Saturday, November 28, 2009

It’s nine o’clock in the morning and, as usual, I am taking my morning stroll amongst the tomato plants. I sample a Sungold Cherry, which, of course, is divine. It earns a little moan of delight. I continue with my sampling - Chiquita, a delightful, red, oval shaped little tomato. It’s sweet at first and then a little hint of tingle appears.

Last spring I went to the local tomato seedling sale where I chatted with a friend, who has been working there for years. I always ask him to name some of his favorites. I know his response will begin with some thoughtful chin scratching and will grow into a 30 or 40 minute description of the latest heirloom varieties, usually those that do better in the heat rather than those more suited for the beach. When my friend asked me whether or not I grow “Neve’s Azorean Red” and I replied with “Do I grow what??” I knew there was going to be another very long conversation but that it would be about something really, really good. I left the seedling sale with not one, but three Neve’s Azorean Red seedlings and am so glad I did. This very large, deep red tomato is delicious and beautiful – a classic heirloom variety in appearance. The flavor is true tomato without being acidic. In July I harvested several one pound tomatoes from these plants and then it appeared they were finished. Being the eternal optimist I left them in the ground and sure enough, late in August they were alive with bright yellow flowers! Then the extreme heat came and I was so fearful that they wouldn’t be able to survive. Many flowers, in fact, did succumb to the prolonged triple digit temperatures. But several managed to remain strong and produced a second round of incredible (though smaller) tomatoes. This morning, as I inspected my plants, I felt lucky to discover two ripe Neve’s Azorean Reds in need of plucking!

It’s now 10 am, 75 degrees out and warming quickly. I think that instead of my bathrobe I really should be in a tank top and shorts to get a little of the sun kissed color that I so proudly wear. The rooster next door crows in his deepest and most robust voice and has been at it since long before the sun came up. A young rooster attempts to mimic his elder with his prepubescent squeaky cock-a-doodle-do. The geese stifle their honks. I am sure they are laughing at the pathetic little sound coming out of the baby rooster. The chickens’ coos connect into a kind of warbling hum telling the world that fresh eggs have been laid. I can hear children and families giggling and playing out in their yards. It seems like a perfect summer morning.

I cut two large bunches of Italian parsley for a recipe we’re making later in the day and then fill a bowl with a variety of cherry tomatoes to add color to this evening’s dinner table. I think about which bowl I’ll serve them in – maybe something hand painted that my son brought from Prague. The colors are bright and cheerful and would be perfect with red, yellow and bright orange cherry tomatoes. But today I decide on a wire basket that my friend, Wendy, brought back from her trip to Africa. The trip was not long after she received a kidney transplant – a true miracle in itself. Lately, she’s been hospitalized battling an infection and using the wire basket brings her a little closer.

This morning when I read the status updates on Facebook there was a definite theme throughout…I read every single message of gratitude…heartfelt gratitude for friends, for jobs, for health, for family. I myself wrote last night that I am so thankful to all of my Facebook friends for their encouragement, enlightenment and engaging conversation.

As much as it sounds like it, this is not just another summer morning. In fact, it’s not summer at all. Today is November 26, Thanksgiving. And while there is so much to be thankful for, at this moment I am most thankful for that small piece of heaven in my own back yard.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wow! It's November 7 and it's still tomato season in my garden!
To be honest, I don't go out there every day like I do in the middle of summer. I know we're nearing the end of the season. With the sun lower in the sky and the hill behind us I find that one of my original, large beds doesn't begin to get sun until two in the afternoon. Whether I water the plants or the overnight moisture does the ground barely has a chance to dry out. I still have an abundance of flowers on the plants and some have quite a few green tomatoes. They're not ripening quickly, and in fact, some are rotting from the moisture rather than ripening. Then there are the squirrels - they're multiplying in number and have become incredibly blatant about helping themselves to my fruit.

I find it all to be more than a little depressing. When the sun goes away it seems to take some of my spirit with it. I try to plan for next season, making lists of the varieties I'll grow again and researching some I've never tried. I think about growing winter vegetables but they just don't have the same tug on my heartstrings that heirloom tomatoes do.

Today, the sun smiled down upon me and gave me one more reason to hold onto my happy tomato thoughts...I decided to walk out back before getting started with the day's activities. Visiting the tomatoes barefoot and in my pajamas has given way to a bathrobe and tennis shoes but it still warms my heart just the same.

I can always count on Sungold Cherry to give me sweet as candy treats. Jenny still provides smaller orange pearls of fruit. Neves Azorean Red doesn't seem to care that it's November and there are six very large tomatoes trying to ripen before the evening temperatures drop too low, or the squirrels make a meal out of them first. Jetsetter continues to produce beautiful red tomatoes that look more like apples than tomatoes. And just when I was heading back to the house I discovered a beautiful Kellogg's Breakfast tomato staring at me. Ignoring the fact that a squirrel enjoyed a bite before I could get to it I happily cut it off the plant and brought it inside!

It may have been seven o'clock in the morning but I just had to make this gorgeous surprise my breakfast. It did not disappoint! Even after removing the side that the squirrel ate I had a rather large tomato to enjoy. The outer edges were a bit crunchy, which I didn't really mind. It was somewhat crisp, like an apple, but I prefer crisp and firm to soft or mealy. The center of this tomato was meaty and just firm enough but not hard. It was juicy and flavorful and so incredibly delicious. It was a happy beginning to my day.

Several friends came by today and each had to come into the kitchen to taste a bite of my November surprise. Sitting here now, I see that there are still two bites left...I guess I know what I'll be having as a bedtime snack!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Have you eaten a Golden Delicious apple lately? Don't worry, I'm not giving up my passion for tomatoes for apples...but I happened to enjoy a golden Delicious in the car on the way to work today. And to be honest - it was delicious! Usually I follow my protein shake with a Fuji but in a nostalgic moment at the market the other day I bought Goldens instead. I think it was the only kind of variety my Mom ever gave us. My apple this morning was sweet, juicy and crisp. It was a delight. Of course, it was not as delightful as my prebreakfast snack out in the yard...

I headed out to the garden to harvest some tomatoes before the big rainstorm hit. It obviously had rained a bit overnight. It was balmy and a little breezy. The grass and leaves were bright green and glistened in the sunshine. Little drops of rain dripped off rose petals. The smell was fresh and alive. The tomatoes had been washed and looked happy and shiny and oh so ready for picking. It was glorious!

