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Is there anything better than homegrown tomatoes?

Written by Rebecca Christian

The other night I was served a tragic slice of tomato -- anemic, pinkish, mushy, an insult to tomatodom -- that made my mouth water for the real thing. On Saturday I hope to go to our Farmer's Market here in Des Moines to hunt for the first pretty good tomatoes trucked up from the warmer climes of Missouri and Arkansas, but they still won't be as thrilling as an Iowa-grown tomato in hideously humid August, when the ruby bounty is such that I'm gobbling them over the sink like an apple, putting them on toast with peanut butter, roasting them, grilling them, and paving them over bacon on BLTs (with white toast and real mayonnaise, hick that I am).  Here is a rollicking musical ode to the tomato by Guy Clark that I love:

I like to grow tomatoes directly in good old dirt, but if space is limited or you want to try something different,  here's some fun gear for tomatoheads. The Topsy Turvy Upside Down Tomato and Herb Planter is a novelty item that I've heard works pretty well. You hang it upside down in a self-contained planter and water into a funnel, so it's non-messy and good for people who don't have much yard and want to garden on a rooftop or deck. It costs about $13 and you can buy it from or at places like Walmart.


Topsy Turvy Upside Down Tomato and Herb Planter

Another contraption is the Organic Ready to Grow Kit from EarthBox for growing two organic tomato plants. In a compact container, soil is wicked up from a water reservoir into a potting mix. It's available for $63 from EarthBox ( Possible Father's Day present for an eco-conscious dad?



Organic tomatoes from the EarthBox kit

The Tomato Grow Bag, $16.95, from Gardener's Supply Company (,default,pd.html) is made of a breathable felt-like fabric that was inspired by British gardeners with limited gardening space, who use plastic bags to grow plants on stoops and steps.



Tomato Grow Bag

I  like what NPR's Krista Tippett had to say in her newsletter, "On Being," about homegrown tomatoes and the work of the chef, thinker, and writer, Dan Barber:"

"I grew up in the 1960's and 1970's, an era Dan Barber calls "the Dark Ages" of American food life. My grandparents grew their own vegetables, and we found that quaint but a bit puzzling. Buying supermarket food that emerged from boxes and cans was progress.

And yet the transcendent food memory of my childhood remains the enormous, red, delicious tomatoes that were available at a ramshackle store on Main Street for a couple of months each summer. It needed nothing added to be the most gorgeous meal in itself. When I mentioned those tomatoes, an audible sigh went up in the audience. We all remember those tomatoes. Dan Barber — and others like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver — would have us ask this: Why did we abandon that pleasure, and how can we reclaim it as part of our ordinary food lives?"

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