When I started a garden, I never anticipated growing … monsters.
They started off so innocently. Just little baby sprouts, growing in our guest bedroom, so weak that a spray from the water bottle nearly knocked them over. When I planted them in the garden, I had high hopes, but was soon convinced they that were going to die. Just in case, I even bought a few more from the farmers’ market to replace them. But little did I know that those that succeeded would try to take over the world – or at least my garden.
Anyone who has ever grown them (or read the title of the post) knows that rather than Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, I’m talking about my tomatoes. They’re freaking huge! While most of my other seedlings died, a few of the tomatoes actually survived, illustrating Darwin’s laws. From just two plants, we’ve ended up with this monstrosity:
It’s so big that it’s making the fence tip over. What were once little plants now make it difficult to open the door, which is several feet away. And their unending branches overshadowed my zucchini plant so much that even the mighty zucchini, producer extraordinare, had leaves turn yellow from lack of light. Fortunately, we were able to clear it away enough for the zucchini to produce lovely fruit that’s now in our fridge. By growing too much, the tomatoes even cause problems for themselves (or at least for my use of them). The more energy and nutrients the plants put into making greenery, the less they put into making fruit.
Of course, when they are making fruit of this size, maybe they don’t need more energy…
So how do you keep the forces of tomatoes at bay? The main weapons in my arsenal are my own two hands. Reading up on the Intertubes about trimming tomatoes, I learned that if you want to use garden equipment to prune your tomatoes, you should sterilize it. When you use shears to cut into a plant, it leaves a very clean cut that makes it easy for bacteria and fungus to invade. Just like you don’t want an open wound on your body, neither do your plants. So you want to ensure that your equipment is extremely clean. On the other hand, I realized that if I break branches off of the tomato plant with my hands, it would leave a much less clean break. By collapsing the plant’s capillaries, it would reduce the risk of infection and keep me from having to fuss with sterilizing equipment. The plant scars over, but doesn’t get infected.
Unfortunately, this hands-on approach comes at a price. Every time I trim the darn plant, my arms end up yellow and incredibly itchy. I suspect that as part of the nightshade family, tomatoes have an irritant to prevent animals and insects from eating them. (Also judging from the Interwebs, I’m not the only one with this issue.) The feeling goes away after a few minutes, especially if I put lotion on it, but it definitely causes me to grit my teeth.
Are the monsters worth it? Oh yes. I’ve been feeding myself, friends, and the neighbors’ kids cherry tomatoes straight off of the vine. Warm and sweet and deliciously red. I even brought some to a friend’s housewarming party yesterday.
We’ve also picked larger tomatoes, like the giant above, along with some that are a more normal size and shape. They’re amazing – firm but not hard, juicy, and infinitely ripe. We expect many, many more from where they came from.
As we pick them, we’ll be coming up with more uses. I made a great corn and tomato salad the other day, and I expect Chris will be making a lot of pasta sauce. But there are few better uses for very, very fresh tomatoes than gazpacho.
Adapted from D.C. Central Kitchen
– 6 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped – (Warning: Various colored tomatoes can be delicious, but may make your soup rather unappetizingly brown if you aren’t careful…)
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
– 1 green or red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
– 2 celery stalks, chopped
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– ¼ cup red wine vinegar
– ¼ cup olive oil
– 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 2 teaspoons sugar
– Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
– Siracha (an Asian pepper sauce) to taste
– 4 cups tomato juice (increase or lessen depending on how thick you want the soup)
1) Combine all ingredients
2) Blend to desired consistency
3) Place in a non-metal, non-reactive storage container and cover tightly
4) If desired, refrigerate overnight and allow flavors to blend or just eat right away!