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A tomato haiku.

thThe first tomato sandwiches of the year have been enjoyed. Maybe a little too much, since the sighs I made while eating sounded nearly coital.

But dang, there’s nothing like eating a tomato that five minutes ago was on the vine in your own greenhouse.

Hence the haiku:

Just-picked tomato

Fresh bread, mayo, salt, pepper

Jersey girl heaven. 

If this were New Jersey I wouldn’t need a greenhouse – just a patch of dirt almost anywhere. My childhood neighbor had one come up in the middle of the lawn, uninvited.

 

But this is Alaska, where it’s tough to grow them outdoors without help from at least floating row covers and preferably wave-selective plastic ground cover.

That’s not to say people don’t do it. But they generally won’t get the yield we’re getting because there simply isn’t time in the season.

 

Warming it up

Heck, we didn’t get our first ripe one until about Aug. 1 despite our warmer-than-usual summer, for a few reasons:

  • The greenhouse is built on a deck, which means spaces between the floorboards.
  • Small spaces also exist between the roof and the top of the greenhouse; we refer to these as “honeybee highways,” since we’ve seen insects zooming in and out.
  • We have no auxiliary heat source except for buckets of water that absorb the day’s warmth, and it gets cool at night.

Even so we’ve got a nice clutch of tomatoes ripening and have been eating cucumbers whenever we like. The one I picked yesterday (“Sweet Slice”) measured 12 inches and had considerable girth. Seeds will be saved.

As I’ve noted before, ain’t no tomato like a Jersey tomato. But the fruits we’ve picked thus far are making us happy. The texture and flavor are as far from the store-bought stuff as fresh challah is from pilot bread.

 

Some things are worth it

Our only concern is that some of the varieties, especially the “Patio” and “Cherokee Purple,” are thick with tomatoes but proving slow to ripen. If we get an early cold snap then we’ll have to lug the planters indoors and maybe rig up some extra light.

Totally worth the hassle. Food you’ve grown yourself nourishes in several ways:

  • Psychologically, as you watch the plants grow
  • Physically, as you’re required to exert yourself (especially when you don’t have running water in the greenhouse)
  • Physiologically, since we’re not eating foods picked nine days ago in Southern California (and that were drenched in pesticides and herbicides)

The outdoor beds are also producing like mad. Yesterday we had a salad with eight kinds of greens in it, and amused ourselves by speculating what that highfalutin hodgepodge would have cost at a farm market or, heaven forbid, at a restaurant.

I’ll be visiting my dad in South Jersey toward the end of September. With luck  farm markets will still have local vegetables, including corn, lima beans and tomatoes. I won’t care what they cost. Some things are worth the price.

 

Let’s have coffee

Speaking of South Jersey: I’m interested in staging at least one reader meet-up on or about Saturday, Sept. 26. Or maybe two meetups, one in South Jersey and one across the river in Philadelphia.

The question I have is where these might take place. Got any suggestions for places that aren’t hard to get to and don’t have parking hassles?

The obvious answer is a shopping mall or a fast food restaurant. I’ll be in the town of Erial this time, since my dad just sold his place in Cumberland County. When I arrive on Sept. 23 I’ll scout for possibilities, but in the meantime I’d appreciate any reader tips.

I won’t have a car but I can probably get to the Lindenwold line and take it to the end (is Echelon Mall still there?) and also over to Philly. So perhaps I could do a morning meeting in Jersey and an early afternoon one in the Philadelphia area. The Philly suburbs shouldn’t be ruled out, as I’m not averse to taking the Market-Frankford to the end of the line or one of the commuter trains to Germantown or Chestnut Hill.

Let me know your thoughts. I’d love the chance to meet some more of you.

 

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28 Comments

  1. We just ate the third one from our garden in Hanover, PA. Delicious!

  2. Katie brumbelow

    When are you planning coffee in Philly? Things are locking down early for the pope. Sept 24 after 5pm through sept-27 are prob not great times. They are closing bridges from jersey. I work at drexel and i think friday is completely closed. I’d suggest 30th street station. Or spruce street harbor. Keep the Tri-state area updated!

    • Donna Freedman

      Darn — I’d forgotten about the timing of my visit! Wonder if people will be able to drive/take the train in to 30th Street? I like that idea a lot, since there are places to grab a coffee and tables we can pull together.

