Monday, July 30, 2012

Organic heirloom tomatoes

It's tomato time. Local farmer's markets, CSAs, grocery stores, and home gardens are filled with them. So now's the time to stock up -- so you don't have to eat those Florida-grown-tasteless-picked-green-and-hard-so-called-tomatoes between the months of October to June.

We've got a lot of heirloom tomatoes on the vines: Brandywine, Cherokee purple, Cherokee green, Black Krim, Valencia, Amish paste, Speckled Roman, Juliet, Moskvich, Martha Washington, Pruden's purple, Honeydrop cherry, Peacevine cherry and Black cherry. We also have some Argentinian varieties (we brought home seeds when we came back in 2011): a yellow slicer and a yellow cherry.

Freshly picked seasonal tomatoes are so superior in taste to the ones you might buy in the off-season. But they are not superior in durability. Please be careful with them - store them gently. Don't toss them around. Don't store other things on top of them. If one has a bruise or a crack, just cut away the part you don't want to eat and enjoy the rest. If you have some that are not perfectly ripe, leave them on your counter until they are.

Caring for our tomatoes on the vine is also quite a chore. We have to be sure they are trellised and supported, correctly fertilized, mulched and have the right amount of water.

And water has been an issue this year. Tomato plants need consistent watering - not too little, not too much. So when there is an unplanned downpour of rain - as there has been the past few weeks - the ripening fruit on the vine soaks up all that excess water and tends to burst through its skin. This excess water is what causes cracks in your tomatoes (and sometimes those water-logged fruits). Some tomatoes heal their cracks and others can not.

Excessive heat can also compromise a tomato crop - it can cause "green shoulders." And while some heirloom varieties actually have green tops, many do not. It's best to provide some shade to the tomatoes in these cases, using the foliage of the plant if possible.

When we know a rain storm or heat wave are coming, we harvest tomatoes that are just barely ripening and let them finish the process off of the vine. This doesn't change the taste and helps prevent cracks, soggy flesh and green shoulders.

Hopefully we'll have a huge harvest again this year so you can process jars of tomatoes for use in your sauces, soups and stews over the winter.

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