Perhaps nothing says “summer garden” more in this country than that ubiquitous garden veggie–er, fruit–the tomato. Even those who grow nothing else might consider a tomato plant in a container, because as we’ve been told a thousand and one times: There is nothing better than a fresh picked tomato right from the garden.
And as oft as that phrase has been spoken, it really is true. Garden tomatoes are good. Really good.
I only have room for four tomato plants in my raised beds, with a possible fifth or sixth plant lurking nearby in a pot. Tomato plants can be big, and many of them have a tendency to sprawl and get really tall only to collapse onto themselves when the weight of their fruit becomes more than they can support. Or they get all bent out of shape during a windy summer thunderstorm and suddenly what was once a well-formed plant occupying the planned space becomes a mass of leaning and reaching vines invading other garden territories. A gardener with a small space must choose wisely.
And so now it’s decision time. I’m carefully reading the tomato descriptions in my stack of seed catalogs, trying to find just the right mix of 4-6 plants that will grace our garden this year. If only I had room for 20 plants! We need something big and juicy for sandwiches and burgers. We need perfect salad tomatoes to throw in with all the salads we eat from our garden, the ones made with lettuces, spinach and greens. The other salads made with beans, grilled eggplant and peppers, or herbs.
We need the ideal tomato for caprese salad. It must sing on the plate with fresh mozzarella and basil. Don’t forget the olive oil!
The kids will want something to pick and eat in the garden–a fun little cherry tomato. Something that is sweet with just a bit of acidity that pops in your mouth with you bite down.
And then there is always the great experiment. The variety that I grow simply because I haven’t grown it before. Something unique, heirloom, loaded with promise. This is the tomato for the gardener.
Being 50% Italian, it grieves me to grow a garden void of paste tomatoes. I long to grow enough tomatoes to make and bottle (or freeze) sauce. Two years ago I attempted to grow a few paste tomato plants, only to have the weather thwart my plans. I felt like I could have used my space more wisely, and so from now on I will. But I will hold onto my dream of a large harvest of San Marzanos or Amish Pastes. I have a feeling this is in my future someday.
So what am I growing this year? I’ll let you know as soon as a final decision is made. I won’t take too long to decide. But in the meantime, I’ll share some tomato photos from gardens past. (I only started photographing my garden in the last couple years, most photos are from 2009–a cold and dreary year–and 2010 which was wonderfully warm and sunny.)