Tomatoes are the #1 crop for backyard gardeners. Our garden tomatoes might be smaller, but they are sweeter and more flavorful than the monster tomatoes under the fluorescent lights in the grocery store. We use most of our tomatoes in salsa. A couple of times a week we chop our tomatoes, bell peppers, various hot peppers, some onions, cilantro, and a little Roasted Tomato Salsa from Trader Joe's, just to juice it up a bit. We plan our summer menu around this spicy mix, and therefore slather it on almost everything we eat. Tamales, tostadas, fish tacos, deep fried green burritos, and of course our Sunday morning garden omelets. You'd think we'd grow tired of all those salsa dishes, and we do! By the end of the season we have had our fill. As nature would have it, the height of the season is over. You know the end is near when everyone you meet says, "its so ... hot!" That means its too hot for tomatoes too. When temperatures exceed 90 degrees the tomato flowers won't set, and you then have "blossom drop". We keep an eye on the tomato plants that last through the summer heat. We keep mulching and watering and shading. When the monsoon winds and weather cool again we water the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts to a gallon of water. This provides the plants with the phosphorus it needs to start setting fruit again. Some of the tomatoes will not make it through the summer, they need to be pulled and put in the compost pile. Those that remain will give you a nice fall harvest and hopefully a few more meals. For me, the simplest way of keeping tomatoes is by making a puree and freezing for later use in soups and stews. One year I sliced my tomatoes, sprinkled them with a little sea salt and dried them in the sun for a few days. They looked beautiful spread out on my pizza's. However, there is nothing like a fresh tomato sandwich with a thick slice of cheese on top or just popping a few cherry tomatoes in your mouth like candy.
It's a good feeling to be able to walk out to your garden and grab something for breakfast. My husband makes an awesome omelet using our eggs and adding whatever else is available in the garden; usually tomatoes, squash and a variety of peppers. There has not been one time that he does not comment on where the contents come from. We just smile, nod our heads and eat!
I find that the beauty of eating in season is the anticipation that comes from waiting, sometimes all year, for that next harvest. I cannot make myself eat those waxy tomatoes in the grocery store in December. I'll start sewing a few tomato seeds around the first of December and keep them warm until I can set them out again in the spring. We all need to eat but what we really want is to eat well on a daily basis. We know that what we have grown has been miraculously transformed into a perfect food, ready to nourish our bodies. I think about this when I casually toss leaves or kitchen scraps into my compost bin. I walk away, knowing this stuff will eventually cycle around to me. We feed the plants and the plants feed us. That sounds pretty simple.
My husband and I have been gardening for many years, not so much for the food security, but for the beauty, satisfaction, and peace that gardening and growing things bring you. We started small, a couple of tomatoes, a few zucchini, and lots of flowers. It didn't really matter how much we harvested. We really didn't eat from our garden. We didn't know how. The lettuce was always a little bitter . The tomatoes always had holes in them and there was a Safeway just down the street. The important thing was that we were having fun. We loved working together with our children beside us. There is something comforting about watching your kids play in the dirt or happily run down the brick paths with nowhere to go. Our garden was the center of the earth ,we were firmly planted there and that was all that mattered. A couple of years ago, something important started to take place. A shift began to take shape, not only to us , but to our communities. The meaning of food began to change. Where the food came from, what was in it and how it nourishes us. Perhaps the connection between what we eat and how we feel finally began to set in. For us, it was time to get serious. It was time to eat from our garden.
" I am a mad gardener. I mutter and rant, and at night I shake dry seeds out of my unruly mane of hair. The garden is in my bones, in my gut, and in my hands. "
Wendy Johnson , Gardening at the Dragons Gate
Inch by inch, row by row Gonna make this garden grow Gonna mulch it deep and low Gonna make it furtile ground
Inch by inch, row by row Please bless these seeds I sow Please keep them safe below 'Till the rain comes tumbling down
Pullin' weeds and pickin' stones We are made of dreams and bones Need a place to call my own 'Cause the time is close at hand
Grain for grain, sun and rain Find my way in nature's chain Tune my body and my brain To the music of the land
Plant your rows straight and long Season them with prayer and song Mother Earth will make you strong If you give her love and care An old crow watches hungrily from his perch on younder tree In my garden I'm as free as that feathered bird up there