Tomatoes in the Adirondacks? One man’s quest for a fresh North Country garden tomato….. Last weekend I planted tomatoes. Fifteen plants in all. It was perhaps the ultimate optimistic and final effort in my eighteen year quest to grow a tomato in the Adirondacks. If it bears fruit, it will be my first successful effort. I have tried every year since I built the house in 1992. In eighteen years I have not been able to grow one single solitary tomato. I love tomatoes. I wait all year for late summer’s bounty. There are few dishes as enjoyable as a fresh plump firm juicy tomato, with just a touch a sea salt and served with some crusty bread. The perfect meal. I can remember some of the best tomatoes I ever had. In the 1970’s I ran a restaurant in Massapequa, Long Island. A couple that frequently ate at the restaurant grew tomatoes in their garden. They would bring their tomatoes into the restaurant and share them with the staff. They were as big as softballs and bursting with flavor. They claimed that their secret was how they fertilized the garden. They procured barrels of fish parts from the local fishmonger on Montauk Highway and poured them into a trough dug between the rows of plants. The result was a tomato that I still remember thirty five years later. Last month I spent a week in Turkey where tomatoes are already in season, and served at every meal – breakfast lunch and dinner. I was in heaven. A platter of sliced raw tomatoes is always served a breakfast. At lunch and dinner they are broiled with sliced onions or grilled with hot peppers or roasted in a clay casserole. You will always find them on the table, along with a dish of yogurt. They sell in the green markets for 10 cents a pound. Here in Schroon Lake fresh tomatoes are not so easy to come by until late summer. I try to accelerate the process by growing a few of my own plants, and typically try the “early girl” varieties. Our growing season is very short and the hours of sunlight are less than most places so it is a fool’s quest to begin with, but few gardeners have been as spectacularly unsuccessful as me. I tried just about everything for eighteen years with not one tomato to show for it. Usually by July 4th I am staring at shriveled brown twists of what was a tomato plant. I have tried patio pots. They died. I have tried the 3 o’clock in the morning infomercial hanging plants. Dead in two weeks. Last year I planted pre-fertilized pots where all you had to do was stick the pot in the ground and water it – guaranteed to grow. Remember last year’s tomato blight? I started it. First my plants died then every tomato plant in the entire northeast died. This year I decided to try one last time, and to give it everything I’ve got. I went, as they say in poker, “all in.” In the process of putting on an addition two years back I took down a few trees which created a patch of sunlight in the woods around my house. I thought this to be an ideal spot to plant a small garden. I purchased a new Mantis garden tiller to start the project. My plan was to till a bed approximately eight feet wide by fifteen feet long. The forest floor in the Adirondacks is 20% dirt and 80% rocks and roots. Working with my new tiller, a Swiss saw, a pair of lopping shears and a hatchet for roots, and a pry bar for rocks, it took me the better part of a day to clear 120 square feet of garden – slightly larger than a king size bed. Early Adirondack farmers cleared entire farms with a plough and a horse. I will never look at that effort in quite the same way. Adirondack soil in the middle of a pine forest is usually acidic, so I added the recommended amount of lime, and tilled the soil again. My neighbor Neil had a mountain of composted horse manure sitting outside of his barn. I took two buckets full with my front end loader and spread it on the plot, and tilled the soil once again. My plot looked like the beginning of a perfect garden. Fifteen plants were ready to be planted. Remembering my Massapequa gardening story I went down to the lake and caught a bucket of blue gills. As I planted each tomato, I placed a single fish under each plant. I think I read that Native American farmers fertilized their plants in a similar fashion. (At this point I was looking for any help I could get.) The plants looked very happy I thought, but I hoped that the bears didn’t smell the bluegills. I connected an automatic timer to the garden sprayer and set it to water the garden twice a day for twenty minutes – at 6 AM and 6 PM. I said a silent prayer to the tomato gods. I was away travelling three days later when a logger friend stopped by to take down a dead hemlock that was about to fall down on my dock. Seeing the garden hose laying across the driveway, and not wanting to drive his dump truck over it, and not realizing that the sprayer was connected to an automatic timer, he pulled the hose away from the garden and stowed it safely away. Luckily for me – and him – it rained that week. Around the perimeter of the garden I put in some radishes, which are already peeking through the soil. After two weeks the tomatoes appear to be thriving. I am cautiously optimistic. You can call me a cockeyed optimist……. Updates to follow. Comments? Contact NorthCountryRambler at NorthCountryJoe@gmail.com Follow us on Twitter @ NCntryRambler Place Rambler on your Google or MyYahoo homepage (link at left) and receive new reviews and updates automatically. www.NorthCountryRambler.com
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