Sunday, August 23, 2009

Garden Journal 8/23/09:
The First Tomato of the Year Is Finally Ripe!

Swaddled in a Bed of Fresh Basil (the biggest success in the garden this year)

Realization of the Day:
It's always a good idea to download your photo and check to see if it's in focus before gobbling up the subject in a fit of uncontrollable excitement.

When I was growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area suburbs, our neighbor across the street always planted a big backyard vegetable garden, which we were sometimes called upon to water while he and his family took their summer vacation. A few years ago my foodie mom (aka Queen of the 100% Whole Grain Bran Muffins) and I were talking about ripening tomatoes in the garden, and she said, "Well you know what Mr. C. always used to say, don't you? That his first tomatoes were always ripe on August 1st. 'It doesn't matter when I plant them, it's always August 1st,' he'd tell me. 'I can plant my tomatoes on the last day of July, and I'll still have ripe tomatoes on August 1st.'" This cracked me up.

The 20th of August is definitely a ripe tomato record for me—I've never had to wait this long, and for just one tomato at that. And I thought last year's handful of ripe cherry tomatoes picked on August 17th was pathetic. But considering that my sorry little seedlings didn't go into the ground until June 17th, it's really not that bad.

I can't remember what variety this is (why does it seem like I make the most detailed notes about the plants that end up dying?), but I do know it's my favorite kind—ready to eat. Of course it was delicious.

For various reasons, most of my tomato plants have not been doing all that well, but I do have quite a few green tomatoes in various shapes and sizes out on the vines. Despite it being the end of August (and a blissfully invigorating 50 degrees this morning!), I'm hopeful; last summer I was harvesting ripe tomatoes into October.

Strange spring and summer weather has meant a bad year for both commercial and backyard tomato crops across the country, and then there are all the plants decimated by blight. My friend Jen at FarmAid (a fabulous organization whose annual fundraising concert is being held in St. Louis this year!) told me last month that her CSA farm was getting ready to pull up 4,000 tomato plants because of blight. Closer to home, my Amish neighbor said his first early tomato planting basically flooded from all our spring rain (which was very nice in some ways but terrible in others). Fortunately his later plantings did better (though not nearly as well as last year), and I've been getting my ripe tomato fix from his front yard produce stand.

Fast Farm Summer Food—Perfect for Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner

One of my favorite ways to celebrate summer's tomato bounty is by making BLTs. We had the first ones of the season for dinner last week (on freshly baked Farmhouse White of course), and they were so good we had them again for dinner the next night. I've always loved cream cheese and tomato sandwiches, which I ate on toasted English muffins when I was a kid and on homemade crusty baguettes now. The best cream cheese and tomato sandwiches I've ever eaten were the little ones I made with Italian Olive Cheek Rolls from Daniel Leader's wonderful book, Local Breads, but the open-faced sandwich pictured above on toasted slices of Honey Bran Whole Wheat was pretty darn wonderful, too.

So how are your tomatoes doing this year? Any new favorites? What about failures? And don't forget to tell us where you're located!

Do you have an abundance of ripe tomatoes in your garden? (Oh, I remember those years well!) Here are some of my most popular tomato recipes you might enjoy:
Homemade Tomato Vegetable Juice
Quick & Easy Gazpacho
Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce
Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip (and Factory Tours)
Savory Tomato Pesto Pie with an Easy Biscuit Crust
Fresh Tomato & Basil Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
Tomato Pesto Pizza, My Basil Pesto Recipe, & A Simple Tomato Salad
Three No-Cook Summer Recipes: Mexican Jumping Bean Slaw, Easy Vegetarian Tacos, & High Kickin' Tomato Dressing
Cream Cheese & Tomato Sandwiches On Italian Black Olive Cheeks
The Easiest Greek Salad Ever
My Seven Second Tomato Glut Solution
Saving the Harvest with No Sugar Green Tomato Relish
How to Freeze Tomatoes the Really Easy Way

© 2009, the slowly ripening foodie farm blog where anticipation doesn't just apply to ketchup.


