Tag Archives: tomato

Midsummer Madness: a recipe roundup

KateCooper2009 (2)August. It’s August. And not just the beginning — it’s mid August. Bittersweet: I think that is the word for this month. The slow letting go of lots of sun, swimming holes, and unstructured days. Deep breath.

But we don’t have to say goodbye to vegetables too soon — we are just hitting the peak. From now until mid to late September our gardens and farms will be plumping up, ripening and sweetening our vegetables for your tables. This summer has been relatively cool, so tomatoes and eggplants and peppers may be slow, but the rest of the high summer veggies are coming on strong.

So pack it in while you can, friends.

Here are 9 recipes that make the most out of our last month of summer.

Summer Chicken Stew from BBC Good Food

This recipe has two steps. Really. It’s that easy. Great for a weeknight, has lots of seasonal veggies.

Vegetable Hakka Noodles (AKA Chow Mein) from Manjulas Kitchen

Simple sauce and noodle base that allows you to build whatever veggies you can in there. This recipe happens to include only veggies you’ll find in your CSA.

Mediterranean Cauliflower Couscous with roasted chickpeas from Andrea Bemis of The Kitchn

(hint: the cauliflower is riced, so it takes the place of the couscous — sneaky!).

Cauliflower couscous by The Kitchn.
Cauliflower couscous by The Kitchn.
Cauliflower Steaks from The Kitchn

Apparently, this is a thing. Popping up on restaurant menus all over the place. I didn’t know. But it sounds easy and amazing, so put it on your menu this week! Great for vegetarians and those looking to give the cauliflower main stage.

Zucchini with Chorizo and Lime from The Kitchn

An easy one pot meal. There’s a lot of parsley in my CSA, so I’d sub that in for the cilantro in this recipe, and maybe add a little coriander (since that’s the seed of the cilantro plant).

Green Bean Potato and Corn Salad from Love and Lemons
love and lemons green bean and potato salad
Love and Lemons’ green bean, potato & corn salad.

This could be a side, or add your favorite meat or seafood and make it dinner. It even has basil, which I have a lot of. Making this tonight!

Summer Squash Vegetable Pizza from Love and Lemons

What a great way to use up veggies: grab a Le Petit crust, roll it out, and load on the veggies and herbs and a little tomato sauce or olive oil. Done and done. This one from Love and Lemons is a great mixture of seasonal veggies.

Darla’s Delicious Frittata from Epicurious

I’ve starting making a frittata over the weekend when I have a bit more time and serving it for breakfast (or dinner) throughout the week. I recently read a frittata recipe that, instead of listing what vegetables, just said “vegetables.” As in, as long as you have some veggies, cheese, and maybe a little cream or meat (totally optional, though I do argue bacon is always a good idea) along with eggs, you’ll be good to go.

Easiest Refrigerator Pickles from Smitten Kitchen
Easy refrigerator pickles by Smitten Kitchen.

And a little nod to what’s coming down the pike: storing veggies. Pickling! Cucumbers, they are great for snacking, salading, and some great Greek food. But when in doubt, pickle them!

We’ll be taking a break next week. Because #peasfarmparty. Hope you all will join us for our 20th anniversary get down Thursday, August 18th.

I’ll be writing about going back to school (gasp!) next time around. Until then, eat well.







Falling for Autumn

Rachel Mockler 2015This week we have a treat (both literally and figuratively) in store. Rachel Mockler is a home chef who creates masterpieces to feast your eyes on (she takes a lot of photos of her food) and those lucky enough to share her table get to feast with their mouths, too. While getting her Masters’ from U of M’s Environmental Studies Program, she worked at the Buttercup Market and Cafe, creating seasonal fare for Missoula. She also interned a summer at the PEAS Farm, and wrote many a blog post for the Real Dirt in her grad days as well. Plus, she is punny. Really really punny. Enjoy, friends.  I’ll be back next week with more on the upcoming fall vegetables. . . A weighty and wonderful time of year.

