We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Tuesday, July 26. 2016
Unless you have a nice big greenhouse (which I would have if I were rich), growing backyard tomatoes north of Zone 7 is a waste of time, money, and effort. If you calculate the value of those things, your tomatoes come out to over $20/lb depending on how you value your time. I value mine highly, because life is short and my Wanna-Do List is long.
Still, most people do tomatoes anyway. We do it because for 5 or, with luck, 6 weeks we get to pick and eat truly delicious tomatoes. Farmer's Market tomatoes are mediocre, and supermarket tomatoes are terrible. Nothing to do with health - just flavor and juiciness.
Two of my sisters in Massachusetts quit tomatoes years ago. Not worth the effort, and they both have such active and busy professional, social, and athletic lives that they have no time for relatively-unrewarding pursuits. Sensible priorities. Let others grow them. Division of labor.
So I am the stupid one. It is late July, and I have harvested just a single cherry tomato. Chipmunks ate the other two that ripened thus far. The plants themselves are large and lush and laden with swelling greenies. Fried green tomatoes? I do like them.
When I consider the illusion or delusion of the imaginary productivity of some things I do such as hunting, gardening, and fishing I am forced to conclude that the only thing that would be truly cost-effective might be shooting and storing a couple of backyard Bambis in the freezer. (I maybe could add fruit tree gardening to that short list because it is close to effortless, but store fruit is cheap and excellent and I don't like fruit anyway except maybe ripe pears, and peach jam.)
Every other activity belongs in the "hobby" category. That is tomatoes - it's fun to eat home-grown and to pretend it's a worthwhile accomplishment but "It is illogical, Captain".
Homo economicus is just a sliver of human nature once survival is assured. Most of us do lots of things that feel good but make no logical sense. With our free time we rarely calculate cost-effectiveness or opportunity cost. Editing Maggie's Farm might be a prime example...but your readership is our thin reward.
Photo is Fried Green Tomatoes.
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"Most of us do lots of things that feel good but make no logical sense."
It isn't necessarily illogical to want to feel good.
That is why I do green beans. I currently have 90 servings of green beans frozen (and generous servings, the equivalent of two FDA servings) plus what we have eaten, plus what is to come. Which works out to about $140 if I bought the equivalent amount of green beans frozen at the store. (Not counting the fresh or what will come). My seed bill for the garden is around $100. The freezer would exist anyway, due to perennial issues with pantry moths. So even if the garden produced Nothing else, I would only be out the time. And a negligible amount of electricity, the water is well water. The electricity should be factored in, however, and it makes things like applesauce problematic.
But that doesn't count the zucchini, peas, chard, beets, basil, parsley, carrots, winter squash, kale....
The beans pay for it, guaranteed, even if some of the other things decide to die. Time I have, cash I don't. But the garden lets us eat like I do have that cash.
I think green tomato chutney is awesome. There's your justification straight away!
Did you ever read "The $64 Tomato"?
We grow tomatoes from seed under grow lights inside our house starting in February and put them in the ground mid-April (a gamble due to possible late freezes here in middle TN). This year we have eaten our weight in pico de gallo, salsa, gazpacho, tomato sandwiches, fried green tomatoes, etc. We have preserved green tomato pickle relish, salsa, roasted Italian style, spaghetti sauce, whole tomatoes. (Being retired is a must to have enough time to do it all.)
Does it make sense economically? Of course not! (Kind of like the 2 chickens we have - the eggs are much cheaper at the grocery). But nothing beats home grown tomatoes, especially the heirloom varieties.
I live in Central Illinois, the land of warm summers and deep black loam. My kids' Mothers Day gift to my lovely wife is to plant her vegetable garden (with some help from Dad). All told, planting to fall tillage, we likely invest less than 20 hrs. of labor in this endeavor. She has us put out 36 tomato plants. The tomato harvest typically starts around July 4th, and before it's over, she'll pick in a typical year 500 to 700 pounds of vine-ripened fruit. She loves to give them away to family, friends, etc. A labor of love that enriches our country living experience.
John Denver: "What would life be without homegrown tomatoes?"
I grew tomatoes in Saratoga County, NY. Yes, it's uneconomic. But when you get a ripe tomato, it is almost as Lutherans say, "...a foretaste of the feast to come."
I live in NJ and get terrible tomatoes in the current backyard. Really bad soil, no amount of fertilizer seems to help.
As a kid in central MA, our garden had deep black soil. The tomato yield was fantastic.
My folks had a trick to ripen them on the vine. When the green tomatoes seem large enough to harvest, dig a semi circle around the roots. Lift it and let drop back down. They said it would shock the plant into thinking it had to hurry up to ripen. Another tip is to rinse your picked tomatoes and throw them right in the freezer. when you have a large enough batch, pop em right into boiling water. The skin will come right off w/o burning your fingers. Prepare as you normally would.
I'd expect you'd have to go with a raised bed to get the soil temp up early enough. Same with a loose dark loam soil and black plastic mulch to trap solar heat in early spring. A moderate South facing slope can help as well. Same with a wall to the north to create a micro-clime.
