I really wish I knew when it’s the right moment to harvest tomatoes. I have four different varieties growing on my third floor deck: The ubiquitous Big Beef, familiar Homstead, and a collection of cherries and grapes including tiny orange Golden Girls — each cherry-sized tomato easily outperforming brawny big beef in all categories of flavour and acidic punch on the palette.
I planted half of them in upside down four-post planters from Lee Valley Tools, and the rest in colourful felt garden bags from Gardener’s Supply in Burlington, Vermont. The upside-downs did well at first but dried out more easily. The floor bagged plants are, by contrast, still lush and green and producing, though these plants needed to be staked.
It wasn’t a perfect experiment. I lost all the variety tags, so I’m still not sure which are which except for the obvious standouts like the Girls. And planting cauliflower on the top of root balls of the upside down tomato plants was a complete bust. As a low, ground-hugging vegetable, perhaps the cauliflower were too afraid to grow heavy heads so close to the street side of the third floor deck. Or maybe the fact that none of nine plants produced a single floret was due to the fact that I bought them in the first place because I found them huddled, pathetically, behind some flamboyant annuals with a bright pink 50% off sticker on them at Home Depot.
Now that it’s September, I’m contemplating the anxiety of the end of a season and how something simple like knowing when to pick can cause unnecessary angst. Picked too soon, tomatoes might as well be from California in February — all white and stiff in the middle. Tasteless. Left too long, a split in the skin quickly invites fungus and small creatures to feast. At Walden, I have the same anxiety with filberts and concord grapes. When to pick! Beautiful heavy clusters of grapes left suspended by bunchstem even overnight by the bath house shower can be stripped by morning by opportunistic raccoons.
The common element is anxiety. Maybe information is the antidote. Next year, perhaps, I’ll stick with just the dancing Girls on the deck, and leave the nuts and berries behind.