There is a little dusting of snow on the mountains surrounding Missoula and there is a crispness in the air heralding the approach of fall…But, there is also a warmth in the breeze reminding us that summer is still here at least until September 20th…

There is also a mix of produce at the farmers market, in your CSA, or (and?) in your garden, marking the final days of hot weather crops such as peppers, cucumbers, melons, and basil.  Yes, apples, winter squash, potatoes, are creeping into the mix, and making us think of the days ahead — I’m trying to get into the idea of of making a hearty soup and bundling up indoors. However,  I myself am a true summer lover — my friends will tell you, I crave warmth and sun.  So I’m paying tribute to this summer bounty with this easy recipe. It’s been an incredibly productive summer.  This recipe makes use of the remaining Dixon melons, heirloom tomatoes, and basil, before we have to wait an entire year for this taste of summer.

Watermelon Gazpacho

Watermelon Gazpacho

Serves 8-10


  • 1 small sugar baby watermelon (or 5 c. watermelon puree)
  • 3 medium heirloom tomatoes (or 4 c. tomato puree)
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 c. loosely packed basil
  • 1 c. lime juice
  • 1 onion
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • Fresh cracked pepper, to taste

How to:

1. Roughly chop the watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and basil and add to blender.

2. Add lime juice to fruits and vegetables in blender and whir to desired consistency.

3. Garnish with fresh cracked pepper, to taste.

4. Enjoy the last taste of summer!

Even though I am not looking forward to winter, I am quite excited about the excellent fruit year we are having in this cool weather — all of it that is available right now.  One of my favorite cakes to bake is this not-so-terrible sweet lemon almond cake. What takes it to the next level is a garnishing of juicy pears baked atop of it.  Although almonds are perhaps not the best nut to be eating right now because of California’s drought crisis, this recipe only uses a few almonds.  This cake is best served warm, perhaps with a scoop of ice cream, a dusting of powdered sugar, or a lemony glaze, if you so desire.

RachelMockler_AlmondCake (6)

Lemon Almond Cake with Pears


  • 2 ½ c flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ c soy milk or other milk alternative
  • 2 Tbsp flax meal
  • ¾ c oil
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp almond extract
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
  • 1-2 pears, sliced
  • Sliced almonds (optional)

How to:

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2) Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  Set aside.

3) In another large bowl, mix together soy milk, apple cider vinegar, and flax meal.  Mix well.  Add oil, sugar, vanilla, almond extract, lemon zest.

4) Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just combined.

5) Pour batter into a greased and floured 9” round cake pan.

6) Garnish with sliced pears and almonds.

7) Bake cake for approximately 35 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

8) Enjoy!

Zucchini by Chad Harder

Recipe Round Up Vegetarian (& sometimes vegan) Style

I do love meat, but sometimes a sister has to give it a rest.  And many readers have said, “FOCUS ON THE VEGGIES, GENEVIEVE!” Totally. You are right.  And it might be that I skipped lunch, but doing this research has uncovered some of the most interesting, beautiful vegetarian and vegan cooking blogs.  Here are a few, with a smattering of recipes that work well with what’s growing right now.

My favorite blog: The First Mess

This blog’s author has a garden of her own, and her breathtaking photos bring to life her fresh and delicious original recipes. Her veggie burger is supposed to be phenomenal.


Kale only gets sweeter as the weather cools, and it’s our last chance for eggplant. . . Also enjoy garlic in this recipe.


This bread salad mixes tomatoes, shallots, peaches, basil in a balsamic vinaigrette.

Cookie and Kate

[Vegan] Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Roasted summer vegetables mixed with herbs and quinoa — a great way to use what’s in your fridge and get your protein too (thanks, quinoa, for being a complete protein!).

[Vegan] Summer Squash Tacos with Avocado Chimichurri Sauce

Includes yellow squash or zucchini, corn, garlic, onion and herbs. Good for lunch or dinner.

Green Kitchen Stories

Bowls like these

A simple meal of veggies (you could top this with an egg for breakfast salad bowl, and substitute a great deal of these ingredients for what you have in your fridge).

[Vegan] Beet Bourguinon

Solid! Beets as a main dish. Julia would be so proud. Includes garlic, onion, carrots, fresh herbs, and lentils (a great local product of Montana).

Naturally Ella

[Vegan] Garlic Soba and Zucchini Noodles

Easy, simple Asian inspired dish of Garlic Soba and zucchini noodles (have I mentioned how you should get yourself a veggie spiralizer?

