For me, there are few greater pleasures in life than the taste of a ripe, summer tomato picked straight from your garden. It is an experience beyond compare to the one you get from off-season or store bought tomatoes. Even those from the farmer’s market just don’t measure up.
After a disappointing season last year, my family and I decided that we would overhaul our garden for 2010. This involved constructing raised beds, which improve soil drainage and pest control, and augmenting our soil. I consulted with some tomato experts at a local nursery to decide which varieties to plant. I explained that I wanted something with a high level of disease resistance, and he pointed me in the direction of several varieties:
This is an heirloom variety developed originally in Eastern Europe, and supposedly is disease-resistant. It has medium-sized fruit that is an orangey-red in color. It was one of the later varieties to ripen in my garden this year; I didn’t pick my first druzba until mid-July. It is very rich in flavor, though not particularly sweet. It has fared pretty well in our garden, and I think I will try it again next year.
Another heirloom variety, the jaune flamme plants produce golf ball-sized fruit that is a bright orange in color. This was my least favorite variety this year. It has a mild flavor and was rather watery, so it is not ideal for cooking. Additionally, they are too big to just toss in a salad, but due to their consistency I found them difficult to chop. These plants were hardy and prolific, and for that reason alone, I might include them in my garden next year — but not more than one plant.
The sungolds were the clear favorite this year! A hybrid grape variety, the sungolds were extremely sweet, hardy, ripened early and are just as prolific as ever now in the dead of August. Will definitely be included in next year’s garden!
Tomato pest control
This afternoon picking some tomatoes I came across one of these:
Manduca quinquemaculata, also known as a tomato hornworm during its larval stage. It is a common defoliator of solanaceous plants, but this one here has been parasitized — meaning, a parasitoid wasp has used it as a host to lay its eggs. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillar will die. This is natural biological control at its finest, so if you find an infected hornworm in your garden, don’t kill it! Pull it off the plant and place it nearby, so that the wasps can emerge and find other hornworms to parasitize.
Tomato plants are also prone to a variety of fungal diseases, which seem to infect our garden every year. Fungicides are available, but I prefer to avoid using chemical pesticides on my garden unless absolutely necessary. Drip irrigation, which minimizes moisture on the leaves, helps prevent the spread of fungal diseases throughout the plant. Thus far, in spite of signs of infection on some plants, they seem to be holding up…I do recommend talking with experts at your local nursery to identify varieties which will thrive in your particular conditions.
Cooking with tomatoes
My husband and I have made several batches of crushed tomatoes — some of it was made right into sauce to freeze or eat immediately, the rest was canned to enjoy later on this year (a separate entry on canning tomatoes will follow). But eating them fresh is pretty awesome too. Tossing them with basil, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper and serving over pasta is an obvious and DELICIOUS way to eat them.
As an alternative, here is a simple recipe adapted from one my mother has always made:
Easy weeknight tomato sauce
Ingredients (amounts are aproximate! Adjust as desired.)
1 cup coarsely chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 tsp garlic
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar, or a dry white wine if available
Salt, pepper, basil to taste
Sauté onions and garlic over medium heat until tender. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Cook until tomatoes are soft and mixture becomes a little saucy, about 10-15 minutes. Add basil. Serve over pasta.