  1. Our tomatoes in central Ohio have been slow ripeners this year too. We have been pulling three or four off the vine per day for the last three weeks, but I honestly expected to be swimming in them by now. Oh well, the anticipated fruit tastes that much sweeter.

  2. My first tomato was picked June 18th. If I'm lucky I'll still be getting a few in December or January. I guess that's the difference between southern California and Missouri lol.

    I've gotten literally hundreds of Sungolds and Stupices from 1 plant each. That's good since my Celebrity and Green Zebra have only given me a dozen each.

    Those I can't eat (and believe me, many don't even make it into the house) I've been drying in the oven so I'll have for pizza in the winter.

    I still buy large slicing tomatoes at the farmer's market.

  3. Just found your blog while searching for ... something, what was it?? Oh! Yes! I Googled for "how to freeze red peppers"... and now that I've frozen them, according to your helpful 2006 post, I am just hangin' around here, enjoying another gardener's take on things.

    My tomatoes? Well, the grape tomatoes have been ripening in droves for the past week or so. My regular tomatoes -- I got the first one a couple weeks ago but today I managed to pick about a half dozen or so. It's just been too cold this summer to have those babies ripen up very fast. No blight, thank goodness.

    I'm up here in Wisconsin, by the way.

    Now, back to browsing! I'm already drooling over that whole grain pear muffin recipe, and your comments about your mom and you made me laugh!

  4. I thought it was me, and my garden. In St. Louis, Early Girl and Super Sweet cherry tomatoes have produced nicely, with the first Early Girl harvested on 7.20 (I was so happy, I recorded it). Have a couple Cherokee Purple almost ripe. Paste varieties all still hanging green. This is my second year with a do-nothing Arkansas Traveler. -I see your earlier post on success with this variety, so maybe they just don't like St. Louis! I'd be interested in hearing your favorite varieties, Farmgirl et al.

  5. There is NOTHING like The First Ripe Tomato, no matter when it appears.

    That said, this has been a remarkably terrible year for us. Because we live in upstate New York, home of the much-feared and, apparently, all-encompassing BLIGHT. BOO. My tomato plants are dying, although so far (and ALL my fingers are crossed for this one) the fruits that are already there seem to mostly be ripening and don't seem to be showing the black blight spots. But the big, continuous harvests I count on to ensure my supply of canned tomatoes, sauce, salsa, etc. for the winter just ain't gonna happen this year. In fact, I MAY have done a slightly profane post about The Blight today.

    Okay, yes. Yes, I did. I swore, using a very bad word in my bitterness over The Blight. I feel justified in doing so, however. Because seriously. Blighted tomatoes just ain't cool.

  6. We got our first tomatoes on 7/7 this year. We had a handful of ripe tomatoes from each of our Cherokee Purple, Arkansas Traveler, and Black Plum Paste tomatoes. Our Pineapple tomato plant was the latest to ripen up about about two weeks ago.

    This is our first year growing a garden, and we've been so surprised and delighted by our bounty.

    That said, we still have a stash of green tomatoes waiting to ripen. We hope they make it...!

  7. Forgot to say that we're in Virginia!

  8. I'm in NE Ohio and our first tomato- a Mr. Stripey - has finally changed to orange. We are very excited, but relieved to know that the slow development is not of our doing. We've got some Hillbillies and other heirlooms coming up soon, we hope. We seem to have avoided blight, thank goodness, but deer are another story. Unfortunately, our tomato plants smell awfully strong these days!

  9. Hello from Oregon:

    Live south east of the Cascades (high dessert) we have a very short growing season.

    This year I used vegetable covers the nights are pretty cool here and what a difference they made. I'm now reaping a bounty of tomatoes.

    I also use stinging nettle leaves to feed all my garden plants and vegetables.

