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Friday, July 15, 2011

Dry-Farm Tomatoes: An Introduction

 I've been working my vegetable and herb beds without any added irrigation this year, and I felt that it was time to test what I'm doing and share some results from our tomato patch with you.

Most people outside of the Midwest or the Pacific coast probably don't know too much about dry farming.  In its purest form, dry farming means just what it sounds like; No added irrigation or water aside from what's in the ground and whatever rainfall the area receives.  It relies on the farmer building up the soil, letting the soil rest, crop rotation, etc.

On our small farm here in South Carolina, rainfall can only be described as hit or miss. We have gone weeks without rain, while temperatures soar into the upper 90s. This trend has been the norm for a few years now resulting in drought conditions.  We have a well on the property that we tried to use for our gardens and animals, but it can't handle providing for both. To water the gardens "properly" as the gardening books stress is impossible for us.  So we have been experimenting with the dry farming techniques here.

Some things to remember when using a dry-farming technique:
Your harvest totals will be smaller than with constant watering.
You will lose some tomatoes to blossom rot due to heavy rain falls that occur.
Your tomatoes will be smaller and more compact.

But the flavor is awesome! These tomatoes have a fuller, more robust flavor and texture than any tomato I have ever eaten before.  This includes everything one can buy in the typical grocery store, organic or otherwise.

As a side-note...I harvested our heritage tomatoes at the peak of ripeness, and let them sit on the kitchen counter for a week before slicing, in order to duplicate conditions the store-bought tomato goes through.

From left to right: Orange Stripey, Marion, store-bought "Hot House"

The Orange Stripey, when taste-tested, had a full yet mild tomato taste with a nice firm flesh that appealed to the eye.

The Marion tomato, more comparable to the store bought tomato than the Orange Stripey, had a very rich and robust tomato taste.  The flavors actually "popped" in my mouth.  It, too, had plenty of rich, colorful flesh that was firm and retained it's shape when cutting.

The last tomato, bought from the store, actually had water draining out of it while it was sitting on the cutting board after slicing. The surprising thing was that after tasting the others, this tomato's taste could only be described as virtually tasteless. There was a light hint of tomato, but it was very bland and very watery.

After conducting this taste test, I know that I will never go back to growing tomatoes like I have in the past. This on-going experiment has given me some new direction concerning educating our customers and friends, as well as our marketing strategies here on the farm.

Now that I know what real tomatoes taste like, it's a shock to think that I ever used to enjoy what I bought at the store.

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