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Patching into a source for December tomatoes

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''Are you still buying tomatoes?" a customer asked me at the Sebastopol farmers market on Sunday.

She wanted to know if they were still good enough for salads and because I had not finished my shopping yet and tomatoes at this time of year are a moment-to-moment consideration, I suggested she talk to Lazaro Calderon at The Patch farm's booth.

Later that day, as I was filling a bag with colorful heirloom tomatoes, Calderon said, "Tell everyone I will have tomatoes until December!"

And that's just what I'm doing now.

Calderon's heirloom tomatoes are winding down, though there should be plenty for soup, salsa and sauce for the next couple of weeks. Beefsteak varieties will last well into December.

Tomatoes in mid-November are not like tomatoes in mid-August or even September. They are fading, and the first signal is their texture; it simply isn't as pristine as it is when the plants are in their prime. They are not mushy but you sense they may soon be.

The Patch will also have sweet peppers in a rainbow of colors and Blue Lake green beans, too, along with onions, winter squashes and beautiful broccoli.

On Sunday there were zucchini, as well, small ones with blossoms still attached. Those are likely just about over.

As happy as I am to have as much fresh produce as possible as we head into winter, there's a worrisome whisper at the same time. "Drought," it says, over and over, almost as if someone were whispering in my ear.

The weather, the blue skies and warm afternoons, the light showers that barely wet the ground, they all remind me of the long droughts of the 1970s and 1980s.

When the last of the tomatoes, peppers and beans of the year have been harvested, The Patch's 2013 season will end, as Calderon gets ready to start all over again for next year. He can plant early because he has both hoop houses and cold frames. His season usually begins in April, with beautiful tender Nantes carrots and young zucchini, followed by garlic, green beans and, before you know it, the first of summer's tomatoes.

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