Growing Tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest

 

  • Location, Location, Location.  Pick a site with as many of these attributes as you can find: 

             Sunny (a must)

             Protected from wind

             South-facing

             Near a heat-reflecting wall or fence.

 

  • Provenance.  Get your plants from a good nursery.  I order most of mine from Territorial Seed, and they are shipped when very small.  I might later supplement with a few large, already blooming/fruiting plants from reputable local nurseries.

  • The Right Varieties.  Some hybrids were developed for cooler temperatures, but I’ve not found any with flavor and texture that pleases.  Read the fine print and stay away from long maturation times and pay attention to disease resistance (or not) disclosures.  There are plenty of heirloom varieties that do well if you take good care of them.

 

  • Think Small.  In general, the smaller the tomato, the faster it ripens.  The exception is the purple ones, which I don’t much care for anyway—hard and tasteless IMHO.

 

  • See Red.  Cover your planting area with red sheet plastic (available at garden supply stores) a few weeks before planting, to warm the soil.  Plant the tomatoes in holes you poke in the plastic. The soil will be warmer.  I have drip irrigation which runs under the plastic, but carefully pouring water into the plant hole also works.

 

  • Snuggle Up.  A water-filled bottle (I like Costco liquor bottles) and rocks retain heat.  I put them next to young plants.

 

  • Dress for Success.  The photo shows my homemade tomato condos (or is it condoms?).  I use a standard tomato cages and cover them with a two or three dry cleaning bags.  Poke a few holes in the top for ventilation and so they don’t sag from the weight of rain. Also, on warm days it is critical to lift up the skirts so the  plants do not cook.  I use clothespins for this.  I prefer cleaning bag condos to expensive purchased tomato “houses.” 

 

  • Better Living Through Chemistry.  Fungus is an issue.  I love, love, love Actinovate, which I call gardeners' cocaine, because it is white, powdery, expensive and once you’ve used it… .  (But you just saved a lot of money by using dry cleaning bags instead of commercial covers.) Fortunately a little Actinovate goes a long way. Tomato blossom drop is also a problem in our cool climate, but can be managed with blossom drop prevention sprays.

  • Cloche.  I have an inexpensive one that sits right on top of the garden soil and use it to harden off my plants before transplant.  

 

  • Pruning.  When the plant gets a couple of feet high, start pinching off some shoots and keep this up throughout the season.  This is painful, because you just spent a lot of time and energy encouraging growth, but your tomatoes will be bigger and better if so much of the plant energy is not spent supporting excess foliage and small fruit.  

 

In the Pacific Northwest Summer does not reliably appear until July.  A tomato plant needs daytime temperatures of 70-plus degrees, and about two months from blossoming to harvestable fruit.  You see the problem.  

After a few years of trial and error, emphasis on error, I reliably harvest enough tomatoes to eat enough to get tired of them and can lots of marinara for winter.  Hare are some of my hacks: