I am not a farmer. I’m not even much of a gardener. My skills relate to hiring smart people and then agreeing with their ideas, which is how I come to have any sort of garden at all. But for the last few years, water has been in short supply in California. The combination of drought on the land and a certain hollowness in my wallet has left me with many weeds. There’s one little spot, though, that I reserve every year for tomatoes.
Even though I shop at one of our four local farmers’ markets for my summer produce, I still grow my own tomatoes. After experimenting for a few years, I only grow cherry tomatoes — they’re easy, don’t seem to have any diseases (at least at my house), and can be eaten straight off the vine. Plus, they’re so beautiful!
I get my plant starts from one local nursery and several small farms in the area. I know these seeds have been organically … … grown (with or without certification), which matters to me, and that the varieties will work at my altitude (2500 feet) and for my climate (Zone 7). The carbon footprint is low because they’re only traveling a few miles from the greenhouses to my yard.
I love watching seeds sprout and the leaves unfold — and the way the seed’s shell sometimes stays on the leaf while it grows, as in the photo below — but I don’t have anywhere near the patience to do this myself.
In addition to tomatoes, I like to grow zinnias and spider flowers (an old fashioned New England annual), and sometimes sunflowers where I can see them out my kitchen window. Soil Sisters Farm grows mostly flowers. Besides selling plant starts they do the arrangements for weddings and have a flower CSA membership during the summer months.
Most years I manage to eat all my cherry tomatoes fresh with no trouble, but occasionally I’ll roast some for a few hours over low heat and either can them as sauce or preserve them in olive oil. Their sugar caramelizes and lends an incredible depth of flavor to the result.
This year I’m going to grow Sweet 100, Sun Sugar, Black Cherry, Yellow Pear, an old German heirloom called Gardener’s Delight, and a new kind Weiss Brothers is offering: Chocolate Cherry. Are you growing anything this season? Where do you get your starts?
Photos by Heidi LeVell of Barn Owl Vintage, Emil Baldoni, Molly Fisk