Sunday, June 12, 2011

Aunt Gertie's Tomatoes

Once upon a time, Aunt Gertie and Uncle Hap lived in Florida. They had followed a job that payed substantially better and moved all of their worldly belongings to Jacksonville. While they don't live there any longer, they have kept the house and visit it often. Cousin Martha was not surprised when Gertie wanted to head south for the weekend. "Time to check on those tomatoes" Gertie explained.

Aunt Gertie had spent most of her tomato growing years in the northern part of the country. She would prepare the ground in late April and early May, waiting for the danger of frost to pass.  She would have starter plants in the house waiting anxiously for the opportunity to plant them. The plants would usually go into the ground around Memorial Day. They would require the occasional watering and Gertie would pray for thunderstorms. Something about the lightning always provided a growth spurt.

The move to Florida had provided a new tomato challenge. The soil and climate were dramatically different that Aunt Gertie was used to. The benefit to understanding would be a much longer season. Some say you can grow tomatoes year round in Florida.

The house Aunt Gertie and Uncle Hap had purchased had a "Dominican Dance Floor" so named by the air conditioner repair guy. It was an old front porch that had been left standing when the house was built and the mobile home was moved out. Uncle Hap had taken it down before it fell down.

Aunt Gertie asked to have a box made for a raised bed for her tomatoes. The soil around the house was very sandy. The raised bed would provide a little more control over what the tomatoes would grow in. They put the box where the old "Dance Floor" had been.

Aunt Gertie researched the growing seasons. She could start the plants indoors in February. There was still a danger of frost in Jacksonville, but that ended in early March. The little tomato plants went outside in pots, just in case they still needed to spend a nigh indoors. Later in March Aunt Gertie added the basil plants. "You can't have tomatoes without basil." she would say.

The plants grew slowly in March and April. The temperatures had started to climb. Most days were above 90 during the day and then down into the 50's at night. Acting on a tip from a neighbor, Gertie moved the plants into partial sun. The strong Florida sun was too much for them and as the summer arrived, would burn up the plants. The other major change was the amount of water the plants needed. The sun was so strong, Gertie had to water the plants every morning. She didn't want to water at night and have all that moisture cause mold. If she watered during the heat of the day it would evaporate and not help the plants at all. Morning waterings allowed the moisture to permeate the soil before the heat of the day started to evaporate it.

The tomatoes responded beautifully. Aunt Gertie had fresh tomatoes from the backyard in May.