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      Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

      Showing posts with label tomatoes. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label tomatoes. Show all posts

      Sunday, September 13, 2009

      You say tomato, I say tomaccio!

      It has not been a good year for tomatoes in this part of the country.

      Even my container-grown plants in PA, unaffected by late blight, petered out in the cool and the damp. Our CSA, usually a reliable source of tomato bounty, notified its members at the end of July that they had removed and destroyed their entire crop, per advice of the local Coop Extension agent. So while the wet weather produced a bumper crop of edible mushrooms (for which I am extremely grateful), I'm left feeling like it wasn't really summer.

      How can it be summer without tomatoes? No ratatouille, no caprese salads, no cherry tomatoes popped into the mouth like candy on the way home from the farmers' market. And when you do find a few at a farm stand, they're not the warm, ripe-to-bursting kind of tomato you expect to find in September. Instead, they're less than fully red, picked a little too soon in hopes of avoiding blight or to satisfy the demand of a clientele that can't accept a summer sans tomatoes.

      And yet...high above the streets of New York City are a few healthy tomato plants, added to a client's garden at the last minute because he wanted to try something edible this year. Tomato plants sent gratis to this grateful garden writer in hopes that I might tout the new variety, due to arrive on the U.S. market next year. Tomato plants that gave me the only truly sun-ripened fruit I've had all summer. Thank you, Tomaccio!

      Tomaccio is a cherry tomato, bred in Israel to be the sweetest of all cherry tomatoes. (Not having done a side-by-side-by-side comparison, I cannot comment on this claim.) It has also been bred for drying, and its sweetness is supposed to be intensified when dry. The skin is thicker than the skin of your average cherry tomato, which bugged me a little (just a little!) when I ate them fresh. Almost immediately I forgot that petty criticism, so grateful was I for the taste of fresh, ripe tomato.

      In fact, it's the thick skin that's supposed to allow Tomaccio to dry on the vine, turning into sort of a tomato raisin. Normal, thin-skinned tomatoes will rot on the vine if left too long.

      My clients were away for the month of August, peak harvest season for Tomaccio. I nibbled on a few, and decided to leave the rest to vine-dry, putting Tomaccio to the test. The day before my clients' return I went to do a final garden clean-up and I was stunned to find every tomato gone! Had the painters eaten them for lunch? Had beefy New York pigeons flown away clutching the fruit in their talons? No, Maria, the conscientious housekeeper had picked them all, thinking they were going bad. Fortunately she saved them to show me, and I brought them home to dry in the oven. Tomaccio's press release says to dry them for 3 hours at 100 degrees F. I put my gas oven on Low, and in 4 hours had mini "sun"-dried tomatoes. Once dry, the skin is no longer noticeably thick, and the taste is sweet and tomato-y.

      In the meantime, more Tomaccio continues to redden on the vine, and I look forward to a few sun-ripened nibbles as I garden through the fall.

      Tuesday, June 23, 2009


      (photo courtesy Paul Zorovich)
      Spoiled gardeners with actual land for planting often restrict themselves in their deployment of containers: a few glazed beauties on the terrace, two rose standards flanking the front door, some pots of colorful annuals by the garage. We who garden in New York City with only hardscape, know that you can grow everything in containers.
      I first met Karen Dixon after her husband Paul Zorovich bought me at a charity auction to benefit the New York Oratorio Society. I had offered my services as a Garden Coach. Karen was at that time growing an eclectic
      mix of annuals and perennials, a few herbs, a tomato or two and knew at least as much as I did. I was deeply impressed by the composter on their 9th floor terrace in Inwood, the Northern tip of Manhattan. This smallish plastic tumbler was the first I had ever seen in New York City. Since that time Karen’s evolved into a big time vegetable grower with TEN self-watering EarthBoxes and assorted other containers. Karen & Paul's terrace faces northeast, where they’re completely exposed
      to daylong sun and “hurricane” force drying winds.

      Karen says “this year on the back forty I tried sugar snap peas, planting them by the end of March and eating them the first couple of weeks in June. Quite delicious, although most of them never made it off the terrace as Paul and I kind of harvested and ate them at the same time. Next year I will do the peas a little differently, as I didn’t really pay attention to the fact that a six and a half foot plant is going to overwhelm a four-foot trellis. Spatial relations are useful.
      We are also growing hot peppers for the first time, along with our collection of sweet peppers. I have both lettuce
      and spinach, and
      have already eaten
      my first heads of
      each. Finally, I
      have a tomatillo
      plant; it kind of
      came along free
      with an order of
      seedlings. (photo on
      right courtesy Paul Zorovich)

      I only have one, so
      it won't be cross-
      pollinated, unless
      someone nearby is
      also growing
      one and a pollina-
      tor visits both, I
      don't think it will set fruit.
      I am trying to grow plants for our friends the bees, so I’ve put in bee balm, hyssop, butterfly bush, borage, and several varieties of lilac. We have a few resident bumblebees that we call Eric and we like to keep them happy. Last year our terrace hosted a preying mantis all summer, which was fun, but I haven't seen any this year.
      The downside
      this year is
      that after four
      years garden
      pests have
      finally found
      us. I knew
      they would
      and this year
      I am doing
      battle with
      aphids and leafhoppers. I garden organically, so I am using all the non-synthetic chemical tricks at my disposal to control them. All I need now is for the DAMN SUN to shine a bit.”

      The EarthBox insures that tomatoes and other thirsty plants get a constant supply of water to their roots where they like it. There’s a three-gallon reservoir of water at the bottom, then a rigid aeration screen, soil, and a fill pipe at the top so the gardener can add water as needed. A fitted black shower cap covers the soil and plants are inserted through slits in the plastic.
      I was sent two EarthBoxes to trial by the company but hadn’t gotten around to planting in them when my desire for homemade compost overwhelmed me. Layering garden waste and kitchen waste on top of the aeration screen in one, I covered it all with the plastic cap. Tada! In six weeks I had gorgeous mulch for my roses, while starting to fill the second box with more waste.

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