When I first posted about these unusual tomatoes, I called them “Italian” tomatoes. Since then, other people have suggested they are “Dutch” tomatoes. I had not heard the term “paste tomato” by 2008, but I understand now that the category of paste tomatoes includes those that are mostly meat with relatively little liquid. These are paste tomatoes. What’s more they have a striking resemblance to the Andes tomato I found in an online seed catalog. My neighbor has been growing them for years.
I started writing Your Small Kitchen Garden in August of 2008, and that emboldened me to visit a neighbor whose garden I had eyed from the road for more than a decade. I wrote about that neighbor’s garden in this blog on September 15, 2008 in a post titled A Large Kitchen Garden.
I very much enjoyed meeting these neighbors, and was fascinated with the unusual chili-pepper-shaped tomatoes they were growing. I was moved a bit when they handed me two of the curious tomatoes insisting that I should save the seeds and grow them in my own small kitchen garden in 2009.
Tomato Luck in my Small Kitchen Garden
I needn’t remind anyone what a miserable growing season 2009 presented in the northeastern and the southwestern United States. I got lucky: while late blight destroyed tomato patches all over Pennsylvania, I harvested several bushels of tomatoes before lesions appeared on my plants.
Among the tomatoes I harvested were dozens and dozens of those chili-pepper-shaped treats grown from seeds I saved from my neighbor’s gift. I raved about those tomatoes in my blog. They are awesome-sweet and flavorful, and I served many of them in my favorite tomato salad. As well, I canned gallons of sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato halves. After all that, I also dried tomatoes using my toaster oven’s dehydrate setting.
I saved seeds. In fact, I collected seeds from, perhaps, a third of the uninfected chili-pepper-shaped tomatoes I harvested in 2009.
Growing Pains for Kitchen Gardeners
By the time blight hit my small kitchen garden, I had seen its effects on many other local gardens. Driving past my neighbor’s yard nearly daily, I watch his garden evolve through tilling and early growth and then go right into death throws. I never saw tomato plants there rise above surrounding vegetation and I wondered: did he lose his entire crop? Worse: did this miserable growing season break his streak of growing those lovely chili-pepper-shaped tomatoes? I wondered whether he had harvested seed… or whether he had seed left over from 2008 that he might try again in 2010.
My neighbor grew lima beans two years ago, but told stories of a giant variety of lima beans that they used to grow until the crop failed on year. I’ve seen giant lima bean seeds in catalogs, so I’m going to track some down and do some seed-sharing.
So, while preparing seeds to mail to readers who have participated in my free seeds giveaway, I thought I’d take a packet of seeds to my neighbor. I figured he might be glad to have fresh ones from 2009 so he could grow more of those cool tomatoes.
It had been a year and a half, but it took only a moment for my neighbors to remember me. We talked a bit about what a horrible season 2009 had been for kitchen gardeners, and I learned that their garden had suffered a lot from the constant rain. Turns out, being an in-ground bed, their garden doesn’t drain, so it does best during very dry years when everyone else must add water to get decent results.
It wasn’t clear whether my neighbors were seedless, but they seemed genuinely grateful for the seeds, and quite happy to talk about their garden and the coming season. He will be 82 years old next month, and still he’s figuring to manage his large garden bed.
I agreed to track down seeds for super giant lima beans and visit again before it’s too late to plant them. Apparently, my neighbors grew such lima beans years ago but things didn’t work out one season and they’ve lost the strain.
In any case, as I’m sure most gardeners would attest: talk with gardeners about gardening, and you’re making friends. That’s how it felt yesterday, and I’m looking forward to another visit.