Sweet Corn and Sorhum Stuffed Peppers

Great seasonal combination of green peppers and corn, along with come fresh cilantro.

Other Vegetarian Recipes that Caught My Eye. . .

Unbelievably Delicious Cauliflower Soup – Ramsons and Bramble

[Vegan]Creamy Red Chard Linguine – Post Punk Kitchen

Beet and Black Lentil Borscht – My New Roots

Side note on pesto:

A little on how to make 11 kinds of pesto from Saveur — I feel like I am turning green, there is so much basil out there to make into pesto. . . And before you know it, the frost will nip that little basil.

More tomatoes, please! Extending your tomato harvest

IMG_0392Some weeks ago I wrote  Takeaways from a Tomato Tutorial, based off Northside garden mentor Sarah Johnson’s advice she gave fellow gardeners in her tomato tutorial workshop. That post was all about supporting, pruning, fertilizing, and watering your tomatoes throughout the season. But now, our days are getting shorter and the mornings and evenings are getting cooler.  These bittersweet seasonal changes are well and good for a bit o’ fall gardening, but what do they mean for our garden tomatoes?

In season harvesting and storage

Tomatoes are best picked at their peak of ripeness when the color has reached its fullest hue. But tomatoes that have a tendency to crack – such as cherry tomatoes – can be picked when just slightly underripe.

Once picked, tomatoes should be stored on a counter or shelf out of direct sunlight. If you wash them after picking them, make sure to dry them before you leave them on the counter. Tomatoes typically last 3-5 days on the counter. They can also be stored in the refrigerator so they keep a little longer. (Storing them in the fridge doesn’t do them any favors in the flavor department, so ideally you store them on the counter and use them or process them before they need to go in the fridge.)

Extending the growing season

Did you know that the other week we actually had a frost advisory in place for Missoula valley? Yes, it’s true. It seems the frost missed us that time, but it goes to show that it’s time to start paying attention to night time temps. My favorite place to check the weather is the National Weather Service. They usually give pretty detailed frost warnings(and fire, wind, rain and heat, too! They have a whole discussion each week on the weather patters, if you want to get nerdy with it).

When frost is expected you better get those tomato plants covered up because their foliage is especially sensitive to frost damage. When the foliage is damaged or dead it can’t photosynthesize as well or at all, and your tomatoes won’t ripen. And we certainly don’t want that to happen!

You can use an old blanket or sheets to cover your tomato plants, but be sure to remove them in the morning so the plants can see the light of day. A more expensive option is to use row cover which is air permeable and allows light and moisture to pass through, so the cover can stay on your plants all day. If you store the row cover properly over winter and keep it dry, it should last you for several years.

Tip: It’s best if your cover doesn’t touch any tomato foliage, as that foliage will still be in danger of getting frost damage. Try building a non-permanent frame, such as from PVC pipe, around your tomato plants that your cover can be draped over. But don’t worry – any cover is better than no cover!

Extending your tomato harvest

When the end of the season is in sight, days are still hot but nights are cooling…

Once the end of the tomato season is in sight, water your plant a little less. Alternatively (or in addition), you can use a shovel to sever the roots about a foot out from the plant on three sides. The added stress will trigger the plant into more fruit production.

Additionally, pick off any tomato blossoms. They have very little chance of turning into tomatoes and without them the plant can give more energy to ripening the tomatoes that are more fully developed.

When day time temps start cooling…

Tomatoes stop ripening when day time temps consistently fall below 60 degrees. Once temperatures are consistently 60 degrees and threatening to fall below, start pulling off any tomatoes that have about 50% redness or more. The green tomatoes still on the plant will then have a better chance of ripening.

When the season is all but ended…

IMG_0363Once it is so cool that there is no chance of further ripening, you can do one of two things:

  • Pick all your green tomatoes. Then store them in a basement or garage where it is dark and cool (but no danger of freezing exists). Now is the perfect time to make fried green tomatoes! Or, if you want to ripen your green tomatoes, put then on a sunny windowsill when you are ready to ripen them. Rotate the tomato over time so one side doesn’t ripen so quickly. Alternatively, ripen the tomato in a brown paper bag on the counter. If you want the tomato to ripen more quickly, throw a banana in there too. The banana emits an ethylene gas that will cause the fruit to ripen faster.
  • Pull the plant up by its roots. Shake it – go ahead, shake it like a Polaroid picture – to get all that dirt off so you can store it in a cool place in your house and allow the remaining tomatoes to ripen on the vine.

