Here we go…. Again!!
Its February and the weather across the country has been a mess…. Intense rain and snowstorms across California where I am now working, with record snow packs anticipated this year once we emerge from a harsh Winter and move in Spring. In this context its time once again to think/dream/fantasize about a warm southern spring and weeks in mid-April when it will be time to plant the tomato seedlings in the warming soil of the garden.
Now I am one of those gardeners who have always dreamt about having a big expansive garden, filled with different vegetable varieties like my brother Mark, but who have just enough light, space and decent quality soil for about a dozen tomato plants. For years, and actually many decades, my family (starting with my paternal grandmother MaMa) and I save seeds every year and start our “passed along” tomato seeds from “scratch” …. no seedlings from the hardware/garden store for us! This year, as you can see the picture above, I have started three different varieties and am already getting excited for this year’s fresh Tomatoes from the garden later in the summer. There is something about this annual rhythm that is very re-affirming for me… a certain cycle of life/seasons/crops that have nothing to do with business challenges, political strife, global conflicts, or any of the myriad of “stressors” that surround us in 2023… just the simple reassuring tempo of a garden and the potential for delicious fresh tomatoes in the heat of the summer!
Now lets talk about the tomatoes!! Today we would call all three “heirloom varietals”, a phrase that was unknown to the generations of gardeners that have saved and passed along seeds fro centuries /millennium. Two of the varieties have been grown by our family/friends for decades and decades, and I am proud to have seedlings sprouting again in 2023!!
Pictured to the right are a few tomatoes that I had harvested last summer. The most “famous” for our family is the quirky orange/yellow tomato that was handed down from my grandmother that we have kept going for decades. When it ripens, it has darker stipes on its ridges and MaMa called them “old stripers.” A short plant only measuring 5+/- feet tall, the fruit are delicious and make a light, and beautiful pasta sauce.
Another old varietal that has been passed down in a friend’s family since the early 70’s is one I call “Big Pinks.” My childhood friend Dave and his family raised these tomatoes for years and years and I was lucky enough to get a small packet of seeds from Dave’s dad a few years ago. These plants will grow to incredible lengths, and put off very large pink tomatoes; while Dave’s dad grew fruit that weighed more than 2 lbs., I have succeeded in growing lots of the “Big Pinks” larger than 1 lb.
Finally I have the “Green Zebras,” a tomato with incredible colors that I have now grown for a few years. My sister-in-law passed along some “heirloom tomatoes” from a farmers market box and these crazy green tomatoes caught my eye. When ripe, that are green with dark strips on the outside, but you cut them open and they stipes of red, yellow, and orange running through the INSIDE of the tomato… incredibly beautiful and tasty!!
Just describing them makes me hungry for summer, in the midst of a messy February. The combination of the annual seasonal rhythm and the connection of each varietal to family and friends make this process precious to me. I look forward to what might come this year, and maybe, just maybe I will finally raise a “two-pounder” of the “Big Pinks” ….. wish me luck!
postscript: As I head into my 60’s, these “habits/rhythms” are becoming more and more important and more grounding to me personally. I a touchstone to my grandmother, born in 1901, and to childhood friends and their families connects me to the “long pattern” of life (maybe a title for a future essay?!?) vs the microsecond fading reality of pop culture today… I am thankful for the tomato plants for more than just the great bounty in the summer… is a connection rod to my life and my past.