Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Beginning and The End

Tea with my newspaper in the morning is a must-do for me, one of those "without which" I feel slightly off-kilter.

Imagine my glee this morning when I read in one of my favorite columnists, a threnody for our woeful summertime. In fact, just because clicking on a link is sometimes more than one can ask of friends, I want to copy the whole darn thing here:

We have known the sadness. We have known the walking up and down the streets and shaking our heads and saying, "No, no, no, no" in a low but semi-hysterical voice. (Try that some time; it's not easy.) Some of us have wept in our closets, so as not to alarm the children.

Oh, we were smug. We were residents of the Bay Area, and we know something about resisting the smug. But we can't always do it. Things are just too good. Not that we wish any ill to our friends and relatives east of the Sierra; quite the contrary. We love these people as though they were our own children, as they often are.

So when they had a heat wave and we had a cold wave, and by any objective measure their heat wave was a lot worse than our cold wave, we did not experience schadenfreude. (OK, maybe a tiny bit. We are only human, and smug. It's not a lovely character trait, but really hard to avoid here in the best place on earth. I mean no disrespect to Fiji.)

But for every up side, there is a down side. Usually, at this time of year, we would be living almost entirely on tomato sandwiches, with maybe a little tomato and mozzarella salad mixed in for variety. Because we are locavores (which is a relatively new coinage meaning "people who eat crazy stuff") and because anyway the best tomatoes are always found at farmers' markets.

Right now, we would be eating 'Early Girls' like anything and rejoicing in the first appearance of the Dirty Girl brand of 'Early Girls.' We're still eating the tomatoes, but we are not happy. Our foggy weather was too foggy. Even a tomato conditioned for cooler climates likes a little sun now and then. Drizzle is not its best friend. And so, so far, the tomatoes are not at their finest.

Not even close.

Oh, and where are the 'Green Zebras' and the 'Brandywines'? We see them, yes we do, but we do not taste the essence of same. They still look really weird, but looking weird is not enough - unless you're in the music business. Maybe that's why there is no music business anymore.

What will September be like? Will we be back to root vegetables already? Oh, look, darling, we could have a rutabaga sandwich with whatever kind of cheese goes well with rutabagas, which is, like, none of them.

Ah, but what of our heat wave, those two days of hell we had last week? Because we are really secure, smug people, we can laugh at how much complaining we did for 48 hours. People were pulling out their white lightweight garments and walking around like bedouins. People were remarking on the ambient temperature in various buildings.

We were silly people. We enjoy being silly people because it hides our steely determination to rule the rest of California. I bragged about my eaves, as I always do. Eaves help a house stay cooler. I felt sad for the eaveless people, and not in a smug way.

And anyway, perhaps it meant new hope for the 2010 tomato crop. Did this two-day blast of heat help the tomatoes? Did it plump up those 'Early Girls' and inject them with that last soupcon of flavor that's the difference between a transcendent experience and a nice red salad ingredient?

I tried looking up tomatoes in California Crop Weather Report. It did mention warmer-than-usual temperatures, but what is "usual" these days? It also said: "Tomatoes are being treated for stinkbugs." Great - all we need; some bioengineered super stinkbug. Not that it mentioned that; I am being alarmist. Will I never taste a truly fine tomato for less than $12 a pound?

Well, I had to look. Stinkbugs, members of the family Pentatomidae (from the Greek meaning "five sections," which refers to their antennae), emit a foul-smelling substance when disturbed. Smells like cyanide, say experts.

Just what I needed to hear. I shake my fist at the unhearing heavens and cry out, "When will I ever taste a tomato of quality, and not one of those supermarket gassed-up cardboard things? Is it too much to ask for someone who has, well, pretty much everything, but that's not the point?" The heavens, being unhearing (see above), do not answer.

Oh, well. There are some good Frog Hollow peaches out there. In which we cry out to the uncaring heavens, asking only for flavor and a little salt.

Made me guffaw right into my Earl Grey. Especially the line about living in the Bay Area requiring constant practice at resisting the smug, as though it's some special yoga brand. Ah well, I indulge myself.

Really, though, for those of you having counters groaning under pounds and pounds of tomatoes to be made into sauce, and salsa, and paste, and other good things, look. Here is the near sum total of my backyard planting of as near as I can tell, about two dozen tomato plants:

Notice that many have bug bites, or sun scald, and some of them are bright green? That one, at least, was an accident. Cherokee Purple, the occasional sulky Early Girl, and the Romas and San Marzanos that are sort of vying between ripening/rotting/being eaten by sowbugs as they lie on the ground. They don't even taste that great this year. Sure, feta and olive oil and red wine vinegar don't hurt, but I like tomatoes a lot. . . and these aren't worth it.

This was Not The Plan for this summer. To be fair, neither was a terrible flea infestation or family upheaval, but hey, I can't control the weather. My father in law suggested that I could buy tomatoes by the bushel and can them. I could. . . but last year when I did that they were $2 a pound, and I'm not up for that. I could perhaps drive 40 minutes away and get them for .60c a pound -- if they're available from the farm that's advertising on Craigslist.

We shall see. If I have a free day next week, maybe I can arrange a drive down there. Wonder if they'd let me glean for free? Or if not, I'll just look for a sale on canned organic tomatoes and stock up for the year.

And why, you might ask, why not wait for the warmer weather that you call "fall" in your expensive-but-lovely-weather-area? Well, because I don't think we have time:

That vine is collapsing like the old-fashioned paper straws that only lasted for about a third of your milkshake. Some blight -- not the vaunted late blight, I don't think - but some blight is crawling up the vines all across the garden. I won't be composting these babies this year. Short of broadcasting kale or cover crop seeds (or kale AS a cover crop) I'm not sure that I'm not going to be facing an awful lot of empty real estate in the garden soon.

