A Tomato Story: The Adventure of Growing Heirloom Tomatoes in San Francisco



By now it’s clear that every seed that we put into the ground is a grand experiment. So too is the question of what will grow in our micro-climate. One, albeit gorgeous, cucumber is simply not a harvest. As we test and shrug off false starts, we learn what we don’t know about our ecosystem. We listen and try to respond to the soil, the weather and the plant’s energy. Among this year’s unforeseen treasures are our tomatoes, which have us nodding with pleasure and delight.


Tomatoes, a plant we fully expected to fail, are not only thriving but are proving to be extremely prolific, prompting us to go out and buy tomato cages late in the growing season. This year we planted only Black Krim and Speckled Roma—both hearty and tasty heirloom varieties. Here’s what we’ve observed about growing these beauties so far:


  • They are slow to get started in the early summer, with little stem growth
  • They respond well to manure fertilizer about 4 weeks after planting
  • Regular water, at the roots only, keeps them happy, but they are also hardy in drier conditions
  • Get a cage for each plant. You will need them, as Roma and Black Krim are both heavy fruits
  • Trim wilted leaves and low-growing suckers early and often
  • Prune unwanted fruit by pinching off flowers or removing branches with late starting flowers, or let them go wild for canning


While we still have a few weeks to go before we’re eating tomatoes in earnest, it’s already obvious we’ll need to share, can and eat them daily—and we only have five plants in the ground . Remarkably this hot, dry San Francisco summer has given us an unexpected bumper crop. What’s more, our two potted plants are prospering despite relative neglect, producing two small tomatoes by the front door, a cheery reminder of what gardening is all about.


Gazpacho, anyone?



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