Tomatoes: A Great Investment?

The older I get, the more I appreciate the taste of a good, home-grown tomato. Back in Kentucky the plants went in the ground toward the middle of May with hopes the first fruit would ripen by the Fourth of July. Without buying big plants or cherry tomatoes, the first ripe tomato didn’t usually appear until the end of July. Within a week or two everyone I knew had baskets of tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers they couldn’t eat.

My first summer in Georgia I had a Kentucky-style tomato harvest. The surplus was quickly snatched up by coworkers and neighbors. That was thirteen years ago. Since then, thanks to deer, drought and/or excessive heat,  I’ve had precious little luck growing them.

I bought a good-sized “Cherokee Purple” tomato plant for five dollars at the UGA Horticulture Club sale back in the spring.  “Cherokee Purple” is an heirloom beefsteak-type tomato with over-sized and very tasty fruit.  I planted it in a huge plastic pot filled with composted cow manure and the richest dirt I could buy at Lowe’s. The pot sits right outside my backdoor in the fenced-in part of the yard. Even so, I sprayed it with Deer-Off.

My little tomato plant hasn’t exactly thrived, but it is still alive. To date I’ve harvest four tomatoes that were about a third the size they should have been. I don’t care–they still tasted good. The fruit ripened long before Independence Day. The vine still lives but has only recently produced two new tomatoes, both weeks away from ripening.

So yesterday I dropped the top on my candy apple red PT Cruiser Convertible and headed across town to the Farmer’s Market here in Athens to buy some good tomatoes. A steady stream of Volvos, assorted SUVs, and larger land yachts pulled into the parking lot ahead of me, circling until a parking space opened up. Unlike with previous visits, I even remembered to bring a bag for my purchases.

When I entered the fenced-in area that’s home to the market, the scent of patchouli greeted me. I fought my way through the crowd, dodging kid-filled strollers that cost more than I could get for my car. A large, African-American chanteuse with a powerful voice sang soulful ballads to entertain the decidedly upscale crowd.

The majority of vendors sell baked goods, flowers, home-made jewelry, expensive coffee, flavored teas, t-shirts, and other junk. Enticed by a table filled with ripe fruit from several different varieties of tomatoes, I pushed through to one of the dozen or so veggie stands in the market. I had to wait in line for my turn to make my selections.

I quickly settled on two “Cherokee Purples” and a nameless, sandwich-sized red tomato for BLTs. The casual-but-expensively dressed “farmer” weighed my selections and said, “That will be $9.50.” That’s right. Almost ten dollars for three tomatoes. The “Cherokee Purples” were four dollars a pound. The nameless red was only three dollars a pound. Shut the front door!

The “farmer” in the next booth was hawking fresh blueberries–for seven dollars a pint. I bought a pint at Kroger’s this morning for $1.99. I’d be willing to be you couldn’t tell the difference in a taste test.

Once upon a time, farmer’s markets were a way to buy great produce at bargain prices. Cutting out the middlemen created a win-win situation for farmers and consumers. The farmers made more money than they got from distributors, and consumers paid lower prices than they’d have to pay at the grocery.

Those days are gone. On the plus side, my four-tomato harvest has more than covered the cost of the plant. Two more and I’ll just about break even.

3 responses to “Tomatoes: A Great Investment?”

  1. I have the perfect solution. Next Saturday morning between 8 and 11, cruise on up to the Statham Farmer’s Market. It’s small, maybe 15 or so “booths”, (last time I went, anyhow) but it’s mostly local Barrow Co folk. I’ve been a couple of times, but now that I live in East BFE, it requires getting out of bed on Saturdays much earlier than I like to get out of bed on Saturdays. I’ll send you a FB link to it.

    Our own personal garden, here in the East BFE, is home to lucious milkweed plants towering almost as tall as me. We have one cucumber plant that is producing cucumbers by the thousands, but they are so bitter I can’t eat them. Steve doesn’t like them, but planted one just for me. bleh. Now the little petermelons are ripening to withered yellow fingers, and lay on the ground untouched. Two tomato plants survived, and are fighting with the milkweed for what tiny bit of moisture they can glean from the soil. They are producing tomatoes left and right, though. I think one is the Better Boy variety. the tomatoes are about the size of a tennis ball and OH SO DELICIOUS! The other is a grape or cherry plant, and we have already had 50-75 little balls of epecially flavorful treats. There are probably 50 or more still on the plant, in varying stages of ripeness. The Better Boy will offer 6-7 ripe ones tomorrow, with 15-20 more still ripening. Yay. It’s BLT for dinner tomorrow night for sure. I have become addicted to tomato sandwiches and have been eating them daily.

    Oh. Sorry. I’m bragging. When you are suffering so…

    If you’re ever out in East BFE, stop by and i’ll fix you up with some. Or check out the Farmer’s Market in Statham. No standing in line. The little easy-up tents are pitched along the side of the street, down past the depot. My good friend Perry Barton is often seen with his blacksmith equipment pounding out things, and there are various and sundry other artisans on hand with homemade soap, homemade bread, honey, etc. You can always pick up a copy of Sweet Tea, The Magazine That Refreshes (and enjoy articles submitted by yours truly) at the Sweet Tea booth, as well as have yourself a glass of… what else… sweet tea. And I’m sure there are some ‘maters in there somewhere as well….

  2. I’ve lived in Texas for almost 13 years, planted tomatoes and peppers every year and watched them grow leafy and fruitless every year. This year I’ve got about five varieties of paper plant and have produced 2 tiny peppers. I had 7 tomato vines, now I have three and I’ve seen 2 cherry sized tomatoes. We planted a few cucumber, squash and a pumpkins. I’ve seen flowers but no fruit. The grapevines produced a record numbr of bunches of grapes and then the leaves all died giving the birds unhindered access to the fruit while we waited for them to mature or grow in size. Now the fruit is gone and the leaves are growing again.

    We’ve got a couple of more months of this 100+ degree weather ahead before the rains come. I read something a couple of weeks ago about planting your fall tomatoes. Well, that probably makes more sense that trying to grow them in the summer here.

  3. Statham is a bit far for a tomato run, especially with gas prices the way they are! We’re going to check out the Watkinsville farmer’s market one of these days.

    Texas is even hotter than NE Georgia so I’m not surprised you’ve had so much trouble growing veggies. The big farmers manage to produce large crops of peppers and tomatoes in South Georgia. I suspect regular irrigation and tons of chemical additives help.

    Thanks for commenting!