      On the other hand, I would be taking a PATCO train along the Ben Franklin Bridge, which is to be closed, or a NJTransit bus which also travels via the Ben Franklin. Gaaahhhh!

      Will keep everyone apprised. Timing never was my strong suit.

      Pennsylvanians could of course come over to Jersey via a couple of other bridges, but traffic to them will be just awful. Sigh.

      Will keep everyone apprised.

  3. Tina in NJ

    Not sure this meets your criteria, but have you ever been to WheatonArts (used to be Wheaton Village)? It’s a really nice glass museum in Millville, NJ. Not sure about train routes. (I’m up by Rte. 78.) It’s a popular school field trip and parking shouldn’t be a problem.

    • Carol in Philly

      The Wheaton Glass museum is one of my favorite places; worth a visit if you’ve never been. No food court, though.
      The transit authority in Philly just held a lottery for a chance to buy one of a limited number of train tickets into the city during the Pope’s visit. And they’ve just announced a “lock down” area (they don’t call it that) encompassing about 3 square miles of the central area of the city; cars will be able to drive out, but not back in (!). And I’m not sure, but I don’t think buses will be running within the city during the visit. All in all, not a good time to plan on coming to Philadelphia.

      • Donna Freedman

        I think that’s true, sadly. Still could do a Jersey one, although it looks as though both Route 38 and Route 70 are going to be horrible. But maybe I’ll float it for those who wouldn’t have to take those highways.

        Again: Timing was never my strong suit.

        Fun fact: I grew up not far from Millville. If my dad’s house hadn’t been sold, I’d be staying 10 minutes from there.

    • Donna Freedman

      No trains to Millville, alas, although it is served by NJ Transit. In fact, for the past decade I’d mostly taken the Millville bus rather than the Bridgeton bus, because it was easier for my dad to pick me up there.

      Will rely on all you Jerseyites to give me ideas and then I’ll decide if this is even do-able. Hope so.

  4. Echelon mall is now called Vorhees town center and has a separate restaurant area:
    http://voorheestowncenter.com/directory/dining I would love to see you-our only issue is that we may be in NC for a family wedding. The wedding is not until the following weekend-I originally had a vague hope of spending the week before the wedding checking out different parts of NC, since there are several cool areas. However, I don’t think I can pull off a full week away from work then, which means that I would be around. Keep us posted on your travel plans-agree that Philly is best to be avoided that weekend.

    • Donna Freedman

      I’ll be in North Carolina (Charlotte) next month. Wish our trips could coincide.

      Looking more like no Philly meet-up but maybe I can swing a South Jersey one. However, I’m feeling bad for people who’d have to take the long way around to avoid the worst of the congestion.

      When Pope John Paul II came to Philadelphia I remember the astounding crowds. Along with a few other co-workers I stood on the roof of The Philadelphia Inquirer building and gazed west at the throng. Pretty amazing — but pretty much a nightmare for the cleanup crews.

      • i did not realize that the Pope is arriving at the airport on Saturday the 26th-I think that will be the worst traffic day, for sure. Also a good day to avoid the roads to the airport. Your post inspired me to get off my duff and look at flights to RDU. I’m now planning NOT to fly out of PHL the weekend of the 26th due to traffic-so I should be around for a South Jersey meet-up that Saturday if you are still up for it. There is supposed to be a decent Mexican restaurant in Lindenwold-reasonable and open for lunch: http://mexicanhope.com/Mexicanhope/Welcome.html.

  5. jestjack

    Congrats on your garden…Our garden is starting to hit it’s stride as well. We also try to figure what we are saving as we harvest… if our tomatoes, squash and peppers were bought at the Market. Large tomatoes here are going for $1 a piece….yellow squash goes for around 75 cents each … a good size green pepper goes for around 90 cents. It doesn’t take long for these numbers to add up. It appears this year the garden will provide significant savings on the food budget. Best “investment”….50 cent pack of squash seeds from Aldi…which yielded 22 plants …not one seed failed to germinate…and to date have provided 12 near perfect yellow squash….and they are just getting started. Aaand I have 9 of these “magic seeds left”….I can only imagine your $avings in Alaska!

    • Donna Freedman

      When I visited my daughter in Phoenix we went to the Dollar Tree (none of them in Alaska). There I found garden seeds four for a dollar. Score! All of them were packed for 2015, too. Check the dollar store(s) in your area next spring.