I surveyed all of the plants before plucking several handfuls of tomatoes. There are seven or eight huge green Neve's Azorean Reds. I hope the weather will remain steady and give them time to ripen. Morado and Orange Strawberry produced several ripe tomatoes this week and there were more to pick this morning. Persimmon, one of the first to produce earlier in the summer is giving me a second round of big, orange, sweet fruit. Jetsetter and Copia, as always, have many ripe tomatoes that don't seem to mind being left on the plants until I need them. The Sungold Cherries are still delicious and sweet and provide an abundance of little gems. White Cherry seems to be getting ready to give forth huge numbers of delicious berries. There are so many tomatoes on the plant but they still have a little green and are too firm to enjoy.

With my heart feeling happy I picked enough Sungold Cherries to satisfy my morning craving and a host of others for making a pot of soup this chilly evening. Someone told me that at the end of the week the rain will be gone and the weather forecast is for 87 degrees on Friday. I picked a few more to make Gazpacho for the hot weather.

I love growing tomatoes for so many reasons but today it's because there seem to be tomatoes for all seasons.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

As the weather changes, mornings are cool and warm afternoon sunshine gives way to chilly evenings. This all happens way too quickly for me. I know a lot of tomato growers who have pulled out their plants and put in winter vegetables. I'm still harvesting, making panzanella and gazpacho and comparing tastes and textures of the many tomatoes I grow. I will admit that it's the cherry varieties that continue to give the best flavor. But that doesn't mean the medium and larger tomatoes should be ignored.

Today I tasted Golden Jubilee, Barnes Mountain Yellow and Amazon Chocolate. Golden Jubilee is a tomato that I planted late in the summer as an experiment. I wanted to see how it would do as summer gave way to fall. It has produced one tomato so far, a small golden fruit that was a bit too tart for my taste. Amazon chocolate was quite tasty. It's a pretty, red, oval shaped tomato with subtle yellow feathering on the skin. It tasted good and fairly mellow. It would be nice in a salad but it's nothing special. Barnes Mountain Yellow is one of the prettiest tomatoes I've seen but I don't know what it's called's a deep orange tomato, a bit flat on the top and has beautiful bright green stripes. This tomato definitely gets a Wow! The taste of this tomato is deep and rich, much like it's coloring. It's got a true tomato taste with just the right amount of acidity. Sometimes it's really nice to know just what you're going to get - no surprise, no mystery...the skin of this tomato tells you just what to expect and it definitely doesn't disappoint.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The traditional meal to break the fast at the end of Yom Kippur consists of lighter foods, mostly dairy or egg dishes, and something sweet to start a sweet New Year. Our dinner tonight was quite simple -roast chicken, tabouleh and pita, a layered vegetable tian featuring Japanese eggplant and yellow squash from the garden. And, oh yes, a platter of thick slices of homegrown tomatoes and Armenian cucumbers.

On the platter were slices of Pineapple, my all time favorite tomato, Orange Strawberry which we've enjoyed a lot lately, and Reisenstraub - a mild, deep pink heart shaped tomato that's new to my garden this year. Reisenstraub hasn't produced many tomatoes but the one that I picked today was picture perfect and quite tasty. If it hadn't been alongside Pineapple, sweet and mellow and Orange Strawberry, a dense, sweet tasting tomato that leaves a tiny little tingle lingering on your tongue, it might have been named today's favorite. But honestly, with this kind of competition it didn't have a chance!

Strangely enough, it was the Orange Strawberry that was so delicious it got the Wow! out of me tonight. As a result, Orange Strawberry is today's favorite tomato.

I'm going to guess that for most families a platter of tomatoes isn't a holiday tradition, much less a topic of conversation at the holiday table. For us, it's both...something that we all enjoy and cherish because fostering each other's passions is as important to each of us as our own. So, we begin the New Year with sweet tasting tomatoes, a reminder of the sweetness of friends and family, with us tonight and those far away. Sometimes the sweetness is well within reach and sometimes it's a stretch, but always there if you allow yourself to see it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Yes, I promised the ultimate taste test...and yes, I did sample two really incredible tomatoes. And that post will come very soon...

Today I sampled a Kellogg's Breakfast from one of my newer plants. I decided several weeks after planting the majority of my seedlings to create a space for 16 more plants. This plot is on a hill which had been covered with ivy and to say the soil needed a lot of work was an understatement. But because I had the seedlings and needed to get them in the ground, the soil was dug out, amended, potting soil added and the seedlings planted. It hasn't been the most productive bunch of plants. I'm thinking that for next year I need to build raised beds on the hill so the ground can be level and allow better water absorption rather than runoff. The cherry tomatoes on the hill are doing all right. The larger varieties haven't produced very well but Kellogg's Breakfast seems to be doing better than the others.
Kellogg's Breakfast is a beefsteak tomato with a very pretty deep apricot color. It's got a mild flavor. This tomato isn't overly seedy but it is rather watery.

I decided to compare the Kellogg's Breakfast with Orange Strawberry. Orange Strawberry is a beautiful tomato because it's so unique. It's heart shaped and when ripe, the color is a deep orange. Orange Strawberry should have produced the majority of it's fruit about a month ago. But a month ago I was underwhelmed by this tomato. The yield was limited at best and the tomatoes were tart. Now, when many of the plants are slowing down production, Orange Strawberry is going strong. I've harvested eight large tomatoes from this plant in the past two days and there are many more to come. Orange Strawberry is a fairly sweet tomato. I can detect just a tiny hint of acidity and I'm thinking that may be more of a reflection of the 106 degree weather we're having rather than a characteristic of the tomato. The flesh of this tomato is a bit denser and meatier than Kellogg's Breakfast. It's a little easier to eat so I'm going to name this one as today's favorite.

A few weeks ago I might have considered taking out the Orange Strawberry plant, believing it to be finished for the season. It's a good thing I didn't. Sometimes things just need a little more time. Everything matures at a different rate. The point is, they'll all get there in their own time and when they're ready. That's the beauty of individuality. And individuality needs to be honored and respected - if not, look at the beauty that might have been missed.

These days most people say that tomato season is winding down...just tell that to my seven foot tall Neve's Azorean Red! They were delicious earlier in the season. I'm curious to see how the extreme summer heat will affect them.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Squinting makes it so much easier to see the hornworms!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Remember when we were kids and how we thought it was so funny to take an orange slice and put it in front of our top teeth? There's was nothing quite like an orange slice smile - it could make even the grouchiest person laugh! Now imagine a Basset Hound with a bright green, not a slice of a lime or even a stolen Green Zebra tomato. If only I had my camera in hand when adorable Hucksley turned and smiled at me with a big, juicy, bright green hornworm in the front of his teeth!

