Monday, June 13, 2011

Chilly Tomatoes

We have had only one worse tomato year than last year, and you guessed it - it's this year.

Because I have just opened the last jar of homemade tomato sauce from 2009, there was no tomato sauce making in 2010, I am desperate to get tomatoes this year.

On a normal year in June, we are often watching our tomato plants form golf ball size green tomatoes.
By the end of July we can start picking our early tomatoes. By August tomatoes begin to crowd the kitchen counter. By September
the tomatoes are leaping off every flat surface in the house, Lemming style.

This year I just put my tomato plants in the ground on June 6th.

Until the soil reaches a steady 55 degrees I don't dare put them in the ground or they will just sit there, not growing and to add insult to injury, being eaten by slugs and flea beetles until they die a slow death of defoliation.

Since I had all those baby tomato plants (even though I gave away about 60 of them to garden classes, the community garden and food banks)  I took a gamble and tried setting them in their prospective places in the garden. I kept them in their pots and encased them in clear garbage bags stretched over wire tomato cages. This would keep their roots warmed by the sun on the black of their pots and provide much more sunshine than they had been getting in the semi-shade of the pot yard where I keep my plants in stasis until they can go in the ground.
Curious about the temperature fluctuations in the Tomato Dome I bought one of those indoor/outdoor thermometers and placed the sensor in the pot of one of the tomatoes.
When I did this I knew 3 things from years of experience:
1. Some of the plants will be eaten by a slug who just happened to be loitering in the right place at the right time.
2. We will have an uncannily hot afternoon when I am, of course, far from home and cannot take the plastic off and some of them will fry in the heat.
3. It's a crap shoot on whether the plant will grow too fast for it's pot by the time the weather improves and get root bound. When plants are in pots you want them to only grow their roots to the edge of the pot, never around and around on the inside of the pot. If you add heat and sunlight they will grow faster, shortening the window of time you have to get them in the ground. A root bound plant is stunted for life, to varying degrees.
With all that said I had plenty of plants to play with and I am desperate for tomatoes. So I set them up.
Two of the three things came true. A slug happily ate my Legend tomato in the balmy climate of Tomato Mazatlan and I came home after a long day of meetings in town and found that my Tomato Dome temperature was:

It thankfully did not kill the plants (the tomatillo seemed to love it) it just made some of the upper leaves a little crispy around the edges. I had watered that morning so they did not get damaged too bad.

The plants did grow twice as big as their un-bagged counterparts. And, luckily, the soil did start to warm up enough to get the tomatoes into the ground before they became root bound.

Now they are nicely nestled in the garden soil just in time for it to... rain again. Maybe I should have just been planting more lettuce.
No, salads are yummy but lettuce makes a terrible pasta sauce.


  1. ..I know what you mean..between too much rain and wide temperature fluxuations my tomatoes are doing terrible too..everything is doing terrible. I have tried covering them a couple of times over the last couple of years and both times I fried EVERYTHING..so now I leave it..Our tomoato craop was terrible last year and just 2 nights ago A* went out and killed 22 slugs in our 5 garden boxes!

  2. Your post is making me sad...very sad. Our garden is barely hanging on it seems. Jon and I have talked endlessly about using hoop houses but want to stay away from all that plastic. It is a toss-up at times. Just know that you're not alone.

  3. My tomatoes seem to be looking ok so far. They were planted late May. I use a product called bio-film which is 100% biodegradable. It's black so it heats up the ground and makes the tomatoes happier. This is the second year I have used it. Last year when everyone had an awful crop I got a pretty decent output. I will have to see how it goes again this year. So far I have only used it around my heat loving plants like my tomatoes and peppers. http://www.territorialseed.com/product/1662/s

  4. EGB,The slugs are not helping are they. I have resorted to using "Sluggo" which is tilth certified organic. It has helped a lot. I have been hand picking too- is there ever an end to them?
    Holly, I know, plastic. I do use them several times for various things but it is still plastic. I have had very good results in stacking rocks around my heat loving plants as heat sinks. On a normal year it is all I use. Even the eggplants do well with the rocks. You have to watch them though because slugs like hiding under them too. I am going to check out Robin's black mulch right now.
    Thanks Robin!


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