Lately, I have been receiving emails asking me to talk more about the community garden. I will admit that I am so horribly behind in writing about progress there that it’s been difficult to know where to begin. So this morning I browsed through a few folders of photos and decided to begin with the above photo showing some of my plot (to the right) and a few other garden member’s plots around it.
I took this photo on August 9. This was before The Worst Drought in Toronto in 50 Years kicked in followed by the Worst Drought Plus Massive Humidity but NO Rain. That was the week many curcubits (the family that includes cucumbers, squash, and melons) died. I lost most of my cucumbers and most of my zucchini plants that week. I am posting this picture so you can see what that side of the garden looked like before the gapping hole. I’m still trying to figure out what to put there because the soil is great and it would be a shame to let even a small portion of the space go without producing something before the season comes to an end!
I took the above photo on August 25. It was a wet Saturday morning, having finally rained after several days of intense humidity. It was a beautiful, quiet morning in the garden. I thoroughly enjoyed the solitude listening to the buzz of crickets and the soothing hum of the Beer Store refrigerators. By this time it is already too late for my zucchini plants. They have loads of fruit on them but the stems have rotted. You can see how yellow the leaves have turned — it was all within a matter of days! I picked all the fruit that morning and removed the plants a few days later once I’d had some time to come to terms with the loss. It was a good year and we harvested a lot of flowers and fruit earlier in the season but in past years I have managed to collect zucchinis into fall. I was wearing a winter jacket when I pulled out last year’s plants! The loss of all that potential harvest still bums me out a little.
Here it is, photographic proof that last year’s zucchini plants came out in October. Mind you those tiny little things in my other hand are the last of the “harvest.”
On a positive note, scroll back up to that last shot of the garden and check out all of the ripe tomatoes! With 16 plants, I have had my best harvest ever. Their size and numbers have dwindled but tomatoes are still coming and I am harvesting at least 2 handfuls every few days. Of course it doesn’t FEEL like enough. I actually had surplus this year between the harvest on the roof and the harvest in the community garden allowing me to can up jars of tomatoes in addition to the purchased 50 lbs that were made into sauce and salsa. We can’t eat enough tomato sandwiches and salads to keep on top of the fresh tomatoes from the gardens and yet I am still wanting more. Last year’s 5 jars felt… okay. This year’s 35 jars… My god how will we make it through the winter?!! I may have a slight hoarding tendency.
Here’s a photo of the first big cluster of ‘Zapotec Pink Pleated’ tomatoes. Aren’t they beautiful? I have a secret wish that tomatoes would just last a little longer. They are all so beautiful that I just love having bowls sitting around to look at and admire. Unfortunately the fruit flies also enjoy them but I do not enjoy the fruit flies. Of all the new varieties I tried this year, ‘Zapotec Pink Pleated’ has turned out to be a very prolific plant and a new favorite. This particular cluster held one additional tomato but I was impatient and plucked it off early for a taste.
Because I woke up this morning and said to myself, “Self, you do not have enough tomatoes. Must. Get. More. Between the bowls in the fridge, the bowls on the counter, the bowl that was just roasted, the bowl that was oven-dried, and the tomatoes still in the garden what you really need right now is another 50 odd pounds. Give or take a few. Mostly give.”
Okay, that’s a lie. The real story is that I ordered these from the Sosnickis at the Farmer’s Market two weeks ago in a moment of weakness (aka insanity). I was only going to order 25 pounds but then I saw in the order book that my friend Jen had ordered 50 pounds so I figured if she was going to jump off a bridge into a lake of ripe, organic, roma tomatoes then so was I, damn it! And so I did. My order came in today.
And earlier this evening we enjoyed Homemade Oven-roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup.
It’s so simple you’ll be asking yourself why you didn’t make it before. Cook longer in the oven or heat it up afterwards in a pot and you’ve got sauce good enough for pastas and pizza. The only difference is the thickness of the liquid.
1. Pop a bunch of tomatoes in a pan with some fresh basil, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Apply a little balsamic vinegar or throw in a few garlic cloves if you think you can handle it.
2. Roast on a high temperature (around 400 F) until the tomatoes are cooked and swimming in their own juices (about 30-40 minutes).
3. Work those delicious, juicy tomatoes through a food mill to separate the seeds and skins from the good stuff. Take advantage of the fact that no one seems to want these awesome, old-school contraptions anymore what with all the new-fangled electric gadgets available. I got mine for 5 bucks at a yard sale. I got my friend one too.
4. Add some salt and pepper to taste. I sprinkled some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top and served with a piece of toasted rosemary bread from the market. Take that Campbell’s!
Whomever says tomatoes can not and should not be grown in pots has not witnessed some of the surprising discoveries I have made over the years. While out biking yesterday afternoon, I happened upon this fully mature, volunteer cherry tomato growing up from the dusty earth beneath a pile of discarded parking lot blocks. I was on the ball enough to stop and snap a few photos but realize in hindsight that I have got to go back and collect a few fruits for seed-saving. Because a tomato plant that can make it there, especially in the middle of what some are calling “the worst drought in Toronto in 50 years” can surely make it in a pot of soil. Never mind if that pot of soil is tended and watered now and again. A pot would be like moving into a full-service luxury spa complete with Swedish seaweed serum treatments, warm sage-infused towels, and full-body herbal body wraps after that kind of hard-living, right?
I love a lush, abundant garden as much as the next but I think the plants that best capture my respect and inspire the greatest sense of awe are those that are resilient and remarkably determined.
- Broad Ripple Yellow Currant – One of my favourite heirloom varieties because of their delicate, golden translucency and their dramatic risen-from-a-sidewalk-crack back-story. Who can resist a plant with a history of triumph over adversity? Not me, sappy sucker that I am.
- Secret Gardens – An alley tomato farm discovery that has become a perennial favourite and a great source of inspiration.
The bottoms of all of the ‘Purple Calabash’ tomatoes are so bumpy and misshapen that they are morphing into cartoonish grumpy old man faces as they ripen and mature. Today a friend remarked that we are so programmed to accept perfectly smooth-shaped produce that people often refer to lumpy heirloom tomato varieties as “ugly.” We both agreed that it is their irregularity that makes them so beautiful much in the way that I can study the portrait of a grumpy old man’s face for hours because there is so much to see in every crease, bump, and scar.
Maybe tomatoes are not the best produce to illustrate my point because when push comes to shove I like most tomatoes, smooth, bumpy, pink, purple, or otherwise. I suppose it’s just that within a sea of uniformity unusual shapes and colors are fascinating. They taste better too! And maybe I grew up with enough of a certain kind of pop culture influencing my sense of taste that I just can’t resist the charm of anthropomorphic produce.
Today I traded some garlic and tomatoes from my garden for two tomatoes: a ‘Paul Robeson’ and an ‘Aunt Ginny’s.’ Another round of tomato testing is in order.