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On the Verge of a Tomato Waterfall

Posted 6/26/2009 8:25pm by David Zemelsky.

ripe sungolds

About two weeks ago, while scouting out our 2000 tomato plants, I  discovered a ripe sungold. Finally. Of course I picked this tomato and found Ty, to continue our tradition of experiencing the very first tomato of the season together.   I felt this instant connection to the cycle seasons long gone and plates of sliced tomatoes devoured on summer nights.  That most flavorful moment marked the beginning of our 2009 tomato season. Its been a long winter and rainy spring since fresh heirloom tomatoes have been available in Connecticut. And by the time I have gotten around to writing this, each day brings more and more tomatoes as well as more varieties.

tomato jungle

How did we get to this moment?  Our tomato program starts in early February-six weeks before we plant them in the high tunnels.  We will start hundred of new plants in soil in trays that sit on probagation mats- a source of heat that speeds both the rate and the speed of germination.  Plastic domes are left on these trays until the plant emerges from the soil-usually 4-6 days.  After 10 days, they are removed from the mats and placed under grow lights.  There  they will remain for the 4-5 weeks to be planted then in our  only high tunnel that has supplimental heat.  This year, these plants were planted on March 24th.  The other hoop houses do not have heat, so  we need to be sure that later planted tomatoes won't get a frost.  That usually means that they will be planted at the beginning of May.  We have found that there are several important advantages to growing tomatoes in high tunnels.   Sometimes, just a few temperature degrees between the inside and out,  can mean life or death for a small plant on a chilly morning. Another advantage is that  all of our houses have driptape irrigation.  This gives the tomatoes what they want- moist feet and dry overcoats.  The driptape is hooked to an electronic system that delivers water to each tunnel for a specific amount of time.  Tomatoes like to get a drink before sunrise.  In our earliest house we planted Bloody Butcher, Glacier, Sungold, Prudens Purple and Yellow Gold.   These are all early varieties, a bit small compared to other heirlooms, but mighty tasty.  Later comes the Paul Robeson, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Striped Germanand Waspinnicon, to name but a few.

tomato blossom

ripening sungolds

Last night three of our young grandchildren came to visit. They were excited to see  the " tomato jungle."  The plants are over 9 feet tall now, but should reach 13-14 feet before the end of the season. Darting through the rows, they quickly collected several pounds of ripe tomatoes.  It turns out that grandchildren really like to find, pick and gaze at tomatoes.  But what they really like to do best is take one bite out of the fruit, suck out all the juices and toss the rest onto the floor.  I accidently stepped on several of them last night. It was worth it.

tomatoes early box

Now we are poised to have a waterfall - like arrival of tomatoes-more tomatoes than we can imagine . With over 1800 plants and 30 varieties, we will soon be graced by their wild colors and flavors all through summer and well into fall.