Sunday, May 31, 2009

TOMATOES AT FIVE THOUSAND FEET

Wikipedia says our town is at an altitude of 4,865 feet (1,483 M) above sea level. In addition, we are just hours south of Canada. This combination of altitude and latitude gives us a very narrow window for gardening. I have seen it snow here every month of the year except August. We had a snow storm in 1993 that nearly shut down a July 4th Parade--possibly a result of high altitude ash from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo---but I digress. Killing frosts can occur as late as June, so most people don’t plant their sweet corn until the end of May. Tomatoes have to get a head start in a greenhouse or a sunny window. There are a great variety of ways to keep tomato plants warm and healthy. When I was feeding three teen-age boys I used the black plastic and old tire method. It works well, but the cold weather always seems to arrive before the crop turns red. That usually means bringing green tomatoes into the house to ripen. Canning would drag out until October.
Fresh tomatoes that can survive a truck ride to Idaho have the texture and flavor of a racquet ball. To my way of thinking, a few garden grown tomatoes are worth extra effort even if they can only be enjoyed for a few weeks in August and September.
In the middle of May I bought some gallon sized tomato plants and nestled each one into a gadget called a Wall-of-Water.
The plastic collar has vertical columns that are filled with water to hold in heat and keep out cold and wind.
They work okay, unless you don’t put them on level ground or mound dirt around the base. Then they choose to topple onto the baby plants late in the evening when you are in your high heels. Your attempts to right the situation results in ruined nylons (more about them later) and muddy party shoes.
When frost is predicted you gather the top around the plant. On sunny afternoons the collar is opened to disperse heat. (Lots of hands on stuff so don’t try this with an acre of plants).
Yesterday I noticed the plants were straining to crawl out of their little greenhouses so I went to step two.
I pulled off the Wall of Waters and stuck a stake in the dirt about three inches from each plant (you can use about any kind of 1x1 pole about five feet long).
Now I got out those ruined panty hose. I know enclosing your legs in stockings is old school. But around here we get so few chances to see sunlight that, out of courtesy, most ladies wear nylons with dresses to protect others from the glare of legs the color of mayonnaise. Anyway, I cut up the hose into two-to-three inch wide strips and used them to tie the plants to the stakes in several places.
The last part of the process (I told you this was labor intensive)
is to prune the plants so there is just one main stem. As the plants grow, new shoots form where the branches attach to the stem. These little suckers have to be pulled off when they are two-to-four inches long. I grasp them with a thumb and forefinger and pull outward and downward. New ties and pruning need to happen about every ten days. IF I can maintain this procedure and the weather co-operates I will get less tomatoes, but huge ones that are ripe long before the first frost. More later.

7 comments:

Linda Sue said...

Thanks for the tomato tips- I didn't know about pruning- My tomatoes get to the green tennis ball stage and then summer is over...Northern latitudes sort of suck for growing water melon,too...it has actually been summery here for an entire WEEK!- it can not last! I have not put my winter wear away yet...not that optomistic.

Flea said...

Ooo! I can't wait to see your ripe tomatoes! Ours are already growing green on the plants. And the corn is knee high!

Pam said...

It does seem strange in this reversed Southern Hemisphere to know you are in the middle of the tomato growing season -ours has long gone. Good luck with it all Leenie - they certainly have the advantage of tender loving care!

ELIZABETH said...

Wow. Your plants are huge in comparison to mine. We've had a wet and cool May so things are growing slowly but still......
I might just have to try that waterbag trick so I can enjoy ripe tomatoes before Mid-August.

jeanie said...

ha I think we are at about 9 metres above sea level (and we can see the sea from the window) and never ever get snow - but your tomatoes are way better than those that come out of my garden!

Jenn Jilks said...

That's hard work! We had snow on Sunday. I have given up veggie gardens!

Good luck.

Woman in a Window said...

I've yet to get my tomatoes in. Still with the frost and not so much with the patience.