I was so excited to harvest my first homegrown tomatoes. It's been more than a year since I have had tomatoes growing in my hillside garden.
Last year’s record high temperatures and drought devastated many crops, including tomatoes.
When temperatures are consistently above 90 degrees F, plants go into survival mode and stop producing pollen, flowers and eventually fruit. Many gardeners I know said last year was a terrible year for their gardens, including their pampered tomatoes.
I am growing an organic Roma tomato from seeds a friend gave me for my birthday, and my favorite perpetually-blooming cherry tomatoes, which for years re-seed themselves and are almost no trouble to start.
I grow some in pots on my deck. At the end of the season, a couple of them make it inside to winter over.
By the time spring rolls around, all I have to do is hunt through my inside potted plants to find the new crop of seedlings. Sometimes I get fancy and pot them in cardboard egg cartons.
Other years I move them into a communal pot, place them outside to harden off for a few days, then away they go to be snuck into my deck mixed-flower garden pots. Some get their own pots. Others have to share but I usually end up with a good dozen tomato plants.
The rest fend for themselves in my tiny raised-bed garden facing southwest. This year, the tomato plants have shared the soil with catnip plants, which have been covered with a wide range of native bumblebees.
Since bumblebees are important pollinators for commercial tomato and pepper crops, I’ll be interested to see what yields I get from these tiny visitors.
My first tomatoes are already showing the effects of our hot weather. Their outside skin is cracking. That is a sign that the tomatoes have been getting an irregular supply of water.
If it's been very dry, and then all of a sudden you get a couple of inches of rain, the insides of the tomatoes grow faster than the outer skin is able to grow, resulting in cracks. It doesn't look pretty but the tomatoes are fine to eat.
The more serious consequence of irregular watering is blossom end rot, when the bottoms of the fruit turn dark and sink in. Blossom end rot is a calcium-deficiency that can be addressed by having a soil pH of 6.5 and adding dried, crushed egg shells to the bottom of the plant pot.
If you didn’t earlier this spring, use a trowel to make a little opening in the soil and add them now. We still have several months of growing season, and hopefully tomatoes, ahead.
With those extra tomatoes, I'm planning to make this recipe for tomato jam:
Page 2 of 2 - • 5 pounds tomatoes, finely chopped
• 3.5 cups sugar
• 8 tablespoons lime juice
• 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 1 tablespoon red chili flakes
No need to peel and seed tomatoes. Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce temperature to a simmer. Stirring regularly, simmer jam until it reduces to a sticky, jammy mess — between 1 and 1.5 hours, depending on how high you keep your heat.
When the jam has cooked down sufficiently, remove from heat and fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe rims, apply lids and twist on rings. Process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.
Remove jars from water bath and allow them to cool. When jars are cool enough to handle, test seals. Store jars in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at www.gardeningcharlotte.com. Copyright 2013 used with permission by Rolla Daily News - St. James Leader Journal - Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@ gmail.com.