  Reality.  And these plants sit out in the hot sun all day long doing what they do.  That’s tough!  What do you really expect they’d look like after a season of that? 
From the day that you put them in the ground each of your garden tomato plants is on a steady trot toward the compost pile.  That’s the reality so give them a break as they make progress and provide you with gorgeous ripe fruit. 
And back to watering for a minute.  As you grab the hose to “save” that less than perfect looking plant remember that water dilutes flavor.  Much of the water you give your plants right now is going right into the fruit.  So farmer’s market growers and savvy home gardeners are actually cutting back on water to produce the tastiest fruit possible.  Yes, that makes the plants look even worse.  But again, we’re not after pretty plants are we?
The best thing you can do now is not let them down.  Trim off those leaves that are yellowing.  Add another bamboo pole so the plants stand straight and tall.  Deep water, though perhaps a little less frequently than you have been all season.  If you want a little freshness in the tomato garden add some new basil plants around the edges.  Or plant a new herb container if your garden is in pots. 
It’s almost that time of the season when many of you will be able to plant a second shift of tomatoes to lengthen the season.  In the warmest areas of the country that can be challenging but if your season is a long one try that this summer.  You’ll have the best luck with early or short season varieties.  Yes, you can buy new plants or you could take a cutting of your favorite plant and start it in the ground right next to its parent.  See how long you can make the season go!
And lastly, as you get to this crucial point in the season, don’t forget to make some clear notes about what’s working and not working in your garden (or in your neighbor’s garden!) right now.  Save tags, keep a journal, whatever works for you.  You’ll want that info next year as you set about choosing the ten semifinalists for next year’s tomato garden.

Scott Daigre