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Heirloom Tomato Salad + Garden Lessons: Diversity

Summer reaches its peak when the markets begin to fill with tomatoes. Our garden tomatoes are still green, as each cultivar fills in with new blossoms and sets fruit. At the market were we go there’s a farm stand that each week displays an array of tomato cultivars with a rainbow of yellow, orange, purple, pink, green, red, tie-dye, and multiple shades of colors, shapes of cherry, grape, elongated, round, boat and even deformed, flavors high in acid and sweetness, and nuances I never knew existed. All different, all beautiful, all tomatoes. 

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This year we planted five different tomato cultivars: cosmonaut, speckled roma, black cherry, cherokee purple, and pink Berkeley tie-dye, to create a microsystem of diversity and insure a harvest for different uses. The speckled roma to make sauce, the cherry tomatoes to sprinkle in salads or make a quick pasta pomodoro, the cherokee purple and cosmonaut to slice in big slabs and eat simply adorned with a sprinkle of salt. Next to them we planted a couple of miniature red and yellow pepper plants, a few purple, globe, genovese, and lemon basil plants to impart flavor {or so I read}, and marigolds to ward off pests. Purslane made its home sharing space underneath the tomatoes helping break the hardpan, clay Colorado soil, while growing deep roots and releasing nutrients from the sublayer. 

Just like purslane, considered a must-kill-weed, dandelions and clover help the garden ecosystem. Early in the spring, before the bounty of summer flowers bloom, the bees rely on the dandelion flowers for nectar. Our backyard fills quickly by May with bright yellow dandelions, providing the bees’ first food and giving time to poppies, snapdragons, midnight sage, yarrow, sunflowers, and lavender to grow. The clover spreads low on the ground providing nitrogen to taller plants and keeping the soil from eroding. 

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This year I followed closely the idea of companion planting, how diversifying plots of land can help the individual plants grow and produce a better crop. Beans, gold and Hidatsa, on the same plot with summer squash plants to provide them with nitrogen and shade them from the blazing sun, while the zucchini and patisson panache plants with their big leaves cover the ground keeping it from drying out too quickly. Nearby beds are filled with cilantro, calendula, and dill, to attract lady bugs, who in turn eat the aphids from tomatoes and lettuces. And chamomile blossoms smile on all the beds as a happy cheerleader for all plants well-being. 

My garden, this year, is a small ecosystem carried by biodiversity, working together for the greater good of its own survival. I walk peacefully through its towering and tangled tomato plants, running my fingers through flower patches and herbs, and Mr. Miles lies around without a worry. Unlike the monocrops around the country, which rely heavily on chemical fertilizers endangering the communities around them with poisonous fumes from the pesticides or herbicides they need to survive, my small plot relies on itself and the wisdom of nature’s hand to live.

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Monocrops despise biodiversity. The single-minded idea of one crop, one color, one cultivar reigns all deplores the earth, pollutes the waters, and kills insects and birds. So why carry that idea through society? 

Our permissive behavior allows this kind of idealism to not only ruin our natural resources but to attack fellow humans whom we may consider inferior or useless to our pretend idea of a healthy society. Ecosystems are a strong net of diversity, the force of many voices, a supportive multicolored hand; pretending otherwise is the demise of our society, of our community, of our garden. 

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Today, my plate is a flow of biodiversity. I celebrate diversity with my fork. I promote diversity with my garden. I support diversity with my voice. 


Heirloom Tomato Salad with Purple, Globe, Lime and Genovese Basil


For this salad go to your nearest farmer’s market and talk to the farmers selling the produce they have tended for months. Ask them about the flavor and texture of each tomatoes, they’ll be happy to also share with you their personal favorites, and the different ways to use each of them. Indulge in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, the diversity will make your salad much more beautiful. 

  • Slice the tomatoes  
  • Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper, let them sit at room temperature for 10 minutes
  • Drizzle olive oil
  • Tear the basil in small pieces, or Julienne if you prefer a more even look
  • Serve along side fresh mozzarella and grilled bread

~ Paula 

4 thoughts on “Heirloom Tomato Salad + Garden Lessons: Diversity”

  1. Paula your pics make me dream, you are the best photographer. You capture the essence of nature. Thank you for sharing
    vous me manquez enormement.
    I marvel on your recipes, so simple and easy but so powerful and true.
    Thank you for your continuous sharing. I love the pic of Miles.
    France

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