Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Ameraucanas and Black Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection, as well as some Olive Eggers just for fun.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

End of the tomato season--lessons learned and a postmortem on the Florida Weave

I have the very last batch of tomato sauce for the year simmering on the stove. My tomatoes are just about done. I know, I know--there are lots of tomatoes still out there, but mine are on a downward slide. They are starting to get diseased, bugs are chowing on them, and tomatoes that didn't get picked due to one thing and another are turning mushy and rotten on the vine--and it's no fun to think you're grabbing a perfectly ripe specimen and have it squish between your fingers.

One of my biggest disappointments this year has been the Florida Weave. I still think the weave can work. I really do. But here's what I have this year:

What a mess!
There's no way to tell where one plant begins and one ends. All the plants have broken their strings and are sprawling all over each other. It's a nightmare to harvest, and a haven for disease. The only good thing here is that the tomato sprawl is too dense for weeds to break through. 

All this mess is due to one thing--my strings breaking. I used sisal twine, thinking that it would slowly decompose over the year and I wouldn't have to worry about it if bits of twine were left in the garden. Boy, was I wrong. That sisal broke in about a month, as soon as the tomatoes got heavy. The wooden "tomato stakes" also broke where the sisal didn't. Now I have a giant mat of tomatoes with sisal ropes here and there to trip me if I don't pay lots of attention. A joy to harvest, this is not.

On the bright side, however, I do have one area where the sisal held. And in that one row, the plants are upright, and there is space to walk between them.

Florida Weave sort of worked here
Because of that one row, I'm going to call the Florida Weave... not a failure, but a method that needs another year of testing. Here's what I plan to do next year. First, the tomatoes need to have more space between them. This year I planted them 3' on center in all directions, but for this technique they need to have at least 4' between the rows and 3' between plants in the rows. Next, I will use only metal T posts instead of those horrid wooden tomato stakes. I will get my first weave going when the plants are only 12" tall, and finally, I will use jute twine or plastic instead of sisal. With those changes, I do think this could work.

The other thing I learned this year was very interesting to me--I held a blind taste test of tomato sauces, with a sauce made of only San Marzano tomatoes going up against a sauce made of a mix of San Marzano, Paul Robeson, Big Beef, Brandywine Pink, and a bunch of other slicing-type tomatoes. I fully expected the sauce made of mixed tomatoes to be tastier, richer, etc, but I was completely wrong. Every tester preferred the sauce made of pure San Marzanos to the mixed sauce. This challenged everything I thought I knew about tomatoes, and will change how I plan my garden for next year. Next year I will plant about 40 San Marzano plants, but only 5-10 of other types of tomatoes. I'll save the slicing tomatoes for sandwiches and fresh eating, and use only the San Marzano for sauce. The San Marzano are easier to make sauce with--they can be put in the Vicorio Strainer whole, and because they are meatier they cook down faster and have a fresher flavor at the end. I'm actually excited that the San Marzano sauce won, since it is much less work. No wonder San Marzano is considered THE Italian sauce tomato.

San Marzano on the vine
What did you learn about your garden this year? Seems like every year I learn something new. My garden sure keeps me humble.