Coming home from Andersons, after he only-half-jokingly apologized for not knowing whether the beef he bought was local (did I mention I got him to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle?), Eric and I discussed pasta sauce. We love Trader Joe’s basil marinara, you see. It’s tasty, it works as pizza sauce, it costs $2 a jar. But Trader Joe’s is an hour away, and gas is expensive. “Could we make our own version?” Eric wondered aloud.

“I’m sure we could,” I said.  “It might take a few attempts.”

“How much do tomato plants cost?” Eric said.

“Two dollars each at the store,” I said. “But since my seeds are mostly free except for postage, they’ll be essentially free for us.”

“Essentially free pasta sauce would be essentially awesome,” he said.

We figured it out thus:

  1.  The sauce is mostly tomatoes; tomatoes are mostly water; a quart of sauce is tomatoes somewhat thickened; call it two pounds per quart.
  2. We use pasta sauce for pasta, for lasagna, in pizza, in occasional other things. Call it a jar a week on average. In the summer we can make fresh; but the rest of the year, we’ll need to can our own. Call it forty weeks’ worth.
  3. We also need tomatoes for other things, like gazpacho (“Mmm, gazpacho,” Eric said, looking into the distance. “With our own tomatoes, our own cucumbers, and our own peppers.”) and ratatouille and salsa. And drying.
  4. That’s eighty pounds of sauce, plus some unknown number extra tomatoes. I want to try canning salsa as well, and we like gazpacho. Call it a hundred and twenty pounds of tomatoes, all told.
  5. With ideal conditions, tomato plants can apparently produce up to 100 lb. of fruit in a season, but the average is more like 10 lb.
  6. I went back through last year’s log and calculated that leaving out the cherries and Romas (which I think is fair, because the former are not for sauce and the Romas were choked out by the cherries before they got a decent chance), my plants averaged 7.8 pounds of tomatoes each. I plan to take better care of my plants this year and I believe I can achieve the 10 pounds. (Also, I only got 5 lb off my Cherokee Purple plant last year, which is inexpressibly sad.)
  7. This means I need at least to grow 12 healthy tomato plants, other than the grape tomato, preferably mainly ones that aren’t too juicy and will therefore be good for sauce.

“We need to work on our pickle recipe too,” Eric fretted.

“For that, we’ll want all our pickle cucumbers at once,” I said. “I planted two last year.”

“Double that would be nice. Plus cucumbers for eating.”

“If we were staying in this house any longer, I get the feeling the garden would be expanding even more next year.”

“Oh, yeah.”