At this point in the season I have mostly cherry tomatoes to enjoy. The larger varieties have produced new tomatoes and if the weather cooperates I'll have more beefsteak sized tomatoes to harvest in the next couple of weeks. I am not ready for tomato season to come to an end so I do all that I can to encourage the plants to keep on giving...I cut them back, give them a nice feeding with organic vegetable food and talk to them as nicely as I can.

I am still finding grasshoppers in the plants although they are moving rather slowly. I am also finding very large hornworms on some of the plants. I remember when I first began growing tomatoes - I would cry hysterically when I found a hornworm, believing it meant the absolute end of my plants. I can recall several occasions - religious holidays, even my birthday, when my family expected me for dinner but I called and said I would be late because of my huge hornworm problem. I'd search every single plant for those evil caterpillars and chop every one of them in half! (Did you know the inside of a hornworm is as bright green in color as the outside)?

I guess I've grown up, at least in terms of my tomato growing. I can actually ignore the worms from time to time - or comment about how cute the little babies are. When I see a lot of damage, meaning entire branches that have been eaten, I know it means I have to take action. First job - find as many of the chewing beasts as possible and destroy them! Hornworms are hard to see. It's easiest to spot them late in the afternoon when the sun is on it's way down to meet the horizon. They look very similar to the underside of curled tomato leaves. Late in the summer, when temperatures are cool in the morning and hot in the afternoon, the leaves react by curling. The plants actually create the perfect camouflage for the worms. Isn't it ironic that the very plants that hornworms destroy also act as their safe haven? It's a very strange and destructive codependency.

Today I discovered what used to be branches full of leaves, telling me it's time to do more than just remove the worms. I have to be proactive or there will definitely not be any tomatoes for me in a few weeks. Out came the sprayer and in went the Safer spray - the new formula that is safe for animals but is very effective on hornworms. From this day forward fighting the hornworm will be a daily battle.

The bicolor cherry plant, which was one of this year's favorites didn't recover from bacterial wilt. Sungolds are still sweet and delicious. They are consistent and dependable although if you leave them on the plant even a minute too long, they have an insipid, unpleasantly sweet flavor. Black Cherry tomatoes are quite good. Unique in color, they have a true tomato taste. Jennys, which look like a smaller version of the Sungold Cherry are still beautiful, orange, sweet and delicious. And the Snow White Cherries are still really tasty. The Snow White Cherry plant is huge and it is full of tomatoes. To be honest, I've never had a bad one. It's a full flavored tomato even though it's a cherry and always gets a wow! reaction. You just don't expect a pale yellow tomato to have much flavor - you expect it to taste as dull as it looks.

Today I name the Snow White Cherry as my favorite. Tomorrow - the ultimate taste'll have to wait and read...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I don't know anyone who likes finding certain insects in their vegetable garden. There are those that do such incredible damage that they cannot be tolerated. They can decimate entire plants in a very short amount of time...I'm referring to grasshoppers - large, ugly, low flying menaces that seem to have found paradise in my backyard.

Today was a day when I had relatively little to do in the garden besides water. As I stood holding the hose, day dreaming and soaking up the sun, I noticed some movement amidst the leaves. Something sprang into the air, started its propellers and flew to the next tomato plant.It landed right in front of me, leaving me face to face with an ugly brown grasshopper the size of a robin.

Now, before I say anything else, please know that I ALWAYS try to use natural methods to eradicate pests from my garden before doing what I have to do to protect my plants from these particular evildoers. I read someplace that coriander and horehound are natural deterrents so I planted it everywhere. Not only did the grasshopper population multiply, the herbs attracted all kinds of other unwanted pests as well.

I learned long ago that traditional methods such as stomping, smashing or drowning don't work on grasshoppers. They have a protective armor that cannot easily be destroyed. So, I devised my own method...grab the long bladed garden shears, sneak up behind the monster and snap! Chop it in half! This method is incredibly effective (if you've got very good aim) but it often results in one half of the prehistoric creature remaining in your clippers. It is not pleasant to look at the eyes of a grasshopper popping out of it's head. And left me forewarn you, if you chop a grasshopper in half and it drops to the ground, the front half can still hop or jump and try to escape!

I am not a wimp but I've decided that I just can't deal with grasshoppers, so when I encounter one, as I did today, I yell "grasshopper...come quick" and let somebody else do the job. But a few minutes later, I yelled out "oh my G-D, this one is as big as a crow...get the grasshopper getters"! And this was my afternoon...large brown grasshopper on the tomatoes, green grasshopper on the roses, small gray grasshopper on another tomato until seven grasshoppers had encounters with the grasshopper getter.

As I continued with my watering, staring off into the dense foliage of one of the tomato plants, I saw it...the hugest bright green tomato hornworm that I have ever seen! This time I yelled out "you've gotta come see this"! This was not an ordinary hornworm. I've never really seen one move much but this one was twisting it's head back and chomping at something! There was a bee trying to land on the worm's back and he really didn't like that much! I have never seen anything like it - the show was absolutely amazing! This was nature at work and I was fascinated. I ran for my video camera, which of course, had a low battery. Then I grabbed my digital camera with the hope that I could capture the drama to show anyone willing to look at my photos. Finally, although I enjoyed witnessing this future episode from the Discovery Channel, I decided enough was enough...the leaf , along with the caterpillar was cut off and put in the green trash bin.

Once again I picked up the hose and returned to my daydreaming. But there, from the corner of my eye I saw it...the hornworm's twin!

I remember the days when finding a hornworm on my tomato plants was devastating. Today, it was entertaining. I guess it's just a matter of perspective.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I don't think I can write today without acknowledging the date...I am still sad for all of the people whose lives were so tragically affected by the horrible events on September 11. My son flew home from New York today and, now that he is safely here, I will tell you that I was scared to death.

Remembering 9/11 reminds me to focus on and be grateful for the many blessings in my life. My family, my kids, my work, my tomatoes, all of which I love so much. How lucky am I that my family and friends not only accept my obsession with these little bites of sunshine, even more, they support and encourage it?

My tomato plants are in a state of indecision...some want to think they're finished. They've really produced well this season and are a bit weary from the extreme heat we've had in the San Fernando Valley for the past couple of weeks. But there are flowers on the plants that have survived the heat and green tomatoes which hopefully will ripen. This week I planted some short season varieties hoping to have tomatoes to harvest in the fall. Next I'll cut back the plants that look done in the hopes of giving them a second wind. They'll be fed well and I will talk to them sweetly to encourage them to produce for me.