    Stinging nettle grows wild over here and it really helps the plants and protects them from any kind of problems you may have in the garden.

    I place a big bunch of nettle stems leaves and all in a 6 gal bucket and fill it up with water.

    Set it aside for about 1 week to ferment, then start feeding vegetables and flowering plants. When it start running low refill the bucket and let it ferment about 3 days. I keep refilling the bucket through the whole growing season.

    Adding 2 cups fermented nettle to 6 gallons of water to make a fermented green nettle tea.

    When you start feeding your plants nettle tea you will grow gigantic plants in your garden, with a profusion of buds or clusters of buds.

    If you do have an insect problem the plants will be strong and hardy.

    If you don't have stinging nettle in your area buy it at your local health food store or buy it on the net. Use about 1/2 cup nettle leaves and let it ferment. You may refresh it by adding 1 tablespoon once a month until the growing season is over.

    Make use of copper pennies to clean up soil it will kill mold and fungus in the garden. It's a natural way to purify the soil without using chemicals. Its works.

    I have raised beds and I lay a strip of 8-pennies encased in
    1 1/2" masking tape. I simply lay the pennies all in a row and cover over the pennies with another strip of tape.

    Place the pennies anywhere in the raised bed for about 3 minutes. And it will kill all fungus or whatever is bad in the soil. You're plants will grow like mad and will love you. If there is anything in the soil that will hinder the growth of your plants the copper pennies will remove it.

    You can repeat placing the pennies in the raised beds for 3 minutes about every 5 weeks. This remedy will help build up the soil and make your plants strong and hardy.

    You can place all garden tools in a card board box place 3 pennies in the box for 3 minutes and it will kill all the fungus on the tools, it will do the same for garden pots.

    Seeds---I even place my seeds in a box and place 3 pennies to remove anything that may hinder the growth of the seeds. The seeds will sprout up faster producing very hardy seedlings.

    I guess you're wondering where I got all info...?

    From my Grandson he is in construction, building new homes.

    They are using copper and magnetic particles to remove conflicting energy from homes. These homes are being built for people who have allergies from electric appliances, paint, carpet, and everything else.

    My grandson said copper helps remove all the chemicals that create conflicting energy in whatever they use to build these homes with.

    I even bought a heater that contains a piece of copper so when the fans blows it won't blow conflicting energy into the air. Most of the new appliances there making now will contain copper for the greening of America.

    If you have copper bowls or copper kettle or pictures in your home these items will work like an air filter and pull out and draw conflicting air out of your home.

    Once my grandson shared this info with me I decided to use it in the garden and its working.

    Start using natural copper for the greening of our gardens and America.


  10. We live in Independence, mo and have had a bad year with our tomatoes as well. A trick we used last year because of squirrel problems was to take them in as soon as they began to blush and store them in a paper bag. The tomatoes would keep ripening just fine. in fact after my last canning burst in mid/late october last year I had left 15-20 tomatoes in our "magic" bag to taken to the compost pile,set them by the back door( next to our recycling) and forgot about them.
    What a suprise when we were making thanksgiving dinner and found a whole bag of ripe tomatoes.
    love the blog.

  11. I'm in Boston, land of no sun for all of June and most of July... my tomatoes looked like they were going to give up, and the sun came out and my Mortgage Lifters are ripening up. I have some unripe on the Green Zebra and the orphan plant that came with my hot peppers...

  12. I'm in Southeast Michigan. Summer has been strange here: warm (but not hot) days, cool nights, really rainy August. Bizarrely, the tomatoes seem to love it: Sweet 100s have been going gangbusters for a couple of weeks now (I've already done two batches each of dried and roasted tomatoes). The big tomatoes (various varieties, few of which are heirlooms, unfortunately) started ripening in the last week or so. I haven't seen much evidence of Hornworms, but, thanks to all the rain, we do have lots of slugs.

