Breed the Best Tomatoes

Mother Nature will do most of the work for you.


| July/August 2008



Tomato Garden

A garden full of tomatoes can be beautiful.

iStockphoto.com/Jerry Horbert

When I finally moved to the country about 10 years ago, I had only one thing in mind: I wanted to grow a gigantic garden. After years of city living, where I was forced to cram fields of corn and squash into small backyard beds and limited (mournfully) to only a handful of tomato plants, I was eager to expand.

Like many people who grow vegetables, I was lured into the garden by the desire for homegrown tomatoes. I was raised in a hot little Southwestern town where my mom cultivated tomatoes in raised beds. One of my favorite childhood memories is heading out to the backyard on a summer afternoon, plopping down on the ground and eating just-picked tomatoes – still warm from the August sun.

As I started my vegetable garden that first year in the country, I dreamt of re-creating that experience. We are located high in the Rocky Mountains with rich soil, plenty of water and room enough for a huge garden. I decided to start my own tomato plants from seeds. I didn’t just want your basic Big Boy from a Big Nursery. I wanted heirloom tomatoes. I wanted 50 of them. A hundred, maybe.

I had a little sunroom attached to the house, the perfect place to start tomatoes. I spent all of March and April tending the seedlings, gently potting them up to bigger sizes, religiously feeding them kelp, even singing them little botanical hymns. By the time late May rolled around, I had several dozen Brandywines, Cherokee Purples and Boxcar Willies. I was thrilled.

I was eager to get them out into the ground, but in our high-country climate, we worry about late spring frosts. I waited patiently. Finally, on May 21, with some fanfare, I planted them in the garden – rows and rows of fancy tomatoes, with a couple handfuls of organic fertilizer carefully tossed in each hole.

And, on June 14, a freak frost came along. My sweet little tomato plants froze and died. Every last one of them.





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