07 May 2009

The garden is growing...

...and not just the way you might think. This week we had to till up another plot for all our tomato plants. We have entirely too many tomato plants and we know it, but we can't resist planting them all after growing them from seeds.

To make room for them, I tilled up a long, narrow plot next to the four square garden plots we already had. And I went to SuperU and bought 20 curlycue stakes, called tuteurs in French, that you use to support tomato plants. The were on sale for less than one euro apiece. It's the season.

A new garden plot for tomatoes — the long skinny one

The plan is to grow the tomatoes the French way. That means pruning them severely as they climb up the stakes so that you have leaves only at the top and you get big bunches of tomatoes toward the bottom. Because they are not shaded by fronds of leaves, the tomatoes get full sun and ripen more quickly. We read about it in a book by French food and gardening specialist Jean-Pierre Coffe (who is also a TV and radio personality).

That's the rotary cultivator — le motoculteur.
And that black stuff on top of the dirt is composted
horse manure that I am getting ready to till in.

Thanks to Carolyn, who comments here and who supplied the seeds, we will be growing several varieties of heirloom tomatoes in addition to some standard varieties. We're also growing pole beans, lima beans, collard greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, bell peppers, okra,and eggplant (a crazy number of eggplant plants, actually). And radishes, of course.

Those curlycue stakes with tomatoes planted now
and Walt walking away, his work done
for the day

We'll be able to feed most of Saint-Aignan if the weather stays nice, as predicted, this summer. If the tomatoes do well, we'll be making a lot of sauce later this summer and into the autumn.

News Bulletin: I just heard on TéléMatin the the U.S. and the European Union have finally reached an agreement on the question of U.S. beef exports. Europe, since 1988, has banned importation of U.S.-raised beef because in the U.S. cattle are fed growth hormones.

Now the U.S. government has abandoned its effort to change that, but Europe has agreed to imports of U.S. beef that is hormone-free. In exchange, the U.S. will not jack up the import tariffs on French Roquefort cheese. So we may soon get American beef, and you in America will be able to enjoy Roquefort cheese again.


  1. I'm glad you are planting all those wee little tomato vines, I've never understood thinning out seedlings, but Darwin must approve of the process;-)

    The French way of pruning sounds good to me. I love that odd tomato vine smell that comes with succoring the vine, but you are going to do away with whole vines at the bottom, right Ken?

    Your neighbors are going to love you this summer- who doesn't like a home grown tomato?

  2. I hope you continue to post pix as your tomatoes grow. I've been curious about the curly stakes, although they are very expensive here. In Sacramento, I never prune my tomatoes because they get sunburned if they aren't shaded with leaves.

  3. Hi Evelyn, we figure we have nothing to lose by planting all the tomato seedlings. And yes, we plan to prune the vines radically at the base. There will be only one main stem, climbing vertically.

    And Chris, we'll see how the spirally stakes work. In 2003, the tomatoes here got sunburned like that. Who knows, maybe we are in for another great canicule in 2009.

  4. Maybe you could try some each way and see which works best, since you have so many. I imagine it depends on what kind of summer it turns out to be.

    I'm so envious of all your space. I have just six large cages with two plants apiece and no room for expansion. You can never have too many tomatoes!

  5. Last year I had so many tomatoes and eggplants that I made lots of caponata (or caponatina as we called growing up in NY.) I forced my NC neighbors to try it on slices of toasted baguette. What wasn't gobbled up was frozen in small batches and enjoyed all winter.

    You can use any recipe you find, but the taste I remembered was missing until I saw Mario Batali's recipe which called for unsweetened cocoa powder. It is delicious and just tastes of summer.

    I also made a bastardized version of moussaka and froze that to use this winter.

    Can't wait till this year's eggplant & tomatoes are ready.

  6. Bonjour,
    Je me permets de vous écrire en français pour vous remercier de votre visite sur mon blog et de vore agréable commentaire!
    J'apprécie votre description de la culture des tomates!Les tuteurs que vous avez acheté sont le "nec plus ultra" des tuteurs!
    Je trouve votre idée de créer du lien entre vos compatriotes et les Français excellente! Bravo!

  7. I too hope you continue posting photos as your tomatoes grow on the curlycue stakes!

    Living on the foggy coast of California usually means a meager tomato harvest for us, but I plant them faithfully every year anyway.

    As the song says, there are "only two things that money can't buy, and that's true love and home-grown tomatoes!"


  8. I just bought two more tomato plants at the farmer's market last weekend. Wanted to try new varieties! Mitch squeezed them in with the 10 plants already in the garden.

    I don't think you can have too many tomatoes, either. There's always canning or making sauce, if you have the time. If you get too many at once, you can freeze them. I've had good success with this. Just quarter them and let them drain on paper towels, then put them in a single row in a large freezer bag. I stack the bags on top of each other. When you take them out to cook with them, the skin comes right off. This process works best with Romas and meatier tomatoes.

  9. Ken
    I can't believe this is your blog today. Well I finally found a small sunny spot in my tiny yard and I planted two heirloom tomato plants. I saw the curly cue stakes at Lowes and eschewed them for 6' tall wooden stakes now I am sorry I didn't buy the curly cues! Ok my dad taught me the french way as he was taught by my french meme. He taught me to pinch the suckers that grow between the branches but I don't remember pruning the lower branches but this makes good sense since there are no tomatoes on the lowers branches anyway. Tell me how far up I should prune the lower branches. My plants are only around 8" tall now but I have already tied them as the plant was leaning down into the soil. Anyway I'm depending on you to show pictures.

    I didn't know this was the "french" way this is just the way I always saw my father do it. I just hate those tomato baskets because it is way to creepy for me to put my hand in those messy cages to retrieve the tomatoes.

    Since we've planted our tomatoes at the same time I guess we can have a race;)

    President Obama knows how to get things done. With all the problems he is facing thank God he put first things first and removed that stupid Bush cheese tariff! Vive la France

  10. We're glad to hear the tomatoes are coming along. The Stupice should flower soon and then....early tomatoes! The catalog describes these as indeterminate (I've also seen them called semi-determinate). I've read that when suckers on indeterminate timatoes get to be 4-5" long, you remove them, but on determinate tomatoes you don't de-sucker at all.

    I just read that Black Cherry will do well in a pot (a big one, I bet) and good old Sunset magazine gave me the idea of roasting tomatoes, then putting them through a food mill before canning or freezing.


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