Are your dreams about your vegetable garden and what you’ll harvest this year coming true? Are thoughts of big juicy tomatoes dancing in your brain becoming reality? Will you be able to can for the winter and feel confident your family is getting good quality? Will you have local garden bragging rights?
You thought you did everything correctly. Although the variety of tomato plants can be overwhelming, you planted the tomato varieties recommended for Virginia. You fantasized about Big Beef in a salad, canning Mountain Spring, and walking through the garden popping Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes in your mouth. Now you’re getting a few tomatoes, but those ugly, gross leaf spots ruined much of the crop and then the leaf wilting began. You’re not getting the tomatoes of your dreams to eat or share with neighbors. Where are the 10 to 15 pounds of fruit the plant was supposed to yield? You wish you had better luck.
But gardening is not all luck.
If you lived next door to a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener, he or she would tell you that the first thing to do for a successful crop is to get a soil test. The ideal vegetable garden soil is deep, friable, well-drained, and has high organic matter content. Soil test kits are available from the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) offices or at Green Spring Gardens. VCE will mail results with recommendations for correcting any deficiencies in your soil. VCE also has a tomato publication that gives guidance on growing tomatoes.
You can get help from Master Gardeners at the Fairfax County farmers markets or at the Green Spring Gardens Help Desk on Saturdays (4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312). You also can call the VCE help line at 703-324-5369, and your question will be answered by a Master Gardener.
If you don’t have your own neighborhood Master Gardener, why not become one? For information contact Pamela.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once you grow that perfect tomato, you might enjoy my favorite tomato dish. It’s my grandmother’s Panzanella (Tuscan bread and tomato) Salad.
4-6 large ripened tomatoes cut into large cubes
½ pound Italian bread, cubed (about 7-9 cups)**
1 ½ thinly sliced red onions
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup Italian extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, torn into pieces
Salt/pepper to taste
Combine tomatoes, bread, and onions
Wisk the garlic (optional), vinegar and oil together
Pour the dressing over the bread salad and let it sit for 20 minutes
Add basil, salt and pepper to taste and toss
** Rosa Milano Rinaldo made her own bread for this salad but you can buy a good hearty Italian bread.
Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener Intern