The heat does nasty things to the tomato plants so I didn't have much for a tasting today. I decided to only try one tomato this morning. It was the first time I had taken a bite of White Beauty. It hasn't been a great performer and the dog has enjoyed harvesting what it did produce long before I could pick them. White Beauty is really a pale yellow, small-ish tomato. The flavor was fine...not sugary, not tart, just fine. Maybe like the color of it's skin, White Beauty is a little bland. It would be a good tomato to include in a salad composed of stronger tasting tomatoes. It would add volume but wouldn't fight with the other flavors. I could use this tomato in my gazpacho which I make with a blend of whatever happens to be ripe and available that day.

Today I have been reminded to cherish and nurture those things which I love. Growing tomatoes is just one of them. So tonight, as I say my thank yous to whoever is listening, I'll be sure to express my gratitude for the opportunity to do something which strengthens my spirit, warms my heart and feeds my soul.

And you thought I was just growing tomatoes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Today's taste test was a little different. I decided to open up the tasting to two other people who happened to be in the house this evening. Sometimes I wonder if tomato preference is totally unique to the individual or if anybody else tasted the same things I tasted in each tomato... First bite - Dona, a small, round, red tomato. Dona doesn't look like anything special and when you first take a bite doesn't taste like anything special. It's a good, basic tomato but just before you swallow - there it is! You find that your tongue is tingling! It's a nice surprise! Next I tried Enchantment, an oval shaped red tomato with a pointed tip. I've really never had much blossom end rot before but this tomato seems quite prone to it. It was tasty, mild but not sweet and didn't make my tongue feel like fine grade sandpaper. Last I tried Purple Calabash. Some say it's the ugliest tomato on the planet. I think it's quite beautiful. The irregular ribs and dark purple and green colors are perfect examples of why i fell in love with heirloom tomatoes in the first place! With a skin as unique as it has, how can you not want to know more about what's inside? The flavor was not too strong but definitely had a hint of citrus. If I tell you that the other two people who tasted these tomatoes said almost the same things, word for word, i would not be lying. We all had the same reactions to these three tomatoes. it was difficult to choose a favorite and we changed our minds a few times. Favorite tomato today - final answer - Enchantment.

Friday, September 4, 2009

While harvesting has definitely slowed down there's still plenty of tomatoes for my homemade gazpacho!
It's really a challenge to pick tomatoes to taste in this kind of extended heat. To be honest nothing is at it's best. Flavor and texture are definitely compromised under these conditions. Over the past week, with temperatures over 100 degrees for several days in a row, the focus has been on protecting the plants, unripe fruit and flowers on the plants. Tasting, eating and enjoying the fruits of my labor have become secondary. I did manage to find three tomatoes for today's taste test and really wasn't impressed by any. That may have had more to do with recent growing conditions so I'm not going to name names and tell you what I didn't like. Let's just say that today's favorite was a variety new to me this season. It was pretty red and yellow on the outside and had a nice balance of flavor. It's the winner today not only because it's pretty and tastes fairly good but also because it held up well enough to be tasted! Today's favorite - Mr. Stripey!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

There is only one tomato that can be named today's favorite. While the other tomatoes were bursting like blisters in the heat, this one kept it's cool. The plant stands tall and proud, brightened by an abundance of pretty yellow flowers, promising to burst into a second round of tasty pale yellow cherry tomatoes. Sweet and delicious, my favorite tomato today is Snow White Cherry.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tomato gardening in the extreme San Fernando Valley heat…by 8 am this morning the temperature read 98 degrees. Already the plants, which appeared to have recovered nicely from yesterday’s temperature of 108 degrees, were beginning to droop. I decided to rearrange the shade cloth to help shield even more of the plants from what promised to be another very hot afternoon. It’s the tomatoes in containers that seemed to have the toughest time. The cucumbers and peppers, also in containers seemed to need extra protection. In order for the shade cloth to protect more plants I first had to relocate many of the pots. They needed to be much closer together to benefit from the lengths of cloth that I had on hand. Moving them is scary to me…I imagine that under the rims of each pot resides a very happy, healthy family of black widow spiders. Not sure whether or not spiders can bite through gardening gloves I decide not to take a chance but rather try to push the pots with my knees to their new destination. It’s not a perfect plan but it’ll do.

Late this afternoon I ventured back to the vegetable garden and found that the plants looked much better than they did at the same time yesterday. Maybe it was the shade cloth or maybe the temperature was a little lower or maybe it was my reward for not having disturbed the spiders. The tomatoes didn’t cook on the plants and the plants didn’t look more like weeping willows than tomatoes.

I picked only a few tomatoes to bring in for tasting. Today when I tasted Copia it was a completely different tomato than it was last week. It appeared to be happier with a bit more heat. It was beautifully colored , both inside and out. Copia is more spotty on the outside than Pineapple and the inside is similar without the red starburst at the center. The flavor was smooth and sweet. Definitely could be today’s winner…Barnes Mountain Yellow, with its beautiful orange and green striped skin tasted, well, like “just a tomato”. Aunt Ruby’s German Green which really hasn’t produced much turned out to be a delicious surprise. It was a small green ball and I wasn’t sure it was ready to be picked. I knew this was supposed to be a beefsteak tomato. It felt a little soft so I thought it would be better to let it ripen on the kitchen counter rather than cook on the plant. But once inside I decided to take a chance and ate it instead. What a great decision to have made. The unexpected delight called Aunt Ruby’s German Green has to be today’s favorite tomato.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Today is day two of what is expected to be a four day period of extreme heat. The area of Woodland Hills that I call home tends to get about 10 degrees hotter than anywhere else in the zipcode and it also happens to get 10 degrees colder in winter. Last summer we hit 115 degrees and we've had snow three times in the 20 years I've lived here.

The mild weather that we've been enjoying until now allowed the tomato plants to burst into flower bringing great joy and anticipation of a second round of delicious tomatoes. But when it gets this hot the heat can sterilize all of the, with the forecasted heat comes a sense of sadness and certain amount of fear. My tomato season cannot end so soon and abruptly!

