From the earth to the kitchen table
Call it big gardening—that’s how Carl Seacat of Seacat Gardens prefers to identify his line of work. With half an acre in South Phoenix and another half in Paulden, and an eye to growing this fall at Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Seacat believes that huge acreage and investment isn’t necessary to grow fabulous vegetables.
You won’t find him riding around in a tractor or using mechanical equipment. Instead, everything is done by hand, which allows Seacat to control the whole process, from planting to harvest. He grimaces when the subject of weeding comes up. “There are no shortcuts or an easy solution. I weed by hand. It’s the most time-consuming element of growing vegetables— and also the most important.”

Seacat grows heat-tolerant lettuces, tomatoes, and melons. “Mora Italian now has real Italian rampicante zuccherino melons,” he announces proudly. It’s his tomatoes that he’s most noted for, grown from heirlooms but technically called hybrids.

He explains the difference: “The common definition of heirloom is any vegetable variety or strain that has been grown for at least 50 years without being crossbred. I grew heirloom tomatoes exclusively for about five years, many quite rare, before an accidental cross-pollination in the field nine years ago between three heirloom tomatoes—Cherokee Purple, French Carmello, and Green Zebra— created my new tomato strains, which are collectively known as Seacat Gardens Cherokee tomatoes. Most everyone mistakes them for heirlooms, and I would too if I didn’t know what happened.” Seacat notes that he typically gets a new strain every year.

Seacat became interested in tomatoes specifically because he considers them the kings of the vegetable world. “If you want to grow the best vegetables, you have to grow the best tomatoes,” he says matter-of-factly. And just think: In 50 years, those Seacat hybrids will be heirlooms in their own right!

Carl Seacat’s Top Three Favorite Heirloom Tomatoes
Cherokee Purple Rich, deep earthy flavor, deep purple flesh. Just fabulous. Grown by the Cherokee Native Americans in Tennessee for about 100 years, when someone sent seeds to famed tomato grower Craig LeHoullier in North Carolina about 12 years ago to see what he thought. He grew them, they wowed him, and he named them.
Paul Robeson Black Russian Black Russians are great as a group, and the Paul Robeson strain is easily the best. Deep, dark, almost black tomato with rich, earthy, smoky flavors.
Brandywine Originally grown and perfected by the Amish. While there are many colors and strains of Brandywine now, the original Pink Brandywine belongs in the discussion of the world’s greatest tomatoes. Large beefsteak tomato, more acidity than the others, with a flavor that just tastes like summer.