The most awkward absence at the popular Tomato Day festivities at the Kansas Grown Farmers Market on Saturday morning:
The event, which traditionally draws the season’s biggest crowds to the market at 21st and Ridge, was overflowing Saturday morning with people, vendors and colorful peppers, onions, squash and zucchini.
But the red was rare.
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Tomatoes, it appears, are among the many victims of the “heat dome” that’s settled over Kansas, making swimming pools hot and people grouchy.
Excessively high temperatures interfere with pollen viability on tomato plants, preventing the fruit from setting. In this heat, farmers and backyard gardeners can water and water, and their plants might look good, but nothing much else happens.
If not for the weather, “we’d be covered up with good tomatoes right now,” said master gardener Jean Lawyer, who spent the morning at a booth answering desperate questions from depressed tomato gardeners. “People are generally trying to get rid of tomatoes this time of year.”
But not this year.
On Saturday, most smaller vendors were sold out of their tiny tomato supplies before 9 a.m.
A few vendors had a decent number of tomatoes to sell, and their booths were swarmed with customers, frantically filling bags with the reddest and ripest.
One of the lucky vendors was John Miller, who grows hydroponic tomatoes at his Cheney Lake Farms. Because he grows in a controlled indoor climate, Miller had boxes and boxes to sell. But he didn’t let supply and demand issues tempt him. His tomatoes were $2.25 a pound.
“We didn’t really raise the price this year,” he said. “We don’t like to do that.”
The biggest, rowdiest crowd was gathered a few spaces down at the Neosho Produce booth. Farmer Larry Tiemann, who grows his crops in Chanute, planted as many tomatoes as he could as early as he could this year, meaning that his fruit set before the excessive heat arrived. He’s spent the past few weeks watering like crazy.
The result: boxes of beautiful red tomatoes grown outdoors, a rare find at this year’s Tomato Day. Tiemann’s tomato plants are at their peak now, he said, and he predicted his supply would dry up soon.
“When it gets to be 108, the plants just take a beating every day,” he said.
If August cooperates, however, not all tomato hope is lost, several Tomato Day experts said.
As long as gardeners can keep their plants watered and alive _ and as long as the weather cools down a bit _ tomato plants could still produce a decent September crop.
Or the tomato-menacing heat dome could stay indefinitely, said master gardener Lawyer, and people will just have to tuck the salsa recipes away until next year.
“There’s always next year when you’re a gardener.”