Tomato Matters

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The Seed Catalog Conundrum

Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

 Choosing the right seed catalogs and seeds to fit your garden and lifestyle needs.

Choosing seeds to grow for your garden can be an overwhelming task. There are so many seed catalogs to choose from, each with pages of vegetables that all sound fabulous.  I’m going to share with you how I approach the task  and make it less daunting, keeping the fun in the process.

seed catalogsIn anticipation of buying seed or putting in a garden you need to give it some careful thought and really consider your needs, space and desires. A little advance planning will help keep your thoughts clear and will be more useful than you can imagine.

Even before you select the seed, I suggest you weed out some of the seed catalogs.  They may all be pretty but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.  This is the perfect time to remember not to judge a book by its cover!

As soon as the calendar turns to January, my mailbox fills up with seed catalogs, booklets and pamphlets and I’m sure yours does, too.  I’ve decided that if I use a simple system I can make selecting seed almost as enjoyable as planting and growing the crops themselves.

So, here’s my plan and I think it will work for you, too.

Some seed companies are easier to work with than others. There are those that I’ve worked with in the past and had a good experience.  I know they have a quality product that meets or exceeds my personal standards. So, I begin with the ones I know and trust.  I also know that if I have questions, they will gladly and within a reasonable amount of time answer them – even if I call multiple times.  When considering seed catalogs, I urge you to invest a few minutes and see who gives the customer service you may need.  Call up and ask a question or send an email to see how long it takes for a reply.

Do you have some idea of what you want to grow? Knowing what you want to grow might help narrow down which seed catalogs have what you are looking for.  Some catalogs are all about one vegetable while others will offer seed for a cornucopia of crops. Start with the definite’s and then later you can look at the others. Obviously, I’m rather tomato obsessive. The seed catalogs that feature mostly tomatoes are very appealing to me.  I know that whoever assembled the publication and all that it offers “gets” me.

I try to flip through each catalog as soon as it arrives.  A pile of them on the counter will frustrate me and I would probably just throw them all away.  Handling them when they arrive eliminates the mess.  So, as I’m flipping through I’m looking at pictures. I want to see beautiful photographs of every single thing they offer. This is not a time when I want to use my imagination.  Photos need to be in color! Black and white means nothing to me in terms of tomatoes or any other vegetables.catalog page

I like seed catalogs that offer several varieties of each vegetable. I want choices.  No matter which one I’m looking at, the descriptive paragraph needs to be concise and full of details.  I want to know some basic information about each variety like whether it’s a hybrid or an heirloom, the approximate days to maturity, and anything they can tell me about growing habits. In the case of tomatoes it will also indicate whether the plant is Indeterminate” or “Determinate”, referring  to the plant’s pattern of growth and setting fruit. I also want to know something about the plant that reflects the writer’s personal experience. With so many varieties sounding so fabulous, something about flavor, shape or how the vegetable is used can be very helpful.

Lastly, I want to look at the catalogs from the brand new companies. These are probably somewhat limited but companies that are young are usually really on top of what’s new.  They’re enthusiastic and eager to share all that they know and do.

Once you’ve narrowed down which catalogs to devote your time to you’re ready to use page markers, sticky arrows or post its to keep track of what interests you most.

I’m going to give you a day or two to get to this point.  In my next post, we’ll explore how to narrow it down to which seeds you want to order and grow. I suspect that you’re probably already on overload so let’s break this down into small steps.  You’ve got a little bit of time.

To be continued…..


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Gardener’s Holiday Wish List Day 5 – Canning Supplies

Posted by on Dec 11, 2012 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

In August I find my kitchen counters overflowing with tomatoes. I try to arrange them neatly on platters, trays and in baskets.  Inevitably, counter space becomes so minimal that there’s not even room to slice up one of my tasty garden gems.  This is when the canning supplies come out.  Every gardener that grows more than a few tomatoes needs to have this!