Follow these steps, and you just may be able to serve up fresh tomatoes from your garden at Thanksgiving dinner! Or, if you have an excessive amount of tomatoes, you can freeze them whole or cook them into a delicious sauce or salsa before freezing them. Frozen tomatoes keep well for up to a year. You can also try your hand at canning tomatoes so they’ll keep even longer. After all, who gets sick of garden tomatoes?

Photo by Chad Harder


School lunches: 5 ways to veggie it up.

Last week, I dropped my daughter off for her first day of preschool. Big milestone. The cubbies and coat hooks, the circle of carpet, the playdough and paste, the faint smell of library books — so many things brought me back to my own childhood.  And Austen was so excited she was literally jumping in the school hallway over her giraffe stickered cubby label.

Austen goes to school
Off to school. . . Who is more nervous? Definitely me. Maybe my husband.

In the parent meeting a few nights before school started the school director told us to please not experiment in our children’s school lunches.  It could end in a very hungry kid. I love to try new things with Austen all the time. Crap! How will I get her veggies in?

I stood at my kitchen counter the night before the first day of school, palms sweating, wondering what to do. It was that feeling right before the test began, or when I couldn’t think of the answer to the essay question. So I made a sandwich with ham, avocado and cheese.  I chopped up some Dixon cantaloupe, packed plain yogurt sprinkled with a little cinnamon, and stuck in a cheese stick and some carrot sticks.  And a pre-packaged granola bar.  All the things she craves. Yes, it was more food than her little three-year-old tummy needed. I was nervous, people.  This kid has never been to school before. And I have never sent my kid to school before. I did not want to get in trouble on my first day.

PS — all she ate was the sandwich and a little yogurt. She was nervous too.

Next week, I am determined to get more farm veggies in there.  I’ve been researching.  Here are some highlights:

1. Meat wraps

I’ve written about using a collard, Napa cabbage or romaine leaf in place of lettuce, but you can use sliced meat, too. Using meat as your wrap, fill any of your kids favorite veggies (sweet peppers are on the CSA menu for most of our farms — a kid favorite, shredded carrot, slicer or cherry tomatoes, lettuce mix. . . If you have ham, put a little Dixon melon in the wrap).  These can be easier to make than a sandwich.  I spread a little mayo or whatever you child’s fave is (Austen likes guac) on the inside of the wrap. Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo suggests tying a strand of chive or spring onion around the bundle to keep it together. Safer than a toothpick!

This meat bundle is one of Michelle’s many lunch ideas.  She writes all about Paleo foods.  Now, whether you think Paleo is the best thing since sliced onion, or think it is just a passing fad, OR just really have no idea what it is, let me just say this: when you are looking for a healthy, whole foods recipe that makes a lot of use out of veggies and meat — throwing Paleo in as a search term is a great idea.  I am not Paleo, but I’ve learned a lot from the recipes on how to make many, many simple alterations that include my vegetable bounty.  The thing the Paleo diet is – it’s less about eating like our caveman ancestors and more about improving gut health, and eating whole foods. Not really that crazy at all, right?

2. Dips and Sauces

Kids LOVE dipping things, I’ve found. I am not suggesting that you make hummus, baba ganoush or other eggplant dip, salsa or salsa verde (apparently you can ferment your salsa verde for extra health bennies),  or pesto (this one is dairy free and delicious) just for lunch, but you might just want to make some for dinner or a snack — and make lots.  Freeze your sauces in ice cube trays and thaw them out overnight for school. I also plan to use some almond butter and pre-made organic guacamole when there just isn’t anything in the fridge (wring hands here). I think I have made my own hummus. . . once?

And of course, instead of bread (or in addition to the bread) use veggies to scoop up the goodness: celery, cucumber slices or sticks, bell peppers, carrot sticks, zucchini sticks. . . And if you’ve made lots, veggie chips or plantain chips can be great in this area, too.

eggplant dip
A little eggplant dip made from Garden City Harvest staff member, Maria Kendra. With some delicious carrot dip sticks.

