The One Vegetable I’ll Always Plant: Tomatoes

Let’s face it, unless you absolutely LOVE gardening, you may not want to bother with a veggie garden. But even if you’re not a gardener by nature, I’d still recommend that you consider planting one plant: the tomato.

You simply cannot compare the taste and texture of homegrown tomatoes with those vague facsimiles found in the grocery stores. For that reason alone, it’s worth putting in a little effort. The result will likely be phenomenal!

Now, you might argue that you could do just as well getting your produce from the local farmer’s market. I’d agree with you; I get a lot of my produce there. (I also really want to support local businesses and this is a far less expensive way to get organic produce than the local Whole Paycheck.) But I still grow tomatoes in my yard. There is just something magical about picking a beautiful, ripe tomato that’s still warm from the sun. I used to love going into my father’s tomato patch and sneaking some of the cherry tomatoes he grew, right off the vines. And seeing something beautiful and edible come out of Darwin’s Garden (a.k.a. my backyard) is a real rush. So I do it, even though I’m lazy and claim lack of time. (I use that excuse a lot.)

This year, I picked up three heirloom tomato plants over at the Love Apple Farms booth from the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. (Love Apple Farm is a big organic farm down near Santa Cruz that provides tomatoes for Manresa, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Los Gatos. It also offers lots of gardening classes and the like.)┬áThe guy at the booth ┬ásuggested I try three different colors (I had typically only grown red tomatoes) so it should make for an interesting harvest. He also added that with a little care, these plants should not only produce a lot of fruit, the plants could also reach 10 feet tall. While this probably should have been exciting to me, all I could think of is that I really didn’t know how to cope with tomato plants that were almost twice my height…

I decided to try some different fertilizers/soil amendments, as recommended by Love Apple Farms (LAF), shown above. This was my first attempt at using worm castings, but I figured it could only help. I didn’t get the tomatoes planted right away (in typical fashion for me, alas). But when I finally got some time, I decided to attempt to follow the some of recommendations that LAF provided. But for this girl from the ‘burbs, I was a little perturbed about one of the earliest steps.

LAF said to dig a hole. Not just any hole, a 2-foot-deep hole. I’ve never dug a hole that deep for a tomato plant, especially the little bitty plants that I had this year. So I figured, what the heck, I’ll burn a few extra calories, and the soil should be cooperative since we’d gotten some unexpected rain.

Then there was the part that freaked me out: put into the bottom of the hole a fish head. LAF assures readers on its website that it has never had issues with animals digging up the fish heads. I had a different problem: in my little corner of Silicon Valley, the local grocery stores don’t actually do any real fishmongering. Meaning, the local grocery gets the fish already filleted. No fish heads to be seen there. Given that I live an hour away from the Pacific Ocean, the potential unavailability of 3 fish heads seemed ludicrous.

Reality set in, however, in that I couldn’t really dig more than 18″ deep. Too bad, that’s too shallow to put in fish heads without the local wildlife going crazy, so I opted to omit that part.

Eggshells are apparently 93% calcium carbonate, and contain a lot of trace elements that are beneficial in the garden, so I added a few of those. (Given this was right after Passover, I had a plethora of shells to use.) I also added some bone meal, which adds phosphorous and a little nitrogen to the soil.

A handful of tomato fertilizer and a couple handfuls of worm castings rounded out the amendments. Lastly, I planted each plant so that just a few leaves were sticking out of the soil; tomatoes like to be deep rooted, so I did what I could given the little teeny plants. With a little irrigation they should have been happy little campers.

Fast forward 10 days. I just returned from the Grand College Tour Adventure, and went outside to see how my little plants were doing. THEY ARE GONE. Poof. It’s like I had never planted them, except the irrigation is still in place.

My guess is that some critter was able to get to them easily since I hadn’t built the cages yet, so they were somebody’s little treat. I’m particularly annoyed because these were plants that aren’t readily available everywhere. I guess I’ll replant with something, but probably whatever I can find at the local garden center.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, I guess I was due for something like this happening. I even have a sign in my garden that reads, “Mother Nature Always Wins.” I should remember that. But I’m still replanting! So there.



  1. Jean Fiala says:

    Too bad about the little guy. Here in the woods, it is a real challenge to grow anything without a greenhouse. Our Seattle Summer runs from July through maybe September, but because of all the shade I have, tomatoes are only a dream. I did get a few cherry tomatoes last year, though.

    • Robin says:

      I’m hopeful that maybe this weekend I can get to a garden store and pick up some replacements. I *really* want to have caprese salad and gazpacho made from my own tomatoes this year….at least the roses are blooming, so that can help my mood a bit.

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