Day before yesterday I triple soaked the plants and placed some 50% shade cloth over a few of the plants. I didn't have enough cloth to cover them all so I decided to protect the ones with tomatoes growing that were exposed and might be scalded by the sun's burning rays. When I went out this morning to check on the tomatoes I found that all of the plants in the ground looked happy. Besides the tomatoes the squash was upright and looked as if it had grown considerably since it started to warm up. The cucumbers were full and reaching for the sun. Only the tomatoes in containers were droopy, which I expected. At this point in the season they are asking for water every two days. In spite of the heat, we remained on schedule and I gave the potted tomatoes are long drink. I decided to rotate the shade cloth so that every day different plants are shielded from the sun so that none will be roasting for several consecutive days.

I chose three tomatoes to sample this morning and ate them in the garden as I was hanging the shadecloth. Dixie Golden Giant was very tart this morning. It may have been a little premature to eat this tomato. It was a little firmer than usual but I just took a bite without thinking about it first. Next, I tried a pink, almost beefsteak sized tomato that was labeled Reisentraube. After looking at some photos and reading descriptions I have to assume that this tomato was labeled incorrectly. In any case, the tomato was fine but nothing special. It really had no outstanding characteristics to describe. Last, I ate a Green Grape - one of very favorite tomatoes. It's an oval fruit, in the size range of cherry tomatoes and is definitely green. When ripe there's a hint of gold in the green and the tomato has just the tiniest amount of "give" in your hand.It is always a sweet surprise. Without question, Green Grape is definitely today's favorite.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Today's favorite was a delightful way to start the day...Suncherry!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Today began like any other day. I strolled out to the garden to say good morning to the tomatoes. Don't worry, I extend the same greeting to the roses, and veggies and mess that the dog left along the way. I have a few other choice words for the latter, as well. Happily (and I hope I don't jinx anything by saying this) I found no new signs of hornworms on any of the plants. Everything looked happy and healthy, requiring nothing of me at that moment, so I began picking a few tomatoes. I planned to take them to a meeting this morning. So much for my plans...

After taking a few tomatoes off the plants I set them all in one spot in the soil, keep harvesting and then I come back with a bowl or basket to carry them inside. That's what I usually do...

Today I decided to forgo the bowl and lined the fruits of my labor along my bent arm from my elbow to the palm of my hand. It reminded me of holding my twins, who were very small when they were born, on my forearm. My babies were all lined up and I had to add a second layer to get them all on. As I was picking up the last few to add them to my arm a hummingbird zoomed in - right past my ear. I turned quickly and dropped a tomato. I would have picked it up and replaced it but in came another hummingbird, this one dive bombing at my head and right towards the remaining tomatoes in the pile. I yelled at the attacking birds, "Hey, these are my tomatoes"! They sure got the better of me! As I turned to make my escape and get my fruit safely into the house yet another hummingbird flew in, buzzing my ear again and causing me to drop my entire armful of tomatoes! One by one I collected them and carefully lined them back up on my arm. We were safe except for the few tomatoes that were squished upon impact. As I carried them in my arms and held them gently across my chest I enjoyed a bath of tomato juice and seeds.

Not wanting to waste any, I decide to use the three best of the squished tomatoes for my tasting. Usually done later in the day, today the tasting was complete by 9 in the morning. Let me suggest that when enjoying a breakfast of tomatoes you also have a slice of bread. No matter how sweet they may be it's a little hard on an early morning stomach.

I began with Kellogg's Breakfast a large, orange, solid tomato. It's similar to Persimmon which I chose as yesterday's favorite. It's really delicious. The flavor is sweet and almost peach like. The meat is very firm and not seedy. This tomato is so dense it could be a meal all by itself. Morado is a dark, mysterious tomato. It has a bit of a smoky flavor and is more watery than I like. I'm not quite sure how to use it. I accidentally planted two of these side by side and really wish I planted two of something else that I like a whole lot better. My last taste for today was Jetsetter. These are perfectly round, deep red, smooth tomatoes that are absolutely gorgeous and they look like an apple. When you first bite into this tomato you taste the plant. There's something "green" about it - not unripe, but something about the first taste tells you it comes straight for the earth. For me, that's incredibly satisfying. The flavor then gives way to a wonderful, classic, red tomato taste with just the right balance of sweet and tart. I first decided to plant Jetsetter because the name reminded me of my Mom, who went everywhere, did everything and knew everyone. For personal reasons, beauty and flavor, I chose Jetsetter as today's favorite. Just a little tribute to my Mom...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Today is the day that I dread every summer...I know it will come because it does every year but it's always a little heart wrenching. Every morning I go outside to check on the tomato plants. If the leaves are drooping in the morning it means they need water. If they look perky and upright before 10 am I know not to turn on the hose - no matter how they may look in the afternoon! This morning the plants looked great. They're happy, as I am, that the gray mornings seem to be a thing of the past. As I reached into a Sungold Cherry to take my first bite of the day I noticed something on the ground. It looked like bunches of small black beads. If you're a needlepointer, as I am, you know exactly how it looked. After all these years I know that this can only mean one thing...that the dreaded Hornworm has arrived in my garden. Sure enough, I found the stem that had once been lush with leaves completely bare. That was all the confirmation I needed and so the search began. It took some time but the small green worm that so perfectly matched the color of the leaves was discovered and done away with.

Tonight I sampled three tomatoes - Persimmon, Black Krim, and Copia. Copia is multi colored, more spotty than a smooth blending of colors. I expected this tomato to have a smooth flavor but was really quite surprised. It's not overly acidic but there's definitely a tartness when you first take a bite. The flavor mellows in your mouth but the seed sacs are quite watery so I didn't love this one. Black Krim, which I tried and didn't like last week, remains the same. I guess it could be good in salsa but it's a huge plant with small tomatoes that become over ripe way too quickly. As far as I'm concerned it's a waste of prime garden real estate. By now you've probably guessed that Persimmon is today's favorite. Persimmon is a beautiful, large, orange, smooth-skinned tomato - it's really quite attractive. They hold their shape and firmness well. Inside, the meat is solid and dense and you get a lot of flavor with not too much seed. There's enough acid to know you're eating a tomato and just the right amount of sugar to make it delicious. It's a perfect balance of flavor.

As promised, a photo of yesterday's favorite - Orange Strawberry.
Today's winner?? You'll have to wait...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wow! I must have been in the mood for a I decided to choose between some really great tomatoes. There are so many that I love for different reasons. Some are better in salads, some make better soup. Some are just better for plucking off the plant and popping into your mouth. And some are big and juicy and taking a bite of them is a drippy, messy, wonderful pleasure! I just couldn't help myself...I went out back and picked Chocolate Stripes, Orange Strawberry, Old German and Dona.

