WEB EXTRAS: Feast for the Senses

Click through three pages of delicious extras, including growing tips, a drizzle recipe and seed resources.

Tomato-Growing Tips: 6 pointers from the experts

About Our Experts. Dick Schneider of Rain Coast Farm in Washington State has been intensively researching which varieties grow best in his climate. The results are freely given to homeowners and local growers and have, in some cases, tripled their yields. (At this time, Schneider doesn’t have a website, but you can receive his tips by emailing him at raincoastfarms@gmail.com.)

For tips for growers in warmer, sunnier climes, we consulted with Laurel Garza of Laurel’s Heirloom Tomato Plants in sunny southern California. While’s she grown tomatoes since she was a seedling herself, Garza has sold heirloom tomatoes for 13 years, shipping plants across the U.S.

To Pot or Not. Given the cool and damp conditions of a western Washington growing season, Schneider recommends growing the plants in “grow” houses, which are unheated greenhouses. He plants them in very large 15-20 gallon black plastic pots.

When to Plant. Schneider’s black pots also absorb heat during the day and quickly raise the soil temperature to the critical 55 degree minimum that tomatoes need to thrive, whether in a grow house pot or in the ground.

Garza is also mindful of planting when the soil and ambient temperatures are warm enough. She offers a trick to give young plants a helping hand—a water-insulating wrap like the Wall O’ Water [http://growerssolution.com/page/GS/PROD/wallo-Red]. These are water-filled translucent blankets that help keep a young plant warm during cool spring nights, and keep damaging winds from the tender leaves.

Soil and Fertilizer. As does Garza, Schneider prefers a soil mix that’s light and airy, enhanced with compost and rich in calcium. Tomatoes can tolerate a wide range of soil pH, but it is best to avoid extremely acidic or alkaline mixes.

At Rain Coast Farm, plants are fertilized and pruned regularly, every Friday at 10:00. (See more on pruning below.) Such clockwork timing is Schneider’s mantra. “I’m religious about it,” he says, noting that such consistency produces higher yields.

While the plants are young and growing he uses fertilizers high in nitrogen. His choice is Miracle-Gro formulated specifically for tomatoes. For organic growers he recommends fish emulsions. When the plants begin to bloom and set fruit he changes to a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen, but much higher in phosphorous and potassium.

Garza recommends organic fertilizers such as fish and kelp emulsions as directions require, as well as organic EB Stone Tomato & Vegetable Food scattered at the base of the plant every couple of weeks. Foliar feeding, carefully applied at reduced rates, is also recommended.

Watering. Garza cautions, “don’t overwater. Plants become water-logged and that dilutes the flavor.”

Schneider also warns against overwatering which will also crack the skins of the fruit. To determine when watering is needed, he prefers the less-scientific method of using his index finger to determine moisture levels. If the soil is cool and moist at a depth of about three inches, it has enough water.

Pruning. Note: Advice on all things tomato will run the gamut. With pruning that’s especially so.

As noted above Schneider is an avid pruner, plucking or clipping the suckers from his indeterminant tomato plants every Friday at 10 a.m. (“Suckers” are shoots that tend to sprout between the main “trunk” and a side leaf. Indeterminant plants are vines that continue to grow and bloom until frost. Most heirlooms are indeterminant plants, while compact bush tomatoes, like Romas, are determinant. Determinant tomatoes rarely need pruning.)

If allowed to remain, says Schneider, these shoots may make the vine an enormous tangle of leaves and branches, restricting air-flow and diverting energy better used in the production of fruit than leaf. “More leaves means fewer fruits,” says Schneider.

Regular pruning will also allow a gardener to fit more plants into a limited space.

The most effective method to prune is pinching off the soft tissue shoots with your fingers if possible, or well-cleaned hand pruners.

With a shift of latitudes comes a shift in attitudes. Southern California’s Garza rarely prunes her plants, and then only a few lower suckers to improve air circulation.

The abundant foliage helps shield the ripening fruits from a scorching sun, and, she believes it makes for a better and more abundant fruit. “I remember seventh grade science class and leaf diagrams and learning about photosynthesis and the amazement I felt.” This translated into a faith that nature makes the best fruit with the least meddling.

She put her theory to the test years ago and her results confirmed it; she got better tasting fruit and more of it from the heirloom tomatoes she ignored than those she pruned.

Kaspars Rosemary Balsamic Reduction

A deliciously simple recipe by Steven Sickenberger that puts the spotlight on fresh tomatoes.

Keeping the colorful tomato skins and flesh intact is critical when serving, says cook Steven Sickenberger of Kaspars, a Seattle caterer. “Slice them to show off both the shapes and the colors,” he recommends.

He will use them to garnish a dish, choosing colors and textures for contrast and tastes to complement the main dish. “Yellow heirlooms are crisp and crunchy, with a lower acidity. Both color and taste are important. The Green Zebras are nice and tangy. Each variety has a different marbled pattern to the flesh.”

Sickenberger prepares the heirlooms with the classic combinations of mozzarella cheese and basil, or salt and pepper with olive oil, or drizzled with a balsamic reduction. (See below for Sickenberger’s recipe.)

He recommends preparing them as little as possible, preserving their natural colors and textures and most of all, their tastes. When serving the heirloom tomatoes he will often hear, “wow, now that tastes like a tomato.”

Ingredients:

2 cups balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, halved
1 4-inch piece of rosemary
2 bay leaves

Preparation:

  • Combine all ingredients in a non-corrosive pan.  Bring to a boil.
  • Turn down to a simmer and reduce contents to 1/3 cup
  • Remove garlic, rosemary and bay leaves and let cool

Chef’s Notes: Drizzle over roasted, grilled or fresh Vegetables. Also goes great with Chicken or Fish.  Use sparingly. A little goes a long way.

Seed Resources

Looking for tomatoes mentioned in this article? See below for a few select resources.

www.Burpee.com

Black Cherry

Power Pops

Green Zebra

Black Krim

 

www.seedsavers.com

Black Cherry

Yellow Gooseberry

Green Zebra

Gold Medal

Black Krim

 

www.rareseeds.com

Black Cherry

Yellow Gooseberry

Green Zebra

Big White Pink Stripes

Gold Medal

Vorlon

Black Krim

 

Gary Ibsen’s Tomatofest (www.tomatofest.com)

Black Cherry

Yellow Gooseberry

Snow White

Green Giant

Big White Pink Stripes

Green Zebra

Gold Medal

Black Krim