3. Veggie Chips

Kids love kale chips.  It is a fact.  And any of your greens you can make into chips.  Here are 7 alternatives from the Kitchn.

And beyond leafy greens — there is SO MUCH MORE!

Beet Chips

Eggplant Chips

String Bean Chips

Winter Squash Chips (They will be here before you know it!)

Zucchini Chips

And, of course with a food processor or mandolin, you can make your own potato chips now. YES.

Also, with apple season upon us, slice your apples thin, and they can sandwich or scoop nut and seed butters like nobody’s business.  I sometimes make Austen a apple and almond butter sandwich with a little cinnamon and a few raisins in the middle.

Leftovers.  The best easiest lunch.

You just need a thermos. Rewarm your meal from the night before, throw some fruit or yogurt on the side and blamo – into the Klean Kanteen and off to school! LunchBots also has some great options that are stainless steel/nontoxic.  I’m still doing research on these options . . . Cause these two are quite expensive. Any advice would be greatly appreciated — comments section!

Some of our favorite kid leftovers (these are especially good now that the weather is cooler): spaghetti squash with tomato 3 meat sauce (that’s ground beef, pork, and bacon) or meatballs, meatloaf muffins (meatloaf baked in a muffin tin — Danielle Walker’s recipe, which I could only find in her cookbook) with garlic faux-tatoes, chicken soup with as many veggies as I can cram (kale, spinach, carrots, celery, celeriac, kholrabi. . . ) — with a bone broth base. With a solid thermos, the food will be hot at noon.

Protein + Veggie Salad

Good old fashioned chicken salad has always been a hit with Austen.  She and I love mayo. Salads like chicken salad are a great way to slip in carrots, celery, apples, grapes, bell peppers . . . anything with a little crunch. Bean or egg salads works really well for vegetarians.

Put it in a sandwich or lettuce wrap, or just eat it with a fork.  Great with cherry tomatoes on the side! And of course, some of those veggie chips.

Next challenge: how to pack it all.  What has worked for you?

Good luck this week. May the lunch force be with you.


Take-aways from a Tomato Tutorial

Why did the tomato go out with a prune?….. Because he couldn’t find a date!


Bad jokes aside, a group of community gardeners recently took some time to ketchup on tips for improving their tomato harvests, thanks to Northside garden mentor Sarah Johnson. Last month Sarah wrote a blog post to lay the groundwork for choosing and transplanting tomatoes (read it here), and last week she followed it up with a hands-on tomato workshop focused on tomato care throughout the growing season (bruschetta included).

Here are a few of my takeaways from the workshop. If you couldn’t make it last Tuesday but have a tomato-related question, feel free to email Sarah at sarah_nside@gardencityharvest.org, or leave a comment at the end of this blog post so we can all learn more.

The good news is that caring for tomato plants doesn’t have to be very complicated. In fact, if you just leave your tomato plants to grow on their own, you’re still likely to get a good harvest from them. However, if juicier, more flavorful tomatoes are what you’re after, there are three main things to do to keep your tomato plants healthy and happy: Support, Prune, Fertilize.


Caged tomato
Caged tomato

Providing tomato plants with proper support helps keep the fruits off the ground so they are less likely to rot or get eaten by pests or become afflicted with some disease. The best support structure to use depends on if your plant is determinate (more bush-like, grows to a certain size and fruits pretty much at once) or indeterminate (continues to grow new vines and will fruit throughout the season).

Since determinate plants only grow to a certain size, they do best when caged or staked and tied. Determinate plants do not need to be pruned, so cages work well because they are simple and you only have to worry about being able to pick the tomatoes.

Determinate plants do best when staked or trellised. These methods allow you to more easily access the whole tomato plant when pruning.

Staked tomatoes
Staked tomatoes
Trellised tomatoes




If left to their own devices, indeterminate tomato plants will continue to grow and grow, putting lots of energy into more and more vines (also known as suckers). We prune these suckers so that the plant focuses its energy on growing bigger, more delicious fruits instead of more vines. The suckers, although they look small to start, will eventually grow into a whole new vine that will flower and set fruit, so it’s best to get them early.