A few days ago when I sampled Old German I found it to be somewhat disappointing. But I had a feeling it was my fault - I didn't pick it at it's prime. Today's Old German did not disappoint. Like the Pineapple, it's another incredibly beautiful bi colored tomato. The meat is as colorful as the skin. When you first take a bite there's a kind of wow factor! It's not tart but there's a little tang just before the smooth mellow flavor takes over.It was good! Orange Strawberry looks just like it's name suggests. I'll post a photo of this adorable and aptly named fruit tomorrow. It has a strong flavor - it really packs a punch. But it didn't overwhelm and for a strong flavored tomato I really liked it. I have been told in the past that Dona is a really wonderful tomato. I'll have to take somebody else's word for it. The one I picked wasn't great. It was like a little red baseball, but to be fair, I think it was over done. Strangely, the other tomatoes on this plant are still green. It's one of the plants I put in rather late. This fruit was dark red but hard as a rock. Great catfaced markings, though. I'll try these again when the rest of them ripen. Lastly, I sampled Chocolate Stripes. It's a bold looking tomato, orangey red with green stripes. It's as striking to look at as it is to eat. The flavor is solid. It's not mellow but it's somewhat subtle. The intense flavor kind of sneaks up on you.

Naming a favorite today is not easy. But since I get to name a different one as my favorite tomorrow it will be easier to choose. Old German would be a predictable choice. It's similar to Pineapple, my all-time favorite. I am most fond of mellow tomatoes. Dona will have to wait for it's day of glory. Today isn't it. I seem to recall naming Chocolate Stripes my favorite about a week ago, so for today, it has to be Orange Strawberry!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I had a phone call from a friend today asking whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. Immediately I blurted out, "it's a fruit!" But, it turned out I wasn't sure why. In fact, I was way off base...

So I did a bit of research and here is what I learned: tomatoes are considered to be a fruit - scientifically! That's because the tomatoes grow from seeds within an ovary at the base of the flower. However, tomatoes are also considered to be vegetables because that's how they are primarily used. Two schools of thought, both correct. So make your choice, as long as it's to keep enjoying home grown tomatoes.

Today's favorite - Snow White Cherry!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Did you notice that I didn't choose a favorite yesterday? To be honest, the gray sky had me feeling so low that nothing tasted good to me. Not french fries, not cookies, not even tomatoes.

But, I woke up this morning to bright sunshine. I jumped out of bed, threw up the sash...wait, wrong story, wrong season...I got out of bed with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm to meet the morning. First order of the day was to get some exercise so I went for a walk. Besides, I had a lot on my mind and decided that walking would help me get some things resolved. What walking really does is clear my mind, so I returned home from my walk pondering the same unanswered questions I had before I hit the pavement. After a tall glass of ice water I headed for the garden. I decided to harvest before it got too warm. Anything close to ready had to come in for fear of little critters enjoying my tomatoes for their next meal. And I carefully selected those varieties that I would compare for today's taste test.

Today, I did my taste test a little differently. I chose to include a selection of my favorite tomatoes rather than some of the new varieties. I also decided to include four in the test rather than the usual three. This ought to make up for yesterday.

First, Carmelo - a reliable, medium sized red globe. It's a standard tomato. Better than those you would buy in the grocery store, fine on a green salad but still, just a tomato. Then I cut into Dixie Golden Giant - Wow! A bit on the tangy side, this beautiful gold tomato, not as giant as the name implies, really packed a punch...not too much, rather just enough to wake you up. Definitely in the running. Third, I tried Old German. This is a tomato that last week was delicious and I suspect that, even though it felt perfect when I picked it this morning, spent too much time on the plant. Today it was mealy and I didn't even bother with a second bite. Last, I tried a beautiful, softly multi-colored, multi faceted, fairly large fruit. I've been waiting patiently for these to be ready to pick. Not an easy thing for me to do. I wanted to pick these tomatoes at just the right time and hoped that the squirrels didn't find them as attractive as I did. Luck was on my side as I cut three perfect tomatoes from the plant and immediately brought them inside, out of the sun. I didn't want anything to spoil them. Cutting into this tomato is a visual delight. Each wedge is soft yellow and peach and then bright red. But the real beauty of this tomato is in it's flavor - smooth and mellow, cool and comforting. It's an understated but incredible pleasure. There is no way to eat this tomato without making a little sigh of heavenly delight. Time and again, the Pineapple tomato, is nothing short of absolute perfection.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On any given day during the summer my kitchen becomes somewhat overtaken by tomatoes. I make salads and gazpacho, panzanella and salsas, and still the counter tops are completely covered with the fruits of my labor. I would not be exaggerating if I said there are days when finding a place to set down a glass is next to impossible.

Today I decided "Enough is enough"! I walked into the kitchen and felt somewhat surrounded by tomatoes in every stage of ripeness from absolute perfection to that point just before they begin to rot. For as many tomatoes as I have used, there are twice as many waiting to be consumed.

So, I decided to get cooking. I dug out my apron, a darling vintage print depicting a rainbow of tomatoes, and headed for the stove. I chopped what seemed to be the majority of the tomatoes along with onions, bell peppers, garlic, celery, cucumbers and various fresh herbs. I made the customary pot of gazpacho. No matter how often I make it, my gazpacho is always in demand. Then I finely chopped the collection of black tomatoes for salsa. I added corn to some of it to make a hearty salsa and watermelon and raspberry vinegar to another bowlful to make a sweet, delicate salsa. I chopped the Martino's Roma tomatoes to make a traditional sauce to put in the freezer. I inspected the remainder of the tomatoes and coarsely chopped every one that seemed like it might not be at it's optimal best. Right now they're simmering in the dutch oven with onions, celery, peppers and garlic. I'll reduce that down to a sauce and pop it in the freezer for the dismal winter days when I'm craving tomatoes.

In spite of all this culinary endeavor I find the kitchen counter still covered in red, orange and yellow balls of glory! What a delicious problem to have! If you wonder where I'll be tomorrow you can be sure it will be one of two the kitchen trying some new tomato recipes or even more likely, in the garden harvesting more tomatoes!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

After all these years I have finally managed to successfully grow a Green Zebra tomato. I'm not sure what I've done differently, in fact, I don't think I've really changed a thing. Happily, I harvested the first one today. It's a beautiful tomato, bright green with dark green stripes. The meat of the tomato is just as incredibly beautiful as the skin. The taste - not sweet and mellow like most of my favorites. Green Zebra has a WOW! factor. It's fabulous and officially named today's favorite. It was worth the wait.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A strange thing happened in the garden yesterday...absolutely nothing. I never went out there. I woke up Monday morning and it was cold and gray and gloomy. I was depressed even before I got out of bed. It was just like the December mornings when I wake up and the only thing I can think is that I need to go to the sun. I think the official name is Seasonal Affective Disorder...I just call it seasonal depression. I need the sun to shine to feel alive and energetic.

