Friday, May 23, 2008

Our Tomatoes

Last August I was visiting relatives in East Tennessee and my great-aunt Ada Ruth gave me some fresh tomatoes that she’d grown. Coming from a long line of farmers, Ada Ruth learned at an early age to save seed from one year to the next, and she’s been doing it for nearly all of her 89 years. The tomatoes she gave me were absolutely delicious – deep red, bulbous, and bursting with juicy goodness. These were the tomatoes I grew up with – the one’s I picked from the vine as a kid and ate right there and then in the middle of the garden, the warm juice running down my arm and dripping from my elbow; the one’s Dad and I would slice up into thick wedges and eat as a snack; the one’s we made juice from to enjoy in the middle of winter. You could slice them and the flesh was so thick and juicy that you could hold them vertically without them falling apart. These were the same tomatoes my family has been growing in the mountains of East Tennessee for 200 years. We always referred to them as “Our Tomatoes.”

I never forgot how good those family heirloom tomatoes tasted, but I hadn’t had one since Dad died. You see, the cancer made an encore visit to him just as the tomatoes were coming in. We managed to get some canned and made plenty of juice, but our hearts and minds were elsewhere that harvest and we forgot to save the seed.

So that first bite of tomato brought back a lot of memories. Since Dad left us we’ve tried plenty of store-bought seed and seedlings, and we’ve tried other heirloom seed, but none were a patch on Our Tomatoes. I don’t know why I didn’t think to find out if any other family members still grew them, but I am so very thankful that Ada Ruth gave them to me. I painstakingly saved and dried the seed from those tomatoes - as well as some heirloom Goose Beans given me on the same visit - and over the winter ordered a starter kit from Gardener’s Supply, eagerly checking the Almanac for the best dates to begin.

The Gardner's Supply starter kit (above) comes with two self-watering APS-24 seed starters, two greenhouse covers, nine quarts of germinating mix, 24 wooden markers, two water-level indicators and a small canister of seedling fertilizer. I didn't bother using the wooden markers or the fertilizer.

This is a dried string of Goose Beans that I have just begun to shell. I took a photo of them since the tomato seeds are really too small to photograph - at least with my crappy camera.

The kit has a pegged "stand" that goes into the water reservoir and a capillary mat that fits over the top. The mat is just long enough to tuck one end underneath the pegboard. You can see the mat on top of the pegged stand in the photo above.

I filled the water reservoir to dampen the capillary mat. The planting tray sits on top of the mat and draws water up into the germinating mix, keeping the seeds moist. To be honest, when I first received the kit I was dubious about it, but it's actually very well designed and almost foolproof.

After moistening the germinating mix in a bucket, I began filling the trays with the mixture. You've got to tamp it down enough that the soil touches the capillary mat. After that it's a matter of poking the seeds into the soil, covering them, and lightly spraying water onto the entire container, taking care not to disturb the seeds just planted.

The trays of germinating tomatoes coming up. Yay!

These are the seedlings in the cold frame my husband built using part of an old window frame.

We transplanted the beans at the beginning of May. I'm not sure if this particular type of Goose Bean is a climber or a bush-type plant, so my father-in-law and I made climbing poles out of bamboo, just in case. I've already given my Mom a few dozen tomato plants. The rest (below) are being planted in our back yard this weekend.


valereee said...

Oh, I'm so glad you have some of your tomatoes! There are a bunch of heirloom tomato growers in the area who would probably be interested in helping you make sure the seeds are never forever lost.

valereee said...
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Trixi said...

Anytime you want to share some juicy tomatoes, I'll bring the fresh mozzarella

Veggie Option said...

Valareee - Thanks! I may sell some at the Newport Farmer's Market this summer if I have any left after canning. I will let you know. :)

Trixi - You're on. We can pick from fresh basil from the garden too. Yum.