Tomatoes For Any Kind of Summer
Last summer in Venice was chillingly cold. You couldn’t go to a concert without a coat and you couldn’t get a tomato ripe without a heat lamp. All over my part of Los Angeles, neophyte gardeners were asking what they did wrong, why no tomatoes? No sun. June gloom never left, and not only were we hazed in until late in the afternoon, it never warmed up enough for many tomatoes to set fruit. At The Learning Garden, we had 10% of the tomato harvest we had the year before. We had many plants that produced one or two tomatoes and many more that produced nothing – somewhere in late August, they just keeled over in despair.
We did get a lot of tomatoes off some plants – mostly the small tomatoes. The term small includes, of course, the cherry, pear and grape tomatoes, but also the larger ‘saladette’ tomatoes. These are tomatoes that are large enough to be worth two large bites or three small ones. In other words about triple the size of a big cherry tomato.
The one we came to love, for its determination to keep producing despite the lack of heat and its incredible candy like sweetness, was an odd tomato called “Garden Peach.” On the outside it didn’t win any converts. It took one brave soul to pick one of them and try it; once his eyes lighted up in a smile of delicious approval, we had no trouble getting folks to eat it – it was a good tomato and, in a year bereft of tomatoes, it was a peach!
It got its name from the skin and the skin is what kept people from experimenting with it: a thick, rough textured and leather-like. It was unappetizing and unappealing. I took some to a taste test – out of twenty people only four tried it and I did not win the contest. However, my four ‘victims’ all rated it the best tomato in the contest, much to my delight.
But this brings up a point that we need to consider. The weather we have been experiencing – and by all rights will probably continue for the immediate future – many folks believe we are already in Global Climate Change which means that we are less able to predict the weather like we have in the past. If that is the case, and last year’s cold summer was not just a fluke. As I write this I am already fearing a repeat this summer. Already I’ve planted beets, a cool season crop, in between rows of basil, a warm season crop, thinking that I will get results from one or the other. I could however get a harvest from neither of them or both, depending on how hot or cold or combination thereof the summer throws down. I wonder how many farmers belong in Gamblers’ Anonymous?
Because of our lack of certitude about what crops really will produce this year, we need to plant several varieties of everything we do plant in order to insure the possibility of a harvest regardless of the weather.
So I’ve got a few ‘Garden Peach’ plants in my garden, but I’ve also got quite few others. Who knows who the star will be this year? Will it be as cold as I fear, or will things change and we have a blistering load of heat?
Your guess may even be better than mine.
Grandson of a Great Plains farmer, David King is the Garden Master at the Learning Garden, on the campus of Venice High School. He shares his love of the land and music through teaching, writing and playing in a folk/country band. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org