Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tomato Harvest

It's been almost a month since I last wrote! We've been so busy with harvest that there has been little time for the computer.

Tomato harvest is on! We've been collecting tomatoes by the 11 quart basket since early August, for making salsa, sauce, preserved whole tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, slow-roasted tomatoes, tomato chutney, and of course just eating lots of toasted tomato sandwiches!

Each year when we attend the annual Canadian Organic Growers conference, held at the University of Guelph in January, we find it difficult to select only a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes. The vendors have an astounding array of unusual and familiar types, boasting great flavour, intense colour, early season ripening, late season ripening, champion size, and so on. Each tomato comes with it's own unique story of how the seeds were saved and preserved for generations, so that we have access to these varieties that are unavailable in the grocery store. For example, the "Mortgage Lifter" tomato was said to have helped an ailing farm bail out from under it's debt, the "Polish Pink" was smuggled overseas on the back of a postage stamp, and the "Cherokee Purple" was first grown by the first nations Cherokee people.

In any case, we finally decided on 16 varieties this year - including several we saved from our own garden seed of the previous year's harvest. We have some standard favourites that we grow each year - Yukon Red (early ripening and cold hardy); Mennonite Orange (low acid, beautiful brilliant orange); Yellow Pear (small sweet yellow tomato that is pear shaped); Sweet Baby Girl (tiny red early cherry); and Orange Cherry (which we call the Plan B Orange Cherry, as we first saved seeds from cherry tomatoes picked at this organic farm near Hamilton). This year we also grew Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Early Girl, Stupice, Patio (hybrid variety, which grows well in a pot and is an excellent producer of heavy red tomatoes), Polish Pink, Money Maker, and more...

If you can, save your own garden seeds. If your plot is too small, and you fear the varieties becoming cross-pollinated, then purchase seeds from small seed companies that support heirloom varieties. Also, consider joining Seeds of Diversity, a national non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of heritage varieties of all sorts of produce. Members trade seeds, and volunteer to grow small batches of heirloom items in their gardens and send seeds back to be stored and passed on by Seeds of Diversity for the next season.

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