2016-09-15 / Life in Leelanau

Tomatoes big, tasty

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


SHIRLEY DUNKLOW has 135 tomato plants whose fruit is canned or sold at a roadside stand in front of her Lake Leelanau home. SHIRLEY DUNKLOW has 135 tomato plants whose fruit is canned or sold at a roadside stand in front of her Lake Leelanau home. Shirley Dunklow has a vegetable stand in front of her Lake Leelanau home.

This year she also has a vegetable bench, a couple of vegetable baskets and several vegetable chairs to handle all of the tomatoes she has grown.

“It’s been a good year for it,” Dunklow said. “Lots of sun — they get big and they ripen quick.”

Dunklow put in 135 plants this year that included heirloom tomatoes and several other varieties.

She cans a few, but sells most of them — unlike when her six children were growing up and eating her out of house and home. Back then most of them were canned.

Dunklow picks her tomatoes two or three times a week and they all sell, she said.

Michelle Ferrarese is the consumer horticulture program instructor for the Leelanau MSU Extension office and coordinator of the master gardener program.


LOCAL TOMATO growers are seeing a bumper crop this year, as seen at this stand on M-204 owned by Mike Leabo. The tomatoes are also tastier this year as a result of the hot, dry summer. LOCAL TOMATO growers are seeing a bumper crop this year, as seen at this stand on M-204 owned by Mike Leabo. The tomatoes are also tastier this year as a result of the hot, dry summer. She and her husband, Jess Piskor, also own and operate Birch Point Farm in Elmwood Township. The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm has about 800 row feet of tomatoes, or 400 to 500 plants, Ferrarese said. There are also more than 20 different varieties, she said.

“The yield per foot is good,” Ferrarese said. “It’s been consistently high. It’s a good tomato year.”

Most of the tomatoes grown at Birch Point Farm are sold at farmer’s markets or sold through their membership program. CSA program members pay a fee up front at the beginning of the year and then get a box of produce every week during the growing season.

Tomatoes are a tropical fruit, Ferrarese said, and do well in hot, dry weather.

“They really like long, warm days and nights,” she said. “It really helps them to ripen to their fullest and sweetest potential.”

There’s another advantage to the above average temps seen over the last couple of months.

“The flavor is outstanding this year,” she said.

But the long hot days have a downside, as the skins of some varieties of tomato have split open with the recent heavy rainfall.

Dunklow said many of her heirlooms split open and are now attracting fruit flies — which are hard to avoid this time of the year in Leelanau County.

That’s to be expected, Ferrarese said, as when the plants go for long stretches without water their skins become less elastic and the tomatoes can be overwhelmed during a significant rain event.

“There’s nowhere for the water to go except for the skin splitting,” Ferrarese said. “Right up until we got that big rain we were golden.”

To prevent splitting the soil should be kept as moist as possible, which will make the tomatoes less reactive to a large rainfall and they’ll have less damage, she said.

Heirlooms seem to be more susceptible to splitting and their skins are thinner and more tender, she said, whereas hybrid tomatoes have tougher, thicker skins.

But the crop hasn’t been ruined by the rain, as the area is a little more than halfway through the season and there are several young tomatoes coming, Ferrarese said.

Tomato season usually lasts to about the middle of October, or whenever the first frost hits.

“That’s usually the end of the tomato season,” she said.

Birch Point Farm has a hoop house, which uses a ‘passive solar system’ that extends the growing season to about November, or well past the first frost, she said.

BRUSCHETTA

1 lb. ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 c. celery, finely chopped
1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
4 T. balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 loaf French bread, sliced and toasted
Mozzarella cheese, shredded

Combine tomatoes, celery, basil, vinegar and garlic. Spoon mixture onto toasted French bread slices. Sprinkle each slice with mozzarella cheese. Broil three minutes or until cheese is melted.

— Recipe from Linda Ihme

CHILI SAUCE

35 tomatoes, chopped
9 onions, chopped
2 red peppers, chopped
3 c. brown sugar
3 c. vinegar
4 tsp. salt
1 c. pears, chopped
1 c. peaches, chopped
2 tsp. cloves
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. allspice

— Recipe from Virginia Schmid

Recipes from the Smorgasborg collection of recipes published in 2003 by the Glen Arbor Women’s Club.

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