Gardening Articles


There's no point in elaborate methods--trellising, pruning, or training--with dry-gardened tomato vines. Their root systems must be allowed to control all the space they can without competition, so allow the vines to sprawl as well. And pruning the leaf area of indeterminates is counterproductive:

to grow hugely, the roots need food from a full complement of leaves. _Sowing date:_ Set out transplants at the usual time. They might also be jump started under cloches two to three weeks before the last frost, to make better use of natural soil moisture. _Spacing:_ Depends greatly on variety. The root system can occupy as much space as the vines will cover and then some. _Irrigation:_ Especially on determinate varieties, periodic fertigation will greatly increase yield and size of fruit. The old indeterminate sprawlers will produce through an entire summer without any supplemental moisture, but yield even more in response to irrigation. _Variety:_ With or without irrigation or anywhere in between, when growing tomatoes west of the Cascades, nothing is more important than choosing the right variety. Not only does it have to be early and able to set and ripen fruit when nights are cool, but to grow through months without watering the plant must be highly indeterminate. This makes a built-in conflict: most of the sprawly, huge, old heirloom varieties are rather late to mature. But cherry tomatoes are always far earlier than big slicers. If I had to choose only one variety it would be the old heirloom [Large] Red Cherry. A single plant is capable of covering a 9-to 10-foot-diameter circle if fertigated from mid-July through August. The enormous yield of a single fertigated vine is overwhelming. Red Cherry is a little acid and tart. Non-acid, indeterminate cherry types like Sweetie, Sweet 100, and Sweet Millions are also workable but not as aggressive as Red Cherry. I wouldn't depend on most bush cherry tomato varieties. But our earliest cherry variety of all, OSU's Gold Nugget, must grow a lot more root than top, for, with or without supplemental water, Gold Nugget sets heavily and ripens enormously until mid-August, when it peters out from overbearing (not from moisture stress). Gold Nugget quits just about when the later cherry or slicing tomatoes start ripening heavily. Other well-adapted early determinates such as Oregon Spring and Santiam may disappoint you. Unless fertigated. they'll set and ripen some fruit but may become stunted in midsummer. However, a single indeterminate Fantastic Hybrid will cover a 6-to 7-foot-diameter circle, and grow and ripen tomatoes until frost with only a minimum of water. I think Stupice (ABL, TSC) and Early Cascade are also quite workable (and earlier than Fantastic in Washington).

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Next: My Own Garden Plan

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