Tomatoes at my House, From Seed to Kitchen

Every February or March, either my mom or I plant up a squillion or so tomato seeds in dirt trays in our greenhouses, and wait for them to sprout.  Once they’ve come up, we use a very careful method involving a teaspoon and a sharp pencil to pick up each little sprout and transplant it into a beer cup full of miracle-gro dirt.  (What do YOU call those red, 20 oz., Solo brand plastic cups?)

(These are actually basil starts, but you get the idea)
basil starts in the greenhouse

tomato starts in the greenhouse

We leave our army of tomato-seedling-filled beer cups in our green houses until they’re nice and big, and the weather has warmed up.  Once that’s happened, they’re transplanted outside.  This is normally in June or July.  This year, I took my biggest transplants and moved them to gallon pots in May and June, to give them bigger root systems before putting them in the ground.  Tomatoes can send out roots wherever their stems touch dirt, so I de-leaf the bottom half of the vine and bury it.

In years past, I’ve put my tomatoes in pots.  While lots of people have huge success with this (including my mom) I never do.  That’s probably because I’m not the most conscientious waterer, and plants in the ground are more forgiving about water since they can find their own.  Now, I put them in the ground, again burying the bottom part of the stalk so I can get a stronger root system.

I discovered my favorite staking method this year, and it surprised me: I found plastic “bamboo” stakes in the shed, left behind by a previous owner.  They’re about a 1/4 inch thick, and four feet tall.  I stuck them in the ground behind the transplants, and used a rubberized wire to twist-tie the tomato vines to the stakes as they grew taller.  Next year I’ll remember to snip off the top of the vine once they reach the top of the stakes, but even without this they did great this year and nothing fell over.

We had such a cold, late, summer this year that none of my large tomatoes (roma and Early Girl) ever turned red.  Not even close.  I got a handful of yellow pear cherry tomatoes, but nothing to write home about.

tomatillos and green tomatoes

When the Fall rains started, I harvested every tomato I could find.  I put all the big tomatoes into a cardboard box, in two layers with some newspaper in between.  I intended to just store them in there until I used them in curries or salsas, or found recipes to use them in.  As of right now, three weeks after that harvest, fully 3/4 of my big tomatoes have ripened and are delicious!  Totally surprised me- next year, I’m going to harvest tomatoes as soon as they’re full-sized and let them ripen inside.  I’ll get ripe tomatoes all summer, and the plants will focus on the next crop of tomatoes when I remove the most mature fruit.

early girl tomato

What I’ve not eaten, I’ve been throwing into gallon ziploc bags and putting them in the freezer for later.  From what I’ve read, I’ll be able to just thaw them and the skins will slide off.  Then, I can cook them into quick sauces, soups, salsa, etc.

sweet 100 tomatoes

green tomatoes in the sink

The cherry tomatoes have not done well ripening on the counter, for some reason.  The ripe and almost ripe were picked too late after the rains started, and they’d already split open and were mealy.  Luckily, I’ve been on a pickle kick lately and have a new favorite brine.  In the end, I had two gallons of green cherry tomatoes and they are all taking a bath in a sextuple batch of that brine.  I’m pretty stoked.  (They’ve been fermenting three days now, they have four more to go before they go into the refrigerator.)

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11 Responses

  1. that’s a great tip about the paper/box to ripen them, I have a bunch of Roma tomatoes that need that kind of attention. Thanks 🙂

  2. The lacto fermented pepperoncinis I did were really good. I’ve been wanting to try that with beets. I bet the cherry tomatoes are yummy!

  3. Wow…that’s a LOT of tomatoes!!

  4. How do you prepare the green tomatoes for the brine? just drop them in whole? Have you done tomatoes this way before?

    • I just dropped the whole tomatoes in, after washing them, but they were cherry tomatoes. I read a few different recipes, and big tomatoes should be chopped smaller, maybe in quarters. I’d not done this before, but first thought about it when a friend brought over a jar of pickled green tomatoes. I think you can use any brine that lacto-ferments, so it has enough salt and vinegar. I got nervous after I tried one a few days after putting them in the jar- it was awful, I had to spit it out! I gave them some more time, and now they’re amazing. And spicy.

  5. Good to know about the box and newspapers! Thanks.

  6. Saw this on MMB. This last summer was my first garden attempt since I was a kid. Boy do I need help!

  7. […] June:  When nights are above 55, set out tomatoes/peppers.  Could be early July.  (For more info on how I do tomatoes, see this post.)  […]

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