Return of the Tomato

Buckle up everybody, I’m growing tomatoes again. Last year’s roller coaster of emotions was so intense, I just can’t keep myself away from the constant battle between man and nature that comes with growing tomatoes in an empty Brooklyn backyard. If tomato season 2k10 taught me how to swim, this year will take me into the deep end.

The adventure started on my trip to Italy earlier this year. I planned some dangerous operations, all of which would potentially result in the testing of some popular tomato mythology. Everything worked out according to plan and now I have some tricks up my sleeve for this year’s tomato season.

Trick #1 – The Seed
I started last year’s experiment by ordering seeds from a reputable company based in California. They were great and the seeds sprouted beautifully, but I craved more mystery. BINGO! I found a tomato on the tracks of the train station in Capua after spending the day on a buffalo farm.

Our friend/guide Nino was excited to see the tomato and told me that this was “an authentic San Marzano tomato.” There are a couple problems with this proclamation, mainly the fact that January is about as far from tomato season as you can get. If I found the tomato in August, I would be far less skeptical. Then there’s the sad truth that the San Marzano variety has been cross-bred so much that there remains no such thing as an “authentic” specimen. And any picture I’ve seen of an “authentic” San Marzano tomato looks pretty different from this one. But the fact remained that these lovely Italian tomatoes were about to become rail-kill if I didn’t intervene.

The least I could do was gut my precious cargo and dry out the seeds. This occurred a few days later in the kitchen of a bed and breakfast in Palermo.


Trick #2 – The Soil
Every pizza enthusiast knows the refrain Italian tomatoes are fantastic because they are grown in the rich volcanic soil around Mt Vesuvius. Well I have never been much of a fan of that tune and I fell even harder off the bandwagon after our tomato taste tests last year. The Italian samples scored much lower than those from California and Canada. There are a few good explanations for the discrepancy, such as our tasters’ inherent preference for familiar products and the possibility that some cans marked as being from Italy may have been filled with lies rather than rich and tasty pomodori. Regardless, I wanted to do my best to simulate the fertile soil surrounding the stunning and stoic Vesuvio.

That’s why I took a ride 1000 meters up the slopes of Mt Vesuvius and grabbed a handful of soil.

Yeah, I know. I grabbed mostly rocks and chunks of hardened volcanic debris. But let’s be honest with each other – my experiment will not be the most scientific endeavor imaginable. I spent some time lining my pocket with a plastic bag to contain whatever I managed to scoop, but the operation was complicated by the gang of van drivers watching my every move. But it all worked out and I escorted my bits of sacred volcanic ash back to Brooklyn.

When time came to plant my salvaged seeds, I sprinkled a bit of the finest debris atop some of my lightly packed tomato nests. Of course I didn’t grab any actual soil and there surely isn’t enough to run a comparison, but if a dusting of Vesuvian dust results in crazy-amazing tomatoes I will certainly be the last one laughing.

#3 – The Defense
I had some major issues last year with unwanted guests chomping down on my sweet red beauties so this season I’m upping my game with a jug of wolf urine. Thank you, Internet! That’s right, the Information Superhighway seems to have sources for all sorts of animal urine off every exit. Apparently vicious tomato-killing critters are not cool with hanging out in backyards that get whizzed in by wolves [Wait, am I?]. I’m not sure Brooklyn vermin have ever seen or even know that they should fear wolves, but I’m willing to take the chance.

I’m pretty excited about this year’s batch! Hopefully everything will work out and I can can some ripe beauties for winter use. Let’s just hope I don’t end up with a backyard that smells like Wolf wee-wee and rotten tomatoes.


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