Gardening in Almonte: All About Tomatoes!


Like all good things the end of the outdoor gardening season is fast approaching – one of the surest signs is the focus of gardeners on their tomato crop and what better way to celebrate it than a tomato tasting contest.

The Mississippi Mills Public Library Seed Library folks once again saluted the gardening season in style with the Tastiest Tomato Contest. Librarian Karen Kiddey and her enthusiastic committee had everything perfectly organized – tomatoes were labelled and cut into tasting cubes – a colourful array of 50 varieties greeted tomato aficionados.

Local foodie celebrity and one of the proprietors of Pêches et Poivres, Sandra Salmins, had happily volunteered to judge the contest, not realizing that there would be 50 varieties of tomatoes to sample. She did a fabulous job giving each and every entry serious consideration.

Many local gardeners, some of them quite young, brought their favourite varieties. This year’s contest got a major boost with multiple entries from two of the newest market gardeners in the area – Wild Oak Homestead and Indian Creek Orchard Farms.

Indian Creek is an organic micro farm (5 acres) located at 919 Sugar Bush Road near Pakenham. They have been almost fully occupied with their farm share (CSA) program but do have a farm stand at their property – Wednesdays from 2pm to 8pm until the end of October. Marisa, one of the owners, exclaimed that they had gotten a little carried away when they ordered tomato seeds as she walked in with 20 exotic varieties of tomatoes.

Wild Oak is located on a small acreage just west of Almonte. They grow a lot of greens as well as producing fermented veggies. Their produce can be found at Dandelion Foods in Almonte and they have a market stand at the Perth Farmers’ Market.

Winner for best flavour and texture went to Blush, a large grape tomato, grown by Wild Oak. Winner for unique shape and colour went to heritage variety Black Krim grown by Mike Sobol. The People’s Choice award went to Hawaiian Pineapple, a truly gnarly large yellow tomato, grown by Indian Creek.

I also had the opportunity to chat with CBC gardening Guru Ed Lawrence at the event. I had observed that many gardeners are finding that they have bushels of green tomatoes that seem to be reluctant to turn red. Ed observed that the most important factor is sunlight. Other than wishing for sunny days, we discussed alternative approaches and came up with the following:

  • An old remedy that Ed suggested is to mix one tablespoon of Epsom salts in a gallon of warm water and soak the tomato plants in the evening, watering at the base of the plants. He has tried this and swears that this works practically overnight.
  • Slicing downward with a spade out about a foot from the stem of the tomato plant for about half of the circumference – this slices some of the feeder roots and may trigger the plant to hurry up and ripen its fruit (the plant feels threatened which increases the urge to reproduce).
  • Picking off the blossoms and tiny tomatoes that have no hope of developing into any size so the energy of the plant goes into ripening the larger green tomatoes. Some gardeners also do this for winter squash (not zucchini), picking off the blossoms and small squash so that all the energy of the plant goes into developing the squash that will hopefully mature before frost hits.
  • Do not apply fertilizer and go easy on the water (returning to the theme of stressing the plants!)
  • Collect recipes for green tomatoes!