Garden variety

Nothing says summer like a just-picked vine-ripened tomato still warm from the sun, sliced, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with a little coarse salt and dressed up with a few leaves of fresh basil. To my palate, this simple pleasure tastes like sunshine on a plate.

Yesterday, I got my tomato plants into the garden and am crossing my fingers that they “take.” Each year around my birthday in March, I start getting antsy to get my hands dirty and get some seeds going. By the time the last frost date rolls around, my starts have usually gotten so big, they’re taking suicide leaps off the windowsill.

windowsill tomatoes

This year’s batch is a little leggy, but I think once they get outside for some fresh air, sun and rain, they’ll be just fine. My garden tomatoes have been hit or miss the past few years. The first year I planted them, they were GORGEOUS. Seriously, they were so pretty, my neighbor said they could have been used in a magazine layout. And they tasted great. The next year? The few late bloomers I was able to harvest didn’t have much flavor, I’m sad to say. Not sure what makes such a big difference in them year to year when I use the same starting methods and the same garden patch.

For my 2011 crop, I’ve got beefsteaks, cherry tomatoes and something called German tomatoes. One of my dad’s friends in Richmond got me hooked on those last year – he’d come across them somewhere and cultivated them in his own garden because they are a low-acid variation. They’re kind of strange to look at (they’re actually kind of ugly, truth be told), slightly bigger than Romas and almost square in shape. The first one I sliced into almost resembled salami inside, and I thought “Hm. Okaaaaaay…” My expectations weren’t high, and then I took a bite. For as weird as they look, these little gems pack a mighty punch of juicy summer tomato flavor. My dad and I went back several times for more, and I kept some of the seeds to try for myself this year. So far, so good. Can’t wait to see how they get along in my own backyard.

In addition to tomatoes, I have a ledge at the back of my driveway that has turned into a pretty kick-ass perennial herb garden. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, and then some. One of my favorite things to do in season is to stroll out there, specially devoted herb scissors in hand, and cut a veritable bouquet of sprigs to use in my cooking. Not to brag, but I make a mean mixed-herb pesto.

the ledge o' herbs

Here’s what I’ve learned about herb gardening – oregano, parsley and chives grow like crazy without much attention. I love fresh dill and cilantro, but they’re really not worth the effort it takes to garner a small useable amount. Still trying to figure out what it is that keeps eating little holes in my basil.

So, plants are in. Now we wait. Bring on the Caprese.

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