Friday, May 7, 2010

Tomatoes

Have you set your tomato plants out yet? No one has here that I know of. It is supposed to get in the 30's again the next two nights so I doubt many have.

Tomatoes is one crop I haven't mastered. I just don't grow great tomatoes. Corn and beans are easy for me but tomatoes, NO.

"It’s no secret that Ohio has a love affair with tomatoes.

The Ohio legislature declared the tomato as the state’s official fruit in 2009. Tomato juice has been the official state beverage since 1965, and Reynoldsburg is considered by many to be the birthplace of commercial tomato farming.

Indeed, nothing says summer like the plump, red fruit, homegrown and vine-ripened in the backyards of gardeners across the state.

“People are passionate about tomatoes in this community,” said Phil Swindler, co-owner of Swindler & Sons Florists in Wilmington. “It’s the number one backyard vegetable grown in the state.”

For that reason, Swindler decided this year to celebrate the state’s favorite fruit. Together with Monte Anderson, a professor of agriculture at Wilmington College, Swindler is planning a tomato festival called “Tomata Parada” which will feature more than 70 different varieties of the versatile fruit, all grown locally. On Aug. 21, the Wilmington College farm on Fife Avenue will host the free event, where all of the many varieties will be growing for the public to see.
There will be a taste testing of all the tomato types, and a contest for the overall favorite. There will be educational classes on canning and preservation, and Swindler said he hopes to have cooking seminars to teach people how to best prepare different varieties.

“I just have this incredible curiosity about all these tomatoes,” said Swindler, whose family has owned and operated the local flower and garden center since 1921. “There are more than 10,000 varieties of tomatoes, and for the longest time I was growing only 10 of them. People would come to me and say ‘I have found the best tomato,’ and we weren’t growing it. That was frustrating for me.”All of the 70 varieties featured at "Tomata Parada" are available to buy at Swindler & Sons, and Swindler said he is excited to be offering so many new varieties when in the past he has focused on a few "mainstays."

Swindler and Anderson both said the event will serve two purposes: to expose Ohioans to new types of tomatoes, and to let farmers and food producers know which varieties their customers like best.

“My goal is to get the producers and the consumers together,” Anderson said. “We want consumers to select what they like. What better way to do that then out at the farm where they’ll be growing like crazy?”

Tomatoes are a source of pride for many Ohio gardeners, who like to boast that their family’s heirloom is better than others’, Swindler said. So one of the main components of “Tomata Parada” will be a public display and tasting of submitted varieties.

“I want people to be able to bring their best variety, their family heirloom that’s been passed down for generations, and I want them to be able to showcase that,” Swindler said. “I want them to show off.”

There will be prizes given for winners of different contests, and anyone can register their variety at Swindler & Sons Florists beginning immediately, he said.

Other tomato festivals have grown increasingly popular in recent years. The Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival has hosted crowds from across the country since 1965. The annual “TomatoFest” in Carmel, CA regularly draws thousands to sample Gary Ibsen’s famous heirloom varieties.

For Anderson, the festival here will be as much about personal showmanship as it will be about connecting local growers with consumers.

“We need to start eating the things we want to be eating,” he said. “Not just whatever the supermarket happens to carry. We have a choice.”

Maybe I will do better this year. I say that every year. Last year was so cool and wet we had plenty but they just didn't grow like they should. I am sure black plastic around the plants would help, they love heat and it is so cool here early some years like last year and this year.

My tomato crop growing is upside down from my other crops.

At least I know I will have good sweet corn and green beans in July!


Ed

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