The Wonderful World of Tomatoes (And Some Peppers) My A to Z Theme

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Does anyone REALLY know how many varieties of tomatoes there are in the world? I am going to hazard a guess that no one does. I do know that there are hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes, with different colors, shapes, uses, flavors and growing habits. New hybrids are always on the forefront.  I even developed my own – “Mister E” which started as a mystery, but is now one of our favorites.

I raise  tomato and pepper plants using organic methods and sell them every April and May. This year I have 1300 pepper plants (41 varieties) and about 6500 tomato plants (154 varieties). Not only do I sell, but I like to educate people about growing their own food. during this A-Z Challenge I will showcase some of the tomatoes I grow and hopefully have the time to throw in a few peppers.

Now, you probably want to know what my credentials are, what makes me an “expert”. Read on…

I started my gardening journey as a child – my parents had a HUGE garden, and grew Early Girls, Beefsteaks and Roma tomatoes as well as other vegetables and plants. While I loved seeing things grow, I did not like weeding, although my mother claims I actually enjoyed it!

Eighteen years ago – the dark ages to some of you – I started gardening again in Spokane. I started with the standard varieties, but soon became bored and searched for others. Oh, the seed catalogs wooed me with their glossy pages and colorful pictures and tantalizing descriptions of tomatoes I had never even heard of. I started ordering tomatoes with names like Mortgage Lifter, Green Zebra, Orange Russian, Ananis Noir, and Sungold. I was in heaven and as every good gardener does, I planted the entire seed packet.  Usually 25-40 seeds with almost 100% germination! What was I going to do with all my tomato plants?

That first year the excess plants were put in the driveway along with a coffee can as a money box and a sign inviting folks to buy them. People loved them and were as happy as I was to try the different kinds of tomatoes. From there I started doing a local garden show – “The Garden Expo.” In a sense, I have grown with them. I started with one booth and a small greenhouse when it was a small show. Now it is a regional event held at the local community college campus, with 15,000+ customers anticipated this spring, and I have 3 greenhouses growing 6,500 tomato plants, 1,300 peppers, and some herbs. If you make to Spokane on Mother’s Day weekend, stop by on Saturday; my 4 booths are located just beyond the entrance.

Since I started my business, I have researched and grown all kinds of tomatoes – heirloom, patio, early, etc. This year we are planting over 154 varieties! I will be highlighting many of them in my blog in the days to come. I have also developed my own garden soil mix and determined the best fertilizers and additives to get great, tasty tomatoes. I became a Master Gardener for six years to learn more, and also to teach others. Now, my husband calls me the Garden Master, but I am not sure if that is because he thinks that I know a lot about gardening, or because I am always putting him to work in the garden!

Each year we grow something new and learn something as well. Do I know everything? No, but I am always learning and I like to share with others what I know. My next challenge is figuring out how to ship my plants – I have had a number of inquiries from across the United States for plants.

In truth, I never intended to become The Tomato Lady. However my customers came up with the name and I liked it so much that I registered it with the state. When I am not in the garden, I am a graphic artist and I am married to a talented illustrator (We have to do something in the off-season!) We designed the logo and marketing materials.

I hope you will enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy sharing it with you. Feel free to also check out my website, TheTomatoLady.com and Facebook page, https://www.Facebook.com/theTomatoLady. God willing, we will continue the journey into tomato gardening together.

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Hot Pepper Seedlings are Very Slow!

I knew that hot peppers are extremely slow to germinate and they lived up to that expectation which is why I started them so much earlier than last year. Now my gripe is that they are taking their sweet time to develop their first true leaves. Sigh. It doesn’t pay for me to rush them into their semi permanent homes if they don’t have them.

On another note, the tomatoes that I planted for an extra early crop are up. The way things are going, they will need to be transplanted before the hot peppers! That being said, the jalapenos are doing fabulous and I did get to transplant those, plus the peperoncini, the ghost pepper and the maules red hot. It’s the other hot ones I have to wait on. Go figure! Just another day in the life of a grower. Right?!?

