Raining tomatoes

Summer's rainfall totals can make a big difference to home-grown tomatoes -- and not just in watering.

It's raining here in Boston. And according to the weather prognosticators, we may get wet again tomorrow and the next day. In July we had twice as much rain as normal. That means I spent much less time than usual watering. Hooray! But excess rainfall affects gardens in other -- often unexpected -- ways, too.

When there's lots of precipitation, we know to keep an eye out for things like blackspot and fusarium wilt. And you're probably aware that the flavor of cantaloupes, watermelons, and other melons is "diluted" by too much rain when they're in their final ripening period.

But what I've been reminded of this year is the fact that dark skies equal slow ripening of many crops, including tomatoes.

We know that veggies need "full sun," but tend to think in terms of shade cast by trees or buildings -- not a lack of sunshine day after day because of rain and overcast skies.

Boston is an area with a relatively short growing season (compared to the South, where I used to garden). So slow ripening means that water cooler talk at offices often turns to the subject of who's been able to harvest tomatoes and who's still waiting.

I'm very fortunate. I'm growing Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, which are just going wild. I'm picking more than my husband and I can eat.

For several years I've bought weekly baskets of these at the farmers' market in Copley Square. And loved their fabulous flavor. But my husband isn't overly fond of yellow tomatoes, and he really prefers big tomatoes, not little ones. So I never grew them myself ... until this year.

Last winter, we thought we were going to be moving in the spring. So I didn't start any seeds. When May arrived, it was obvious we'd be at our place for at least the summer, so I decided to garden after all.

That meant buying bedding plants wherever I could find them. I'm an urban gardener and have to drive out to the suburbs for a good selection.

But this year I couldn't find my usual Sweet 100s. I know that Super Sweet 100 is supposed to be an improved cultivar, but I've never had an ounce of trouble with the original, so I've stuck with it.

Eventually, I ended up buying plants at the farmers' market. I was thrilled to get Sun Gold and also decided to give Super Sweet 100 a try.

So far it's no contest -- Sun Gold has produced 100 tomatoes to each two on Super Sweet 100. That may change as the sun returns. I hope it's just a slow starter that will extend the season. It would be great to be harvesting tomatoes at Thanksgiving, as I was last year.

I'll let you know if it happens.

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