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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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My Tomatoes Are Better Than Your Tomatoes

Uploaded: Aug 22, 2017

Hi from Michigan! I’m visiting Mom and she says hi. For dinner last night we had some Michigan tomatoes and corn and I have to say, and I’m not the only one to say it, those two vegetables ALWAYS taste better grown in Michigan vs. California. I was reminded last night, munching down on farmers market yummies and wondering, why, oh why?

I googled but couldn’t find anything.

Can any body out there can offer perspective to this culinary mystery? I bet there are a number of Michiganders turned Californians that whole-heartedly agree. Sorry California.

While we are waiting, here’s a quick seasonal condiment using those red ruby’s. It’s good a-top anything. Last week, at Cooking at the Market in Portola Valley, we served it over grilled tempeh.



Tomato, Olive, Pepper EZ Seasoning
combine whatever amounts you want but here's a start...

1 farmers market tomato
2 tablespoons green olives
2 Italian Calabrian peppers
5 or so fresh basil leaves
1 – 2 cloves garlic

Chop tomato, olive and pepper fine. I take out some of the pepper seeds.

Quick Quiz: What's the hottest part of the pepper? Answer below.

Stack the basil leaves and slice or chiffonade.

Mince garlic, sprinkle with a touch of salt, and smash it into the garlic using the side of your knife. Flatten out the garlic, making it into a paste. (this is always a good practice with garlic when you are not cooking it). Combine all ingredients and use on top of anything – grilled meats, tempeh, sauted vegetables, you name it!



NOTE: Calabrian peppers are pickled and offer a very unique taste. Find them jarred in the grocery store, possibly near the sundried tomatoes or other pickled products. The brand I buy at Bianchini’s in Portola Valley is Tutto Calabria.


- photo from the web

P.S.
Hottest part of the pepper is the vein, not the seeds. It's the thing that connects the seeds to the pepper. Try it for yourself and go wow.



Comments

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Bill Boos, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 1:02 pm

I'm from Michigan so I'll take a couple of guesses why their tomatoes seem to be a cut above. First, hotter temperatures and higher humidity may be factors along with natural rain water which some say picks up nitrogen from the air as it falls. I'm sure the many ombrologists or hyetologists out there will want to wade into this one.

More importantly, tomatoes ripened on the vine and freshly picked always seem exceptional compared to those ripening on the truck on the way to market.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Wendy, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 1:20 pm

I've never been to Michigan but I believe your taste buds Laura.
I'm giving a shout out to New Jersey tomatoes and corn as the best I've tasted! NJ gets a bum rap. Fantastic produce includes peaches, peppers, herbs and flowers. I think Bill Boos comments above, is on to something regarding the natural rain and humidity of these states.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Michigander, a resident of another community,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 3:24 pm



I agree so much with Laura and Bill about Michigan tomatoes and corn !
I feel the same way about watermelon from Michigan, and would really
appreciate hearing about a place to buy good watermelon in this area.
I tried one stand (which has great produce otherwise) but the
watermelon had a firm texture, almost like cantaloupe, and tasted "flat."
Maybe watermelon also needs the humidity, temperature and rain that Michigan
has plenty of.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Vacaville Man, a resident of another community,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 4:20 pm

It's all in the soil prep. Secret = the kind (and proportion) of manure to mix-in with the planting environment (tub or ground).

Would love to share but owning a commercial tomato farm, folks would grow their own rather than buy them at specialized produce markets.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by UC Davis Ag Student, a resident of another community,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 5:37 pm

soil ph = 6.5 (slightly acidic) + direct sunlight + irrigation every 2-3 days + adequate drainage + Vacaville Man's manure choice. A local commercial secret around here.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Lauralies, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 5:42 pm

Fascinating. The secrets are coming out tonight...


 +   2 people like this
Posted by The Organic Tomato Man, a resident of Woodside,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 6:18 pm

The manure choice is critical BUT the soil ph must be maintained at around 6.0-6.8 for best results.

This is accomplished by mixing ground oyster shell into the soil mixture to counter-balance any excess acidity from the natural fertilizer and in the soil itself. For example, some folks use Supersoil as their primary planting mixture (which is slightly acidic). This + the natural acidity of manure can create a soil environment detrimental to the ideal development of plant structure in its initial growth stage and the texture and natural sweetness of the tomatoes which emerge later.

