David Toppan came to Canada from Pordenone, Italy in 1956 and by 1957 at the age of 24 he was gardening for himself and family on his own.
Gardening has been a huge part of David's life, giving him great joy, comfort, friendships and camaraderie, and it becomes evident the more you chat with him.
Recently David harvested a 5 lb tomato. This was not the first of its kind or size. In 2014, SooToday featured David's very impressive tomatoes after his daughter wrote in about them.
In the last few years Toppan has downsized his garden.
"I wasn't going to plant this year but my grandson convinced me to. It is something I have been passionate about and it helps to pass the time," said Toppan who, now in his 89th year, has plenty to keep him occupied. His dedication to his garden remains as strong as ever.
"The seeds originally came over from Italy around 2006 from the Provence of Treviso in Northern Italy. Every year I salvage seeds from the current years growth, dry them and store them in the fridge to use in another planting in the following years. I learned later on that putting the seeds for cold storage in the fridge helps them to do better and last longer," he explains.
As time goes by, cross pollination weakens the strain of tomato so new seeds will be eventually be required. This type of tomato is very meaty and has few seeds which you will find mainly on the outside of the flesh very near the skin leaving the centre pretty solid and sweet.
Several weeks prior to mid-May, Toppan will have started his plants indoors in little starter pots. He starts enough plants for himself with plenty left over for gifting family and friends. They reside in a sunny window to germinate and sprout to seedlings.
Around the same time, he begins planting in a hot frame that he covers every night until the risk of frost has passed or the temperature does not drop below 4 degrees at night. This crop is for early harvest. He does add a second planting that will carry over and produce until the end of the growing season – which is inevitably when the risk of frost is high in the fall – mid- to late-September.
As Toppan was starting his garden at his home years ago, the soil consisted of dense clay. He built a raised garden bed on top of the existing soil and had rich black earth brought in. Every year the soil is turned by hand and enhanced with nutrients from compost and fertilizers as well.
"Every year you have to alternate the planting location for your tomatoes otherwise the leaves will turn brown. When you look at these tomato plants, that is what is happening. I did not change location this year. When you plant tomatoes, you have to spend the time to look after the plants. If they need water, you have to give it. It's not an arbitrary thing. They can't wait. Spend time removing the suckers and shoots. If you do not remove them your tomato plants will grow very bushy and the fruit will remain small. I spend about five hours a day in the garden," said Toppan.
He also referenced the noticeable lack of bees to his garden as of late, which means in some instances he has had to pollinate some of his other plants by hand using a cotton swab.
Since these tomatoes are firm and meaty and have very few seeds, they make an ideal fresh tomato salad. Toppan notes the most recent 5 lb harvest took he and his wife more than three days to finish. In past years they made sauce with their tomatoes and jarred it but Toppan wasn't sure he would do that this year.
Now those seeds and his knowledge are firmly planted in the hands of his grandchildren who are already carrying on art with skill and appreciation.