Tomato harvest is a lesson in biodiversity.
Size diversity! Varietal differences produce fruit diameters from the half-inch Sweet One Hundreds to a 4-inch slicer.
Color diversity! Zebra striped green, yellow pear, black Krim heirloom, and good ol’ homegrown red; the evasive ruddy hue sought in cold winter groceries while dreams of summer flavors dance in my head.
Shape diversity! Uniform San Marzano; easily recognized for paste production; not a pleasant salad consistency. Once sampled, you’ll never forget the puckered face of the disfigured, yet yummy-licious Brandywine.
Management diversity! In early summer, many gardeners corroborated the San Marzano’s tendency for blossom end rot. Yet as I write, fearing a fall frost any night, massive and green, the Amish pastes still cling to vine.
Of course, I’ll twist this discussion of tomato varieties into a testimonial on the importance of biodiversity in sustainable soil practices.
For 8 years, I have not tilled one plot of my garden’s shallow, hill slope soil. Instead I’ve used cover crops, crop rotation, and mulched with manure and leaves. The benefit is no blossom end rot and tomatoes twice the size as the same variety grown in a tilled, weedy plot near the orchard. A fall mix of cool season cover crops planted in September or early October will protect soil structure from destructive raindrops and reduce erosion. In April, I’ll cut the thick cover crop growth and lay it down to mulch the soil, retain moisture, suppress weeds and provide organic matter, the food source for soil creatures that release nutrients to plants. My favorite cool cover crop mix includes annual rye, hairy vetch, crimson clover, Austrian field peas, a fava bean variety, and this year I added a radish, just for fun. A cover crop TRICK in fall provides soil organisms’ TREAT in spring. Sounds like ancient proverb, but I just made it up.
Stay tuned for my next blog,11/29/2013, on the relevance of soil to all things. 🙂