Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tomatoes for Thanksgiving by Duane Davidson

I've volunteered to provide the salad for this year's Thanksgiving dinner. I plan to show off my fresh home-grown tomatoes. I always try to have a taste of my own tomatoes as late as the beginning of December. You could, too. Here's how.

I grow tomatoes mostly in containers these days. A couple of the containers are lightweight pots of manageable size. (Mine are made of a foam material, but sturdy plastic would do.) They spend the summer in my backyard. At the end of the season I bring them inside when an overnight freeze is expected. But they go back out into the sunshine every time the temperature reaches 50 degrees. I don't expect the plants to continue blooming and setting fruit, but this is a good way to let existing fruit ripen – more or less naturally.

On cooler days the tomato plants are happy to stay inside my south-facing sun porch. But we usually have a lot of warm days in the fall after the first freeze or two. I like to take advantage of them. I find the warmest spot and put the tomatoes outside, usually in a corner facing southwest, which traps the heat. They need to come back into the porch at night. Because the pots are lightweight, they're easy to move. 

        I've also kept the tomato pots in the garage at night and on cold days, but they aren't as happy with less sunlight. Moving them in and out is even easier, though. One year I set them on a furniture dolly and rolled them in and out on that.

Here are a few more details about my method: I fill the pots with houseplant potting mix because it's lighter in weight than soil mixes. I add in a handful or two of a slow-release fertilizer made from alfalfa. Later, during the growing season, I give the tomatoes several doses of liquid fertilizer made from seaweed or worm compost. I also mix in a handful of polymer, already hydrated, to help even out the availability of moisture and keep the pots cooler. My preferred tomato variety is Czech's Bush, which does well for me in containers. I found this variety at a garden center some years ago, and now grow my own plants from seed. The fruit is small to medium in size – larger than cherry tomatoes but considerably smaller than beefsteak varieties, which – in a pot – would set fewer tomatoes, and which likely would break the plant's stems. There are other varieties recommended for containers. They could be cherry or grape-size types, but should be "determinate" so as not to grow vines too large to be moved about without breaking off.