I see people with big beautiful, well trimmed, well staked tomato plants. They usually have big beautiful tomatoes too. In my world, these are the people who watch their tomatoes grow from infancy, recording their major milestones in a video montage, and living vicariously through them as their darling little tomatoes live the beautiful life they themselves would have liked to have lived. Then, a few weeks later, they’re crying because the squirrel got their big beautiful tomato the day before they were going to pick it.
I’m not interested in the emotional baggage. I grow thousands of ugly little tomatoes. If the squirrels take one (or 20), I probably won’t even notice.
I wrote in more detail about our approach to tomato plantings back in May. We use the Square Foot Gardening approach with tomatoes, one plant per square foot. Most years, we dedicate two 4’x8′ beds. For those too tired to do the math because their one year old keeps them up all night (or is that just me?), that’s 64 square feet. Ergo, 64 tomato plants.
I could use tomato cages for them. At $3.99/cage, that would be $256. That’s a deterrent. I should probably trim them too. I should cut off their tops when they are of appropriate size, pull off all the yellow leaves, cut out any side branches that show signs of disease or impede air circulation, then quickly remove any tomatoes that fall to the ground so that they don’t turn into weeds the next year. The thing is, I leave for work at 8 and come home around 6. Feed the kids, bathe the kids, brush teeth, off to bed.
Gardening needs to happen in the minutes between the crises. So mostly I ignore my tomatoes. I just let them grow. They start off slowly, since I’m always late in getting my seeds started, then late again in transplanting them outdoors. The tomatoes don’t seem to love New England spring, so even once they are in the ground, nothing happens for a while. Around mid July, we enter drought season, where the days are blisteringly hot and the water bans come into effect.
Somehow the tomatoes survive it all. They even seem to like that weather. Then around mid/late August, they explode. They double in height and put out hundreds, even thousands of tomatoes. One cherry tomato plant might have 50 -75 little juicy friends on it. Many never get picked. Others get picked by our furry friends. But we try to go out each day and collect an armload.
Truth is, I can’t eat an armload of tomatoes. The girls (ages 3 and 1) can probably go through a pint between them in a sitting, but they’re only interested in tomatoes direct from the garden that they helped pick themselves. Anything off the vine for more than a couple of hours no longer meets their high standards. So everything else get frozen. Tomatoes are cut in half and dropped into gallon sized ziplock bags in the freezer. Most will go into soup eventually. Some will become sauce. Others will be roasted with olive oil and spices.
We don’t really take care of our tomatoes. Once in a while, while they are seedlings, we’ll go out and weed their plot. Heck, if we’re feeling generous, we’ll even water them now and then. But beyond that, we just let them grow. Our way of growing tomatoes is terribly inefficient, in that we lose a lot of them. But it’s very time efficient, which is critical with two little kids. It’s also effective in that we get more than we can eat. So to sum up, we Let Them Grow and the rest are Frozen.