Mad, Beautiful Ideas
Whole Food Adventures: Tomato

Tomatoes have long been a popular fruit to cultivate by those of us in the Western World. A member of the Nightshade family, tomatoes are perennials when grown in warmer climates, but as far north as we are, we're pretty much stuck with raising them as annuals. Luckily, the seeds aren't terribly hard to keep.

Unlike a lot of other plant's seeds, Tomato seeds do require a bit more work. The seeds won't simply sprout with just a bit of dirt and water, they need to be fermented first. The process is simple, simply scoop out the seeds with the 'goop' that they rest in from a halved tomato, put it in a cup with some water, and cover it in plastic wrap. Poke a whole in the plastic wrap so that air transfer can still happen, and let it sit for a while. Eventually, the seeds will be ready for planting next season. Plus, if you find some tomatoes you like, you can probably just take the seeds out of one, and you'll be about to plant them next year. The only unfortunate caveat here is that some lines of tomatoes are hybrids, which don't produce viable seeds. If you have any questions, ask the grower at your local market, they likely know.

One of the nice things about Tomato is that it's one of the few fruits we can grow today that still exists in a large variety of cultivars. Sure, you usually only see three, maybe four, types of tomatoes at your local grocery store, but in our garden we had no fewer than seven types of tomatoes this year, from large heirloom varieties, to tiny 'gold nuggets' a delicious small yellow tomato, to a purple-fleshed tomato. This is fantastic, at least partially because the more different types of plants grown, the less likely they'll fail due to disease and pests.

If you really want to experience everything that tomatoes have to offer, you'll have to grow them yourselves. Now, I'm not the gardener in our house. I cook the plants, my wife grows them. But I will share what little I know. My wife has found that growing them in large plastic buckets full of good soil tends to work really well, the belief is that the buckets help keep their roots warm, which the tomatoes quite like. However, they do really well in the ground as well, so if you have a good patch of garden, be sure to plant there. Our tomato beds are a little below the walkway level, in order to make it really easy to water, since we can just put the hose on that part of the plot, and fill it up with water. No muss, no fuss.

One thing to note, is that mandrakes are kind of rough on soil, they tend to drain a lot of nitrogen in them, so you'll want to be careful to rotate which part of your garden is tomato from year to year. On the question of cages, my wife feels that the plants do better when you use stakes that you tie the plants to. This has the added benefit of making it easier to pick the fruit, since the plant isn't surrounded by as much metal and it is able to spread out a little bit more.

As I said, in our part of the country, tomatoes are effectively annuals. When the weather turns cold, and the ground begins to freeze, the plants soon die. If the year is anything like this one, and you planted at all like we did, you'll likely have a large number of under-ripe tomatoes still on the vine. We do this year, but we've left all of them on the vine for the next week or so. This is partially in hopes that they might still ripen, but also because we have a lot of ripe tomatoes to process. But we fully intend to pick those tomatoes soon, and we'll can them as we are with our ripe ones.

Next week, I'll talk about what we've done with our tomatoes, including the green ones, and provide some recipes.