Awaiting the Prodigal Tomato at May Dreams Gardens

It’s official.

I’ve set a new tomato growing record here at May Dreams Gardens.

This will be the latest I’ve ever harvested the first ripe tomato in the garden.

The old records have been checked and double-checked. I did not want to set a new record.

Here are the dates for the first tomato harvests since 2001:

2001 - July 20th
2002 - July 23rd
2003 - July 24th
2004 - August 1st (soon to be previous record!)
2005 - July 24th
2006 - July 19th
2007 – July 19th

I see no big tomatoes even close to ripening out in the garden so apparently I'm not just going to break the record, I'm going to smash it, cream it, obliterate it, annihilate it, and otherwise destroy it.

So now decisions have to be made for when I do pick that first tomato.

Should I treat it with the same reverence and joy I’ve lavished on other first tomatoes in past years, even though it is ripening so late? Like the prodigal son who finally returns, does the date really matter that much as long as a tomato eventually ripens?

Yes, I’ve been harvesting cherry tomatoes, a few, then a handful and soon I’ll need to take a bowl out with me to the garden to harvest all the cherry tomatoes. But I’ve already posted that cherry tomatoes do not count as first tomatoes!

But it isn’t just about the record.

It’s about my pride as a gardener, the daughter of a gardener who always had early tomatoes, as early as late June, in this same hardiness zone.

I've been going back in my mind through mid-summer, early summer, spring, and seed sowing time to figure out what happened. Why are my tomatoes so late to ripen? Did I do something wrong?

I think I started the seeds in plenty of time. But, I'll admit I left them in the Jiffy strip pots the whole time and didn't pot them up. I should have moved them up to bigger containers.

Then it was cold and rainy in May, so I planted them out in the garden a few days later than I would have liked.

In June, the tomato plants seemed to just sit there because it rained so much, more than anyone has ever seen it rain around here and they almost drowned out there.

And then I heard today that July was cooler than normal around here. Tomatoes like it a little on the warm side.

I'm not trying to make excuses, but it appears that much of this is not my fault.

But regardless of who or what is to blame, I just want a big, red, ripe homegrown tomato now!

As long as I’ve been gardening, and even going back to my Dad’s garden, where he reigned as king of the earliest ripe tomatoes, I’ve become accustomed to enjoying home grown tomatoes before August.

But I’m going to be strong, and brave, and patient. Because I know that eventually a tomato will ripen, and then it will be time to get out the satin pillow, the Book of First Tomatoes… and treat this tomato with as much reference and joy, perhaps even more joy, as any other first tomato, even though it is going to be later this year.

It will be the Prodigal Tomato, whenever it does ripen.


  1. It deserves even more ceremony than usual because it was so late & you've been waiting so long for it. It's not the tomato's fault that it didn't ripen sooner. Celebrate this 1st ripe tomato, I'm glad it finally cooperated.

  2. Around here we are happy to get a ripe tomato before Labor Day. We get the bulk of our tomatoes in September. So you will probably still beat us.

  3. My summer tomatoes went bust. Only San Marzano and yellow pear produced anything. I have to wait for fall:(

  4. It's not your fault, Carol. Unless you are in charge of the weather. Maybe with all that rain you will set a new record for number of large fruits. Will it be a tomato sandwich then? Or purist like, sliced and eaten with a fork?

  5. Carol, I feel your pain. I've been waiting four years for my tomatoes to ripen. Oh wait, I guess I have to plant them first before they'll get ripe. It's weird not growing tomatoes. Every house I've lived in before, even before the rest of the veggies went in I always had tomatoes the first year.

    I'll be looking forward to the ceremony, enjoying your tomatoes vicariously, when finally they fulfill their destiny.

