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Article Published April 18, 2018
Calling All Tomatoes!
Pem McNerney, Living Editor

Some hot day in August, we’ll all be sick of tomatoes. We’ll be handing them off to neighbors, bringing them into work to give to co-workers, and leaving them by the side of the road for strangers.

And that day seems far off, on this chilly spring day in April as I write this.

Most of my vegetables this season will come from my farmshare and from farmer’s markets, but I plan to grow a few things, including some tomato plants because there is nothing like a lil’ cherry tomato or a big bite of an heirloom right off the vine.

Still, some years it can be more complicated than others when it comes to growing those beauties. So I reached out to some friends to ask their advice.

A friend of mine from high school, Lisa Landis Frankel, will be growing three kinds of tomatoes, a grape tomato, a beefsteak, and either a yellow or purple cherry tomato. A few other high school friends, Debra Pipes and Brenda-Smith Breneman swear by bite-sized “Sweet 100s” and its new and improved cousin, “Super Sweet 100s.”

Lorain Ohio Simister, who lives in Clinton, is growing some San Marzano-type Roma tomatoes, starting them in her house by a sunny window, and then dropping them into some holes she’ll dig around her yard. She’s also planning to grow some purple heirlooms from seeds.

Lenore Franklin is also planning to plant some San Marzano-style tomatoes, but is also planning to use her farmers market as a backup. “My plants will most likely not survive,” she says.

Lynn Leary says she used to work with “a group of gnarly old men” who swore by rusty nails.

“They would let the nails sit in the water over the winter, then put three around each tomato plant. Just drive them into the ground,” she says. “Their tomatoes were always the best!”

It seems gardening experts say this does not work, but there are plenty of reports online from rank-and-file gardeners who say it does.

Anna Perry, one of my neighbors, says she’s doing a container garden on her driveway. She won’t be buying purple cherry tomatoes. She says she tried them last year and “they tasted awful.” She plans to head up to Van Wilgen Nurseries soon, which has garden centers in Old Saybrook and North Branford, to see what they have this year.

Judy Guard Parda of Savvy Tea in Madison plans to plant Iron Lady, Cherokee Purple, and Paul Robeson tomatoes from seed.

Here are some of her lessons learned from past years: “Allow enough time adjusting to outside temps before planting, don’t plant seedlings on a sunny day, [and we’ll] keep trying to outsmart the chipmunks and our one resident woodchuck (even though we have deer fencing and finer mesh wire at the bottom).”

Claire Criscuolo of East Haven, the cookbook author who runs Claire’s Corner Copia in New Haven, is going to grow both tomatoes and herbs at home to supplement what she gets from her CSA and farmer’s market.

“I use organic EarthBoxes for the most abundance and because there is zero weeding,” she says. “And, I am a sucker for the Brandywine, Cherokee, [and] Stripy [tomatoes]. Happy gardening!”

Kelly Goddard, a friend who with her husband, Kingsley Goddard, owns the farm where I get my CSA, says Kingsley told her that every year brings some kind of hardships for tomatoes since they are not indigenous to our area. Most of them hail from western South America.

“Last year was early blight, the year before was late blight, one year it was too dry and another it was too wet,” she says. “Very cold spring temps also wreak havoc that don’t become apparent until the fruit is on the vine in the form of blossom end rot. We grow our tomatoes mostly in the greenhouse to avoid problems, but even still we encounter many hardships in many forms.

Steven McGuire of Guilford managed to have a banner year for tomatoes last year, and is still eating the last of those he dehydrated. He says he picked some good organic plants from Vaiuso Farms Inc. in Branford, and gave them plenty of TLC.

“I prune plants and hand water,” he says, resulting in a crop that feeds friends and neighbors. “My garden is borderline obsessive. But it’s cheaper than a shrink and you get good things to eat too!”

Lesia Fal Winiarskyj of Old Saybrook, on the other hand, says she’s going to skip gardening this year.

“My tomatoes always fail, but I have a great family recipe for pickled green tomatoes,” she says.

Last year, we shared her recipe for Donna’s Pasta, which uses four whole tomatoes, which likely will come in handy on that hot August day. To check out that recipe, visit zip06.com and search for “Donna’s Pasta.”

And when she shares her recipe for pickled green tomatoes, we will share that with you, too.

What are your favorite tomato recipes? Do you have any tips for us! Share! Write me at p.mcnerney@shorepublishing.com or Shore Publishing, 724 Boston Post Road, #202, Madison, CT 06443, and we will share and share alike with our other readers. Looking forward to hearing from you.