Give Me Tomatoes

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Above image is the July entry from the 2008 You Grow Girl Calendar

I LOVE tomatoes. If I had to give up growing all other crops and choose just one I would probably choose tomatoes although basil would follow as a close second. Who can imagine tomatoes without basil?

Don’t make me choose.

Tomatoes aren’t the easiest food plant to grow but they are the most rewarding. No homegrown vegetable tastes, looks, and feels more radically different to its grocery store counterpart. That watery, anemic thing isn’t a tomato, it’s an impostor, and a bad one at that.

I love the challenge in growing tomatoes. The learning about this single crop type is endless. Every variety is different from the 6 feet (plus plus) tall indeterminates to teeny little potted plants. The leaves and shapes are different, their wants and needs are varied, and their disease and pest resistance can shift radically from plant to plant. And then there’s the weather. What thrives and grows abundantly one year can melt into a pile the next. Finding more water during a drought is hard enough, but how exactly do you take it away during a flood year? My region has already far surpassed all the records for summer rainfall and the summer isn’t even over yet. If you’ve ever experienced frustration and loss as a tomato gardener do not give up. Who knows what next year will bring? That next variety might be the one that kicks ass in your growing conditions. The one thing a gardener can never control or really predict is the weather. How amazing would it be if we could? But then I wonder how interesting gardening would be if we knew exactly what was going to happen and what to do about it beforehand.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
A clump of ‘Purple Calabash’ tomatoes harvested just yesterday!

A gardener could focus their entire life on just the tomato and still live a very full and varied experience. I constantly long for the space to toss in 100 varieties or more in one year and just immerse myself in it completely. Still, I try with my little roof garden and community plot, slowly inching my way through the lists of inspiring varieties one plant at a time. I had to cut back this year to give my soil a break. It’s a bummer but has made me all that much more appreciative of the plants I do have, most especially the few that have pushed on through the excess rain to bring me my first sweet, ripe lovelies.


Tomatoes are beginning to ripen in both of my food gardens which means I am indulging in all of my favourite tomato recipes. I prefer to make tomatoes the star of the show rather than hiding them in among other overpowering ingredients so as soon as the first tomatoes were ready I dove straight into the two dishes I crave most during the off months of the year: Roasted Tomato Soup and Fried Egg Sandwich. (I cooked and ate one for lunch midway through writing this post!) The egg sandwich is as simple as frying two eggs any way you like them with a light spread of mayo and a couple of leaves of fresh basil. Add a little salt to taste. My newest love is Caprese Salad. I took up cheese making last year just so I could have really fresh delicious cheese with it. When the plants really start producing I’ll be making Roasted Tomato Sauce and Blackened Ranchero Salsa and then canning for winter usage. Yum.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
Amazing that this is where it all begins. This is the ‘Purple Calabash’ shortly after germinating.


This post is a part of Away to Garden and Dinner Tonight’s Tomato Week Fest 2008.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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18 thoughts on “Give Me Tomatoes

  1. I so completely agree with you. Garden grown tomatoes were the thing I missed the most when I moved out of my parents house, and away from their vegetable garden. Tomatoes are the reason that I longed for and finally put in my very own (teeny tiny) vegetable garden this year. I did make room for some other things, but tomatoes are definitely the star of my garden show.


  2. The photos are (as ever) extraordinary, and I really hear you about drowning (me and the tomatoes). I have never mowed so much nor had so few ripe tomatoes or taller plants. But there is always next year, as you say. Your recipes are so tempting…if only my crop will cooperate.

  3. Gayla,
    I too took up cheesemaking this past year. Have you ever made bufala mozzarella? Do you have a good recipe for it? I’ve tried several online and cookbook recipes, but have never managed to get anything near the texture of the stuff from hoighty toighty Pusateris.

    We’ve been harvesting tomatoes from the roof for about 3 weeks now, but have only managed to eat them plain so far – they’re so good I don’t want to let anything else spoil them – not even some basil or balsamic :)


  4. Mocha PJ: No bufala… I still purchase that. Wouldn’t even know where to begin with it. I just ordered supplies for goat cheese (chevre). So that’s next up in my experiments!!

  5. Thankfully, I have had a couple small handfuls of sweet cherry tomatoes to harvest (that I’ve kept on my deck – and have thrived despite many raccoons attempts to the contrary). So I have had a few beautiful sweet mouthfuls of home grown tomato this year, despite my dawdling yard of water logged heirlooms.

    I will definitely not give up on them, as I have so many fond memories of tomatoes picked fresh off the vine from my father and grandfathers garden. When we started gardening this year, they were definitely the first priority.

    I actually regret planting so many spaghetti squashes (man, those things take over!) and not dedicating the whole patch to beautiful tomaters.

    I’ll just have to make sure I start earlier next year. But the first year is always largely an experiment, right?

  6. For as long as I can remember, my grandma (whom I am very, very close to) has grown gobs and gobs of tomatoes every summer. This summer I had the chance to try my hand at gardening, and apparently the green thumb is genetic, because I too have grown gobs and gobs of tomatoes. :)

    There is no smell or taste in the world that can compare to fresh tomatoes grown in your own garden. Enjoy all of those freshly harvested, yummy, red ‘maters — I know I am!!

