Heirloom Tomatoes

Lovely Tomatoes, my best harvest ever!!!

For several years I have been trying to grow tomatoes.  It would seem that this would be easy in the south.  After all, according to Shirley McLain in “Steel Magnolias” growing tomatoes is what southern women do.  For me, however, this has not been the case.

The first year I planted tomatoes I planted Brandy-wine.  These are heralded as the best tasting tomato ever.  And they may be, but once the temps get into the 90’s they don’t set fruit very well ( you will find this in the small print in a good seed catalog).  Well, in Texas we can be in the 90’s before April says good-bye.  So, that summer the temps went high quickly and I got no tomatoes, large beautiful vines, but no tomatoes.  To this day, I can not tell you if Brandy-wine lives up to its billing or not.

The next summer, I don’t even remember what I planted, but all I got was a few little fruits.  This was quite frustrating to me since it was a desire of mine to can my own tomato sauce from tomatoes grown in my own garden.  At the rate I was going, I would be doing good to make a salad much less can many quarts of sauce.  However, I did get one Black Krim Tomato and it was the best I ever tasted.  It will be in my garden this next year.

But, hope springs eternal in a gardeners heart and the next summer I went at it hard.  I scoured the catalogs looking for varieties that would be good in high heat, mild drought conditions and so forth.  Then I planted like crazy.  Well the season I am talking about was last summer.  Hell turned on its blow dryers and a hideous western wind blew for months, no rain fell for months and the temperatures hit one hundred before May had come and gone and did not come down until the end of August.  So, the little tomato plants just didn’t stand a chance.  I did get a few tomatoes from volunteers that had come from tomatoes that we had fed to the pigs the summer before.  Think about it for a minute and you will figure it out.  I must say I felt a bit insulted at the fact that the garden snubbed all my hard work and research in favor of pig poo, but oh well at least I got a few tomatoes.

June Pink sliced up and ready for breakfast.

Now, each season may have looked like a failure in regards to my tomato aspirations, but each season I learned something to apply to the next try.  After all, I could not give up.  Because of the land on which I garden, I have to be shrewd.  My property is a very steep hill that slopes towards the North.  I have essentially a walled garden because of the 80′ trees surrounding my 2 acres.  What this means is, not all my property gets enough sun to grow heat loving veggies like eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers.  Of these, the most choosy is the tomatoes. Not only is sun exposure a problem, but the soil temperature is tricky.  The soil takes its time warming to the temps that tomatoes need to thrive do to the micro-climate I have on my place.

The soil temps is what was really getting me into trouble.  I was so excited and ready to get gardening, that I would plant seedlings as soon as possible.  However, by the time the soil temps warmed up sufficiently the seedlings would be getting stressed and then be a target for bugs.  So, I learned from the volunteers that my garden needed tomatoes planted in mid-April, this is when they came up on their own.  Left alone, plants do know when they need to come up and greet the new season.

Rambling Tomato Vines

Well, this year I choose the hottest spot on my acreage to till the tomato patch.  Due to the business of the nursery, it was easy to wait until mid-April to plant.  I mulched the seedlings immediately- I believe this is a key to successful gardening, MULCH, MULCH, MULCH!  Well, the tomatoes took their sweet time getting ripe, but I had green tomatoes on the vines very quickly.  I have been harvesting everyday now for about 2 weeks.  I am so happy.  I did not plant enough to have me canning many quarts of sauce, but I have canned 3 quarts and made many tasty dishes.

I chose 4 varieties this year.  June Pink- an early tomato, Cherokee Purple, Arkansas Traveler, and Illini Gold.  I have been very pleased with each of them.  Being Heirloom varieties, I could save seeds to grow next year and the plants are indeterminate.  This means the plants ramble much like a cucumber or pea vine, but they do not climb on their own.  Now, good supports will keep these beauties off the ground but I obviously need to work on the support things in my garden.  I have tomato plants rambling all over, but I am so happy!  The pig is happy too, I toss any tomatoes that have gone bad or been eaten too badly by bugs over the fence to her- who knows what gifts she will leave me for next year….

Homemade Tomato Sauce & Some Ripe Illini Gold & Cherokee Purple
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