I live in 7b. I ended up with more tomato plants as always. They came in all at once, but I couldn't give them away. Many I just left on the vine so now the big tomatoes, Cherokee Purples and a German heirloom are about done. The cherry tomatoes will continue until the freeze kills them in late October.
But it is worth it for the few I enjoy since you can't buy good tomatoes for any price since the best will get bruised carrying them in from the garden.
"There's just two things that money can't buy,
That's True Love and Home-grown tomatoes."
My grandfather used to grow tomatoes commercially on his local cannery but the kitchen garden yielded some very tasty central Indiana farm. They went into tomato paste at the local cannery but the kitchen garden yielded some very tasty and abundant home-growns.
To add to the list of possible economic self-produced food (venison so far) try wild boar. California is suffering a population explosion of the beasts and the state game wardens ENECOURAGE you to slay them - no permit required.
Another UN-economic food is salmon. I went out on a party boat once off San Francisco in the early 80s. I got my limit of decent sized wild salmon. My net cost was about $20 a pound of cleaned fish when Safeway was selling fresh off the boat fillets for $4 a pound.
But hey! I got seasick and sunburned too.
Here in NJ, it is possible to be lucky enough (and I am) to have not only roadside farm stands where one can get some VERY good produce in season, but also one of the finest groceries I've ever been in that has tried and true methods for extending seasons a bit (excellent suppliers). Little point, other than personal satisfaction, of trying to turn my little patch of oak forest into a productive produce garden. Been there, done that, had to use the t-shirt for rags to scare the birds. Some things are not only not worth the effort, but downright silly under some circumstances.
"Homo economicus is just a sliver of human nature once survival is assured. Most of us do lots of things that feel good but make no logical sense. With our free time we rarely calculate cost-effectiveness or opportunity cost."
I'm in the process of making baby gifts for some friends that are expecting. The cost of buying fabric, batting, etc, to make a hand made quilt, bibs and barf towels (sorry, that's what I call them) is probably 4x more than buying some cheaply made crap from overseas.
I just wish I knew how to crochet, I'd make some baby booties (that look like cowboy boots) for the new creature too. I doubt I could learn that quickly enough.
BUT, the fact that I spend my time creatively, creating something unique for someone, and just the simple idea of being able to produce, rather then depend on someone else...
I grow tomatoes every year and I don't even like them. It's just something you put in a garden. I should say I plant them. Between the fungus in the soil, the damn squirrels, and the +70 F nights all summer there are only a few that make it to the kitchen. Completely fruitless effort.
But, we grow lots of herbs that we would either never bother buying, are too expensive to keep stocked, or wouldn't find except in gourmet stores. The same goes for okra, which is easy and cheap to grow. Asparagus is easy too, and just a one time purchase.
It's impossible to buy a carrot that tastes like one from the garden.
Jalapenos and anchos are cheap enough, but you can't buy good chilis without driving all over the next town to the Mexican and Asian markets. That's more work than tilling a garden.
It's worth it just for a couple of BLT's here in the Hudson Valley, but we usually end up freezing enough for sauces and stews all winter. Met a guy in Wilmington NC who says he grew better tomatoes in NJ than in NC--too many pests. So there's no place that's perfect.
We are only a half step over the line from zone 4 to zone 3. However, that leaves us with 3 fewer weeks to grow anything. Day temps are late 80's to mid 90's and night temps drop down to mid 50's. I start my tomatoes from seed in the house under a grow light. Grow them in garden boxes DH has built for me. We like Red Siberian, but also get good cherry toms. I grow several other heritage types. The flavor is wonderful. Froze a bunch last year, but chest freezer was accidentally turned off when we went out of town--so, lost them all. This year the plants went in to the box too late I fear, but they are coming along. Hopefully, still have a great August and if we can just get the first 2 weeks in September without a frost that will be wonderful !DH is so skilled at getting the green ones to ripen up.
Either grow your own seeds or buy plants, but be careful which varieties of tomatoes you plant. The "big boy" varieties take too long to grow in New England; we can't plant until about Memorial Day. The early varieties, medium varieties and cherry tomatoes do fine.
Greater Boston, Zone 5b/6a. I'm up to eyes in tomatoes and cukes and peppers. I grow everything in pots or raised beds --now, very tall (3 ft) raised beds. Mostly b/c of poor soil, and the pots can be in the sunniest part of the yard. Still, it is mostly just a hobby, but unlike model trains, I can use/eat the results and get some sun.
We made our (Wisconsin) garden part of schooling. My wife says there's no better way to learn the connection between hard work and eating than a garden.
Plus, the kids got to snack on off-the-vine tomatoes and peas, as well as chives and grapes and lately raspberries too. We gave up on strawberries (we planted ever-bearing, which meant the mice had time to build up an appetite between ripenings), and now that we yanked them out the runner-escapees started producing more than the original bed had.
In September, when somebody shows up with a bag of squash, everybody asks hopefully "You're taking squash?"