Photo from Sarah Johnson
Photo from Sarah Johnson

I imagine that writing about how to prune tomatoes won’t be very effective. Here’s a short youTube video that demonstrates the basics about pruning tomatoes.

Other tips on pruning:

  • Start pruning relatively early (about when the tomato plant has three suckers beginning to grow), then try to continually prune about once a week or so to keep up with the plant’s growth
  • The verdict is still out about what is the best number of vines to allow your tomato plant to grow. Both Sarah and I have found the general consensus among area farmers to be 3-4 vines per plant; 4-6 vines for a cherry tomato plant. Once you’ve picked the *chosen ones* (those few vines that look the strongest and will be allowed to continue growing) trellis or stake them so they are easily identifiable. This will make future pruning much easier and will allow you to train the vine around the string it’s tied to as it grows
  • Smaller suckers can be pinched off by hand, but larger ones (thicker than a chopstick) should be clipped with scissors or pruning shears to avoid damaging the plant


Tomatoes are heavy feeders, meaning they take a lot of nutrients out of the soil as they grown. To ensure your tomato plants have enough nutrients, you can fertilize throughout the season.

If you decide to purchase fertilizer, remember to look for non-synthetic fertilizers that meet requirements for organic production. For one, it’s part of the Garden City Harvest community garden policy and sustainable gardening guidelines. One of the reasons we don’t promote the use of non-synthetic fertilizer is because they tend to deteriorate soil quality, rather than build it. Plants then become dependent on continued applications of synthetic fertilizer in degraded soil. Plus, synthetics contribute to water pollution and when used in excess can be ingested and contribute to health problems. You can read more on the effects of synthetic fertilizer in this discussion from Organic Valley. And this article better explains how to identify organic fertilizers.

Here’s the skinny on fertilizers:

  • Complete fertilizers include a balance of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. All fertilizers have a ratio printed on their label which indicates that particular fertilizer’s balance of these nutrients (for example: 5-10-10 or 10-10-10)
  • Other fertilizers, such as manure, bone meal or cottonseed meal provide just one of those nutrients
  • Nitrogen promotes the growth of dark green foliage; Phosphorous promotes the growth of flowers and fruits; Potassium helps build a strong stem and root system

Here is the secret for fertilizing tomato plants:

Use a fertilizer higher in nitrogen in the beginning of the plant’s life (such as fish emulsion), BEFORE the plant starts producing blossoms. This promotes the growth of foliage, which promotes better photosynthesis.

Once the plants start producing blossoms, use a fertilizer higher in phosphorous (to help the growth of flowers and fruits)

Some tips on watering

Tomatoes are best watered at the base of the plant, rather than from over head. Watering the foliage can cause the leaves to get sunburned during the day (there’s no SPF to protect from that). Water left on leaves overnight can also lead to disease.

Throughout the summer consistently give your plants a deep watering (2 – 3 times/week). If the soil is dry one inch below the surface, those plants need a drink (mulching around your plants will help them retain their moisture). However, once the end of the season is in sight begin to water your plant a little less. Yes, that’s right. All summer long you took extra special care of that tomato plant, only to stress it out at the end of summer. By watering less you slightly stress out the plant, which triggers it to go into full fruit production.

Stay tuned for more info about extending your tomato season, harvesting, and storing tomatoes. In the meantime, leave us a comment if you want more information about a particular topic – tomato-related or not. 

heirloom tomatoes

The Tomato of My Eye

sarahjGuest post: Sarah Johnson is a Northside Community Garden Mentor, and also an expert on tomatoes.  When she agreed to do a blog post for us on tomatoes, and we were tickled pink (or should I say red?).  If you want more info, Sarah will also be leading a workshop geared for community gardeners on July 14th, 5:30 – 7 pm at the Northside Community Garden.  Give Garden City Harvest a call 406.550.3663 if you’d like to join in the fun (it’s free).

My tomato education began five years ago on a cold June afternoon.  I was working on Killarney Farm that summer,  nestled in North Idaho surrounded by nothing but national forest.  Farmers Paul & Ellen of Killarney Farm grow over 30 different tomato varieties.

On the afternoon of my arrival, I stood in a warm moist greenhouse seeking respite from the rain, breathing in the scent of hundreds of potted tomatoes bound for market.   Over the next five years I worked closely with farmer Ellen learning how to tend, care for, and appreciate the unique attributes of the many tomato varieties.


