Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tomato Shortage

"I want to really expand the garden this year." K said out of the blue earlier this week. This surprised me because the garden is mostly my endeavor. I do all the planning, nurturing, weeding, harvesting and preserving. K does help me with my plans and labor projects such as fencing, building raised beds, and erecting trellises. He also patiently listens to my endless conversations about the garden and picks up bags of compost if he happens to be at the local hardware store. He doesn't have the same enthusiasm with gardening as I do but does support my passion and enjoys the harvests.

For a moment, my mind ran over the idea of expanding the garden. We usually expand a little every year but now have reached an area in the yard that is shaded by trees part of the day in late summer. I considered other areas in the yard, which lead to thoughts of the added expense for extra fencing to keep the dogs out...

I pause for a moment and ask him,” Why do you think we need to expand?"

"We need to grow more tomatoes and I want more eggplant parmesan." K replies.

Ah! I understand now. See, earlier in the week I told him that our canned tomato sauce was running low and we would have to conserve it if we wanted it to last. Both of us are part Italian and consider tomato sauce a staple in this household.

Canned Tomato Sauce

Tomato production was down this past year. The excess heat early in the season stressed the plants and allowed disease to hit earlier than most years. Early blight is in my soil. I do what I can to stave off the disease by rotating my crops, mulching to avoid soil splash, and promoting good air circulation between plants. Even with these precautions, eventually early blight shows itself on the lower leave of my tomato plants. Most years it happens later in the season allowing the plants to grow and produce before the disease has impact.

This year, early blight wiped out my Roma tomato plants before they had time to flourish. Other tomatoes continued to produce but overall yields were reduced as the disease made its way up the plants.

Roma Tomatoes with Early Blight

Not willing to gamble this year, I am researching some early bight resistant hybrid tomatoes to add to the mix.

So far, I have decided that Juliet will be a new addition to the garden spot this year. This tomato peaked my interest because of its versatility, disease resistance, and high yields. Dave at Happy Acres sings Juliet's praises. Fedco describes them as, "...good stewing tomatoes, excellent salad tomatoes, and, despite their juiciness, surprised us by making a tangy sauce with a diverse complex richness and full sweet tomato flavor."

I have not ruled out a garden expansion completely yet. But I am also trying to figure out ways to produce more out of the garden space available. In previous years, growing Roma tomatoes in self-watering containers with fresh potting mix helped keep the plants disease free. I may return to planting some plants in containers again this year.

Roma Tomatoes growing in self-watering containers in 2010

Oh, and I will find room to grow more eggplant for Eggplant Parmesan.


  1. That's a shame about the blight problems. Roma doesn't do well for me here, even though early blight hasn't been a problem (yet). I am still searching for a good O.P. paste tomato. Viva Italia is my current favorite hybrid. Of course my love affair with Juliet is still going strong!

  2. I'm not crazy about Juliet as a fresh eating tomato, but I must say it was a good (and healthy) producer the year I grew it. The next year, I had several volunteers pop up, so I let one grow. Even though it had a hybrid parent, it grew just like the one the year before, even more robust and healthy. I found them too small to fool with for salsa, and had a lot of other big tomatoes for sauce, so I never grew Julet again after that. This year, due to blight/wilt problems the past couple of years, I'm going to be growing mostly resistant hybrids as well.

  3. You have had much better luck growing tomatoes in SWC's than I did. I did it with eggplants one year and they produced like gangbusters!

  4. We are doing really well with our tomato and tomato puree stores this year. There is nothing worse than Italians without tomatoes!! I have always found that Romas are a fussy tomato to grow. I have never grown them in SWC's though.

  5. It sounds like true love on both parts. I'm toying with (gasp!) buying a bushel of Romas and just putting them up. Maybe if I just concentrate on two slicing tomatoes it would work best. It will be interesting to see how your summer works out.

  6. I feel your pain. We built six large raised beds last spring, because the prior season found us with diseased soil--making out tomato harvest less than ideal. Still, I'm trying to be smart with the raised beds, because last year I crammed three of them full of tomatoes, not allowing adequate air circulation, plus the ridiculous heat--and again, a poor harvest. This year, I'm promising myself that I will NOT crowd, I WILL rotate beds, and I will plant smartly instead of trying to grow out every variety that I grow for my heirloom plant business. It's so hard, because there are just so many varieties I want in our garden! Still, our sauce is also beginning to run low. I have the seeds in hand to start the transplants for my nursery, and I'm dreaming of fresh tomatoes. Wishing you a lovely, disease free harvest this summer!

  7. It's a good thing you were sensible enough to ask a few questions before rushing forward with expansion (not that expanding the garden is a bad thing! LOL!). Now that you know where his focus is on, you have ways to navigate to a good result using a variety of options. Growing tomatoes in our region is a constant (and sometimes pointless) battle, but I bravely carry on. I miss living in central Washington (near to where Annie's Granny lives) where tomatoes, peppers, melons, and eggplant grew like weeds because of the dry heat. (sigh)

  8. I look forward to seeing your garden expansion project. I say go for it, especially if you have someone to help you with it. Your pictures of your tomato sauce always wow me. They look like they need to be on a store shelf.

  9. I decided to expand my garden here as well. There was really no place to add more raised beds, and I'm adding space with a combination of SWC's, dirt piles on the barren slope toward the pond, a terraced bed, a potato box, anything but a new raised bed. Tomatoes here last year were feeble from the heat and a bout of blossom end rot. This year I'll have space for more plants and I'll have to decided what varieties to plant. I just hope we have more normal summer weather this year.