The End, then, probably the End of the tomatoes. Except for the Sungold, rot their bright little hearts. The Sungolds will produce no matter what, for months. That isn't as cheering as I might think, alas.


meemsnyc said...

My tomato plants are looking like that too. Farewell sweet tomato.

Anonymous said...

I feel you pain. Last summer I harvested just one tomato, and it wasn't even good, before I lost everything but the Matt's Wild cherry to the early-arrived late blight. Here's hoping for a better season next year!
ps: word verification word is bayweak.

Jeff Vandiver said...

That's so sad. It's been a crazy year for weather in your area, and I shudder to think what the commercial growers are going through. Maybe next season will be better...

michelle said...

I guess I shouldn't complain too much, at least I've been getting some good tasting tomatoes, not as much as expected, but they do taste good. But that moldy stuff is attacking some of my plants as well. It does not bode well for the October/November tomato harvest. But it's going to be sunny and warm today and tomorrow, and maybe even Friday... Yay!

Jan said...

Ah what a shame :-( I know it's rubbing salt into the wound, but I shall be glad when my tomatoes have finished!

Daphne Gould said...

You all are going through what we went through last year on the east coast. We broke records on how cold it was. Now we are breaking heat records. Very weird weather. Very up and down.

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

We finally picked a decent harvest of tomatoes on Sunday. Argentina, Salisaw Cafe, and Russian 117 are doing the best for us this year (none of which we'd grown previously). Our cool season previously reliable Black Pear though, hasn't had a single ripe fruit, and even Cherokee Purple is languishing this year. It is a bizarre year indeed. We are seeing some sort of blight rapidly creeping up our Ilini Star tomato, where the limbs are dying before the fruit is ripe. So saddening/maddening to see, but we are grateful we're getting any fruit after this unbelievably chilly and damp summer. Just makes it difficult to judge cultivar performance this season. On the upside, the lettuce has been happy all season :P

thyme2garden said...

As a former resident of San Francisco, I got such a kick out of that article you so graciously posted. Smug, weather schadenfreude and locavores, all SO TRUE of what I know of San Franciscans. :) I'm sorry to hear about the tomato season fail.

Stefaneener said...

meemsnyc, it is bittersweet this year. Usually, I'm more of a "don't let the door hit you on the way out!" kind of girl with the veggies. I just had such big plans.

henbogle, thanks for the reminder. I have a few bags adding up in the freezer. Maybe not total tomato self-reliance, but it could be much worse. The bay was, in fact, somewhat weak this year!

EG, it has everywhere. Just part of what we're all in store for, I'm afraid.

Michelle, mine are just okay. I don't think they're going to last. It's time to get on the open spots or we're going to be in dearth this fall.

jan, I know the feeling! I was hoping to share it.

Daphne, you're right! I guess everyone complains where they are about a few things -- and you all have had such heat.

CVS -- funny enough, I was just thinking about cultivars. I don't eat that many fresh tomatoes, so a couple of eating plants would really be enough. I was rethinking my strategy, variety-wise, today. We shall see.

Susan said...

I think I've picked 6 tomatoes this year. Which is 6 more than I've ever grown before which makes it my best year ever! Yours look mighty varied and beautiful to me.

kitsapFG said...

Great article - made me smile as I was reading it. Living through the same thing this year and it feels kind of sad to loook at the tomato plants. My Siletz tomatoes and one of the Market Miracles are giving in to grey mold as well. It's only a matter of time and the others will join them too. We struggle with tomatoes almost every year in this location - but this has been the worst yet. I used to grow hundreds of pounds of tomatoes when in dry hot central Washington state, but it has been almost six years since I moved here and started gardening in this wet/cool maritime climate and tomatoes have been a challenge ever since. (sigh)

Stefaneener said...

Susan, it's hard to grow tomatoes with deer pressure and when you're never home!
kitsapFG, he really captured some of the essence of this summer. It's enough to make me think about leaving the tomato growing to people farther inland

GP @ ABloominBlog said...

We had a blight problem last year - entire crops were destroyed - due to huge amounts of rain. This year it's hot and humid and hard to keep up with the watering if you're not at it every day. Still, it's better than last year. Guess that's the way things go when you try to grow.

Ottawa Gardener said...

Oh the horror. Well, you did get some tomatoes which I suppose is better than none so you can appreciate each and ever one with extra special attention.

The last two summers, late blight was the scourge round these parts though I managed to mostly escape it (my allotment tomatoes were affected but they also produced), there were many who had goose eggs instead of tomatoes.

Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

This summer I developed a sudden and violent allergy to almost every fruit or vegetable that you could name.

Tomatoes were among my worst enemies. So, the bad tomato crop was even more emotionally fraught. I'd pick a tomato, and watch Robb as he ate it, asking "How is it? How is it?" I wanted *someone* to enjoy the plants I babied for months.

Apparently everything but the sungolds were bland and mealy.

It's so so so sad.

Stefaneener said...

GP, I'm so sorry about your former blight issues. Usually, when my plants finally succumb to something, I'm happy to see them go. Not this year, unfortunately. But I shouldn't write them off totally.

Ottawa Gardener, I think I'm just a champion garden whiner. I've been so used to taking them utterly for granted.

Lisa, oh no! Mine aren't mealy, exactly, they're just not that good. The Sungolds are, though. Couldn't Robb just lie to you? "They're perfect, honey, you did so well. I wish you could eat them. Really, just the utter best." Sheesh.