Ask Farm Aid | May 2, 2006

When will tomatoes be available in farmers markets?

May 2006

Dear Laura,
I love tomatoes! And I love buying them at my local farmers market but for the life of me, I can never remember when they come in season. I wait anxiously for the first market day that they are available. Could you give me a sense of when tomatoes come into season in Illinois?

Kathy Blaine
Chicago, Ill.

Hello fellow tomato lover!! Really, is there anyone out there who doesn’t count down to the market days when tomatoes are everywhere? Particularly now with all of the heirloom varieties that are available, I could fill a whole shopping bag with different kinds! My favorites are the round green ones called Green Zebras, or the plumy black ones… Okay fine – I can’t choose! But your question is an excellent one: When do tomates come in season?

Well, the simple answer to your question is round about July you can start getting your canning supplies dusted off and your salsa recipe up to date. But then….what about collards? Or cukes? Oh yum, or peas? What about folks that live in Texas? And what is this rumor about some places that have YEAR ROUND growing seasons!?? (Can you tell I’m from New England?)

So, I set off on a quest to find regional harvest calendars, produce schedules and some more information about who can get what when. I divided the country into six regions: the Northeast, the Southeast, the Midwest, the Southwest, the Northwest and the West Coast. I chose a list of veggies (maybe I will tackle fruits next year) and tried to figure out the range of each region’s growing season.

To be honest, I have to confess that my methodology was not scientific. In the interest of time, I picked one state that was hopefully representative of the region and tracked down a harvest calendar. Surprising, this info isn’t always easy to come by. My best luck was with CSA farm web sites where farmers often post schedules for their shareholders. Sometimes, farmers markets had calendars posted as well.

As an aside, many innovative farmers use a variety of techniques to extend their growing season. Green houses and hoop houses, which can be heated using traditional power, solar panels or biofuels, are a common season extender.

So what I mean to say is that these schedules are approximate. Use them as a general guideline and AS ALWAYS if you want the real deal, ask a local farmer!

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