Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Planting Daddy's Tomatoes

The seeds went into the plant bed, sprouted and developed into tomato plants.  In plant bed you sow the seeds directly into the soil.  Daddy always planned to set out his tomatoes after blackberry winter.  This was usually the last cold spell we would have.  Most of the old timers will tell you here in Central Virginia to plant your tomatoes around the middle of May.  The temperature may be warm but the soil may remain cold.  You can stunt your plants if the ground is cold.  They will produce but may have less tomatoes than they should.

The tomato seeds were started by the moon in the later part of March.  They were watered and conditioned to the weather.  On warm days the plant bed was opened up and on cool days the lid may have been lifted just a little.  We would always run through the plants with our hand as this makes them grow stronger.  Leaves come in sets and we watch for the first set is the seed leaves, second are the true leaves and when there are 3 sets of leaves the plants are ready to set out.  Daddy said the plants need to be able to keep growing and it was very important to plant them in the hills and not slow down the development.

With the third set of leaves developed and you could see the fourth set starting.  You knew time was coming to set the tomatoes.  Daddy's rows for the tomatoes were over 100 feet long and you could easily plant 50 tomato hills in each row.  The rows were hoed into a hill as Daddy planted in the peaks and valley system of gardening.  The plants were in the top of the hill and rain water would collect in the valley and watered the roots.

Momma had the newspaper on the table with a pair of scissors.  She had cut a pattern and wanted me to make a lot of pieces of paper about 3 inches by 4 inches.  These papers were used to wrap the stem of the tomato plant to prevent the cut worm from cutting the plant off.  Daddy went to the plant bed and selected the tomato plants he wanted to plant.  He was very careful in selecting by the number of leaves and the structure of the plant.  The plants were placed in a bucket of water and brought in the house.  Everyone sat down and began to roll the plants.  The smaller side went around the plant stem and you wrapped all four inches.

When the sun was starting to go down, the plants wrapped, we went to the garden; Daddy with the pointed stick, a bucket of tomato plants in water and another bucket of water with a Campbell's chicken noodle soup can in it.   Daddy would make the hole in the top of the hill put in the tomato plant and add one can of water.   The soil would be pulled back onto the tomato plant leaving some of the newspaper above the soil line.  Daddy tried to plant on a evening when the next day would be cloudy or it may rain.  This would help the plant set its roots into the soil and continue growing.  If the sun came out the next day in the evening we would water with one can of water again and the wilted plants would be covered with a branch from a tree with lots of leaves on it.

Having put into the ground around 100 plants of the kinds Daddy wanted to have this year, the work has just begun.  Next we would stake the plants with a cedar pole to which the plants would be tied.  The land hoed and pulled into the hills.  The wait for the first tomatoes was the hardest part.  But one day in July you would see that bright red tomato hanging on the vine.  I would find Momma or Daddy and show them.  We have a tomato !  Now the work really begins.  We would be picking tomatoes. Momma would be canning tomatoes .  The city folk would be coming to the country to take tomatoes home with them.  And they always wanted some to can.  They would bring a big box to fill with tomatoes.

In the middle of July, Daddy would set the second crop of tomatoes.  Some of these Momma would slip from the plants when they were tied because they were in the way.  She would put these in the plant bed and water them.  Daddy might try a new kind for the late tomatoes.   Along, in October we wrapped green fully developed tomatoes in newspaper to ripen in the basement.  We would have tomatoes for Thanksgiving, Christmas and if it was a good year Valentines.

Hard work on Momma's and Daddy's farm, but the rewards were worth every minute of the work we did.  I love a tomato sandwich loaded with Duke's mayo and 1/2 inch slice of one tomato filling the entire slice of bread.

                                Bring some napkins, please.
                                           The tomato juice is running off my elbows.
                                                                          It just doesn't get any better!!!!


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