Supplies for canningCanning supplies can be purchased individually or in sets.  The sets are so worth it – you know the rack is the right size for the pot and that makes a huge difference!  You don’t need anything fancy, but you do need all of the items…the magnet, rack, pot and specially shaped canning tongs, jars and lids are all necessary to do the job properly and safely.  A good book about canning (there are many) is really helpful as the science here is an important factor.

Canning supplies are easy to find. Some grocery stores carry it all. I’ve seen sets at Bed, Bath and Beyond, Smart and Final and of course, all of the cookware and restaurant supply shops.  This is a great gift – you will enjoy the delicious results as much as the person receiving the gift!



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Tomatoes and Canning…Which to Choose?

Posted by on Dec 5, 2012 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

There are so many ways to enjoy a tomato it’s often difficult to decide what to do with them.

Some tomatoes are absolute perfection when eaten raw while others are ideal for canning.  Some you just want to pick and pop in your mouth while others make a superb addition to a panzanella or caprese salad or a hearty soup.  With so many options, how is it possible to know which to use?  Canning San Marzano Redorta Roma Tomato

The fact is, if you ask 100 different tomato growers what their favorite tomato to eat is you‘ll get 100 different answers.  For me, it’s Pineapple. I like a slightly sweeter, not too tart tomato. Pineapple is like a tropical fruit. Its beautiful color, a blend of yellow, blush and pink echoes in the flavor.  The taste is as sweet and yummy as its outer beauty.   

If I’m making a salsa, I always like to include black or purple tomatoes. The black and purple varieties tend to have a slightly smoky flavor that adds depth and complexity to any recipe.  They’re also quite fabulous sliced nice and thick to layer on a BLT.  Black Krim, Cherokee Purple and Black Mammoth are standards in my garden. 

Now, if you ask me what tomato I like for making sauce, I’m going to tell you something altogether different.  For sauces, I prefer to use meatier tomatoes that are less juicy and have fewer seeds.  People often think of the well-known Roma tomato for sauce.  Romas actually aren’t that flavorful, so I generally avoid them. Viva Italia is a very nice paste tomato, but it’s a determinate variety. That means it’s going to produce all of its fruit at one time and then it’s done, so it wouldn’t be my first choice.  There are tomatoes like Amish Paste and Sausage that are quite decent tomatoes for sauce.  I suggest growing a variety of them so you can make your own comparison.

 In many of the upscale markets and cookware shops you will find canned San Marzano tomatoes.  San Marzano is a flavorful plum tomato. It grows on high yielding plants and the fruit is somewhat disease resistant. It is a very meaty tomato and holds up to canning well, hence its popularity.

San Marzano Redorta Tomato My personal favorite tomato for canning is a strain of San Marzano called San Marzano Redorta. It’s slightly larger and even more flavorful than San Marzano. It has a unique shape and almost looks more like a chile pepper than a tomato.   It’s wonderful sliced in a salad and perfect to cut in half, lengthwise, brushed with olive oil and  roasted on the grill. San Marzano Redorta is an indeterminate plant which grows like a vine and produces throughout the season.  Besides being delicious,  it is resistant to Blossom End Rot.  This year, an added bonus is that San Marzano Redorta will also be available as a graft from

All this talk about sauce is getting me hungry…thankfully I have several jars of tomatoes canned and set aside for a Fall evening such as this.  Tonight for dinner I’ll be making Hot and Saucy Meatball Sandwiches. This recipe makes a lot so you’ll have plenty of sauce and meatballs that you can freeze and serve at another time.

Laura’s Favorite Tomato Sauce with Meatballs



1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground lean beef

1 large onion, minced

2 cups fresh bread crumbs

½ cup red wine

2 eggs

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley


1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 stalk celery, trimmed and chopped

1 carrot, peeled and

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

½ cup red wine

2 ½ pounds tomatoes

Fresh parsley leaves

6 basil leaves roughly torn

1 teaspoon salt

Ground Black Pepper

Red Pepper Flakes

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat olive oil in large saucepan.  Add onion and carrots, sauté for a minute.  Add celery and garlic, continue to sauté over a gently flame until softened. Add the tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper

Add basil for last 5 minutes of cooking.

