CSA 2010 – Week 6: Tomato Rising

The plants will be more than double overhead by this time next week, and it will require someone taller than our compact innovator Rodrigo Garcia to continue the highly laborious process of pruning and training the tomatoes as they continue on their upward journey. The knowledge and labor that holds these plants up isn’t outwardly apparent, but what is obvious is the feeling that you get when you first walk into one of our tomato houses. The space here is being completely utilized, heat radiates between the rows of tomatoes that stretch from wall to wall, and from floor to ceiling of the hoop house. If you’ve ever seen a tomato plant before then, your second thought is that these burly plants do not look the same as your run of the mill backyard tomatoes, and they’re not. Oh no, these are super tomatoes. Before working with them, I’d never given much consideration to the fact that there is more than one way to grow an organic tomato. Isn’t it all just cultivate soil, transplant, stake, prune, and harvest? Wrong again. It turns out that in order to grow super tomatoes, you have to provide some super attention.

Back in early January, seeds went in for heirloom varieties with names like Pink Beauties, Black Cherokee, Brandywine, and Japanese Black Trifle. Heirloom seeds mean that they come from open pollinated varieties,  and that the seeds are saved for generations because the fruit had traits that the grower deemed valuable. Unfortunately many of the heirloom plants themselves are fragile, and vulnerable to diseases, meaning that often they under produce or die off before they have a chance. To combat this, in the last few years, Jolene, Paula, and Sara  (our dedicated greenhouse women) have taken on the challenge of grafting tomato plants. That means taking the bottom half (the rootstalk) of a hearty strong tomato, and more or less fusing it with the top cutting of an heirloom plant. After considerable healing, and seriously special care, by  early April the new bionic version is ready to move outside.  These ultra- exotic varieties are even more beautiful than their names, but for now most of our heirlooms are still hanging green on their sinuous skyward twisting vines. So why exactly is there a gain in all this work, why train tomatoes how to climb, and just how do you do it?

Last Thursday I worked with Rodrigo and some of the crew in one of our tomato houses doing some hands on learning about the process that will produce some of the most plentiful and best tomatoes that we’ve ever grown at the farm. By the time that they reach the tomato houses these plants have already been seeded, weeded, watered, grafted, and transplanted with the utmost care. Over the last 10 years we’ve been moving away from growing our tomatoes in the  conventional manner, but during the 17 years that he has worked on the farm Rodrigo has amassed considerable knowledge regarding how to maximize tomato production. As we made our way down the first row he took great care to show me the difference between the thick main tomato stalk (which is what we train to grow ever higher), and so called “sucker” offshoots that grow out of the joints in the plant. These suckers are aptly named; every bit of new plant growth takes energy, and these suckers will just continue to draw fuel until they grow to be just as large as the main stalk. The problem is not that they grow and grow, but that they don’t produce much fruit, and in the process they take massive amounts of energy away from more productive growth such as fruit ripening.  You also have your fruit producing branches, which will unfurl and open into blossoms, and if all goes well mature into fully grown tomatoes. And finally there are leaf branches, which are just what they sound like, these are necessary to shade and protect the tomatoes as they ripen.

Once you get the hang of identifying the difference between all the different types of branches, it’s still an enormous amount of work to keep these plants pruned. Once the weather gets warm, and they really start to grow, it is necessary to go through and cut back the suckers on each plant once a week, every week for a span of about four months. Not only do they need constant pruning as they flourish, but it is also necessary to routinely wrap a guide rope that hangs from the ceiling around the main stem to help it grow straight and tall. If you’re like me, you may be beginning to wonder how all this work can be possibly be worth it… Luckily it is also the part that Rodrigo is rightfully the most proud of; Where one plant grown under different circumstances would produce about 20 pounds of fruit. One of Rodrigo’s specially grown tomatoes plants yields closer to 100 pounds of fruit per plant. I imagined how many acres we would have to plant with tomatoes to get the same yield if we didn’t grow them like we do…..and then I realized once again, that thankfully there is always more than one way of making something work.

Devon Sanders, CSA Coordinator

What’s in the box?

  • Siletz Tomato – Your first of the season,  and the inspiration for this weeks newsletter, woo-hoo!
  • 1.5 lbs Yellow Potatos
  • 2 Cucumber – see recipe
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce – Red leaf
  • 2 lbs Fava beans – did you eat your first ones? A reprint on how to cook these is included.
  • Baby Onions – great for grilling, or shish kabobs
  • Broccoli
  • 2 Zucchini
  • Summer Squash – you should have one of either the cocozella (a long striped green variety), magda (pale green, and eggplant shaped), yellow crook neck, yellow patty pan (resembles a space ship), or zapallito (a round green variety)
  • Rainbow Chard
  • Garlic
  • Fennel – slice thinly and enjoy raw,  add to soups, or  bake whole in the oven. The greens can be eaten also, they make a great flavor or color addition to pastas, salads, potatoes or eggs

Tzatziki Sauce

This tzatziki sauce is an easy take on the classic Greek sauce, you can use real Greek yogurt if you like, but I always just make it with the ever present Nancy’s plain yogurt that I have in my fridge. This sauce is great pared with curry, falafel, or rolled into pita style bread with a salad of cubed tomato, cucumber, and onion. I have estimated amounts, but mostly I just taste as I go until texture, and flavor suit me, I suggest you do the same.

2-3 cups of plain yogurt
2-3 tablespoons  of lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cucumber, also finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Put yogurt, and lemon juice in a bowl and mix together. Wash and finely chop cucumber and cloves of garlic and add to yogurt. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you don’t use this all at once it will keep well for several days if you cover it in the fridge.

Baby Onion & Summer Squash Kabobs

It’s finally sunny, which means time to roll out the BBQ again! Over the weekend I made some delicious kabobs for a fourth of July party. If you eat meat , you can add steak, chicken, or fish, the marinade works for all three.

Remember when making kabobs to pre-soak your wooden sticks in water, this will prevent them from burning when you put them on the grill.

Marinade:

1-2 cups water
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Soy sauce
1/2 cup Lemon juice
3 crushed garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of crushed ginger
A handful or so of chopped onion tops

Mix together thoroughly your marinade ingredients in a long shallow pan. Your container needs to be long enough and deep enough to partially submerge your kabob skewers in.

Slice summer squash into 1 inch size pieces, and cut the tops off of your baby onions. Skewer pieces (adding meat if you like), and let marinate for at least an hour before grilling. Once on the hot grill, they should only take 6 minutes or so on either side. Enjoy!

Fava Beans

Fava beans have a delicious buttery texture and lovely nutty taste. Although they require a bit more work to prepare, take the time to try this old world favorite.

When preparing fava beans you need to first remove the beans from the pod. After you have shucked your beans, dispose of the pods and start a pan of water boiling so that you can  boil the beans to make removal of the outer shell easier. Most people choose to remove the outer shell of the Fava bean before they eat them. So after 5 minutes or so of boiling, let your beans cool, or run them under cold water so you can remove the shell. Fava beans have what looks like a little seam on one side of the bean. Make a slit with your fingernail in the seam at one end of the bean and then squeeze the bean out. It should pop right out of the skin.  The boiled  beans should be bright green and are now ready to use in any recipe.

Suggestions: A cold pasta salad, with fava beans, parmesan, lemon juice, diced garlic, parsley, oil, salt and pepper.