Monday, July 22, 2013

Urban Tomato Gardening Involves Prayer and Good Luck

How emotionally involved can one person be over a row of tomato plants? On one hand, it is so easy. Nature just takes care of it all, right?  On the other hand, we try our darnedest to control the agenda and to set them up for success.

Urban gardening can become a sophisticated algorithm in how to use your land. It seems my neighbour has a PhD in vertical gardening, with an ample variety of verdure growing towards the heavens. We are keeping it pretty simple here.

Urban gardening is tricky business as it requires a careful match of sun time to plant choice when allocating spaces. With so many mature trees of mid-century age around us, ours is the land of hostas and impatiens.  Because our sunny real estate is extremely limited, I just stick to my favourite - tomato plants.

Thankfully my grow-up'r friend happily converts her large dining room each spring to giving life to trays and trays of seeds in the 24/7 glow of fluorescent lighting.  I don't know how many seedlings she birthed, but I was lucky to have four come my way. One of each - Roma, Pomodoro, Beefsteak and Sweet 100.

That was May 15.

Right away these delicate, petite, fragile darlings were given names. Everything gets a name around here. Kate (Sweet 100) in blue, Tiberius (Roma) in brown, Tiger (Pomodoro) in grey and Angus (Beefsteak) in the tomato can! (Foreshadowing, perhaps.)

Tomato plants on May 15.

I was reasonably good about putting them out each day for a bit of exposure to the surly spring weather. But the cold and wet made me timid about committing them to the earth.

Finally, my hand was forced because of travel plans.  The creatures went into the front garden a month later, on June 12.  A far cry from the enthusiastic crowd that love to plant on the May Two-Four weekend.  The mister-come-tomato-farmer actually looked after the task as I wanted to distance myself from assured failure.

They were planted with a small portion of tomato plant feed mixed in water. Then carefully caged.

Totally unattached, I said my good-byes and headed out of town.

Imagine my delight to find them flourishing when we returned a week and half later.

Beefsteak tomato plant on June 23.

Sadly, Kate (Sweet 100) died in late June. May she rest in peace. Cause of death - squirrel terror. As a result, we decided to stake the remaining three since things were seeming so optimistic for them.

We've had some harsh rainstorms and the swells of water crash out of the eaves trough overhead and pour into this bed. So far, so good.

Pomodoro tomato plant on July 10.

The fruit is now starting to form. Finally.  Everything is so healthy and lush.

I know they need more aggressive pruning to remove the fast growing suckers and to take off the lower branches that can make the plant susceptible to blight.  The fruit coming on also needs it's best exposure to the bright, hot sun.

Ahead are still further dangers.

Cut worms can also damage a more mature plant by eating away at the leaves and weakening it.

Squirrels with fickle tastes are wasteful. It just burns me how they snack on the tomatoes and then after one bite toss it aside. Only to forget and try again the next day. Bastards.

Another biter who can ruin the fruit is the tomato hornworm.

Too much rain means inconsistent watering and the fruit can split.

For now though I am enjoying specimens near perfection as they push forth their beautiful fruit. I am fantasizing about all that canning I will be doing in September and the big, warm, sun-soaked tomatoes sliced and laid out across our sandwiches.

As July becomes August and August becomes September, my three offspring will make their way into full on parenthood. Weary but strong, fruit-laden branches bursting full of colour. Giving and giving.

My farming past tells me that this can all change in a heartbeat. So much really is out of my control.  There is just so much uncertainty.  I hope for the best and wish for good luck.

So now I ask, fellow tomato lovers. As extra reassurance. Could you? Would you? Just say a little 'tomato best wishes' prayer for my precious Tiberius, Tiger and Angus.

Beefsteak tomato plant on July 21.


  1. A blogger friend of mine is trying to grow tomatoes in Phoenix Ariz. I will have to ask him how it goes when I see him in August.

    1. Hi Laurent: Arizona would be heavenly for heat and long days of sun. I guess irrigation is the trick to success there. I sense cold and too much wet is the most menacing enemies of tomatoes. I would be curious to know what kind of bugs they contend with that far south. Enjoy your trip. It's a beautiful state.

  2. I grow incredible tomatoes in Zone 3 in Edmonton Alberta Canada - all depends upon the seed you buy - some are great and some not so great for my climate... I experiment and learn. I sometimes have to use tomato set... where are those bees! And definitely compost!. These are my favourite food on Earth.!

  3. PS - beautiful post and I am singing your mantra with you - and a paryer for your plant.

    1. I did a serious pruning to let some daylight at the little fellas. We are starting to get cooler nights so we shall see how they do. They need some more hot heat. Not my cup of tea but it does help those tomatoes. I bet your garden is a picture of beauty, Valerie.


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