Small Scale Farming

Some of the tomatoes in pots from last year's garden.

As somebody who enjoys good food and cooking, I know that my finished product is only as good as the ingredients that I put into it.  This is especially true when it comes to fresh produce, as so much of the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are now grown for shipping hardiness, rather than actual flavor.  A sad waste, in my book!  True, we can now get almost any sort of produce, grown anywhere, at any time of the year, but is it actually worth buying?  In the case of tomatoes, I have to say no. I remember growing up with tomatoes, real tomatoes, that came fresh from the garden.  They were a focal point on our BLTs. They were sliced and lightly pickled with vinegar and onions.  They were tossed with fresh mozzarella and basil.  They were broiled with herbs and Parmesan on top.  Best of all, they horrified my early fall lunch mates in school when I would pull one out and eat it like an apple, juice dripping everywhere.  They were bright red, acidic, and had names like Big Boy, Early Girl and Rutgers.  These tomatoes were picked very ripe and traveled no further than to a neighbors house.  Is it any wonder that I find today's hard pink supermarket tomatoes to be somewhat lacking? I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Two summers ago, for the first time, I decided to try planting some cherry tomatoes.  We put a few pots out back, had 3 or 4 plants, plus 2 of jalapenos.  Last year I decided to expand, so had 10 or so cherry tomato plants, as well as a patio tomato and several pepper plants, not to mention branching out to herbs.  There were some success, some failures, and some really wet weather.  A total success it was not, but there were enough successes that I fully planned to do the same again this year. You know how sometimes, when you get a crazy idea, it just builds.  Then you can't shake the idea, and it becomes just a big encompassing desire to go nuts with your idea?  Yeah, that was me and my garden this year.  Why start with pre-bought plants?  I can start from seed!  I purchased a mixed packet of tomato seeds from Heirloom Solutions, got my seedling pots ready, and planted them, along with some onion and green onion seeds.  I quickly decided that my tiny patio out back was really not enough space, and had already proven to be not quite enough sun, so I figured that I could sneak a few plants out front.  We had a garden up against the house that was already in place when we moved in, that was stunning.  Years of neglect by us has met that it's been taken over by bug-ridden hollyhocks, and a Rose of Sharon that has spawned hundreds of mini-bushes from root shoots.   Last weekend, I took a hoe to that garden, and out everything came.  Over the next couple of weeks, multiple bags of peat soil will be added, mixed in to what is already there, in an attempt to get the soil a little more healthy.  A tiller will be rented to help chop up the roots left from that blasted Rose of Sharon, and a bag or two of manure will be mixed in.  I have blood meal on hand for later fertilizing, and am planning on placing a soaker hose in for the summer.  The plan is to keep these tomatoes healthy and organic, and hope like crazy that the birds don't love them as much as I do. Is everything going perfectly to plan?  Of course not!  My seeds, since it never occurred to me that they would need a grow light and not just a room with sunlight, got a bad start, and are currently very leggy, and are just now starting to sprout their tomato plant leaves.  For the first three weeks, they looked like tall stalks with 2 oval leaves....in other words, nothing like a tomato, and totally indistinguishable from every other seedling in the world.  I panicked a bit, consulted some friends, did some looking on the web, and decided to hit them with the Ott Light I use for crafting.  A few days of that, and little bitty baby sprout leaves started to appear!  My hopes are high again, and soon I will replant a bunch of them into slightly larger containers, to continue growing until they can go into the ground in another month or so.  The plan is to have a good dozen plants out front, some cherry tomatoes out back, along with another plant or two from this seedling bunch in containers, and to plant some at a couple of places in our neighborhood where we know the people won't mind us stealing a couple of their tomatoes if they got a type we did not.

This year's seedlings, just starting to show their real tomato leaves.

Is all of this more work than swinging by the store, and grabbing a tomato from the bin?  Of course.  Especially with having to start from total scratch this year, it's a ton of work, hassle, and a bit of an investment.  Is it worth it?  Considering the fact that I will get tomatoes that will have amazing flavor, that I know have never been sprayed or chemically enhanced, whose seeds did not start out as part of some lab project?  Absolutely.

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