      One of the varieties I picked up was a cucumber called, I believe, Spacemaster. Although we bought a couple of cuke starts DF put some of the seeds into pots in May. Despite less-than-ideal conditions (cukes love heat), they’ve climbed the strings from the bench to the roof and are producing fruit. We’ve even had enough to give some to his mom and my niece.

      His granddaughter (whom you may remember from “When is a toy not a toy?”) loves going into the greenhouse to water plants and to pick a cucumber. The last one she picked was 10 inches long and as thick as a good-sized zucchini — and she ate half of it herself before we suggested she save some for her mom and dad. Fresh IS best.

      • jestjack

        What a cool story….Pretty neat growing cucumbers IN Alaska. It’s hit or miss here with “cukes”… Some years they do great….other years…not so much…. For me a lot of pleasure derived from growing things…

  6. As others have already mentioned, the weekend you will be in the area probably will prevent many people from being able to meet in Philadelphia due to the Pope’s arrival and appearance so I’m sure you’ve discounted that already. South Jersey would be better almost anywhere, but certainly would avoid Rts. 70 & 38 going toward Camden as you mention. They are going to use Camden as a parking lot for all the tour buses — the status of PATCO is questionable — might have fallen into the ticket lottery as well.

    Wonder if someplace like Smithville is doable for you & your fans?

    On a down note, I would surely have loved to be one of your many fans here to meet you in person. Wouldn’t you know that would be the one weekend I’ll be out of town!!??

    • Donna Freedman

      Well, shoot. Another reader has suggested the area around what used to be the Echelon Mall. Wonder if PATCO will be running trains away from Philly? If so, I can take it to Lindenwold.

      As it gets closer maybe I’ll have figured it out. Unfortunate timing, because I’d have loved a quick visit to Philly.

  7. Carolina Cooper

    I wish I still lived in Germantown, Bryn Mawr, or Paoli (ah, but that was eons ago). If I DID still live in one of those places, I would surely find a way to do a meet up, Pope or no pope. But alas, I have to wait for you to hit the greater Boston area or count on Talkeetna in 2016. By the way I LOVED the haiku—just another talent you have to offer.

  8. I must agree with the thought of picking and eat right away. I am happy to say that we have had 24 beautiful tomatoes from our garden in New York so far. I even made a homemade sauce to use some of them up! I have had trouble with herbs this year with the way the rain and sun have played games around us.

    I wish I lived closer to your meet & greets because I would surely come! Good Luck!

    • Donna Freedman

      We picked four more tonight for supper, leaving at least a dozen ripe ones and others beginning to change color. Lots of cucumbers, too. My hope is that we have so many tomatoes that we can start giving them away; thus far, only my niece has partaken.
      Highly unlikely that we’ll ever cook ours into sauce, however. They’re relatively small fruits (hardy for this climate) and lots of fun to eat as-is.

  9. Deborah

    Your Dad sold his place? That’s a major life change for him. And one for you too. Did I miss a post about this?

    • Donna Freedman

      Nope — he just sold it a week ago. Definitely a life change because he’s lived in that town his entire life, although lately he’s been spending parts of the winter in Florida.

      It made me a little wistful because I realized once my brother moves to Florida (he’d like to do this within five or six years) then I will no longer have any reason to visit that part of the country. It’s where I grew up, but it will no longer be my hometown because all my relatives and friends are gone.

      I’d also really hoped that DF would be able to visit with me and see my dad’s place. But it was not to be.

  10. Our garden turned out awful this year. Everything mildewed and died . The tomatoes have the blight. Every one that gets red is black on bottom. Sure wish I could meet up with you, but you wouldn’t catch me driving the roads near Philly. Small town girl and one time I was heading for AC. I got off the expressway and made a wrong turn. I ended up in center city in rush hour traffic. I was a basket case-LOL! If you ever get near the Harrisburg area, please lmk. I live in PA, close to Hbg, Lebanon, and Frackville.

  11. Read this and I am feeling the same way about peaches right now.

  12. Cathy in NJ

    If you decide to have coffee I would love to be there. I don’t know much about south jersey. Yet Princeton has a nice Panera on Nassau street with lots of room. Maybe a library would let you schedule a room.

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