Cappers Farmer Blogs > Chef Elizabeth on the Farm

The Trials and Tribulations of Tomatoes, Part 1

By Chef Elizabeth

Tags: Farm Life, Blight, Starting Over, Tomatoes, Chef Elizabeth,

Chef ElizabethIt is a fact of farm life that bad things can happen. This year a bad thing did happen – my crops were the victims of blight. This season we built raised beds and brought in fresh soil and worked so hard to plant the tomato and leek crops, and they failed.

In the past, critters had decimated the crops so this year we put up electric fences to keep the animals out; I even put up an owl scare device to ward off potential raiders. I realized that animals are not afraid of plastic owls as I watched a mother wild turkey and her eight poults dusting themselves in my potato patch. That solved the mystery of why the onions and russets were sitting on top of the sun-burned soil.

I was going to get a night camera to catch what was going on but decided I would need too many of them. I decided to take my chances and pray for the best. You never stop learning about what really goes on. 

pulling out the tomato plants

It’s a smelly and messy job tearing out all those plants, but yesterday I started the task. I realized that if we did not take what we could immediately, nothing would be left. We had to harvest unripe fruit. I was full of sadness, anger and loss as I looked at the fruit rotting on the dying vines. I pulled the brown tomato plants out with a vengeance wanting to get rid of them, as the sight of a dying harvest was so unsettling. It was a constant reminder of our failure.  

tomatoes vs blight

Blood, sweat and tears had not helped at all. We salvaged what little we could on that scorching first day of September. I felt closer to all the other farmers who have had similar fates. I understood what it means to have crop insurance. It is too bad that insurance is not available for small operations like mine. As an organic farmer I have decided not to use pesticides. My crops grew so well and then in a day or two the die-off started and spread like wildfire. My daughter Isabel said the beefsteaks looked like tumours, and she was right. The fruit took on hideous shapes and rotted from the inside out. At the same time my leeks began to rot. On the bright side my peppers did very well, but they were not the main crop.

Over and over again we asked ourselves, how? Why? What had we done wrong? We went through all the possibilities: too much rain, too little rain, bad soil, bad plants, planting too close together, not planting deeply enough, a black thumb, not fertilizing or maybe just the hands of God. There is no answer. I have to live with that. That is the gamble I took when I first bought this farm and plunged into the farming life.

rotting leeks

I will admit that I do not feel like planting again. A bit of my spirit is broken. I started off the season with so much hope and hard work. Good intentions count for nothing. I did not just lose thousands of dollars in growing, but also I now have nothing to sell at my farm stand.

The chef in me, of course, saw the bright side and realized that I would not have days of canning in a hot kitchen. I also decided that because I had so few tomatoes I would make roasted tomatoes. These are great to have in the freezer in the winter to bring that fresh taste of summer into hearty soups, stews, casseroles and pasta dishes.

only a few tomatoes this year

This year it is a different kind of tomato time and instead of being busy picking, sorting and processing these gorgeous fruits, I am tearing out rotting plants. However, it still seems as if I eat tomatoes three times a day! I insist on eating all the tomatoes we managed to save. I am grateful for what we did manage to rescue.

Click here for Part 2, my recipe for Roasted Tomatoes.

10/6/2015 12:01:10 AM

I really sympathize. I have not been able to grow decent tomatoes for the whole 3 years we have been here. I have been able to grow basil, peppers, collards, kale and potatoes. Oh yeah and sunflowers. So sometimes I think it amounts to finding out what grows in your locale and just giving in to reality. Hang in there. - Renee at Grindstone Ranch

9/9/2015 5:56:36 PM

I also empathize, I've been farming/gardening my entire life, and just bought the farm I grew up on. My tomato tribulations began with a fungal issue, which I alleviated somewhat with an organically approved spray. Then the hornworms invaded, I picked off over 100. Just as the plants started coming back, the voles started chewing holes in the tomatoes. The weather hasn't been great, so I have many still green on the vine, and every time it rains, the ripening tomatoes split. Last year I had so many tomatoes that I canned until I ran out of jars, gave bushels to family and friends, finally donated several bushels to food banks and shelters and still had some go to waste in the garden, waiting unpicked. Not this year, but here no one had many tomatoes, even the markets don't have bushels for canning. On the upside, I have a 50 foot row of leeks and I don't know what the heck I'm going to do with them all. Dad used to tell me that farming was just like playing poker with God, you only win a hand if providence allows you. That's pretty much right. Better luck next year, but don't plant tomatoes in that same spot, the spores will live in the ground for something like 3 years or more. Annie

9/2/2015 6:57:23 PM

PS I forgot to tell you that I am Mary from Old Dog, New Tricks!

9/2/2015 6:56:03 PM

Hi, Elizabeth. Yes, I feel for you. It is a great loss and depressing after so much hard work and hope. I lost my seedlings this year before they even got planted after all I had put into them: Tomatoes, peppers, and onions started from seed. This is the first year I have NO tomatoes to preserve, so I have felt the loss then and now. I have two hints: I always put crushed egg shells in the hole before planting tomatoes, and our garden is surrounded by a tall chicken wire fence to keep out all critters including deer. Costly upfront, but then the worry is over. I'm looking forward to your next post!