  13. I got my first tomato (a Sungold) on July 23rd this year. now i have sungolds coming out of my ears.

    Others that I'm growing and are coming in now (all from Pinetree and Baker's Creek, at your recommendation!)
    - yellow pear
    - Carbon (purple beefsteak variety)
    - Roman Candle (bright yellow roma shaped)
    - Green Zebra
    - German Red Strawberry
    - Moneymaker (smallish, red, and almost perfectly round)

    everything is coming in in gobs. although i'm just starting to see signs of late blight. boo.

    i'm in southwest virginia. zone 6ish/7ish

  14. yep, it's about the same with my tomatoes. i have four tomato plants that have exploded in size but not so much in fruit. i am only now able to pick more than one tomato every few days. i think this is a late tomato year in general. i expected to be overwhelmed with tomatoes, but it's extremely manageable at this point. i'll be thinking of your plants!

  15. I live in your old stomping grounds. Here in Sonoma County gardeners don't say "how are you?" when they meet this year; they say "have you picked a tomato yet?"
    In a garden 100 yards from my present garden I set a personal first. I picked on 4 July. That was about 15 years ago. This year... I am still waiting!
    I do have cherry tomatoes, though, and I have eggplant..figure that.

  16. We got our first tomato here in Southern California about three weeks ago. We had a real hard time with them as it was our first try. They started getting black spots on the bottom. So I did some research and found that it was caused by fluctuating levels of water. Well, I started watering more often, but then they started splitting. Back to the computer to do research, I find that it's better to have drip irrigation. That's impossible with our setup so we just water the tomatoes everytime we take the dog out. Now they're pretty good. Still waiting for the last few on the vine to ripen.

    I want to say thanks for this blog, I really enjoy reading it whenever I get the chance.

  17. First of all, I absolutely love your blog and all the great recipes! I live in PA, about 20 miles north of Pittsburgh. We planted our garden very early this year and we've been getting tons of tomato's every day. I've had to pull one out already due to the blight but the others are growing great. Planted one grape tomato plant and I've been picking a big bowl of them every other day. Looking forward to more great info from your blog! Love the sheep pictures too!!

  18. We're in Southern CA, about 4 miles from the beach. So we get a lot of morning fog/mist during the summer months.

    This is our first year growing, and it's been very fun. I got a little crazy and planted way-too many varieties--we had more tomatoes than we knew what to do with. A ton of Beefsteak, Green Zebra, Jubiliee, Mortgage Lifter, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, German Green and Brandywine. The only variety that didn't do well was the Mr. Stripey.

    We made your awesome pesto and froze many bags of it for use during the winter, and then also made and canned homeade chili sauce (recipe passed down for 4 generations), sphagetti sauce, and ate a ton of them in salads, with buffalo mozzarella, etc...

    My harvest is actually almost done--there are only a small handful of tomatoes left out there.

    Next year, I won't plant as many varieties, and will space them out a little more. I got carried away.

    Your blog is a great help.


  19. We're in Southern CA, about 4 miles from the beach. So we get a lot of morning fog/mist during the summer months.

    This is our first year growing, and it's been very fun. I got a little crazy and planted way-too many varieties--we had more tomatoes than we knew what to do with. A ton of Beefsteak, Green Zebra, Jubiliee, Mortgage Lifter, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, German Green and Brandywine. The only variety that didn't do well was the Mr. Stripey.

    We made your awesome pesto and froze many bags of it for use during the winter, and then also made and canned homeade chili sauce (recipe passed down for 4 generations), sphagetti sauce, and ate a ton of them in salads, with buffalo mozzarella, etc...

    My harvest is actually almost done--there are only a small handful of tomatoes left out there.

    Next year, I won't plant as many varieties, and will space them out a little more. I got carried away.

    Your blog is a great help.


  20. Still waiting for that first tomato here in Sandia Park, New Mexico. They are a light shade of green at this late August date (8/24). I'm just east of Albuquerque at about 6900 ft. Have had wonderful zucchini, basil, brussel sprouts, broccoli, leeks, lettuce, radishes, green beans, but tomatoes have been lagging. I also have 5 pumpkins turning golden orange.

