Last summer I cleared myself an overgrown section of the front gardens to make into a veggie plot. It was a hugely daunting task, since the approximately 12 by 6 foot plot was thickly overgrown with ivy and self-propagated day lilies. Not to mention tulip and hyacinth bulbs that had been planted there by Chris’s aunt, years and years ago. This section is ideal for veggie gardening because of its sun exposure, its easy access, and its very well camouflaged location. Our neighborhood is appearance-obsessed, and practically every house on our street has professional gardening attended front yards. An obvious veggie garden on the front lawn probably wouldn’t have gone over so well here, even though for us its the sunniest place there is.
I planted what is in hindsight probably far too many tomatoes into this small spot, alongside some lettuce, swiss chard, beets, tomatillos, chilis and there are some onions buried in there somewhere. I was really interested in trying out some heirloom varieties, and so I started myself some seeds from Terra Edibles, a great little Ontario-based company that specializes in heirloom tomatoes and veggies, and encourages you to save seeds for the future. I had already started some tomatoes from some McKenzie Seeds I picked up at Canadian Tire, but they paled in comparison to the super robust heirloom seedlings. I’ve grown three varieties of heirlooms: “Stupice”, a very early rippening Czech variety, “Black Sea Man”, a large, colourful variety, and “Yellow Pear”, a later, very old, smaller variety that is low in acid.
So far I’ve harvested some of the Stupice tomatoes, as well as some regular cherry tomatoes (I planted a variety called “Sweet Cherry” by McKenzie Seeds and another called “Sweet 100” by McKenzie Seeds). I prefer cherry tomatoes that are really small because I find they are generally sweeter and have that fantastic bursting tangy flavour. Out of the two cherry varieties I think so far I like Sweet Cherry better.
I also have one plant called “Balcony Charm”, also by McKenzie Seeds, which I put in a pot because its supposed to thrive this way. I don’t know if its our very wet summer, but none of the heirlooms that were planted in pots, nor the Balcony Charm, have impressed. The nice thing is that I’ve only needed to water the pots a handful of times all summer, but the plants that are in the ground, in the front garden, are an explosion of growth and fruits, whereas the potted ones, not so much.
I should add that I also started some “Bonny Best” heirloom tomatoes by McKenzie Seeds but they failed to thrive. I had the sad little seedlings ready to go when I planted the others, but they looked so bad and I was already squeezing so many others in, that I decided to let them go and sent them to the composter.
Above I mentioned the tomatillos. Most people go “What the heck is a tomatillo?” when I mention these. A tomatillo is a relative of the tomato family but its a husked type of fruit, and its very commonly used in Mexican cuisine. I put my hands on some heirloom seedlings grown by the good people at Urban Harvest, at the Green Living Show this past spring, and I’m excited about harvesting my first ever crop in a few weeks hopefully. They are a purple tomatillo, and Rick Bayless has extolled their virtues on his show Mexico, One Plate at a Time on PBS.
Tomatillos are more acidic than regular tomatoes, less watery, and make excellent green salsas or can be added to slow roasted meat for a punchy kick. They’re your main ingredient in most green salsas you might buy at the grocery store. What I didn’t know when I planted them was how big the plants would get, and let me tell you, I’ll be rethinking how I organize plants next year. These guys get massively tall, and require a fair amount of breadth because they really branch out. I might try one in a pot next year to see if that helps with the breath requirement. Regardless of the crowding, they seem to be thriving and have lots of fruits.
I plan to make and can plenty of salsa this year, given the massive abundance of tomatoes I should have at the ready in just a couple weeks. Stay tuned!