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Day #11 – Tomato Wedges

Today I planted the tomatoes. We usually grow a couple types of tomato:

One is some kind of “slicing” tomato – a big, juicy variety good for putting on a hamburger, serving with fresh mozzarella, making gazpacho or, heck, just eating like an apple while they’re still warm from the sun. Our slicing tomato of choice for the past few years has been a Red Brandywine. (We tried a pink Brandywine one year that didn’t have anything wrong with it… but we find ourselves planting the Red Brandywine.) Brandywine tomatoes are an “heirloom” variety which means they were in cultivation before widespread industrial hybridization developed all the new-fangled, modern varieties. One big drawback of industrial hybridization is that the characteristics that are attractive to industrial growers aren’t necessarily attractive to tomato eaters. For instance, if my livelihood depended on getting a field full of tomatoes to market, I’d plant varieties that produced uniform fruits that shipped well, not necessarily ones that tasted the best. A Brandywine is a great example of a holdover from before this process because it produces fruits that are strangely shaped and too large to ship and the skin on a Brandywine tomato is so tender that I have torn it just by applying the pressure needed to pick it off the stem! But boy are they flavorful. I know other heirloom enthusiasts have other favorites but since I don’t start my own seedlings anymore, I have to depend on what’s available at the farmer’s market. I can rely on several growers to sprout Brandywines. If I had to start my own, I might experiment more with other heirloom varieties.

We also plant a “sauce” style tomato – one that has a lot of meat, not too much juice and a relatively thin skin. The classic variety that pops to my mind is the Roma and that’s what we’re planting this year. We also often plant an heirloom variety called the Amish Paste Tomato. These are great for tomato sauce and for drying because there isn’t a lot of extra liquid to remove by cooking or drying.

The wedge shape of our beds allow three plants to fit quite naturally so I used a hoe to dig three shallow holes. I added a little water to moisten the soil, then tamped the soil down around the roots like I was tucking them into bed.

Interesting Note: Tomatoes will send out roots along their stems it the stems come in contact with the soil. This ability could be used to create a stronger root structure. The idea would be to lay the seedling on its side when planting. My dad used to us this technique, however whenever I’ve tried this technique, I haven’t been able to fit my cloches over the plants. Also, since our beds are relatively small, I try to encourage the plants to grow vertically; the lying on the side trick seems to suggest they sprawl around like lazy slug-a-beds <grin>
When they were planted I sprinkled a bit more water on them and sealed each plant under a cloche. The idea with the cloche is that the bottom lip has to press just a little bit into the soil to prevent a draft. If there was a place where air could get in at the base, the cloche would warm up the air and the warm air would exit through the top like a chimney thus sucking in more, colder air at the base. Don’t cram it too deeply, just enough to make bit of a seal.

I finished up by sprinkling a nice layer of grass clippings around the cloches. Yes, yes, yes – elsewhere on this blog I say why grass clippings aren’t perhaps the best mulch but, honestly, I’m also pretty pragmatic. I use what I have at hand. I’ve got other materials to put on once these clippings dissolve, as they will quite quickly, but I haven’t prepared these other materials yet.

That’s work for another day.

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