One of my favorite parts of the job was helping customers choose their tomatoes at the Kootenai County Farmer’s Market. The chance to educate customers on features and planting techniques was key to their success at home. Here are some of the questions I learned to ask our customers as the decided what to plant.

Top 5 questions to ask yourself when choosing a tomato for planting:

  • What am I gonna use it for? (proper North Idaho back woods English)
  • Do I want small, medium, or large fruit size?
  • Heirloom? What does heirloom mean anyway?
  • Determinate or Indeterminate?
heirloom tomatoesWhatcha gonna use it for?

There are so many ways to use tomatoes: salads, salsa, sauce, sandwiches, snacks… it makes your head spin. These questions will help narrow down the variety of tomato that will be right for you. For example, if you plan on making sauce till the cows come home then a nice meaty paste tomato will serve you much better than a juicy salad tomato.

Fruit size
  • a small cherry tomato is 2 to 5 oz or the size of a large gumball
  • a medium tomato is 6 to 10 oz or approximately the size of a tennis ball
  • a large tomato is 10 oz+ and can be the size of a softball
Heirloom – what does it mean?

An Heirloom is open-pollinated (by birds, insects, wind) and has been cultivated for at least 50 years. An heirloom must be open-pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms.

This is in contrast to a hybrid where different varieties are cross-pollinated by human intervention. Hybridization may also occur naturally but when buying plants the seed is usually denoted by ‘F1′. Heirloom does not always mean a better tomato. Choose a tomato that fits your taste!

Determinate vs. Indeterminate

A determinate tomato grows to one size (also called bush tomatoes), sets its fruit over a couple of weeks, ripens, and is done for the season. These tomatoes may be caged for support. An indeterminate tomato, or vine-type tomato, continues to grow and shoot new flowering tops, getting infinitely taller and producing fruit over a longer period of time. An indeterminate tomato needs pruning and a greater support structure during the growing season.

Transplanting tips

Growing space: Cherry tomatoes and compact determinate tomatoes work well in containers 18”-24” in diameter. Tomatoes planted in the ground should be 24”-36” for the best production.

Choose a sunny location that receives 6 hours or more of direct sunlight each day.
Prepare the soil:

Dig a hole large enough so that you may transplant the tomato up to its second set         of leaves. A trench may also be dug and the plant can be laid into the soil at a slant with only its head sticking out of the ground. Throw a handful of compost or composted manure into the hole & mix well with soil. At this point you may add an organic tomato/vegetable fertilizer to the soil or water your transplants in with an organic liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion.

Prepare the tomato for transplant:

Pinch the bottom leaves off the stem of the tomato plant. Gently pull the tomato out of    its container and massage outer roots slightly to loosen the root ball without damaging the root system. Place tomato into hole or trench so that the entire stem will be buried up to its leaves. The tomatoes will form roots from the stem that is planted underground forming a more solid root structure for the plant. (Tomatoes are super cool plants!)

Watering Tomatoes:

Water transplants in thoroughly. After initial watering, water regularly but let the soil dry out between watering, as over-watering can lead to disease in plants. Give the plants an inch* of water every week, two inches when the weather gets really hot (that equates to soaking the plants thoroughly every 4-5 days for well-drained sandy soil and every 7-10 days for heavy soil).

*There are many ways to measure ‘an inch’ of water. The easiest way is to set a container out under your sprinkler, drip line, etc & water until you have 1 inch of water in the container.


Make sure your tomatoes are hardened off (aka being introduced slowly to being outside over a week or two). Tomatoes may be transplanted after the last frost date (May 19th in Missoula!) and when the night time temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you have already planted your tomatoes, don’t fret! Tomatoes can be covered with an old sheet or fancy row covers at night to ensure that they stay warm. Tomatoes can tolerate temperatures below 55 degrees F but start to show cold damage if the temperature drops to 40 degrees F.

Want to learn more?  I am hosting a workshop for community gardeners on tomatoes.  Join me Tuesday, July 14th from 5:30 – 7 pm at the Northside Community Garden.

Happy Growing! I wish you a plateful of Tomatoes later this season!