Jeannie Turicik is a special contributor to the Wheel & Barrow Landscape Blog and has been a passionate gardener for over 30 years. Every summer her property in South Eastern Wisconsin becomes collection of well-kept perennial, annual, flowering tree and shrub beds and vegetable gardens. In July of 2012 she was presented the coveted “Garden of the Month” award from the Plymouth Woman’s Club. Jeannie Turicik is also my Mother and has been the source of much of my gardening inspiration.
It's a song by George and Ira Gershwin, from 1937, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." But I think of it as I watch our lovely tomatoes growing in my husband-Bob’s garden every June. Our garden is approximately 60x60 with tomatoes being the prevalent crop. Each year, typically Memorial Day weekend-give or take a week, depending on our unpredictable Wisconsin Spring weather, Bob laboriously and lovingly is placing about 30 Roma Tomato plants in the earth with visions of my Marinara Sauce dancing in his head. He also includes one or two plants for Salads and BLT’s, such as a “Hardy Boy” which is meatier, as well as a Cherry Tomato for stuffing with Chicken or Tuna Salad, and a Grape for Dinner Salads.
For the first 11 years of our tomato growing experiences, we had 100% success. In fact, we were so successful that I found myself complaining of being unable to keep up with the harvesting of our monstrous crop once they reached their sun ripened maturity. Bob grows, but I usually do most of the harvesting, and I found myself picking 25 to 40 Tomatoes daily, rapidly consuming every inch of real estate in my spacious kitchen. We ate tomatoes daily, BLT’s for breakfast, Tomato salads for dinner, and we didn’t go to a party without bringing Salsa, Bruschetta and Stuffed Tomatoes for appetizers. We called our friends (without gardens) and asked them to stop by and grab some fresh tomatoes. Even though I can about 20 quarts of fresh Marinara every year, we were still overwhelmed with tomatoes.
And then it stopped. In 2010, for the first time “Tomato Blight” hit our lavish, lustrous garden, killing all of our tomatoes with the exception of the Cherry and Grape Tomato plants. We were devastated. I recalled my complaints about “I am sick of these damn tomatoes”, and repented to the Garden Gods, to no avail, our tomato crop reaped fewer than 30 tomatoes-total. I couldn’t even call in favors from other gardening friends because most of them were stricken as well; I was forced to purchase tomatoes from the local farmers market to make our beloved Marinara Sauce.
In 2011, we had a very wet, cold spring, and then on the 4th of July it got hot, and I mean HOT, and dry, and it stayed that way for a good month. Again, our Tomatoes got blight, and this time, even the Farmers Market was sparse. 2012 was even stranger, certainly one for the “Global Warming” books. In March we had temperatures in the 80’s, highly unusual for Southeastern Wisconsin, and it continued to be hot and dry all summer. In an attempt to stop the Blight in its tracks, Bob amended the soil with Peat Moss, as well as adding some new soil and moving the tomatoes to another location. No success, again we had Blight, as did our friends and many of the Farmers at the Markets. I want to add that during these years, all of our other crops did fine-we had an abundance of green, red, yellow and orange peppers, the Beans were great, our onions and shallots lasted us all winter, herbs and carrots-all good. Only our tomatoes were affected.
So this year, after a very long snowy, cold winter, Bob went to war against the Blight as well as the deer and rabbits that ate other things in the garden. He ordered 3 yards of special organic garden soil mixed with Sand, and Vermiculite (we do not use any chemicals in our garden). Bob then roto-tillared this mixture into the garden in hopes of restoring our ability to grow those coveted Tomatoes. I also ordered 16 Marzano Tomato plants (excellent for sauce) from Amazon.com-as I could not find anywhere to purchase these locally, and he planted an additional 27 Roma Tomatoes. Instead of the usual continuous rows of tomatoes, he planted 4 tomato plants-then 2 pepper plants in each row. He did this in hopes of stopping the Blight-if it starts, from spreading to the other plants-if he sees any of the tomato plants infected he will pull them.
We’re praying to the garden gods to have mercy on our plants and respect our concerted efforts to reap what we have so carefully sown. In regards to the critters who find our garden a bountiful smorgasbord, Bob put up a 6 ft. Fence to keep them out. The day he was putting the fence up, our neighbor Matt saw a deer watching him build it—too bad Mr. Whitetail! So while I hear the “You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto” song in my head, we’re not yet ready to give in and say: "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." I am hopeful my Kitchen will once again be consumed by those beautiful little oblong tomatoes and I can proudly claim my sauce came from our homegrown wonders. I will never complain about them again.