How Can You Tell if a Tomato Tastes Good?

I am a participant in Quora and there was a question about how to tell if a tomato tastes good.  This was my answer: I have found that you can’t really tell definitively by the smell or the shape or the look of it how it will taste. There are a lot variables in what contributes to the quality of the tomato’s taste. Weather (hot or cold and how much}, watering (too much or too little), how ripe it is and most importantly, the variety.

 I have grown the same tomato from year to year and will have different results  each time. For instance, I grew a cherry tomato called Black Pearl and loved it the first year, but thought it was mushy and tasteless the second. Different growing conditions each year. When growing, i always recommend that you give it a few years since you may love it again.
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This is a tomato, that when you look at it, you wouldn’t think much of it. It is a golden green (which some folks thing is odd) when it is ripe and it is phenomenal in flavor. About the size of a golf ball, it bursts in your mouth with sweet juicy goodness and has a pleasant pop when biting into it. This variety behaves itself and would be great in a large pot (think half of a wine barrel) and the name of it is Green Grape.
 
 

Best Tomato Soup Recipe Ever!

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This is the best recipe I have for tomato soup. It is in one of my Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks. A bit more labor intensive than opening a can of “tomato” soup but well worth the effort. My tweaks are in using quarts of tomatoes that I canned, use onions instead of shallots and I don’t use cayenne or any of the alcohol in it. I also use a hand blender to puree it.

makes approximately 6 cups

2 (28 ounce) cans, whole tomatoes (not packed in puree) – drained; 
3 cups juice reserved, tomatoes seeded 
1 1/2 tablespoons, dark brown sugar 
4 tablespoons, unsalted butter 
4 large shallots – minced 
1 tablespoon, tomato paste 
pinch ground allspice 
2 tablespoons, unbleached all-purpose flour 
1 3/4 cups, chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth 
1/2 cup, heavy cream 
2 tablespoons, brandy or dry sherry 
table salt 
cayenne pepper 
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees; line a jelly-roll pan or rimmed cookie sheet with foil. Reserve 3 cups of the tomato juices from the cans and remove visible seeds from the tomatoes. 

Spread the tomatoes in single layer on the foil lined pan, and sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar. Bake the tomatoes in the preheated oven until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color – about 30 minutes. Allow the tomatoes to cool slightly, then peel them off the foil; transfer the tomatoes to a small bowl and set aside. 

In a medium-size, nonreactive saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until foaming; add the shallots, tomato paste, and allspice. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook – stirring occasionally – until the shallots are softened – 7 to 10 minutes. 

Add the flour and cook – stirring constantly – until thoroughly combined – about 30 seconds. Whisking constantly, gradually add the chicken stock; then stir in the reserved tomato juice and the roasted tomatoes. 

Cover the saucepan, increase the heat to medium, and bring the mixture to boil; then, reduce the heat to low and simmer – stirring occasionally – to blend flavors – about 10 minutes. 

Strain the mixture into a medium-size bowl. Rinse out the saucepan. Transfer the strained tomatoes and solids from the strainer into a blender. Add 1 cup of the strained liquid to the blender, and puree until smooth. Add the remaining reserved liquid. 

Return the pureed mixture to the saucepan, add the cream, and heat over low heat just until hot – about 3 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the brandy or sherry; season to taste with salt and cayenne, and serve immediately. 

TO MAKE AHEAD: 
This soup can be prepared through the blender process, then, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days – or frozen for up to 2 months. Reheat over low heat before proceeding by adding cream, brandy or sherry and final seasonings. 

 

 

Nifty Way to Plant an Accessible Kitchen Garden

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Here is a picture I saw on facebook about a different way to garden. The only caveats: the bag will weigh a lot so make sure that where you put it, is where you want it (you might try putting it on a cart with wheels if you want to move it to catch sun) and that what you put it on, is able to hold it’s weight. Also, PUT DRAINAGE HOLES UNDERNEATH, LOTS OF THEM!

Try shallow rooted veggies like radishes, round carrots, lettuce, spinach, beets etc.