  21. I live in Austin, Texas. I planted my tomatoes in March. The first hail storm hit in April and set me back a bit (branches broken, some plants needed to be replaced), the next hail storm (even worse) hit in May. It hailed for 20 minutes without stopping. Most of my plants already had tomatoes on them and there were holes in the tomatoes where the hail hit them. I finally pulled a few tomatoes in at the beginning of June.

    Unfortunately, we are in an "exceptional drought" (which is the worst classification for droughts) and we have had temperatures of 100 degrees plus for over 60 days this summer. Because of watering restrictions, my garden is pretty much dead.

  22. Gorgeous tomato - and lovely basil, too! My tomatoes aren't doing well. I blame myself; I planted them too close together. Not enough space, not enough sun. I'll do it better next year.
    That's Northeastern Wisconsin, by the way.

  23. We picked our first red tomato here in Washington State last week - a giant 'Oregon Spring' - and boy, was it ever good! We've since picked a couple more from that plant and will definitely use this variety again next year. Our other tomato plants are full of fruit but have yet to ripen, except for the yellow cherry-type I got from a friend...yum!

  24. mmm. There's really nothing like those first tomatoes, is there? I always want to just kinda plop down right there in the garden and bite into them.

    I'm another up here in Wisconsin... and so far, all I'm getting are cherry tomatoes. LOTS of them (and they're fantastic), but I'm still waiting for that Big Old BLT tomato to turn. When it does, I'll try to wait long enough before eating it to snap a picture!

  25. My tomato plants here in Central Arkansas barely even grew! We were deluged with rain right after putting them in the ground, and it seems that they were completely drowned!

  26. 35 beautiful tomato plants and not one ripe tomato. The deer ate all of them in one night. The few remaining blooms produced seriously ill looking fruit. Probably the blight. The vines are beginning to die. What a year!
    I am headed to the local produce stand tomorrow and hope I can get a bushel or two to process.

  27. My mother used to make Tomato Jam when I was a child. Delicious. I made some in July with our first tomato crop. I thought mine was pretty good also.

  28. My tomatoes started coming in long ago, back in June....but they had been babied and protected since February. In contrast I have plants that are just now putting out ripened fruit, staggering those seedlings is paying off.

    The late blight has found my garden but hand picking the affected leaves has been working Ok for now. I am hoping to get another month out of the tomato plants before having to rip them out due blight.

    As for my favorites, Sungold cherry has great flavor; Juliet plum is tiny but super tasty; Big Beef makes a lovely BLT.

    Congrats on your first tomato, it sure is a beauty! Absolutely perfect!

  29. Sorry- forgot to add that I am in Massachusetts.

  30. Here in France the tomatoes are very slow in ripening this year.

    My favourites this year are Pineapple - so pretty and tasty, and Green Velvet - lovely texture.

  31. Our tomatoes in St. Louis were very slow, too--last week for first ripened. I tried to buy a few at a farmstand a month ago, but they wanted nearly $1.50/lb! So I decided to wait. Now, they are yummy and all mine!

  32. Tomatoes for months here, I guess the conservatory must be working well for me. Sun dried or just sliced up on bread; also made a Pappa al Pomodoro.

    Oh, and I'm in the UK

  33. I go back and forth from Pennsylvania to New York pretty much on a weekly basis. Fortunately, the PA tomato crop afforded me my first BLT of the season a few weeks ago. However, that DANG blight has wreaked havoc on the tomato crop here on Long Island in NY.

    Thanks for giving me a chance to blow off some steam I so LOVE fresh tomatoes!!! I brought back huge tomatoes for stuffing tonight. Tuna or Shrimp Salad, hmmm...

  34. My best producers this year are my striped romas and "quick pick", both of which I bought from the farmers market after all of the tomatoes that I started from seed bit the dust immediately after being set out.

