Intern’s Insight #3: Obsession with Tomatoes

post by: Debbie Fields September 6, 2009

Jeremy in the tomato forestThey started out as tiny, two-leafed sprouts in 1/2 inch soil squares.  They graduated to 2" and then 4" soil blocks, until the sun space next to the house was full of nothing but this fragrant plant.  Now they have all but consumed the interior of the new large greenhouse.  Yes, I'm talking about the tomatoes.  They all have names like Bellstar, Sweet 100s, Garden Peach, Prudence.  When we transplanted them into the greenhouse, I staked a wooden marker next to each group so I could see what shapes these fanciful names yielded.  But now I can't find the markers.  I think the plants ate them.  Within days of thinning back the excess leaf matter, the plants close in again on the walkways.  I cringe when I feel a "crunch" of unripe tomato under my foot as I try to negotiate through the rows.  But where are all the ripe tomatoes?  I see plenty of plant matter, and lots of green tomatoes, but where am I going to find enough red, ripe ones for this week's CSA members???  I have to turn into a hunter.  On all fours I crawl down the rows lifting the mass of lower plant to get at any red tomatoes underneath (much like lifting a hen to get at the egg).  At ground level all I see is green all around me.  It's like trying to spy a parrot in a jungle, except these tomatoes don't squawk.  Slowly I scan the dense foliage for any flash of red.  When found, I ever so carefully reach to pluck one, fearing I'll knock of three of its unripe brethren.  One by one the Sweet 100s fill up a basket.  Maybe there will be a bigger tomato here and there, but they are mostly still green.  The question is--the same question so many people ask--when will my tomatoes turn red???  I've gleaned a couple of explanations from Jim.  One--too much fertilizer will keep a plant growing so well that it won't feel the stress and need to produce fruit.  Two--we might have to cut back the roots to encourage these tomatoes along.  Three--maybe they'll just stay green.  The irony in our tomatoes is that we are obsessed with this fruit, yet we don't live in a very conducive tomato growing environment!!!  But I don't think the obsession is due to the finicky growing season.  People will spend dollar after dollar to grow a tomato in their backyard, as if just to prove that it can be done, as if growing tomatoes is a right and not a priviledge.  I think the obsession can be cured by one thing only: I think people need to eat more kale.