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Organic Gardening

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Distribute the Surplus Tomato Seedlings

Julia Lont Painting Tomato Rainbow

Distribute the Surplus. The first, and easiest, principle of Permaculture. Keep what you need and send the rest off, into the community. Do it often enough, and someone else’s surplus comes back to you. We send off tomato seedlings in spring and figs in fall; last week, I walked by three flats of strawberry plants looking for a new home. I took one.

Every year, I plant eight to ten times the number of tomato plants that we need to fill our barrels. I like variety and I like reading seed catalogs, and it is really hard to plant four seeds of each type of tomato, so I plant two seeds in each six-pack, grow out whatever germinates, pot them up in four inch pots, and give sixty to seventy away on a sunny April afternoon. We keep one or two of each variety, set to the side in a flat labeled “OUR PLANTS.”   (I learned my lesson after giving away our carefully chosen plants one year.) All of my gardening friends stop by, hunker down, and consider their own needs and space limitations.

I choose the varieties carefully. Even after setting plants out in the sheltered southern corner of the yard, in large black nursery pots, we have a limited window of warm weather. I do not grow anything that takes longer than eighty days to ripen. That cuts out many of the southern heirlooms, but opens up a world of northern, Russian varieties. I also choose carefully for snacking purposes; we need several plants to line the bike path to the back yard, so we can munch when we come home from work. Then I consider color, because I will dry several types and mix them together in canning jars. Yellow and orange and red together create a beautiful rainbow of tomato chips on a winter afternoon.

This year’s line up:

• Peacevine — A small red cherry bred by Alan Kapluar, right down the street. Very tasty, very healthful, very prolific.
• Sungold — The small golden globe of tomatoes. Prolific and sweet. A summer sauce of sungolds and fresh basil is amazing!
• Green Grape — Slightly larger, green and gold when ripe. A lovely complex flavor for snacks.
• Lemon Plum — Plum sized and shaped, this tomato is not exciting fresh, but amazing dried. Really livens up the dried fruit shelf.
• Japanese Triffele Black — A large, complex tomato, black and green and red when sliced. This one never made it into jars as we ate it every day in tomato sandwiches. It is not real prolific, but it is tasty.
• Amish Paste — Every year, it seems, I look for the solid red canner. This is this year’s experiment.
• Longkeepers — These tomatoes turn pink in September, but keep in the basement until February, still tasty. I pick them before the rains, spread them in garden flats, and leave them downstairs.

In a few weeks, on a bright Friday afternoon, the Tomato Give-away will commence. Once again, I will send the small plants out into the world, four to six at a time, tucked into car trucks, strapped in bike baskets, carried away by hand. And, in time, the surplus will return home.

To read more about the Twenty First Street Urban Homestead, check out my blog. To see more of Julia Lont’s amazing artwork, go to Julia's website and Blue Camas Press.

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