On fall cleanup

Oh the horror:  tomato waste

Doing fall garden cleanup, I am always so surprised how much green STUFF there is afterward.

Not that I am complaining (necessarily).  This is the time of year the compost piles get big:  big because of the normal input of fall cleanup, and big by design (bigger piles are more insulated, and thus will continue their happy warm rotting without freezing, all the quicker for spring’s compost needs).  So more stuff is definitely a good thing.

But apparently there’s a question about what kind of stuff hits the growing pile.

My friend Michele, on her pre-dinner tour of the garden last Saturday, said “What is it with you farmer types, and all these rotting tomatoes on the ground?”  (For our kids’ school last weekend, she headed up a gleaning event at a cool organic farm nearby:  they got lots of free tomatoes for salsa for the school.  Evidently she saw a lot of fallen tomatoes and it disheartened her.)  I tried to explain that real farmers like the Arboreals have real customers who don’t really appreciate a spotty tomato, so the fallen ones were probably rejects.  And for fake farmers like me, my family’s needs were met fairly early, so I yanked the plants.  (The ones she’d seen were in or near enough to the compost.  Sometimes my aim is bad.)

I did understand what she was getting at, though.  It wasn’t so very long ago that I was a city gardener with Every Tomato Is Precious etched on my garden consciousness.  An example:  In the Minneapolis garden, the first ear of corn I ever harvested was so positively priceless (though quite small) that I ran it to the kitchen and I…ate it raw.  Like so many things in this life, it is a question of scale.  My tomatoes are still precious, though at this point I don’t know them all personally.  I kind of wish I did:  that I had that kind of time, not necessarily that I need fewer tomatoes to get to know.

Next year, though, I don’t need as many tomatoes.  I’ve learned my lesson.

9 responses to “On fall cleanup

  1. I just need to remember to clean up the fallen tomatoes so the seeds don’t all sprout again next year. I’m never very good about that.

  2. Thanks El – I was making that observation last night as I surveyed the frost killed plants. There were a fair number of tomatoes that I missed when I picked. But they were mostly green, with blemishes and very small. And our needs are MORE than met for the winter.

    If any survived last nights really heavy frost I’m going to offer them to the friends coming this afternoon. I’d feel better that they go home with someone that will love them, than that they end up on the compost tomorrow.

    How many plants did you have this year? We had 26 and that was too many. Next year I’m shooting for 20.

  3. Wasn’t it 70?
    I started with six; one immediately died. We’re still harvesting, though. California, right? 🙂

  4. I never thought about it since I was young and foolish back east and never really thought about those things but how does one keep the compost from freezing through the winter in cold climes.I’d say that we don’t have to worry about it in Calif but the folks in certain areas of the state would have to deal with it.

  5. Kelly, I hear you. I remember when my pal Jason came over to my city house and practically screamed at me to pick up some tomato detritus. “That is a TOMATO BOMB just waiting to go off, you know,” he said.

    Laura, you don’t really want to know how many plants I ended up growing this year. A quick tally says about 40 in the greenhouse, 30 “intentionally” planted outside, 12 that my daughter planted, and another 10 that just showed up (and are turkey food). So: intentionally, 70-ish. Most were destined for my kid’s school; they got bushels but still it was a bit too much.

    CC: yes, good memory. Then I did a census. Sloppy census but still. Too, too, too many…excepting the San Marzanos. Oh and maybe the Goldies. The Green Zebras are nice. Oh and the Aunt Ruby’s German Greens make a lovely juice, and the Flames are so pretty and the Black Cherries so fruitful…good gosh STOP THE MADNESS

    John, freezing is a problem if you’re in a rush, or if the piles are really small. I suppose the top 8″ or so do freeze of my piles so I make sure they’re all big (at least 4′ square in all directions) to make sure they’re still warm enough to be active.

  6. I have had tomatoes popping up in my compost and gardens everywhere!

    I have since learned it is death sentence to throw tomatoes in the compost pile!

    Very hard to do hot composting in cold climate NY

    Greg Draiss
    Garden Guru to the Middle Class
    (What’s left of it)

  7. I don’t have much land to grow veggies, but I grew a tomato plant in my front yard this summer. I got some great tomatoes from it but, lately I haven’t been able to get a ripe tomato that doesn’t already have a slug on it. I live in Southern Michigan as well. What do you do to prevent slugs?

  8. Greg, yeah, me too (as well as grape vines). Oh well. I can easily recognize the seedlings so they can get beheaded. And really, I am a fan of convenience over hot composting. I would like to say I have a pile of ready compost to use all the time but that’s hardly the case. Half-ready compost is still fine and meets my schedule more likely than not. But I have experimented with really large piles (like windrow size) and they’ve held up here through the winter mostly unfrozen. Kind of like a reverse mountain: a snow-covered pile that’s bare and steaming at the top!

    Ah, Lindsay, slugs are just nasty. I really know of no tricks except putting a band of copper around the trunk of the tomato plant: they get electrically zapped if they try to cross it. With only a few plants this might work for you…

  9. Thank you! This shouldn’t be too hard to rig up 🙂

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