You know what I mean. Those big juicy beefsteak-type tomatoes that require the support and love only a Southerner living in the Northwest can give. Don’t ask me why I have this need to try to grow tomatoes in the face of enormous odds. As Valerie Easton said in her Tips for growing organic tomatoes in the Northwest, ” the cold truth is that the Seattle area ranks next-to-lowest in the nation for annual heat units, the measure of what tomatoes require to ripen.” The “next-to-lowest” ??? I guess there’s the hope that this year will be different. After all, there was a colder spring, what, only 30 years ago.
Still, I feel like I’ve been planning the homecoming of cherished newborns. Will they be warm enough? How should I decorate the nursery? Will I need to have a feeding schedule? Should I splurge and get the fancy stroller with the plastic rain cover? Valerie says, “the ideal is a raised bed basking in reflected heat off a south-facing wall.” Well, that’s not going to happen but how about a newly-created southwest facing bed next to the roses and close to the compost pile? I can keep an eye on them growing happily just outside my studio window.
One sunny day a few weeks ago I went into backyard boot camp mode and started ruthlessly removing sod in anticipation of the arrival of my sturdy little plants. My vision is to ultimately grow enough tomatoes to dry some, make jars of sauce and eat tomato sandwiches until I can’t take any more. I plan to mix it up — some hybrids, an heirloom or two, determinates, indeterminates and of course, the petite, sweet sungolds.
I’d been prepping Charlie for the plant sale at Seattle Tilth for a few days. He’d answer by muttering words like, “mad house” and “parking nightmare”. But I’d already printed out the plant list and circled my favorites — Czechoslovakian, Russian, all from my ancestral home. When the weekend rolled around, I couldn’t find anyone willing to stand in line in the rain. So I went on my own and found plenty of other determined gardeners with the same goal in mind.
If you didn’t make it to the Tilth Sale, don’t worry. At the University Farmers Market, Billy’s Organic has some big beautiful tomato starts and Langley Fine Gardens has some of the more unusual varieties.
How do I plan to support these little tomato plants? I’ve been trying to figure that out myself. I know it sounds rigid but from all I’ve read, cages seem to be the best alternative, at least for the indeterminates. I’ll try to think of them as play pens instead. Margaret Roach in her blog, A Way to Garden, points out that while “staked plants will ripen faster crops of generally larger fruit, caged plants are easier to care for, and in the longterm may produce heavier yields.” She mentions the added convenience of using the cage as a support for plastic just in case, heaven forbid, we have our usual June gloom.
And what about food and water? I worked some organic tomato fertilizer and compost into the soil before planting. I’m also planning to put some mulch down or maybe even that bright red plastic, once the soil warms up. Tomatoes need to be watered consistently and don’t like to get their leaves wet so I’ll water the roots deeply. I’ll use some liquid fish fertilizer around the 1st of June and then again on July 1st.
Now that my babies are all tucked into their little bed, I can finally relax. I hope to get plenty of advice from more experienced tomato-growers so if you have some to give, please don’t hold back. Otherwise, I’ll rely on my intuition and common sense because that’s just the kind of mother I am.