Well, I am pushing the envelope again this year.
Last April I decided to plant my tomatoes right around Tax Day. Admittedly, I don’t like that day but I love tomatoes so I think I used that day in the garden as a little fiscal therapy. I figure what I lost in one arena I could gain in another more delicious one. Indeed, I had a whopper of a season last summer…one of my best ever.
Well, the same urge stoked me this week and I decided to gear up and plant early. Seattle is seeing some unprecedented warm and sunny weather. So I got my act together, purchased some great tomato starts as Swanson’s Nursery on Thursday and planted my tomatoes on Sunday.
Are you gearing up? Well, here are a few of my random tomato season starter tips.
Location, Location, Location
Without a doubt, commandeer the sunniest southern most corner of your yard. I have tried many locations and I’ve had my best results in a raised bed near the house and adjacent to a brick wall. The house and the wall bounce heat back onto the tomatoes and the southern facing location gets sun all day.
Make the Bed
Regardless of whether you use a raised bed or just a garden bed, it’s important to amend the soil before you plant. Add some compost, manure, worm castings, and/or organic fertilizer. I often have my son pick up truck loads of compost at the nursery but bagged compost works too. As for worm castings? If you don’t have a worm bin going, you can get bagged earthworm castings too. They are ridiculously high in nutrients and I am convinced they are a key component. As for fertilizer, I am very partial to Dr. Earth Home Grown Tomato, Vegetable and Herb. A dry fertilizer, this product is great simply sprinkled alongside the plants during the season and at planting time. .
Choosing the right varieties for your climate and your family’s dining preferences is critical. I am very partial to heirloom varieties and a few of my favorites hail from Eastern Europe. I love Cosmonaut Volkov, Moskvich, Stupice, Black Krim. All of these do well in our cooler climate and they produce consistently through October when our first frost generally hits. Regarding dining preferences for your family, if you eat a lot of salads, then be sure to add some of the great cherry varieties on the market. They ripen reasonably quickly, they are easily tossed into salads without even being sliced, and they can be frozen whole for use in soups in the winter. Kids love cherry tomatoes and it’s an easy way to pump another vegetable into a kid-friendly menu plan.
If you live in a cooler climate, it is critically important to add a little heat to get your tomato plants going. Here in Seattle, I lean towards using a Wall of Water or a large cloche made from PVC piping and plastic sheeting. Both methods work and both have advantages and disadvantages. Admittedly, I waffle between methods. I’ve used the PVC cloching method for years. The cloche covers the whole bed and the heat ramps ups quickly but I have to open and close the cloche daily to moderate the temperatures to be sure the tomatoes don’t accidentally sizzle if the day gets too hot. The Wall of Water lets me “cloche” each tomato individually but the walls can be a hassle to fill–you have to fill each tube with water and it can be tedious doing that, especially if you don’t have another gardener nearby.
I have lots of other tomato growing tips on deck so I will be posting those later in the week and as the season progresses. So stay tuned for more.