    My single best tomato so far this year (the one we named, "Big Mama") was an heirloom variety called Pineapple. Big Mama weighed in at 1 lb, 6 oz - a record for our family.

    By the way - I turned a bunch of my romas and principe borghese's into your lovely pizza sauce. Great recipe!

    I'm loving your blog! If you have a minute, stop by and check mine out sometime, as I'm a blogging newbie and would love your input. ;)

    Oh - writing you from beautiful Western Washington state. :)


  35. It's been a cruddy tomato year here in Sacramento. My plants went in late--not until Memorial Day, which is almost a full month behind my usual planting--and then I lost a couple to sunscald, which has never happened before. Thought it was just me, but other friends have had the same problem. The cherry tomatoes were the earliest as always--first Sweet 100 in mid-July. But nothing seems to taste as rich this year as in the past. We've been chalking it up to weather, which has been kind of weird for Sacramento. Lots of wind, not a lot of heat.

  36. I am in Ironton, MO, and have been picking a tomato or two every day for a month.

    Last year, from the same number of plants, I was picking a five gallon bucket full 2 or 3 times a week.

    My favorites last year were Ananas Noir and Golden Sunray. The Golden Sunrays are heavy bearers, but the Ananas are not, and because the Ananas are green when ripe, it is easy to let them go too long. They are delicious and beautiful with pink and yellow streaks in the green flesh.

  37. Living in the tropics I get tomatoes year round. Hee hee.

    This is a wonderful blog. Happy to find it.

  38. Seattle has had crazy early season temps resulting in the best tomatoes I've ever had. Early girls and Romas are all I usually dare plant due to the short season and I'm picking at least 20 a day, lots of sauce for this winter! But until then, Turkey Bacon, bleu cheese and tomato paninis about every few days and also of course, yummy tomato basil napoleons!

  39. Great blog! Found it while searching "green onion what to do with them all" on google. Thanks!

    As for the tomato: here just north of Detroit they are few and slow to ripen and in my case get eaten as soon as they turn pink by some kind of creature. Don't think it's hornworms but a chipmunk that I used to think of as "cute."

  40. Well, I picked my first tomato in mid July after planting starter plants in early June. Unfortunately, here in New Mexico it has just been too moody weather-wise for good tomatoes. We will have two weeks of sweltering dry windy heat, followed by another week of cooler weather. Occasionally there has even been some whole days of drizzling rain tossed in (which is very rare here). My poor tomato plants are still producing, but all 7 of them are rather slow this year... having to transplant them to pots did not help I am sure, but it was either that or leave them when I had to move houses.

    Luckily my CSA and local farmer's market is keeping my house well stocked even when my garden isn't.

  41. I'm writing from Utah. I've been harvesting so many tomatoes that I'm nearly to the point of being sick of tomatoes! Oh my...did I really say that? I planted 16 plants and though they seem to have some sort of wilt, there are an abundance of large, wonderful tomatoes. I've made and frozen salsa and stewed tomatoes and enjoyed eating many for dinner or lunch or just standing in the garden.

    My neighbors and friends have been kind enough to take baskets full of the things off my hands. I live alone and can't use this bounty.

    I worry about this wilt problem which is in my potatoes too. From what I've read, it can stay in the soil and unless you can rotate these crops to another area of the garden you will get it again and again. I really don't have another place to plant tomatoes. Anybody have an idea about wilt and how to get rid of it?

  42. Hello!

    I have had an incredible tomato year up here in NW Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. granted I started them from seed back in early April, and nursed them in the cold frame so I could set them out practically flowing in June.... but I have picked tens of pounds of them already, my first golden Nuggets in mid July, my first red heirloom something or other in the first week of August, in the last week or so, every few days I am bringing in a bucket full.

    Its been really hot (80's is hot here) and dry, I haven't watered them much at all, so I think that has encouraged them to ripen.



March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!