by Barbara Phillips
I had heard that growing tomatoes in my Central Oregon garden was going to be “challenging” or even “not worth it.” But after eleven years of fairly successful tomato harvests, this year (2017) was by far the best! I do not have a greenhouse, but even with minimal investments of time and resources, the tomatoes in my small 100 square foot garden space happily produced a crop that exceeded my expectations. Let me share with you some of the strategies I’ve learned over the years and also what I did during the 2017 growing season that made a huge difference!
1. Sun & Heat
Plan your garden location with tomatoes specifically in mind. Southern side of the house with no large trees or shrubs shading the area works well because it gets the most sun.
Consider using the color red to provide a warmer micro-climate for your tomatoes. My house is barn red and my garden is planted along the entire south side (32 feet). You can also use red mulch on the ground where your tomatoes will be planted.
3. Concrete & Rocks
My husband built a paver patio and courtyard with a four foot wall along the house right next to my garden area. It helps absorb and retain heat for my garden space.
Compost is my friend! Coffee grounds, banana peels, whatever I have I “spot compost” in my garden area during the fall and winter. By spring planting it usually has turned into rich soil for my tomato plants.
Plant a couple of weeks earlier than the typical recommended time (I started planting tomatoes on May 10th), but protect the little plants with something like walls-of-water or other insulating material for the entire plant. Frost kills every part of the tomato plant it reaches and even the non-frost nights will have an effect of the plants getting established and thriving. I left the walls of water around the base of the tomato plants during the entire growing season this year. Maybe that was protective (even though we didn’t have a late frost at our house in 2017) but it also added heat to the soil and roots when the sun was beating down in the middle of the summer.
6. Plant Deep
Tomatoes need a strong root system for getting established and standing strong in windy Central Oregon. You can plant tomatoes deep with the soil up to the base of the first side stems. Root will form from those stems all along the part that is underground.
Tomato plants do not like overhead watering. It works ok some years, but my tomatoes did best this year when for the first time I used a drip irrigation system. Not very expensive. Took a little time and thought with probably a lot of mistakes. But my tomato plants thanked me with lots of yummy fruit, more than I have ever harvested from my little Central Oregon garden!
Lastly, I just couldn’t leave the little tomatoes, green as they were, to die or get thrown away when the growing season was over. So before the first frost, my plants found a warm shelter hanging in my garage, roots still attached to some. There they didn’t grow any larger, but slowly ripened to a bright red color with almost the same sweet garden flavor. Useful for making salsa and roasting and freezing for the winter!
So take heart! An abundance of delicious Central Oregon tomatoes can be grown in your garden with a little planning!
Photos courtesy of Barbara Phillips