Tomatoes as a hard times garden crop?
We did not even sell tomato seeds at first. It is not that we don’t grow and really love to eat them. Tomatoes do require starting indoors here in the North. That is not usually a project for beginning gardeners. They are very tricky because they are vulnerable to plant diseases, and need to have just the right amount of heat and water. Artificial light or a well heated greenhouse are needed too. When times are tough, providing these things will be much more difficult. If you master starting tomatoes indoors, you should have no trouble selling some plants if you like. In fact it would be an ideal Cottage Industry. It will not take much longer to keep a careful eye on dozens of seedlings than just a few for your garden.
Here in the hills of Connecticut we do not get the summer heat of the Mid-West. Our growing season is much shorter and cooler than friends in Iowa. To ripen tomatoes it takes a certain number of hours of hot weather. We can only ripen varieties which are usually recommended farther north. The year Mt. St. Helen’s erupted in the far West, we could barely ripen any tomatoes at all. We did have lots of green tomato relish though! Just last year in 2009, a tomato blight was widespread, so we had a tiny harvest. So a variety of events could stop your harvest any given year. Once canned of course, tomato products keep for a long time. It is good to have a generous supply on the shelf, as well as extra seeds ahead.
Tomatoes DO cross pollinate. You have to choose one variety for your garden, IF you want to save your own tomato seeds. As a general rule, the smallest tomatoes are most likely to ripen first. Cherry tomatoes do look nice on a salad, but it would take a huge number of them to make sauce. Some of the plum size tomatoes are quite dry, and perfect for sauce making. They are my favorite for that reason. However, most people who love tomatoes, long for a sandwich made fresh from just picked fruit. So to choose the one kind of tomato to grow and sell we did trials of early Heirloom Slicing varieties, Our winner is the Beef Steak Tomato. It really is multi purpose, because it cans well and makes great juice and sauce too. Not only is the fruit large, so is the harvest!
After enjoying fresh tomatoes, soon you will have far more than you can eat. Now canning season begins! With jars and covers, and a lot of heat and water, tomatoes can be put up to last for years on the shelf. We can whole tomatoes, make strained or steam processed juice, and after the hot weather leaves, boil down sauce. Sometimes we are so busy, we freeze quartered tomatoes temporarily, and boil them down after the kitchen wood fired range is going. We have dried sliced tomatoes, and stored them in jars covered with olive oil as well. In a hot dry climate, tomatoes can be dried in the sun. The equipment to can is not expensive, but it does take up space. It is not very portable, and neither are hundreds of glass jars full of food. But you can master these skills now, Canning is a lot like cooking. People do it differently, but you do need to follow a recent canning guide to be as safe as possible.