Thankful for Suffolk tomatoes

Published 9:52 pm Friday, July 15, 2011

It seems I am again writing about my inability to keep tomato plants alive.

It’s not that I don’t know anything about growing tomatoes. I’ve helped plant, nurture and harvest at least five summers’ worth at my mother’s house.

In my time in Suffolk, my interviews with local gardeners have all given me little nuggets of advice that I’ve attempted to take with me back home. But that’s the problem with learning in bits and pieces: Some important fact will inevitably slip through the cracks and result in the destruction of my plants.

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One of those things that slipped through the cracks is what can happen if you don’t seek specific advice about planting tomatoes in containers.

I chose container planting for two reasons. As a renter, I have to ask permission to dig holes in my yard, and I felt it would be too much trouble to do so. Second, I figured I could better protect my tomatoes from the destructive forces of nature if I could just bring my plants into the safety of the garage.

But I never realized what I might be taking away from my plants with this choice. Like a key nutrient that is the difference between perfectly shaped, delicious red tomatoes and abominations that begin to rot from the bottom the moment they turn slightly red.

As I later learned from a sympathetic neighbor, unless you make sure there is enough calcium in your dirt, many container-grown tomatoes will end up with what’s called blossom end rot.

This is merely a technical term for my biggest nightmare, the one in which I spend two months doting on lovingly chosen tomato plants only to learn that I won’t be getting a single BLT out of them.

This makes the horror of finding my tomatoes torn apart by birds seem like nothing, mainly because it is again my failings as a gardener that have essentially ruined my endeavor to have an unlimited supply of my favorite summertime treat.

But I have to admit that there’s a silver lining in this whole mess, thanks to one Suffolk farm.

The morning after I realized that my tomato experiment wouldn’t actually be fruitful, I went to pick up my weekly CSA delivery from Clayhill Farms.

As usual, I was met with a huge smile from Jan Morris, who co-owns the farm and never fails to be in a good mood while making her deliveries, even if they are scheduled for the crack of dawn.

But more important to me at the time was that she also handed me a bag of huge, beefsteak tomatoes, straight from Suffolk. I promptly ate one in the parking lot, the way sane people eat apples, but with a lot more gleeful delight. If I ever doubted the healing power of tomatoes before that moment, I definitely don’t anymore.

Since then, I’ve gotten two more deliveries of tomatoes, but that first tomato of the season was heaven. And it was all thanks to a few Suffolkians who work to provide farm-fresh fruit and vegetables for everyone through their CSA program and Suffolk’s farmers’ markets. Don’t let an opportunity to enjoy their healing bounty pass you by.