Fourteen water starved, sun roasted, wind battered plants grew enough tomatoes to supply a years worth of tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes. These 14 tomatoes during a historically severe drought and two major water leaks did what 28 never have during 41 years of marriage.
Only in adversity does one truly learn truth, for there is no scale in prosperity.
Adversity has refined our choices and given us greater clarity in the following areas:
- Which tomatoes best suite our climate’s adversities.
- How to Plant them in a manner that mitigates weather’s extremes.
- How important companion planting is.
- Adversity prompted finding ways to process the fruit in a low waste manner.
Tomatoes that suite our climate is not an easy feat as they are notorious for offering nothing but green tomatoes and succumbing to frost. We’ve had them as early as the third week in August, early September, and as late as the end of September. To find seeds, I search northern catalogues where they cater to a smaller climate zone. With hopefuls in hand, I begin testing. What is their pattern of growth, short and stocky, tall and lanky or do they grow individual tomatoes or ones in clusters. How long does the plant grow before developing blossoms? How much does our cool nights and slow to warm days stall their growth? Do they require trimming and frequent time tying them up? How thirsty are they? Two have risen to the top of low fuss varieties.
Siberian (determinate) tomatoes can be grown in a shorter growing season, typically requiring 50 days after transplanting. Where it is common to not taste a ripe tomato before frost, it is saying something that we are often eating juicy red ones mid July. The tomatoes are 3 to 5 ounces and have that old fashion sweet, acidic flavor. Siberia is reported to be good down to freezing temperatures of 32 F. They are short, stocky plants that start putting on tomatoes just inches from the base. There is no need to trim the plants and we often are eating ripe tomatoes mid July.
Northern Lights ( indeterminate/ indeterminate/semi-indeterminate) depending on the variety you get. You can also choose yellow/orange or mine are red/yellow bi-color. Depending on the variety, they are mature from 55 to 75 days. I chose 55. They are a beefsteak variety of 8 oz. to 1 lb. and the only thing I’ve been able to grow with any size that will give me ripe tomatoes before frost. The flavor is not quite as good as the Siberian but they work well on sandwiches and to make stewed tomatoes.
Planting our garden in a manner that mitigates Wyoming’s weather extremes increases its survival and yield. We’ve had bridges below us wash out, extreme drought, and everything in between in the six years we’ve been here. A resiliency plan is complicated. Kirk’s blocked down spouts to concentrate the flow into rain barrels which will be place beside every building. The natural dip along the north end of our house needs deepened to channel a sudden runoff and the vents along the crawl space on the north sealed against flooding. A small puddle pond built to store the channeled water will some years give us a resource. We are adding mulch to the garden beds each year to loosen the soil and allow deep water storage and at the same time adequate drainage.
When I pulled the tomato plants up, I studied the roots for the first time. They are lo…ng. Loose soil to allow the root depth gives them resiliency against dry spells as they can reach deep down to cool reserves of moisture. Small PVC pipes with holes drilled in the side and stuck beside each plant would give me the ability to funnel water deep and avoid loss of moisture to evaporation. With a well short on water and no precipitation in site, we see how important reserving water is to our survival.
The plan for spring is to pound a cut off T-post for each plant and transplant a tomato next to it. (I’m recycling the bent posts and cutting them off the damaged area.) Beside the plant will be the pipe for deep watering. Around the tomato and the post will be the homemade tomato cages. For the first few weeks while roots are established, we will wrap heavy plastic around the cages to protect against the winds that snap the tender plants killing them. The plastic will be removed when the plant is a bit older and later the cage. The t-post will be used to tie the plant up as it grows giving it more sunlight and air movement that the cage restricts. Especially important during a rainy year and threat of mold is prevalent. (We don’t have many of those.)
Something I’ve just recently learned from research and observation is that thicker and smaller leaves do better in hail, wind, and cold temperatures. Squash are a good example of how cold damages large leaves.
Companion planting we’ve found to be critical. In the extreme drought there were very few insects, especially pollinators. Attracting them to our plants meant each and every blossom within a 10 foot range was bred. We’ve never placed pollinators next to our tomatoes before. Broccoli to confuse the flea beetles because the tomato leaves are strong smelling yes, to pollinate the blossoms no. The yield was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Blossoms tucked deep in the tangle of the leaves were pollinated, and I swear they got each and every single one. I could have had double the yield we picked had the early hard frost not come. Yet there were oodles to can, though they were small. i can’t wait to see what happens in a decent year. My pollinator was Borage. They were in a cluster and every tomato plant within 10 feet did really well. The ones further out had a much, much lower yield. This next year I hope to add Wild Bergamot which grows down below us but not on our property.
Low waste processing is essential to using as much of your efforts as possible to provide food. In the last post, I described three methods to process tomatoes into sauce. I encourage you to study them. The latest, a new discovery prompted by this summers severe drought and lack of well water.
Reflection on the past 6 years has helped us to form a course of action that will build resiliency into our lives. We could rage about the unfairness of summer but fair isn’t what this world was designed for. To be tried in all things is to create more from us than what we came to this earth with. Life is about growth. So we thank this summer for the lessons learned. We are wiser, and more capable than what we were last spring.