for Cool-Summer Gardens
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Growing tomatoes in cool-summer or short-season gardens can be a real challenge. I grew tomatoes at the edge of the fog belt south of San Francisco for 15 years, so I know how difficult and frustrating growing tomatoes in cool climates can be.
Here’s a few tomato growing tips for cool-summer, short-summer, or alpine climates:
Select Early Varieties. Early tomato varieties set fruit at lower temperatures. They tend to be smaller tomatoes—cherry and salad types—and usually start producing tomatoes within 60-70 days of planting. Many are bush (determinate) varieties, but there are several vining (indeterminate) early tomatoes as well.
Plant tomatoes in your warmest microclimate. If you have a south-facing wall, plant them along the bottom of the wall.
Get the plants in early. You may have to use season-extenders like cloches, heavy floating row covers, or wall-o-waters to protect them from frost or cold weather early in the season, but an early start is critical in a cool-summer or short-season climate.
The idea is to maximize the number of tomatoes on the vine when peak summer heat arrives.
Use a dark-colored mulch, or no mulch at all. I’m a big advocate of mulch, wherever keeping the soil cooler and holding in moisture are advantages. When growing tomatoes in cool-summer areas, this is not the case, so a dark mulch or no mulch is better.
Red Plastic “Mulch” reflects red frequencies of light and may increase ripening up to 20% in cool-summer climates.
If you have an apple tree, toss windfall apples under the tomatoes. Apples give off ethylene gas, which acts as a ripening hormone.
Harvest all fruit that shows any color before the first frost. Place slightly ripened tomatoes on windowsills indoors, or on a tray on top of the refrigerator. The tomatoes will continue to ripen indoors. They won’t be anything like vine-ripened tomatoes, but they’ll be better than anything you’d find in the supermarket.
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