When I awoke at 6:15 this morning the sky was again cold and gray and gloomy. Today I forced myself to get out of bed and marched out to the vegetable garden. I could smell the wet grass, an unfamiliar scent for an August morning. Snails were lively and alert rather than basking in their warm shells. The tomatoes were bright and upright but their leaves were damp. I began to have visions of fall, when the tomatoes are winding down, production slows and hornworms appear. I know the end of the season is nearing because I ignore the worms and just let them eat my leaves.

I left the garden and went to work, returning late in the afternoon. I was thrilled to see that the weather had warmed enough to cause the plants to droop. is still summer and the tomatoes are far from finished! I made my way through the rows of plants to be sure that nothing needed immediate attention, making mental notes of some things I'll need to address on the weekend. A hole in the chicken wire and stakes that need to be extended. Regular maintenance tasks for a garden enthusiast.

My first nibble of the afternoon was a Suncherry Extra wasn't! Just next to this plant is a Sungold Cherry loaded with beautiful orangey gold fruit. I couldn't resist and enjoyed a few delicious bites. I could have easily named Sungold Cherry as my favorite but that would have been redundant. I'll allow myself to repeat but not just yet. Continuing on, I munched on mostly small varieties - Black Cherry, an uncharacteristically small Carmelo and an unimpressive White Beauty. One of the varieties that I am growing for the first time this year is a small, just larger than a pea sized, orange gold tomato which has proven to be a little bite of perfection. And so, my favorite today is a wonderful little tomato called Jenny.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Favorite tomato today...
Always a favorite, it's like a little piece of candy and never disappoints - Sungold Cherry!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Never say never...

Early this morning I went to the nursery to pick up a few things...a new sprayer for the hose, a couple of bags of potting soil, and a couple of seedlings. I managed to kill an Armenian cucumber seedling. Actually, it's more like I forgot about it. It got watered at the same time the tomatoes did...which, at this stage in the growing season and 100 degree weather, was about twice a week. Not enough for a little baby cucumber!! So, rather than beat myself up about it I decided to go buy another and start again.

There were no cucumber plants to buy. Ok, I'll's not like I killed a tomato plant or something. So, I decided maybe I'll put in a couple more Royal Burgundy beans. They are so incredible - dark purple on the outside and bright, spring green on the inside. There were no beans to buy. In fact, in the veggie department I had a choice only as long as I wanted to choose from the various pepper plants they had to sell. I'm not a pepper girl so I turned to leave in disgust.

But there, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of three lonely tomato plants, relegated to a corner of the garden, just begging me to take them home! How could I resist?! I decided to choose only one - one was missing it's name tag, the next was Jetsetter, one of my favorites but I have two already and they are loaded with fruit. The remaining plant was Siberia. I have always said that there is no point in planting "cold weather" tomatoes in Woodland Hills. Nothing with a name that sounds like it came from somewhere in Eastern Europe. It just won't work. No - never! In our canyon temperatures soar higher than anywhere else in the Valley. But there it was, begging for a home like a sad puppy dog. (I know that sad eyed look well - I have a Basset Hound) and I just couldn't leave it behind. Besides, I really needed to buy something.

Needless to say, I'm now the proud owner of a cold season tomato. I'll plant it tomorrow and the grand experiment will begin...we'll see.

Oh yeah - today's favorite??

I was outside, watering, staking, harvesting - all the fun stuff I left for the weekend. I knew I needed to do some tasting so I could name my favorite tomato of the day. i decided to be rather bohemian about the whole thing, grabbed tomatoes off a couple of plants and did my taste test right there in the backyard. No fork and knife. Didn't even rinse the skins.I just bit in!

My favorite tomato today was one with a delightful name, a perfect oval shape and beautiful red skin. It's flavor was lively and fun without being tangy. Today's favorite - Enchantment!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The weather is uncharacteristically mild for mid-August which I can immediately see when I step outside. Hummingbirds are playful, bees are very busy and many of the vegetables which appeared tired just a few days ago are setting new flowers. This morning everything was quite perky. The garden looked more like mid spring than mid summer. That's a good thing...mid spring is a time of excitement and anticipation to a tomato gardener. Could this be the sign of an extended growing season? I can only hope, although here in Woodland Hills our growing season is rather long anyway. Just ask my sister in Ellensburg, Washington. I think she got her first ripe cherry tomato last week and in a week or two they'll be preparing for snow!

Today my early morning snack included a variety of cherry tomatoes - Sungolds, of course, Chiquita, Jenny, Green Grape and my possible new favorite, BiColor cherry.

This afternoon I decided to sample four varieties...Aunt Ruby's German Green, Black Krim, Persimmon and Momotaro. Aunt Ruby's is a small-ish tomato and is green when ripe. I always like to have green tomatoes because they look incredible on a platter of thick slices. This tomato has a "green" taste to it - which I love. It tastes a little "grassy" - which is sometimes how I describe a great Italian olive oil. It's fresh and alive but not sour or acidic. You just know it came from the earth. Black Krim reminds me of Halloween. It's not a pretty tomato, which is part of it's charm. It's small and has lots of ribs and is one of the so called "black" tomatoes. These make great salsa. The flavor is mild and doesn't offer enough for it to stand on it's own. Again, it would be great in a salsa to serve as a vehicle for a collection of other flavors. Persimmon is a big, beautiful orange tomato that grows on a large and prolific plant. It never fails to deliver a great taste. It's not overly sweet but reminds me of taking a bite of a wonderfully juicy peach. Momotaro is known as the only tomato that will not grow in a container. This year, I finally listened and planted it in the ground. Guess what?? It gave me tomatoes! And they're really good! A good, solid, medium sized red tomato - firm enough that you could hollow it out and stuff it with a yummy filling.

So, my favorite for today?? That's a tough one...but I'm going with (drumroll please) Momotaro!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Anyone who walks into my kitchen these days has to chuckle at the sight of the counter tops - or lack of them! The counters are completely covered in tomatoes. Red, orange and yellow, large, small and mini, bi color and striped, splotchy, ugly and amazingly beautiful tomatoes!

