I am, by no means, an expert on growing tomatoes. But I have learned a couple of little things over the years and wanted to share them.
We used to live in El Paso, TX for about 7 or 8 years. You could actually grow a pretty decent garden in El Paso, if you had:
1) Shade – The sun there is brutal in the summer. You have to shade tomatoes from the afternoon sun.
2) Water. The Chihuahuan Desert is dry like a bone. If I remember right, average annual rainfall in 8-9″. But there was city water, recycled water, and a desalination plant. And if you lived in the river valley, you got water from the Rio Grande.
3) Soil. The soil was already really good in the river valley, and if you lived on higher ground, you could improve the sandy with organic matter in short order.
4) Because the climate there is so dry, you don’t have to worry so much about molds and fungi. Or mosquitoes. They just don’t grow very much there.
I have a specific memory when we were cleaning off the cherry tomato bush on New Years’ Day, in anticipation of a freeze that night. The bush was heavy-laden with ripe fruit on January 1.
But then we moved to Dallas-Fort Worth in 2014. I have found DFW particularly difficult environment to grow tomatoes. When I first here, I met with a local master gardener at the Farmer’s Market. She encouraged me to stay away from the bigger varieties, and stick with the tomatoes that stay small. These would be your Celebrities, Mortgage Lifters, and Early Girls. The master gardener said to stick to tomatoes that “are about the size of a tennis ball in your hand.”
The reason is that the last frost is typically scheduled for around tax day, April 15. Many experienced tomato gardeners have told me stories about trying to rush that and end up getting fooled by Mother Nature. And then, it gets so hot, so early, that the blooms will drop off, without making fruit. There’s a pretty long fall growing season around here, but I’ve had difficulty with getting the timing right.
One of the keys for successful tomato gardens is time. You have to devote daily attention to the plants. I’m sorry. That’s just the way it is. If you want to grow something you don’t have to attend to, you can grow a field of weeds. But tomatoes require daily care. When I was working in commercial construction, I never had enough time. I often times had to leave the house at 6:00 AM, or earlier, and I was often coming home at 6:00 PM, or later. Now, as I re-design my life, I’m really trying to devote a little TLC in the morning before I start my day. It seems to be working, as this is the best crop I’ve had.
Every morning, I go out to the tomato garden, pinch off suckers and unhealthy branches, tie-off what needs to be supported, look for pests, etc. I go out in the cool of the morning, before it gets hot, so it’s actually enjoyable. Four years ago, I built my garden bed with a woody core. What some of you may know as hugelkulture, except I built my wood structure BELOW ground, rather than woody mounds ABOVE the ground. Which to my limited understanding of German, I believe that a hugel is a mound, so it’s literally, “mound culture” Regardless, I have a wood core bed in my gardens, where the wood has now been decaying for 4-5 years. The benefits are really starting to show.
The tomatoes seem to be able to withstand the brutal temperatures that North Texas has to offer us this summer. I have added some water to them, but, overall, they seem very healthy. I’ve also tried to grow one tomato plant in a straw bales based on an interview I heard. So far, the results are favorable, and I can easily see incorporating this garden method into my current scheme.
You can see the tomato on the left is about to turn red. You can see the size of the tomatoes is about like a tennis ball.
I’m interested to see how these cherry tomatoes will fare this summer.
Flowers on July 15. Temperature is supposed to get up to 100 degrees today. Flowers will likely drop without producing fruit.
Ripe tomato in my hand for size comparison.
I’ve found that surveyor’s tape is the best way to stake a tomato plant.
Chickens love the compost pile near the garden.
Chickens also love tomatoes, whether green or red. You have to keep the chickens away from the plants, or they will devour it.