Laura Taylor is a tomato specialist who grows over 100 varieties of tomatoes and personally teaches over 30 classes each year. She has been featured in various newspapers and radio shows and is a repeat guest teacher at Los Angeles area cooking schools. I went to her for advice about growing your own tomatoes – can you really save money in the long run, or is it all just a big expense?
Secrets from a tomato specialist.
What are Heirloom tomatoes?
According to Laura’s website, you can often recognize Heirlooms by their irregular shapes; many are ribbed or have multiple lobes and they grow in many colors including red, orange, yellow, dark purple or green. In other words – they’re oddballs. Beautiful, multi-colored oddballs.
Heirloom tomatoes are pricey – up to $4.50 a pound – but amazingly delicious. Comparing the taste (or tastelessness) of anemic-looking “hot house” tomatoes with Heirloom tomatoes is like comparing a dry, stale cookie from a vending machine with fresh-baked gooey chocolate chip cookies. Bite into a fresh-grown Heirloom tomato and you’ll discover just how sweet and juicy they are. Heirlooms are unquestionably more flavorful and have a complexity of taste that isn’t found in your typical store-bought red tomato, also known as a hybrid.
Are there any other benefits to growing your own, besides taste?
Yes! A big benefit to growing your own fresh tomatoes is that you can avoid pesticides. Laura’s tomatoes are 100% organic!
But is the investment worth it?
This is what Laura had to say:
- “Year one, when you build a little garden bed and grow 4 tomato plants you will invest about $300. I can’t predict what you will harvest but it could be about 20 pounds which translates to about $90 of tomatoes at Whole Foods. Not a money saving proposition.”
- “The second year of growing, all you need is a little fresh soil, fertilizer and new tomato plants. There will be other things to add to the garden but that’s left over from the investment made year one.” In time, you will not only break even, but see the savings start to add up.
- “Each year you need fresh soil, fertilizer and new plants. You’ll spend about $40-$50. Seeds, which cost less, require time, patience and extra equipment.” Laura puts this amount of money in to her tomato growing every subsequent year.
- Does the yield grow, or stay pretty consistent at 20lbs of tomatoes? Laura: “The yield is somewhat consistent although it varies depending on environmental influences. I was conservative with my 20 lbs. of tomatoes.” Meaning there’s a good chance you’ll get more.
- “So, moral of the story is grow your own, for a variety of delicious reasons, and save lots of money doing it. You just have to stick with it!”
Note: Laura is truly the Martha Stewart of Tomatoes. She gets a better product by using better products (see her video link below). Can you just throw some seeds in some dirt and grow some tomatoes for mere pennies? Probably. But will they be as high-quality as hers? Probably not.
Can you recommend any tomato recipes?
Laura has many tomato recipes on her Tomato Matters website, including ones for tomato sauce with meatballs, green tomato salsa, gazpacho and even green tomatoes bundt cake!
Okay, so how do I get started?
Check out this How-To video on Laura’s website.
Michelle Turchin Ventresca says
*sigh* – We have tried for 4 or 5 years to grow our own tomatoes…I live in Canyon Country outside of Los Angeles and in the summer it’s very hot. My backyard doesn’t get much shade so we built a little canopy for the plants……Also, we couldn’t seem to get the right type of soil to grow them in, because the soil up here is very sandy……We got about 20 lbs. the first year……After the second or third year (I forget which ) the tomato worms starting eating whatever they could overnight and I had to stare at the plant for at least 10 minutes to figure out where they were (if they were little). Once they were big it was easier to spot (the underside of the leaf) but by that time they could’ve eaten half the plant. Organic bug killers did nothing…This year…no tomato plants yet, but I think I’ll get one just to see what happens……
I shared this topic and your experience with a friend who, I believe, not only has a green thumb but also green fingers. 🙂 I thought you might be interested in what she wrote back:
“Thank you for this article. It was very interesting to see all the ingredients that the lady put in the hole for her tomato plant. I just get some dirt from my compost heap , mix it with the regular dirt, throw in some seeds, add water, and presto, I have tomatoes!”
That may make you want to smack her, but she’s really nice and so multi-talented. Hmm, now I may want to smack her. 🙂
Oops–I just realized I don’t know if my friend was responding to Michelle Turchin Ventresca or what Laura had to say. It appears to me now that she meant what Laura shared.
Michelle Turchin Ventresca says
I figured that was the case also…since I didn’t put anything in the “hole” – but I still want to smack her!
Anybody has the number or email of a tomato specialist? Im willing to pay that person to come help me wt my tomatoes plants
How canI keep the rats from eating my tomatoes? Is there anything that will keep them out of my raised bed. .
I have screening around the sides but that seems to make it easier for them