Although last year was a banner year for snow peas and cucumbers and other summer garden delights, the tomatoes here were a bust. And even the usually reliable yellow tomatoes didn’t perform well.  The cool summer was lovely, but not ideal for our beloved Solanum lycopersicums. While we can’t control the weather, there are some things we can do to tilt the scales towards happy, healthy and productive plants. Here are a few tips to get the tomatoes off and running this year:

  1. Build good soil – work compost into the soil (homegrown is the best – you know where it came from) before planting, use more of this good compost as a mulch
  2. Buy tomatoes from reputable nurseries  if you didn’t start from seed this year
  3. Balance hybrids with heirlooms – hybrids are bred to be resistant to wilts and blights and other diseases while heirlooms, grown for their superior taste, are less resistant
  4. Try grafted tomatoes – hardy root stock and heirloom top
    ~ Grafted tomatoes are starting to show up in some nurseries, or you can experiment with grafting (more on that topic later)
  5. Wait to plant until the soil has  thoroughly warmed before planting as there is no real benefit to getting the plants in the ground when it’s still cool
  6. Good drainage, good spacing between plants (2-3 feet), good support (here’s how to build a better tomato cage )
  7. Limit your use of fertilizer – excess fertilizer can lead to vegetative growth but not so much fruit production
  8. Rotating planting for all members of the nightshade family – not planting tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or potatoes in the same spot where a tomato, pepper, eggplant or potato was planted the previous year (hard to do in small urban garden!)

Other tips for growing good tomatoes?

Here’s hoping that Mother Nature cooperates and helps make this a banner year for tomatoes (and all the other good summer garden veggies). Because there’s nothing in the world like home grown tomatoes!

Even though the calendar says summer is winding has wound down, it seems like my garden is was kicking into high gear in the fall.

GardenAugust  Just look what I picked not long ago!  This harvest includes lots of varieties: 7 kinds of tomato, 5 types of cucumber, 3 different peppers, two types of kale, an assortment of beans, bouquet of basil and some bonus sunflowers.


The tomatoes deserved special mention – these are Pink Brandywines. They are large, hefty, juicy and just plain delicious. Everything a tomato should be.




An unexpected and prolonged blogging break, but Helios Monroe is open for blogging business again. And what better way to start than this season’s first garden haul.

The first cherry tomatoes were ripe on June 28th – Sungold cherries which are early, prolific and disease resistant :


Fast forward a few weeks –  here comes pepper, edamame, lots of cucumbers and the last of the peas. And tomatoes! And, some bonus volunteer sunflowers:










This Brandywine tomato deserved a photo of its own:










And what to make with this garden bounty? First up, a Turkish Shepherd’s Salad (also known as Çoban Salatası).  Now I have to think of something special for this beautiful Brandywine tomato. Suggestions welcome!




The tomato kimchi-chi I made this week was a great success and worthy of an encore.

My version includes one cup each chopped green and red tomatoes, daikon and red radishes, jicama, cucumber, red and banana peppers, red or sweet onion, 4 serrano and/or jalapeno peppers, bunch of scallions and some basil and cilantro. Add more or less of ingredients according to your preference.

Put into gallon ziplock bag and add 1 c seasoned rice vinegar, 3-4 T fish sauce and 3-4 T chipotle hot sauce. Massage to mix ingredients, marinate in refrigerator for at least an hour (overnight is better). Good as a side dish or as a refreshing snack.

Outside of fresh garden vegetables, the combination of seasoned rice vinegar, fish sauce and chipotle hot sauce is amazing, and addictive.

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit – Henry David Thoreau.

Thoreau’s creed would serve us well in this age of  industrial agriculture. If he lived in modern times, he’d likely be a locavore.

Not so long ago, we ate what we could grow and what we could preserve & store for colder months. Now we can buy just about anything any time of year. But what are we buying?

Food that is grown far away, picked before ripening and bred to transport well.  All these factors not only affect the taste, but also the nutritional value. Fruits and vegetables eaten in season have been found to have a higher phytochemical content and contain more nutrients.

Listen to an interview with the author of  Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit on Fresh Air, read a NY Times article here, buy the book here.

And although I’ve said it before, ain’t nothing in the world like home grown tomatoes. Brandywine, Juliet and my personal favorite Black Krim.

Insalada Caprese is one of the great summer treats – this week’s version included Brandywine and Yellow Boy tomatoes, purple basil and sweet basil, homemade mozzarella, salt and pepper and olive oil. Optional splash of balsamic vinegar.

Making your own mozzarella isn’t so hard – plenty of recipes on the internets like here and here. All you need is milk, citric acid, rennet and salt. For a first time cheese-making endeavor, polls show this mozzarella is a winner.

Like so  many things, the right ingredients are key.

  • Milk – When possible, use local milk. Ultra-pasteurized milk won’t work (which rules out most of the commercial organic milk). I used Giant brand whole milk, although 2% would probably have worked as well.
  • Rennet – Junket rennet tablets, widely available, are great for custards but not for cheese making. Get rennet specifically made for cheese-making.

Other than that – it’s easy. And homemade beats store-bought any day!

It’s been a slow summer for producing produce – finally picked a goodly amount of tomatoes, a few peppers, two cukes and a handful of pole beans.

Although shepherd salad is a favorite, I’m going to try to make some of the Washington Post top tomato recipes. Starting with vermillion red beer to accompany a batch of tomato kimchi-chi.





It’s a long block and the corner is still months away, but seed catalogs coming in the mail remind us that spring will come around again.

In some super seed ordering households (not us), the Thompson & Morgan catalog came on November 1st.  Pinetree was the first to arrive here just after Thanksgiving.

The cold and dark days of December are great times to peruse the catalogs, inventory leftover seeds from previous years  and begin planning for next year. What new varieties will you plant? What are the tried and true producers?

Previous years have seen an uptick of interest in home gardening and we expect the trend to continue this year. So order early to ensure that your favorite variety of heirloom tomato seeds or disease resistant cucumber will be available!

While you may not find a Ferris wheel nor livestock judging nor demolition derby, you can find some local fun at the first ever DC state fair.

You can show off your your homemade pie or pickles, your tastiest tomatoes or your freshly fermented homebrew  – and you might even win a prize.  We’re watching our growing Black Krim tomatoes for a possible winner in the tasty tomato contest.

The fair will be held on August 28th in conjunction with Columbia Heights Day at Tubman Elementary (11th and Irving Streets NW).

Our community garden plot is producing produce in rainbow colors.

Although insalada caprese is sometimes considered the quintessential summer salad, we would propose  Shepherd’s salad (sometimes called Turkish salad) as a viable alternative. Our rainbow iteration includes purple and yellow pepper, yellow and black tomato, red onion,  green and yellow cucumber, feta, mint, parsley and a lemon/olive oil dressing. Nothing else.

Despite the diversity of ingredients – heirloom and hybrid, determinate and indeterminate, native and non-native, homegrown and store bought (olive oil and lemon juice don’t grow on trees, you know) – they all just get along.

Can’t we do the same?