Balance the soil ph and the choice of manure becomes less important unless you wish to enter your tomatoes in the county fair.






 +   3 people like this
Posted by Go BLue!, a resident of another community,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 6:30 pm

And then you stand over the soil and say,

Hail to the dirter's valient
Hail to the nonconcrete hero


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by It's a Yolo County Secret, a resident of Los Altos,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Because of the gusty winds, tomato vines in this area must be stronger and more supportive...especially when bearing developing/ripening fruit.

My uncle is a tomato farmer out that way and to share the manure type and soil mixture would be a disservice to all of the semi-local professionals who work hard to put food on your table.

The tomatoes from Mexico are not grown to the same rigid standards. Most are like typical home-grown except that they are picked too soon for shipping purposes.

One tip. Tomatoes like direct sunlight and warm temps so if you don't have ideal exposure, consider a small hothouse/greenhouse.




 +   4 people like this
Posted by Lauralies, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 8:28 pm

OK so maybe some Californians have figured out the tomatoes a little.

Maybe.

But never the corn. Not ever the corn.

Is that why we cheer for the Maize & Blue?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by It Can Be Done, a resident of Los Altos Hills,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 9:50 pm

> But never the corn. Not ever the corn.

Good corn (yellow) can be grown locally. There used to be a produce stand near Shoreline/MV that grew great corn in the surrounding area.

High quality seed, good irrigation and again, direct sunlight was their secret. They also had two 'picks', an AM pick and a late afternoon pick.

According to the proprietor, corn should be eaten within 4-6 hours after picking.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Manure Connosieur, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Aug 22, 2017 at 10:04 pm

Like an exquisite red wine, manure must be carefully 'aged' to bring out its finest qualities.

Fresh manure is high in nitrogen (similar to the astringent tannins in a cabernet sauvignon). And as we all know, too much nitrogen burns plants.

The more flies on a fresh pile of excrement, the higher the overall quality. After all, a hundred flies can't be wrong...right?

As far as the best manure for tomatoes, there are essentially 3 primary ones (excluding bat guano) from which to solve this 'pro' secret.

Let's call or consider it a multiple choice question. If you pick the correct manure and balance the soil ph along with the additional factors cited by others, you will be growing heirloom tomatoes that rival the best. The options:

a.) horse manure
b.) cow manure
c.) chicken manure


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Michigander, a resident of another community,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 12:00 am



We appreciate the input about the tomatoes and corn ( especially from the cute "Maize and Blue" folks)
but for those of us from the Authentic Green and White Ag University (Michigan State Univ) we'd still like
info about where to find sweet watermelon in the Bay Area. Thanks for any input !


 +   2 people like this
Posted by John D, a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 8:10 am

So.. I've lived in NJ and Michigan, (and here for the last 30 years) and it does seem like the corn and tomatoes are better in those places. I've always attributed it to the fact that those places get lots of lightning storms, which helps fix the nitrogen in the air/soil to make it available to the plants:

Web Link

Out here in the Bay Area we get very little lightning, so we don't have natural nitrogen fixation. We have lots of other fixations but that's a different story.

Probably completely wrong, but that's my theory :)


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Virginia tomato fan, a resident of Community Center,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 11:02 am

In Virginia, Hanover tomatoes are considered the gold standard, and they are definitely better than CA tomatoes. This article looks at why one county can produce better tomatoes than other neighboring counties - mostly, as some of the ag experts above noted, it's about the soil pH and also the specific composition of the soil and how it holds water as well as the climate.

Web Link

If you ever go to Virginia or Washington DC during tomato season, be sure to try some!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by UC Davis Ag Student, a resident of another community,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 11:12 am

> we'd still like info about where to find sweet watermelon in the Bay Area. Thanks for any input!

Every watermelon lover in CA knows that during the course of the summer you will probably experience only 1-2 truly great watermelons in terms of natural sweetness and texture.

This is where the Michiganders chime-in on their secret(s).


