I won’t buy them in the store anymore. Store-bought tomatoes don’t taste like tomatoes; they don’t really taste like anything at all. A real tomato tastes like summer–sweet and juicy and incredibly delicious–to say nothing of how beautiful they are. It is the one crop on applewood farm that is grown indoors.
We bought our little farm in November of 2011. By the end of December, we were fully into construction of the hoop house. We built a 30′ by 12′ structure that is home to five raised beds, a work table, and a couple of cats.
Last year, we planted tomatoes in three and a half of the beds and hot peppers in the remaining bed and a half. This year, the peppers got their own outdoor space and the hoop house has been fully dedicated to tomatoes. We started from seed and planted 26 plants, representing four different varieties.
The plants took off immediately and our tomato starts were healthy and vibrant when we transferred them from the seed trays to the beds. When there was a late frost in May, the seedlings were unaffected. When it rained for the entire month of June and everything else was washed away, the plants received exactly the right amount of water, and continued to thrive. Being able to control the water has been the main difference between what has grown in the hoop house and what has grown outside of it.
We have a handful of tomato plants growing in the pepper bed and the front garden that we transplanted from the original seedlings. These were plants that didn’t fit in the hoop house beds that we couldn’t justify not giving a place to grow. It’s been an interesting experiment. The only difference between the outdoor and indoor plants has been their exposure to water.
The outdoor ones are full of fruit, healthy, and about two feet high. We have found that metal tomato cages work well for keeping them from becoming too unwieldy. Those cages were never something we used before, because the plants in the hoop house would outgrow them so quickly that we couldn’t understand the point of them. Now that we have some successful outdoor plants, we see the appeal.
The plants in the hoop house are also full of fruit and healthy, but they are closer to 10 feet high and, in some cases, are bending under their own weight. When I opened the door of the hoop house this morning, a branch from the front-most plant fell out and smacked me in the face. It was like Little Shop of Horrors in there. I knew what today’s chore list held for me.
After almost three hours of pruning and clearing and tying back branches, the space become more navigable and manageable. The plants grow so ferociously that they block the sunlight from their own bottom halves and the fruit below can suffer as a result. Constant maintenance makes all the difference in being able to harvest all of the fruit, rather than missing all the tomatoes that are buried below, and within, the giant plant.
I’d gone in this morning to pick tomatoes to send down to applewood. I got a pretty good haul, and thought that I’d gotten everything that was ripe enough to take. After about an hour of clearing, however, I discovered these two beauties nestled snugly between two wildly overgrown plants. What a crime it would’ve been to have missed these!