I’ve always been told that a tomato plant needs a gallon of water each day to make the fruit juicy and full. But in California “dry farmed” tomatoes are all the rage.
According to market demand, tomatoes that are deprived of water, or “dry farmed,” have to send their roots far deeper into the soil in search of moisture. Reportedly, the result is that the tomatoes take on a much more robust and sweeter taste.
For any of you who raise tomatoes yourself you know that some varieties, in some locations, in some years have the best taste. Most of us struggle to find that perfect blend. This year we raised 48 tomato plants and about 12 varieties. We would love to remain true to the open pollination varieties, but I have to admit, the hybrid Early Girl plants performed exquisitely.
Yes they are a hybrid and a patented variety. And yes I despise the idea that Monsanto or any other company can own the rights to the seed stock of any food source. That is a discussion for another day, but I can tell you that whoever worked up the Early Girl variety really found a pretty perfect tomato.
Although the hype says that the plants will produce earlier than others, all of our varieties came to ripeness at about the same time. This is both good and bad. It’s bad because when ‘mater season ends they are all gone at once. It’s good because when we set up to do our canning, we stay busy for about a week and then can clean up our mess all at one time.
This past week we canned about five bushels of tomatoes. Among them were the Early Girls, Romas, Beefsteak, Big Boy, Better Boy and at least one Brandywine. Brandywine, for those who love great tomato taste, is supposed to produce those big boat shaped fruits with deep red flesh and an unmistakable tomato taste. It wins competitions all over the place.
But the big Brandywine, an heirloom variety that is open pollinated, produces fruit that weighs about a pound apiece. That makes staking, caging and supporting the vines a virtual construction project. In addition, because Brandywine is an heirloom, it is more susceptible to disease and insects. We don’t like to spray or use chemicals in our food garden, so keeping heirloom fruits healthy is more a matter of luck than anything.
Early Girls, by comparison, grow to tennis-ball-sized, very deep red, perfectly round fruits, and they are prolific. They showed no signs of disease, wilt or insect infestation. As such, we made several gallons of sauce out of those plants for our winter use, as well as ate nearly as many as we canned.
But all of our plants received supplemental water during the growing season. And though this seemed like the right thing to do at the time, since then I’ve learned about “dry farming” and what it can do for the taste of tomatoes.
Next year we plan to start our plants at the end of March from seeds and will put out a separate plot to test the dry farming technique. But for now, the joy of our garden has turned into the joy of seeing row after row of quart jars lined up in a display of gorgeous red whole tomatoes and a variety of sauces ready for the snowflakes and a winter pot of chili.
The canner is tucked away, the stovetop cleaned and our days will switch from pinching tomatoes to watching the shadows grow as autumn approaches.
The folks in California might have come up with a good way to raise tomatoes, but they can’t beat the beauty of the changing seasons here in Kentucky, dry farming by choice or not.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com, is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.