 +   2 people like this
Posted by PA Skeptic, a resident of Professorville,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 11:41 am

QUOTE: "I've always attributed it to the fact that those places get lots of lightning storms, which helps fix the nitrogen in the air/soil to make it available to the plants:

If that was the case, Arizona would grow the best tomatoes, corn and watermelons...but they don't.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Tomato/Watermelon Lover, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 11:47 am

Great thread topic/discussion. Sure beats debating the merits of ramen and acidic fusion salads.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by John D, a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 2:39 pm

@PA Skeptic

Well, I didn't say it was the ONLY thing you needed to grow great tomatoes and corn. If you have all the other conditions like humidity soil, temperature band, etc. then the lightning provides that extra final boost.

But probably commercial fertilizers could do the same exact thing as lightning so not sure the theory would hold up under scrutiny :)


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Watermelon Man, a resident of another community,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Many of the watermelons sold in CA come from Mexico. Perhaps the Mexican agriculturists need to raise the bar so that their melons can compare with Michigan's.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Fire Up Those Ribs, a resident of another community,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Nothing beats a good Alabama watermelon in the summertime. We use pig manure because there's plenty of it. That + red dirt and a blistering hot sun (with intolerable humidity) during the days ensures perfection.

If you want a good watermelon, you gotta pay the dues baby.




 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 6:18 pm

In the end, the common factor in this mystery is humidity. I bet it's the humidity.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by The Aloha State (of Mind), a resident of another community,
on Aug 23, 2017 at 6:25 pm

"In the end, the common factor in this mystery is humidity. I bet it's the humidity."

Might be. If more Hawaiians were into eating tomatoes, corn and watermelons, we would blow the Michigan, California and Mexican growers out of the water!

After all, we did OK with 'da kind'. We got the humidity, the heat, the red dirt and plenty of pigs and chickens.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Tomato Lover, a resident of Mountain View,
on Aug 24, 2017 at 8:11 am

Great tomatoes are grown in many places across the globe and the plants are not particularly finicky about the humidity.

As far as I can tell it mostly comes down to the soil, the right amount of irrigation, and enough sunlight.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Retired Homegrower, a resident of Stanford,
on Aug 24, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Surprisingly no one has mentioned any tomato breeds/hybrids.

My personal favorite is the Momotaro hybrid. Grown properly, it puts the beefsteak to shame in terms of fullness, sweetness and overall size.

c.) chicken manure


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by tiburontony, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera,
on Aug 24, 2017 at 1:05 pm

It sure doesn't depend on humidity! Kauai has lots of that plus warm temperatures and abundant sunshine, but has lousy corn, tomatoes and melons. My own guess is a combination of soil pH, manure (chicken, please) and natural water (i.e. rain). Cal Water puts too much stuff in ours!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gardener, a resident of another community,
on Aug 24, 2017 at 1:26 pm

The right manure is critical. It goes without saying that nothing beats the locally sourced variety. One needs to select the source with care, paying especially close attention to the nurture of the creature that produced it. The animal's diet is absolutely critical, as it ultimately determines the composition if your tomatoes. I find I get the best tomatoes when I establish and maintain a close working relationship with the producer of the manure I lovingly tuck around their roots..


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 24, 2017 at 3:02 pm

The most entertaining article and comments I've seen in a long time. It got a lot of chuckles out of me. There was almost enough information in them to make me think about wanting to try growing tomatoes again...except I have a good friend who has taken up the art/hobby and provides me with 'county fair blue ribbon quality' tomatoes. He knows and applies all the secrets others have offered in their comments.

I tried, with limited success, for a few years, but, to be honest, I didn't try very hard. I didn't give the plants much of a chance. I bought them, dug a hole for them, mixed in some soil additives/nutrients, planted them, and then watered them. And then watched and waited. Oh, the excitement when I saw the little blossoms from which nice tomatoes would come. And they did for a few years. Then my tomato plants started looking very sad and bad. I continued to water them faithfully, but that didn't help, and maybe made it worse. Then my research took me to why I had the problem. Fusillium wilt was the predominant answer. I read on and learned how to get rid of it. That involved pasteurizing the soil, planting in other locations in the garden, etc., but at that point, I just didn't want to be a home gardener anymore. Okay, hiss and boo all you want!

