Ten pounds of tomatoes produced 20 pints of sauce. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Getting the best tomatoes and potatoes

I cover my tomato crop and grow early potatoes

By Mary Lowther

Are tomatoes glutting your kitchen? Or, like mine, are they taking their own sweet time developing into ripe, red orbs? Perhaps it was the long cool and damp spring, the fact that my tomato plants are from last year’s sprouts, or that they’ve felt neglected this year because my attention has been diverted to developing the huge amount of land that David bought across the street.

But I digress. The plants are beginning to bear decent sized tomatoes and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for enough sunlight and warmth to justify their existence. Nevertheless, David found a farmer on Craigslist who sells tomatoes near Duncan, so we bought 10 pounds from her for David’s favourite tomato sauce from Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook.

I haven’t seen evidence of late blight here in Mesachie Lake, but one never knows when it will hit, so I always cover my tomatoes with some sort of shelter, especially late in the season. The spores survive on the ground and adhere to leaves when they get wet. Victoria was spared the blight until about 20 years ago when it marched through everyone’s garden over a matter of days. We pulled out our potatoes too and tried to save our tomatoes by rinsing them in a mild bleach solution, but nothing worked. We lost all our tomato crops but the potatoes were fine.

After that, we learned to keep the plants dry with covers and grow early season potatoes that would be out of the ground before late rains began. So even though I haven’t heard of the blight hitting our neck of the woods here, I cover my tomato crop and grow early potatoes because one never knows when the blight will reach us.

Soaker hoses are de rigueur to keep water off the leaves, so once I’ve planted the seedlings, I lay the soaker hoses and set the timer for half an hour, twice a week. I scratch in a quarter cupful of organic fertilizer around each plant after one month and pour one litre of diluted compost tea over the root area every two weeks. I’ve tried letting them sprawl on the ground just to see how they fared but slugs got to them before me so I always tie them up now. Some authors suggest nipping off the first set of flowers but I’m so eager to get a tomato that I’ve let them all set fruit. This year because they’re so late, I’m not topping them because I see larger fruit coming on at the tops of the plants. Even though the stalks are falling back down, I’m going to see what happens.

Here’s my adaptation of Laurel’s recipe for awesome tomato sauce that I can every year.

10 pounds tomatoes

4 onions, chopped

8 cloves garlic

4 medium carrots, grated

1 cup chopped sweet peppers

8 bay leaves

4 tsp. oregano

4 tsp. thyme

2 ½ T. basil

1 cup chopped parsley

8 six-ounce cans tomato paste

2 ½ T. salt

1 tsp. pepper

2 tsp. honey

½ cup oil

Saute onions and garlic in oil until onion is soft. Crush garlic, add everything else and bring to a boil, stirring all the time (I use two pots). Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Remove bay leaf. I can them at this point in pints, for 20 minutes in a hot water bath.

I feel very smug come winter when I haven’t got anything prepared for dinner and I can pull out a jar of this sauce, add another one of water and there’s soup. A few gratings of cheese and a side of salad and I call it dinner.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

Lake Cowichan Gazette

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