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Cape May Garden Journal: The First Tomatoes of Summer

By Jane Kashlak
Cape May Times Garden Columnist

July 19, 2004 - The 4th of July's are here, and the Lemon Boys are not far behind. No matter how hot or sunny or dry it gets in Cape May, New Jersey, summer doesn't really arrive for us until we twist that first Jersey garden tomato from the vine.

The 4th of July's are always the first - small tomatoes that get their name because the first ones start to ripen around - you guessed it - the 4th of July. While they might not be the biggest or the tastiest, they are always the first.

They ripen ever so slowly - especially if it's been almost a year since you've tasted a real Jersey tomato. They change color gradually from the bottom to almost the top - then they hang on the vine for days, half finished with the job, taunting us.

Every day we patrol the vegetable garden, to see if the other varieties are catching up.

Is that a faint reddish blush on the Big Boys??

Don't the Cherokee Purples seem a bit darker today?

Visitors grab and gobble the first few tiny orange Sun Golds - it's a sign of our long friendship that we let them have the first ones.

(In a couple of weeks, we'll be swimming in a sea of Sun Golds, we hope.)

We make a salad with our first few tomatoes - just tomatoes, a little olive oil, some salt.

We eat the salad and pray that the tomato gods smile on us this season. Let us have rain, but not too much - sun, but not too dry - gentle breezes but no strong gusts - and please, no dreaded tomato diseases or hungry pests.

We begin to search for signs of invaders - nameless sneaky thieves who, in the middle of the night, come by and take a bite out of a fat red tomato ready to be picked. Their timing is usually impeccable.

The rabbits become persona non grata in the summer and we begin our annual "how to keep the birds out of the garden" discussion.

The first tomatoes of summer reawaken a primal turf war - our garden, our tomatoes, keep out.

Perhaps no other plant can summon up such intense feelings.

Perhaps that's because no other plant delivers the goods so well.

Check future Cape May Garden Journals for garden updates!

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