I think Bill Boos and the aggie commenters had it right. I would just add that longer daylight days in Michigan might have something to do with it. My parents and I traveled to Alaska in 1955. We drove from Fairbanks to Anchorage on the Richardson Highway. As we approached Anchorage we passed by many garden farms and saw the biggest lettuce, cabbage, and many other vegetable plants that we'd ever seen before. They were getting the benefit of the almost midnight sun...they grew almost 24/7. I don't like watermelon so I won't comment on that, but will later, on yellow corn. And my vote is for 'chicken manure'.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 24, 2017 at 3:42 pm

@It Can Be Done

I have the same memories of that place. I bought corn there on my way back from the Shoreline Golf Course, many times, even as late as just before Thanksgiving. I had good conversations with the wife of the owner, a Japanese-American family. She was manning the booth, so to speak. She was so happy to tell me about the plot of land and her family's history, and proud to say the little produce farm put their kids thru college. Now that is a success story that needs to be told and heard. I always bought yellow corn.

Again, I am no one to compare Michigan corn to California corn, but if theirs is better, I sure as heck would like to try it sometime. My recent experience with locally grown yellow corn is at the Obon Festival held at our Buddhist Temple on Louis Rd here in PA the first weekend of August. And I can still buy it at the Corn Palace off Lawrence Expressway in Santa Clara. The suggestion to eat it soon after you buy it, is a good one. I've never grilled it, but have seen so many raving reviews on how good that is.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Amateur Tomato Grower, a resident of Atherton,
on Aug 24, 2017 at 5:42 pm

This blog should back on the 'front page'. It's one of the better ones.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Curious, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on Aug 24, 2017 at 6:23 pm

> I find I get the best tomatoes when I establish and maintain a close working relationship with the producer of the manure I lovingly tuck around their roots..

How close a relationship?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Champion Organic, a resident of another community,
on Aug 24, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Originally from the East Coast and I can attest to superior New Jersey tomatoes and corn. Yum!
(But hey, the organic tomatoes I'm growing in my garden here in Wine Country aren't half bad.)


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Food nerd, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 24, 2017 at 9:48 pm

I agree that the intense summer season in four-season regions can make it easier to grow better tomatoes and corn, and that generally I agree with you. That said, I have had better tomatoes and corn in California than in Michigan. As to the tomatoes, it came down to the varieties, good sunshine (East Bay hillside, not Peninsula which is almost hopeless), and well-composted horse manure. The tomato variety makes a huge difference. I have had only limited success with tomatoes on the Peninsula but one year I grew Ed's New Millenium (not Ed's Millenium, which did not do well) and it was like a Jack and the Beanstalk story. Dry farmed tomatoes are my favorite and I have never seen them in Michigan. I have been less successful with chicken manure than good well-composted horse manure, not sure why.

The best corn I ever ate was an heirloom white variety I grew myself in the East Bay, that had to be consumed immediately after picking or it became a different food. It was tricky to grow and even harder to pick at the right time in competition with the raccoons.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jason, a resident of Portola Valley: other,
on Aug 25, 2017 at 11:31 am

Maybe there's more salt in Michigan Laura!... LOL


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by There is no single "California", a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Aug 25, 2017 at 11:34 am

Which California? people seem to forget there are a lot of vastly different growing areas. Try some dry farmed CA tomatos from the north central valley. You'll then know how some CA toms can be spectacular while others can be so average. Same with melons, same with corn. if you don't like one area's produce, try another. FWIW, we grew super sweet yellow corn in Paso Robles that we simply ate raw it was that good. Better than any corn I've ever tasted to this day. Sometimes localism and pride get in the way of realizing it's just soil light and water, manipulated for the best outcome.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 28, 2017 at 12:28 pm

@Food nerd
You'd think with as much bullshit as there is around, that that might be one of the favorites. lol!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Curious, a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 28, 2017 at 3:01 pm

At least no suggested (or raved about) the benefits of using 'night soil' for growing their prize-winning tomatoes. That would be scary.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Food nerd, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 30, 2017 at 5:49 pm

@Gale,
Yes, but the BS has to be well composted and high quality., without corruption by toxic additives....



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