Hydroponic Tomato Adventures
One fourteen pound King Salmon traded for a “retired” marijuana hydroponic grow system. Check!
One new greenhouse and consult with the “Tomato Man”. Check!
Our Goal? To grow tomatoes like those we lovingly devoured in Italy; juicy, full of flavor and a deep red color all the way through.
This is the story of our first incredibly flawed attempt at growing tomatoes to serve our guests at our restaurant, That’s Amore Italian Café.
Late summer of 2015, our servers were able to announce to diners, “Chef Paul is offering Caprese Salad with tomatoes he picked from his garden!” The crew loved offering something extra special to their customers and in time, some guests would even call ahead to ask which day the dishes with Paul’s just-plucked tomatoes would be served. It seemed so simple; fill a basket and share.
But behind the scenes we endured multiple near-death experiences; if it wasn’t the tomatoes, it was Chef Paul.
We quickly learned when picking up tips and supplies at hydroponic shops, the code word for marijuana is “Tomato”. Now that pot is legal in WA, it’s not used as often, but it took a few photos to convince employees at The Indoor Garden and Lighting Store that we really needed the right nutrients for tomatoes, not weed!
“We’re killing them before we even get started!” said Chef Paul starting off with clearly, the wrong plant food. The leaves began to curl and turn gray. But we corrected the “Nutes” (short for nutrients) and got them looking more normal again. The balance of potassium, phosphates, magnesium and calcium has to be perfect. And the correct balance changes as the plants flower then fruit. If not of course, the plants could die.
The “Tomato Man” AKA Jeff gave us our best advice for sure. Did we always listen? Mmm. No. Hence, the ensuing near-disasters.
Jeff was well-known in the Master Gardener circuit with more than thirty years of experience growing tomatoes. He recommended growing, Brandy Boys. We added Brandywine, Romas and Earlianas. The Brandy Boys grown in soil, by the way turned out to be the most flavorful.
“You know about the Sixty Four Dollar Tomato, don’t you?” Jeff asked with his no nonsense tone.
Apparently, it’s a sort of joke among tomato gardeners. It’s the value of each tomato after a season of growing a crop and putting in oh, just a few hundred hours and many more dollars to produce those plump red, balls of goodness. We waaaaaay surpassed the $64 tomato. You’ll find out how in part two.