There is one tomato that everyone who walks in feels compelled to pick up, take in it's subtle aroma and rave about it's glorious colors. They are in awe of it's incredible beauty. My son, my photographer, my friends from the needlepoint shop, even the UPS guy cannot say enough about this tomato. As if looks aren't enough, it's a medium size fruit with a huge amount of flavor and character.

Without a doubt, today's favorite for flavor, texture and it's incredible beauty is Chocolate Stripes!

Thursday's favorites...

Anyone who walks into my kitchen these days has to chuckle at the sight of the countertops - or lack of them! The counters are completely covered in tomatoes. Red, orange and yellow, large, small and mini, bicolor and striped, splotchy, ugly and amazingly beautiful tomatoes!

There is one tomato that everyone who walks in feels compelled to pick up, take in it's subtle aroma and rave about it's beautiful skin. They are in awe at it's beauty. My son, my photographer, my friends from the needlepont shop, even the UPS guy cannot say enough about this tomato. As if looks aren't enough, it's a medium size fruit with a huge amount of flavor and character.

Without a doubt, today's favorite for flavor, texture and it's incredible beauty is Chocolate Stripes!

The best of intentions...

When I first began writing this blog I had visions of a daily communication with all of you. I envisioned garden updates and progress reports - a running dialogue. Well, you know what they say about the best of intentions...

Maybe it would be more realistic to post a new entry once a week. The truth is that so much time goes into GROWING the tomatoes that there really aren't enough hours in a day to go to work (thank G_d I love what I do), water, weed, feed, harvest AND sit down and write about it.

Maybe once a month could work...

While I'd love to add to the blog on a very regular basis I really can't guarantee how often that will be. Once a week - maybe. Once a month - yes, I can do that. But in my heart, every day is still what I want to do. So, here's my plan: I'm going to set a huge goal for myself. Yep, I'll say I'm going to write something every day. Now, here's the contingency plan: If I don't have the time or energy to write very much, at the very least I will write each day about my favorites.

I have to admit that I love this plan! It's going to allow me to be really self indulgent and it gives me an out, should I not succeed. I'll sample the tomatoes every morning, just like I always do, and then I'll write a little bit about whatever it is that day that I like the most! Many days I have a new favorite so this should be fun...

Keep reading and keep tasting...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It is officially tomato season!!

Let’s ignore (for the moment) the fact that I began composing posts for this blog several times over the past few months. I had every intention of writing about the glory of returning home from 10 days in New York to find my tomato plants were taller than me! Ecstatic about the incredibly successful beginning to this year’s growing season I proclaimed, yes out loud, that this was going to be a fantastic year for tomatoes. I should have kept my big mouth shut…Imagine my distress when just a few weeks later I made my daily pilgrimage to the backyard, inspected each plant as I always do and discovered several of my plants wilting, drooping like the sad eyes of my Basset Hound. Panic set in…I’ve learned that much of my feeling of self worth and accomplishment is manifested in my tomatoes. I had a feeling of doom…this was nothing less than a disaster in the making.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Welcome to My Garden...

Welcome to my garden…

Finally! No more mourning the lack of sunshine. No more counting the days until the predicted last frost. Some of us nurse last year’s tomato plants well into February just so we can boast that we’ve eaten a home grown tomato in the middle of winter. Are we nuts or what?! Fact is, we’re not alone…Even before Spring officially arrives here, we are salivating at the tomato seedlings that are showing up in the local nurseries. Our hearts beat a little quicker. Our smiles are brighter at the sight of a few itty bitty hybrid tomatoes. Okay…we’ll plant those, just because we can.

But here we are, right in the middle of Spring. No more threat of frost and we are digging up our gardens and planting with great gusto. I couldn’t be happier! We held our “Yes, You Can Grow Tomatoes” class with 25 people on the rsvp list. There was rain predicted for that morning so we emptied the furniture from our living room and set it up as the classroom. Everyone seemed to be comfortable. Who minds a little crowding when we’re talking about one of our very favorite subjects? After about an hour and a half of discussion on soil preparation, watering, reading labels and questions we all headed out to the vegetable garden. Our attendees wanted to see a real garden, at a real home. We did not disappoint.

Crossing the back lawn, passing the rose bushes swollen with buds, through the break in the wall and there it is…within a white picket fence are the first two beds. The soil had been prepared and I had planted just three tomatoes – I couldn’t help myself. Newly prepared soil is one of my favorite things. It’s soft and silky, rich and healthy and full of life. I can’t help but take off my shoes and work in it barefoot. It’s like stepping on clouds. The three tomatoes were planted, staked and caged even though they were still quite small. They were happy. The artichokes were at their best. Strong and upright with two big artichokes just about ready for cutting and many more small ones on their way to the dinner table. Sugar snap peas and Blue Lake green beans were beginning to climb their ladders. The beets were large and leafy and begging to be lifted from the soil.

The three new raised beds were empty but for a few broccoli plants with small bunches of flowerets promising to grow. What a difference a couple of weeks make.

It turned out to be a glorious morning. Everyone seemed happy with the possibility that they, too, could successfully grow as many and whichever tomatoes their space and their yards would allow.

Now, here we are, two weeks later. It’s already time to feed the first three tomatoes that I put in. Those planted first have already grown several inches. I have to believe that the growth is just as strong under ground. I go to a lot of trouble to make sure my plants have the strongest root systems possible. Looks like it’s working. The beds are full now. I still have several more seedlings to plant. I decided to allow more space between the plants this year so I didn’t get as many in the ground as before. I think there were 65 last year. Most of the cherry varieties are in containers. Still, I’ll have to create another raised bed for the larger varieties yet to be planted.

The climate here in the San Fernando Valley is almost perfect for growing tomatoes. We do get some extreme heat that can be a bit problematic, but other than that, it’s heavenly. I find no greater peace and tranquility than when I venture out to the garden. The bees work busily. They don’t seem to mind my walking right through them in the overgrown rosemary plant. I thank them for being there. Yes, out loud. Birds are singing and lizards are chasing each other around tree trunks or walls. Baby hawks are learning to leave their nests with Mom just above me watching closely. It’s truly magical. What a blessing to have this haven just outside my kitchen door.

I hope you’ll share your thoughts about gardening whether you’re across the country or right next door in the West San Fernando Valley. I invite you to share your gardening experiences with my readers. The door’s always open.

Gardening makes my heart happy.