I have always loved pouring over seed catalogues and imagining picture perfect, magazine-worthy raised bed gardens bursting with enough to put food by for the winter and share with my neighbors. I imagine my children frolicking out to the garden to pluck ripe tomatoes from the vine and sinking their teeth into the fresh, warm-from-the-sun goodness or nibbling on some kale or chard, or, you know, eating any kind of vegetable willingly, really.
I was so excited when we moved out to Ventura County. Here we are, in the heart of produce-growing country! We are surrounded by lemon, lime, and avocado groves, fields that grow strawberries, celery, broccoli, blackberries, blueberries, cabbage, parsley, cilantro, rainbow chard, and on and on and on. It’s easy to get passionate about growing food when you’re surrounded by bounty year-round.
My growing space is limited to a few large pots on my deck. Even so, I imagined it would be easy to grow veggies. It’s California, right? Just stick them in the dirt and they’ll start to fruit, right?
For the past 3 years, I have had tomato failure after tomato failure. I would dutifully fill my pots with fresh soil, run out to the home improvement store, grab the most popular varieties from the shelves, bury them deep like my dad taught me, and water and fertilize. They would look great for a while and grow really well, but right around the time they would start to blossom and fruit, BAM! Dead, wilted, spotty, awful vines. I got some fruit, but never a great yield. Never the bounty that I imagined sharing with my neighbors and friends.
This year, I decided to tackle the problem head on. I met with John Marchese, our Home Garden Sales Lead, to talk tomatoes. If anyone knows tomatoes, it’s him! And boy did I get some fantastic advice.
According to John, there are a few things causing my tomatoes to croak. The weather is certainly a big factor. Ventura County isn’t perfect for growing every vegetable as it turns out. We live close to the ocean, and even in the summer, the night fog settles into our backyard and pools between the houses. Summers stay cool and cloudy through June. Foggy nights and mornings and cool days don’t make for happy tomatoes.
Another factor was the type of tomato I chose. Not all varieties are suited to pots. It probably also helps if you don’t try to cram two peppers and a summer squash into that same pot. I may or may not be guilty of that.
John and I talked through what I wanted in a tomato. I’m not a commercial grower, so my biggest questions are: How soon can I eat my fruit and how delicious is it going to taste? Initially, I imagined that an indeterminate plant would be best, but John recommended that I find an early-fruiting determinate variety instead. Since I have climate and fog problems, having a plant that matures quickly and all at once means I will likely get my crop before the plants succumb to the weather.
John sent me on my way with two varieties of seed and lots of encouragement. This year, I will be planting (from seed!) one of our new varieties, Debut. It is a compact plant, suited to my container growing, and the fruit matures at 70 days which is very early for a tomato. Debut is a variety with fantastic flavor that my tomato-loving toddler can really sink teeth into. The other tomato is Yaqui, a saladette, or Roma, tomato. This one is also a determinate variety that will fruit a bit after the Debut at 75 days. John recommended Yaqui when I told him I was getting into home canning. Not only is it delicious and compact, but it produces a huge yield with fruit that is larger than a traditional Roma. Perfect for canning!
I’m excited and a little nervous. I’ve never grown anything from seed before. But John is a fantastic teacher. My dreams of beautiful raised bed gardens are one step closer!