Tall Tomatoes

Tall Tomatoes

A tomato plant starts as a seed. These little seeds need to be loved and cared for so we always start them inside (or in the greenhouse) using soil blocks. In this controlled, nutrient-dense home, the little seeds germinate well and grow strong and healthy. We typically let the plants grow for about 2-3 weeks in 2 inch soils blocks and then transplant them outside into heavily mulched raised rows. Last season, we only grew indeterminate slicing tomatoes, specifically Mortgage Lifter VFN, Brandywine VFN, and Stone. This season we’re growing Mortgage Lifter and Stone slicing tomatoes again, Long Tom and Amish Paste tomatoes, and Black, Indigo, and Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes.

We experimented with two types of trellises last season, a wooden A-frame and 10-foot rebar strung with jute twine (though any sturdy twine or string would do). The trellises were a necessity as the plants grew into a delicious viney jungle that was taller than me! I took daily harvesting adventures, dodging large garden spiders, stooping low and reaching high to collect those scrumptious fruits (or are they vegetables?).

Vy standing next to tomato plants that have been trellised using rebar and Florida weave A-frame trellis after a season of use

For us, the rebar and jute Florida weave worked best. It kept the plants up-right, was easy to maintain, works with raised rows and raised beds, and held for the entire season (and the rebar can be used next year). A couple things to consider are that the rebar is difficult to relocate, can be a little pricey when getting started (though not unreasonable compared to other solutions), and the jute is not reusable for future trellising after weathering the season (but can be reused for other smaller jobs).

To set up the Florida weave, we purchased 10-foot rebar and sunk it two feet into the ground every four feet apart using a T-post driver. We then “weaved” the jute between the rebar starting at the base when the tomato plants were small. We added the next strand of twine every six to eight inches and worked our way up as the plants grew. If you’re interested in trying it, there are a ton of resources out there. A quick google search will give you more than you need, but we definitely wanted to confirm that rebar was easy to set up and works well. Next time around, we’ll try anchoring the end posts a little better because all those tomatoes get pretty heavy.

We had heard of a-frame trellises, so we just put something together with lengths of wood we had laying around. Our main goal was to build something that would be sturdy, but which would also fold up easily for storage. We achieved that, but we didn’t like using the a-frame as much as the Florida weave. Once the rebar was in the ground, it was super easy to just sandwich the tomato plants in place with twine. With the a-frame, however, we found ourselves constantly trying to keep up with tying the tomato plants to the trellis. Maybe there’s a better technique that we’re missing with the a-frame.

In any case, we harvested loads of tomatoes last summer and we used as many as we could, and fed plenty to friends, family, and the chickens. We did not want any to go to waste! We made a number of batches of marinara sauce and put pounds of tomatoes into the freezer for future use. And of course, we ate them fresh. Does a tomato a day keep the doctor away? I sure hope so! This coming summer, we plan to have tons of tomatoes and more varietes to try, experiment with, and enjoy. We transplanted a couple of weekends ago and I’m already eagerly awaiting harvest time.

A line of tomatoes sitting on top of mulch A large bowl of picked tomatoes

Other than the deliciousness tomatoes add to meals, they’re great to eat because they’re high in vitamin C, beta-carotene, manganese, and lycopene. Studies everywhere suggest they’re useful for all kinds of crazy things. I just know that they’re super yummy in oh-so-many meals!

Because we had such a surplus of tomatoes and fresh herbs last season (no complaints here!), I made and froze many batches of tomato sauce. I am so proud of this sauce because I was able to make it with veggies all grown here on the homestead!

We really like the challenge of finding something that we like and replicating it with all of our ingredients. One side of Chris’ family is Italian and he grew up eating loads of homemade tomato sauce. Lots of care went into those batches of goodness, bubbling away for hours on end on the stovetop. But, while the result was super tasty tomato sauce, the ingredients weren’t home-grown and we were drawn to the idea of what a sauce from our ingredients would taste like in the end.

Tomatoes are pretty easy to grow. Lots of folks start tomatoes or buy seedlings every year and end up with bucketfuls of tomatoes in the summer. And basil’s just about as easy, and makes a nice interplant with the tomatoes.

If you’ve got basil down, oregano isn’t so hard. In fact, we dug ours up from where we originally planted it and it still turned out just fine. Then really all that’s left is the garlic and onions which, once you’re comfortable planting things in the fall and mulching well, become pretty routine to grow.

And that’s it (except for a little salt and pepper)! So, it’s actually pretty easy to grow all of the ingredients for a batch of tomato sauce once you’ve grown something easy like tomatoes. We worked our way into it, starting with tomatoes one year, then tomatoes and basil the next, and eventually oregano and onions and garlic. And let me tell you, it was worth it; this sauce is great. Imagine how many other things there are like that, wonderful foods with their own unique flavors that we can create from the things we grow in our own areas.

OK, so here is what I did for our sauce:

  • 9 pounds of fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 small white onions, chopped
  • 1.5 cups fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper

I first browned the onions and garlic over medium heat. Once soft, I added all the tomatoes and mixed it up. I threw in the fresh herbs, salt, and pepper, and mixed again. I let the sauce simmer for nearly 8 hours. It cooked down a ton because all we had were slicing tomatoes. This year, I’ll be using sauce tomatoes so hopefully it won’t need to cook down for so long (and might taste completely different, which is exciting!).

Fresh herbs sitting on top of tomatoes ready to be cooked into sauce A pot of tomato sauce mostly cooked down

I used this sauce all winter on spaghetti squash, meatballs, quiche, paleo pizza, and all kinds of things!

Chili is another delicious way to incorporate tomatoes, and can also be frozen for some hearty mid-winter eating.

Collage of tomatoes, cayenne peppers, oregano, and a bowl of chili

Of course, tomatoes are just one small portion of what the homestead provides. But they’re delicious and we’re excited for them to start growing again soon!

A bowl of tomatoes, berries, and herbs
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