Dry Farmed ‘Maters

Yeah, I talk in baby talk now. Like taters and maters. I slur a little bit to create a country kind of twang.
So…dry-farmed tomatoes. I did it this year, with stupendous results.

The skins are very sturdy (don’t want to say tough) and inside is the sweetest, juiciest yum sweet tomato. This is a plate of them with black sea salt from that new cool spice shop called the Oakland Spice Shop on Grand. They are also very good to can, as they hold their texture and don’t go all wobbly in the jar.

Why are they so damn good? Basically I tortured them. The French say the grapes must suffer in order to make the best wine. Same principle with dry-farmed tomatoes. Here’s how it works. In the spring you amend the future tomato bed with a deep layer of compost goodness and a thick layer of straw mulch. Then let the winter/spring rains do their thing. Before planting the tomato plants, soak the area with plenty of water for a long time, then plant. As they grow, keep them irrigated. Then, around May (this is in the Bay Area when you can plant maters in March, later in other areas), stop giving them water entirely. Because of this lack, they will look terrible, unhealthy:

(Note that I should have staked them up but I’ve been distracted) As the hot summer goes on, you might even feel bad. But don’t water them!! Having no water makes them dig their roots in and make some tasty sacrifices–what they give up in vegetative growth, they give to the fruit. Small fruit, mind you, about the size of a golf ball. But they are flavor explosions!!! Not only does it make the best tasting tomato ever, it also saves water. That’s a win-win.

I didn’t grow enough to can them (that’s where my duck barter comes in) but they are a wonderful snack or salad addition.

13 responses to “Dry Farmed ‘Maters

  1. this method intrigues me because of the summer drought we’re having. my maters look like crap! does it still work if you are using raised beds with wood bottoms? i would assume no, since the reason why dry-farming works is because the roots are able to dig down for water? ~christine around the corner.

  2. Brilliant! I’m excited to try this next year. Ah, the fun of torturing vegetables…

  3. As much as I would love to try that method, I fear that here in Texas, the result would be no tomatoes. I plant mine in mid-March, stagger a few more plants a month later and generally get my first ‘maters by mid to end of May. The smaller ones, i.e. Early Girl, generally arrive first, Celebrity next, and the Heirlooms take their old sweet time. I’m still picking tomatoes in mid August, but the plants look like they’ve given their last. I read somewhere that you can revive tomato plants by whacking them down to almost dirt level and that most will grow back. Does anyone know if this works, and if so, why?

  4. I remember bringing some tomatoes by a while back, and talking about this with you a little bit.

    My method is to grow fava beans in the tomato patch, mostly because the bulk of the soil I use to grow tomatoes is covered with concrete: it’s a corner of dirt, with pavement to the south and to the west.

    The concrete has all sorts of good effects on the tomatoes, except that it limits any compost application to top-dressing.

  5. I did this once, but out a laziness, not by design. And discovered the tomato taste explosion. They tasted like 5 tomatoes, compressed into the space of one tomato. Hardy any water either, just all thick fleshy tomatoy tomato.
    All in a planter box (with a closed bottom) no less! (Although the box does have a small water reservoir at the bottom.)
    I also found that if you don’t pull them up, in our nice Bay Area climate, they will produce a 2nd (smaller) crop the next season. I was going for a third, but my girlfriend pulled them up while I was away, thinking the space could be used more productively with new plants :(

  6. Very cool.

  7. What tomato variety did you use? Does it matter? I like in dry southeast Washington and hate to water. I’m definitely going to try this next year.

  8. Read Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades and/or Gardening When It Counts. All you need to know about dry farming. And no, it really doesn’t work in raised beds unless you get summer rain.

  9. I don’t have room to grow them but I buy them at the Farmer’s market and slow roast them-cut in half sprinkled with olive oil,salt and herbs in a 225 oven for about 3 hours.I do batches every year and freeze them if I can keep myself from gobbling them up first.

  10. nice work NC – quite a big success in my book. Best tomatoes I’ve had are from Vermont but damn those look good! can you ship to Doha ha ha…Miss you, love to you & frances & billy. xo

  11. That is the way i was taught to grow vegtables. Let them get a bit thirsty before water them. Makes them more hearty. I work 3 12 hour shifts a week so no watering when I am working. When I come out to water , it looks like everything has just died. It is wonderful to watch the plans flourish again after a watering. It works. Love it.

  12. Longshot: in Oakland til 5 and wondered if we could stop in for 5-10 minutes to meet you and see yer place. I farm goats, chickens, bees and forage in Seattle. I am “the squirrel lady” because I trap and dine on urban squirrels. Reading your book was a defining moment for me. My own book, the front yard forager, is out in 2013.

    Best to you and yours!

  13. Ps . Number is 206-909-7880, my husband Carlos phone.

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