Puree sauce in blender to desired thickness.

To make meatballs:

Gently beat eggs to combine

Add to other ingredients.  Gently work ingredients together until just combined. Do not over-work. Gently form 1 ½  inch balls with meat mixture, being careful not to overwork or pack the meat.

Place on baking sheet and refrigerate, covered, for at least one hour.

Remove meatballs from the refrigerator.  Pour a small amount of olive oil in the skillet to coat the bottom.  Brown the meatballs on all sides over medium heat. Transfer meatballs to the tomato sauce and cook for 20 minutes.  Place meatballs on a sandwich with an ample dollop of sauce.  Top with sliced  mozzarella, sautéed onions or bell peppers, if desired.





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My Thanksgiving Surprise Tomato!

Posted by on Nov 21, 2012 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

No matter how much I enjoy preparing the Thanksgiving Feast, I always get to a point when I become a little overwhelmed and I have to take a bit of a break.  The best place for me to reinvigorate and regroup is outside in the fresh air. Taking a stroll through the garden yesterday I just happened to find an unexpected tasty treat on one of my last tomato plants.

Pink Berkeley Tie Dye

 It’s not the most beautiful or as large as the fruit I picked earlier in the season, but I was still overjoyed to discover this Pink Berkeley Tie Dye peeking out at me. Elated, I ran into the house to show and share with the family.  That small tomato went a long way.  It was an unexpected gift from nature – a surprise that certainly brought a smile to my face. Sometimes it’s the little things that mean so much.

Pink Berkeley Tie Dye is a beautiful port wine colored beefsteak tomato with metallic green stripes.  It produces mid-early and has a very sweet, rich flavor. It’s available both as a conventional plant at various seedling sales in the Spring and as a graft from Garden Life.

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Amazing Grafted Tomatoes!

Posted by on Sep 25, 2012 in tomatoes galore, Uncategorized | 0 comments

It’s been hot here…really hot. Temperatures soared into the high 90s and sometimes up to105 degrees for four weeks straight. The tomatoes really took a beating. In spite of the shade cloth I put over the plants, some tomatoes were sunburned. In some areas, the shadecloth was too close to the plants and with diminished air circulation, the plants became very susceptible to spider mites. Sadly, most of my tomato growing for this season came to a screeching halt much earlier than anticipated.

It’s not all sad news, though. Because, this year I decided to see what all the chatter about grafted tomatoes was about. I had heard great things but wanted to see for myself. And boy, am I glad I did! The plants have performed better than I could have imagined.

I took this photo yesterday. In two of my garden beds I planted only grafted tomatoes. Those plants are still incredibly lush and full of fruit and flowers. I harvested eight tomatoes from Big Zac and three from Pineapple! If I wasn’t convinced before that grafted plants are absolutely fabulous (I was) then I certainly am now!

Grafted tomatoes allow us to grow heirloom varieties that have been carefully grafted onto incredibly strong rootstock without having to worry about soil born disease. The huge root systems allow the plants to take up more water and nutrition resulting in larger, more productive plants. The grafts are more tolerant of cooler and warmer temperatures, so they can have longer growing seasons.

Planting grafted tomatoes is not quite the same as conventionally grown tomatoes. It’s important to understand the differences between these plants to grow them properly and enjoy the benefits of the graft. In Spring, I will definitely hold classes spefically addressing how to successfully grow grafted tomatoes.

I purchased all of my grafted tomatoes for this season from GardenLife. They ship the Mighty ‘Matos in three packs in the Spring, but the time to order will soon be here! They will offer about 37 varieties of tomatoes and I cannot wait to order mine!

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