Saturday, May 7, 2011
Raising Cage-Free Tomatoes
I went out and bought a bunch of plants last night, and got my garden spot all plowed, the best I could do with a hoe and shovel.
There's so many different kinds of tomatoes to get, it's unbelievable. It makes you wonder which one is just the plain old tomato, not putting on airs. Instead, there's the Early Girl, the Big Boy, the Beefsteak, the Beer Belly, not to mention the many smaller ones, the Cherry, the Marble, and the Pellet. I don't know what the ones they sell at the grocery store are called, but whatever, if you get nine guys together they make terrific baseballs.
This year, though, I'm doing something different, very different for me. I've been getting into the whole "No Cruelty Against Plants" movement, where they're agitating against any kind of restraint on plants, even including fences! Personally, I think a fence around a field is a nice look; it lets you know where the ditch ends; but apparently for the more radical members, a fence is the same as telling a plant, "That's as far as you go," which to me sounds very logical; why would you want your plants running across the road where they might get hit?
So, while I may not endorse everything about it, I do think it's a good idea to keep away the restraints that are closer to where the plants actually call home. Meaning, this year I won't be using tomato cages. I threw them all away after last season -- totally gone -- and I'm proud to say I wasn't even tempted to get new ones when I was at the garden center. In fact, an elderly couple was picking up some cages and I gave them a dirty look, as if to say, "At your age? Someday they'll lock you up, and don't be surprised if a tomato isn't there to help."
Anyway, I got home with my plants and lovingly set them in their garden space. I put them under the dirt just enough to get their roots soiled, not enough to tie them to one spot, in case they feel like migrating to a different place. And not only that, if they need to get in on a stormy, rainy night, I'm leaving the garage door open, and I've arranged some nice dry dirty blankets they can sleep on. Of course they need water, so I put out a little bowl for them to drink from.
You know how tomatoes have seeds when you slice one? They get them from pecking on the ground, like chickens*. That's why your free-ranging tomatoes will have a lot more seeds, and that's where the flavor is. That's why the grocery store tomatoes taste something like chalk, not enough seeds since they're grown inside in about a half ounce of dirt.
But my tomato plants will have the entire half acre to hunt and peck. And if they feel like doing other things, like going out to pick up some chickpeas, that's fine with me. Bring the veggies home to Daddy! And if I happen to eat their friends, and later them, so far that doesn't bother my ethics.
*I think chickens should be kept in cages, because they chase the tomatoes away and try to take all the seeds for themselves.