    (I just made a post about them myself, with photos…

  7. I love the challenge in growing tomatoes.

    I love that about tomatoes too. I only have room for so few plants, so I like plants that take a lot of my time and attention (otherwise what would I do with myself after watering?!).

  8. When I started container gardening three years ago, tomatoes were the one vegetable that I knew I couldn’t do without. The learning curve has been steep but rewarding. I think that a lot of what one needs to know about gardening in general can be learned just from growing tomatoes. Gayla, your h=photos are beautiful as always but those Purple Calabash tomatoes are just ravishing!

  9. Mocha PJ and Gayla-
    I dove into making last fall and started with the mozzarella kit from New England Cheesemaking ( I’m sure you can use milk from the Italian water buffalo if you have one roaming the neighborhood (I thnk that is what produces the fine texture we associate with “real” mozz), but cow milk works great, too. Just use the freshest milk you can get, and not anything ultra pasteurized.

    Also, I did note a HUGE discrepancy in the quality of mozzarella cheese made of the local premium milk and the store brand, and then found a local organic dairy I can buy vastly superior milk from (Anyone in in North Central Ala should look up Wright Dairy…).

    Me? I have been making tomato salads and salsa like crazy. Not to mention all the wonderful BLTs!

  10. This year I planted my very first garden ever (my landlords downstairs went to Europe and so left their plot to me). I have 5 varities of heirloom tomatoes, 4 of which are at least 7 feet tall, and planted waaaaaay too close together. I call it my tomato forest. Yesterday I discovered that my first two tomatoes were finally changing colour – a yellow pear cherry tomato and a black plum tomato. Today also happened to be the first day in weeks that was sunny all day. My tomato plant learning curve has been very steep, mostly due to making many mistakes. I have definitely caught the tomato obsession and need to find a plot for next year!

  11. Gayla,
    Where did you study making cheese? i think Niagara College has a course out my way? i am also interested in learning how to make almond milk cheese, soy cheese, etc. Anyone with knowledge in these areas?

    As far as my tomato crop…its a wash.
    After the first major pummel of July’s hail storm it was a continuous Niagara Falls event in this region.
    Last week alone 4 days of rain and one more hail storm. i am looking into to a tarp to protect my babies for next year.

  12. beet5: I just looked at a bunch of recipes, mashed them up and went for it. My first cheese was mozzarella. I had made yoghurt tons of times prior so that knowledge made it less intimidating.

    Marma: Gardeners learn a lot via making mistakes. Keep going!

  13. Beth: Every year is an experiment! We’ve got raccoons this year too. Two little girls or guys who have been feasting on my tomatoes!

  14. You’d probably love talking to one of our locals here in Bozeman, MT. For years, there was this elderly man who worked at one of the banks. The back entryway was all glass and always looked like like some sort of greenhouse. Every year, this man would have a tomato plant growing in this entryway. Anyone who knew anything would give him advice on growing tomatoes and he always had a very impressive plant. I haven’t taken that entrance in years though, so I don’t know if he’s still around.

  15. So much for my first two ripening tomatoes…a squirrel got to them first. Damn squirrels. They steal them away, eat half, and leave the rest on the stairs leading to the garden. I think they’re just trying to show off.

  16. You are so right! I never realized the non-flavor of storebought tomatoes until I grew my own at home. Especially since I’ve learned to can my own veggies, I’ll never go back. Love your blog and am jealous of those purple tomato beauties of yours!

  17. Hi all,

    This is my first season at attempting tomatoes… well, first season at attempting anything, really, and the obsession took off with 6 varieties of tomato, 2 cucumber, more herbs than I can count, and various bug-fighting plants (geranium, lavendar, yarrown, etc., etc).

    I’m north of NYC and yes, we have had SO much rain. Helps on the watering front, but really… my poor plants have been alternately water-logged or drowning in the rare full sun day. I’m gardening in containers, as the soil is clayish with shade and poor drainage.

    One question – the older plants, in the driveway (maximum sun, and maxium heat near the old stone driveway wall) have all started to turn yellow/brown and drop leaves. I thought, about a month ago, that this was due to excess rain, but we’ve had a good amount of sun recently… now I wonder if it is some form of wilt (I’m growing a heirloom Amanda orange, Matt’s Wild Cherry from Seeds of Change, and an organic Roma variety, as well as Thessaloniki, Silvery Fir and Stupice up on the deck). The plants on the deck seem to be faring better; they get less total sun, but also are about 4-6 weeks behind the driveway plants in maturity. I guess the other issue could be lack of phosphorus? I’m growing organically, and have planted in containers with organic container mix, supplemented with my own compost; I’ve added compost mulch to the tops of the containers, but only about twice (once about 2 weeks after transplanting, and once when a lot of fruit starting appearing).

    Fruits are still ripening, but one at a time, and the leaves are looking quite dead. Is there anything I can do at this point to help the plant’s health and if not, anyone have any ideas of what went wrong?

    Thanks much,

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