  6. I'm not sure where in IN you live but I'm on the north side of Indy and have probably 20 different varieties of tomatoes planted....and still no really ripe ones. My son picked one patio tomato 2 days ago because he just couldn't wait any longer! But it was still a bit orange, not red. And even my cherry tomatoes aren't ripe yet. I've never waited this long before either. I started mine from seed (and bought a few plants) indoors in April....but like your, they nearly froze to death in May and drowned in May/June. My peppers look even worse.


  7. Love the story of your prodigal tomato! I'm in Connecticut, and my Jet Stars are running late too. We've had a humid summer on the east coast, but I thought tomatoes liked the humidity. I just posted a pic of my plants on my blog, if you want to sneak a look. Like your blog ...

  8. It has been a bizarre summer for gardening. I'm still waiting on my cherry tomatoes to ripen too, I've harvested some summer squash but they really produce like rabbits. :) I think you should still give it a proper ceremony. Like MMD said, you've been waiting all this time.

  9. I say most definitely a big welcome..the first tomato will have fought harder than average against weather oppression in order to ripen for will deserve the best you can do!

  10. You've brought this on yourself, Carol! It's all this perfect record keeping that has you freaked out.If you kept diaries like the ones I have from Illinois you wouldn't even know the tomatoes are late.

    Although I can tell you when each daylily variety bloomed and how many scapes the plant put up in 1996, there is no date for a first tomato. I did note that when Philo returned from a 10-day business trip in mid-August, he ate two tomato and onion sandwiches before he unpacked his suitcase.

    While you wait can't you visualize the actual eating of the tomato instead of concentrating on the calendar?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  11. only one puny yellow kellogg in zone 6 Boonville IN near the OHIO river

  12. Better late than never! I think I'm giving up on tomatoes - no ripe ones in sight yet, and the weather is getting cooler... I think I need a green house.

  13. How bummed I'd be! :(

    I have a possibly worse scenario to make you feel better. I had about 6 juicy big red ones out there. I galloped out to pick them yesterday and found they all had various stages of the dreaded black-end rot. Thanks to the flooding this spring, and drought in July I'm guessing. My fauly b/c I didn't catch it earlier. :( I had some make it, but not the big red juicy looking ones.

    I don't know if there's any truth to it, but I think tomatoes need some serious sunny days to ripen. Has it been cloudy? There, now you can blame in on mother nature. :)

    Please share when they're ready!

  14. Now you can't blame the gardener or the tomato for its being late. Like all good gardeners you blame the weather. I think you should have great ceremony for the first ripe tomato this year. Baloons, invitations to the Zoo crew to come and share in the harvest. After all look what all it had to go through to get ripe.

  15. There will be no red tomato to eat till mid August at least, my last dates for sowing fall garden things up here on the mountain.

    A vegetable garden report was in the works when Site Meter had its nervous breakdown and started causing widespread trouble. I couldn't get to my own blog for a while.

  16. Here just northwest of Houston, my spring tomatoes (which were very productive in their day) have now pooped out in the heat. I've just planted my tomatoes for the fall garden and am watering them every other day to keep them going until the rains (fingers crossed) come. There's nothing better than that first vine-ripened tomato of the year. Enjoy it whenever it comes!

  17. I've had only a handful of full sized ripe tomatoes, and things seem to be 2-3 weeks behind in general. I attribute it to the cool spring and moderate summer weather.

  18. No matter when it decides to ripen it is very pretty! I'm betting that once you celebrate and eat of its sweet and wonderful juiciness you'll forgive yourself, the rain, the cooler weather and putting them out a little later.

    We've been all out of tomatoes for a few weeks. I'm getting ready to start some more from seed for the fall. Talk about "late" harvest.

  19. Thanks all for your nice comments and supportive thoughts. I know a tomato will eventuall ripen out there and when it does, I'll pull out all the stops for a grand celebration and ritual. Check back and see!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  20. FINALLY! I just harvested my first - a yellow "Lemon Boy". I'm in Zone 5a in Ottawa, Canada... yours should be coming soon!

    ps... what am I going to do with mine? Caprese!


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