2016: The Year of the Tomato

Just so I’m not accused of being totally negative about the summer of 2016, aka the summer of the drought….the spring/summer/fall of our record breaking drought…the summer of the soul-sucking drought from h*ll … this was an awesome summer for tomatoes.

It was an awesome year for all our heat loving crops – peppers, eggplants and tomatoes.

Our previous two growing seasons (the summer of 2014 and 2015) followed ‘polar vortexes’ (vorti?) and so they were relatively cool and wet. Awesome for the grower working in the fields all day, not so great for heat-loving vegetables.

One recent summer our entire tomato crop was decimated by some sort of blight. (Read about it here.) That was heart breaking.

So, since I never know what kind of summer we are going to have, I used my usual ‘carpet bombing/cover all bases’ strategy of cultivar selection this past spring. In other words, I plant a whack of as many different varieties as I can. My assumption is that surely something will work.

And this summer the Best Boys worked, the Beefsteak worked, the Early Girls, the Glamor, The Roma, The Cherry, The Healthkick, The Amish Paste tomatoes…every single type of tomato that I planted thrived.

So we have had truckloads of tomatoes! The tomato season starts off so joyfully! We reveled in each and every tomato! That first harvest day when we carried buckets full of beautiful, cosmetically perfect, blight free, healthy tomatoes into the house to wash was just amazing. As our cardboard flat trays filled up with tomatoes it was fantastic. Carrying them all out to the sorting station on CSA delivery day was just joyful. I was over the moon.

It is quite surprising how quickly the shine can come off the bloom or whatever the expression is, after a few days of hauling tomatoes. By the second week I was harvesting every second day and the haul was usually about 8 buckets. Each delivery morning, I was getting up earlier and earlier so I could lug the tomatoes out to the sorting station for Michelle to start filling baskets.

And then this week hit. I convinced Michelle to take some photos just so we’d remember what our summer was all about. I was carrying flats out by 5:30 a.m. which at this time of year was dark. So I had on my headlamp as I carried them from the cold storage out to the sorting station. Michelle suggested that I should use the truck but by the time I got them loaded and drove such a short distance it seemed easier just to haul them out by hand.

lotsotomatoes

 

Weeks later the darn plants just keep pumping out the darn tomatoes. It’s like the brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. They’re never ending. I keep saying “Well this should be the last heavy week” which just ends up ludicrous on delivery day as the flats roll out endlessly. What an awesome problem to have!

tomatoes1

 

This summer really proved the value of greenhouses to me. Our greenhouse tomatoes were much earlier than our outside ones, and they were much nicer cosmetically. Not a blemish. Hardly a zipper or bruise. They were a work of art …thanks to Mother Nature and the heat.

camandtomatoes

I cannot recommend enough getting a greenhouse if you live a more northern area like me. And not a big fancy greenhouse. I’ve built all of mine from scratch. Just ask a neighbor for that portable garage frame that lost its cover years ago that’s been sitting beside their house, and order a sheet of 6 ml plastic to put over it. The tomatoes will thank you.

newgreenhousewoodenframe

The greenhouse BEFORE the tomato plants took over!

We have tons of tomato plants outside of the greenhouses that were slower to ripen but are going like crazy now. I had used most of my good steel cages in the greenhouses, so I had staked the outside plants. And of course, every Friday it was my responsibility to prune the tomatoes and tie them up. Yea, how’d that go? It never does. Even in regular seasons I fall down in this responsibility and with the drought this year and watering and irrigation taking all my time, they really suffered.

I had a couple outside plants in cages and I was amazed at how much better they did than those that fell over. While I got tons of tomatoes off the plants that eventually toppled over, the number of blemishes and marks on them is unbelievable compared to the ones that stayed upright.

So if you take nothing from this blog other than this it should be worth having read it. If you want great tomatoes, put them in a cage or stake them and keep them tied up properly. When you’ve been growing food for as long as I have you sometimes forget stuff, but Michelle walked over at one and point and said “Yea, it’s because the water (from the rogue raindrops that fell twice this summer or watering can water) splashed the disease up on them from the soil.”

It just made sense. I’m pretty sure I wrote about this in my gardening book, but at my age you just keep staking and caging because you always have. You forget why sometimes. I do discuss the benefits of pruning tomatoes and other stuff too in our gardening book which we still have copies of.

I do believe our CSA members are probably getting sick of tomatoes and I must say, I’m pretty proud of that. Now if Michelle and I can just take a few minutes away from the brutal heat that is continuing this fall and throw a few in our freezer, we’ll be able to appreciate them this winter too.

And here’s some of our pretty peppers too!

greenpeppers

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5 Responses to “2016: The Year of the Tomato”

  • Andrea:

    Wow! We had just the opposite. Two years in a row now that our tomatoes have not really produced due to all the rain. In Texas, we usually have hot and dry summers. This year the weather was totally different. It was a cooler summer, not as many scorching days, rains in August, and you can already feel the coolness of Fall in the air a month early.

  • Bruce:

    Keep in mind that you can have fresh tomatoes all winter if you pull them (roots and all) before the frost hits and hang them upside down in a basement-like place. They do need some light. They will ripen and you can harvest even until March in Ontario. We did this for years and enjoyed the fresh taste when everyone else was eating those supermarket cardboard ones. You have to watch for them dropping to the floor and smashing though so harvest daily.

  • I keep checking the weather and seeing a few more nice days, then lower temps. Then I check a few days later and it’s the same thing….this hotness doesn’t want to leave! I’m still picking tomatoes too:}

  • Jim:

    Cam great to know you have had a great tomato season. Here in Oz I have just planted out the early plants and have seedlings just popping out of the ground. Just got to be careful incase of late frosts.
    Sounds like you are having a “boring” time with staking and tying up. My method is have a strong structure above (I use lengths of 3/4 inch steel pipe) but you could use sapling timber a good 2 metres or so above supported by posts either end and even another in the middle for long spans because 10-15 plants can be very heavy.
    I hang strings down (2 per plant – for 2 leaders and separated to keep them apart) to near ground level and tie off on the stem about 10cm up. It is then just a simple practice to prune off any side shoots you don’t want and twirl your leader up the string. I twirl in a clockwise direction as a practice so you are not always checking to see which way it is going so it doesn’t untwirl on you.
    At the end of the season it is a simple cut the string at the top and mulch it all if you have an organic string or just untie at the bottom and pull the string up through the centre of the bush and the job is done.
    Advantages include no individual hitting in of pegs, tying up individual pieces of string, quick and simple. If you want to replant again in the future the frame is already in place or it shouldn’t be too hard to relocate for the next season.
    Disadvantage….you don’t have to throw your stake away if you have a severe blight problem (spores can remain in the cracks of the stake to over winter to reinfest your next crop.
    Hope that helps.

  • Norma:

    Yes,the tomatoes have been wonderful – never have had such a heavy fruit set on all varieties. And the taste is superfluous.
    May I suggest growing “Stupice” & “Winter Keeper” to help extend the season.
    The drought allowed regular city supplied watering – so no fruit splitting & the blight hit much later than usual.
    I live just south of you in Kingston.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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