Southwest Gardening forum: Growing Tomatoes in the Desert

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Name: Mary
Phoenix Arizona
MaryMcP
Feb 14, 2010 8:24 AM CST
Notes from a class I attended at The Farm at South Mountain on Saturday Feb 13th:

The Spring/Summer season ends in mid to late-June

It's not the day time temps that are most important, it's that you want night-time temps to be between 50° and 75° for the fruit to ripen.

The instructor said to 'back into' that timing by visiting weather.com frequently to find when they project those temperature ranges. Right now is the best time to plant, at least for this year. I doubt this changes much from year-to-year so will plan on early to mid-Feb for setting out my plants.

Planting in Jan and early Feburary can be thwarted by a frost so either be prepared to baby the plants through or just wait until mid-Feb to plant.

Plants take about two months to produce a fruit, then another month to ripen it. At the very first sign of the green tomato changing to red, pick it and let it ripen on the counter. Otherwise you risk losing the fruit to birds and bugs.

Tomatoes ripen from the bottom up so check their little bottoms for color.

From seed germination to planting out is only 3 to 4 weeks. [Here's where I've always gone wrong. I start seeds way too early and they are over due for planting out when the weather is finally right.]

Give the plant 2 to 3 weeks in vegatative state to establish a good root system before it begins to form fruit. If blossoms or fruit develop, remove them so the plant can concentrate on establishing roots.

Sprinkle a pinch or two of bone meal in the bottom of the planting hole and cover lightly with some soil. This provides the potasium the roots need to help them develop. A banana peel accomplishes the same resut.

He also recommends sprinkling the top of the planting with 1/2 tsp of mycorrhizal fungus, then watering it in well. Although this product is quite pricey.....$75 for the .5 quart container he had on the table. Although at 1/2 tsp per planting, it will last a while for me.

That's it. I left early. Jayne will have more info later.

That farm is a great place to visit, there's a restaurant for dining.
Name: Jayne
Glendale/Parks Az
Charter ATP Member Permaculture Vegetable Grower
rtl850nomore
Feb 14, 2010 12:41 PM CST
http://www.victoryseeds.com/information/carolyn_ber.html

I need a little more time to get my notes together but in the meantime...a little reading on BER from an expert.
The reason most people fail instead of succeed is because they give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.
Name: Jayne
Glendale/Parks Az
Charter ATP Member Permaculture Vegetable Grower
rtl850nomore
Feb 14, 2010 12:43 PM CST
LOL Mary, he said one to two pinches not inches.
The reason most people fail instead of succeed is because they give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.
Name: Mary
Phoenix Arizona
MaryMcP
Feb 14, 2010 12:52 PM CST
OH! One reason I left was I could barely hear him speaking....obviously. I'll go back and edit. Thanks Jayne! That's a big difference.
Name: Jayne
Glendale/Parks Az
Charter ATP Member Permaculture Vegetable Grower
rtl850nomore
Feb 14, 2010 4:03 PM CST
Dann can I paste an excel file here? I tried to link to my document but it did not work for me. Or...can I send the file to you and you can insert it? It is a couple of pages so I don't want to retype it if I don't have to.

Edited to say it is a word doc not an excel file.
The reason most people fail instead of succeed is because they give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.
Name: Dan
San Tan Valley, AZ
Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Region: Southwest Gardening Vegetable Grower Dog Lover Tropicals
Dann_L
Feb 14, 2010 4:51 PM CST
Go ahead and try it Jayne.
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘...Holy Crap ...What a ride!'
Name: Mary
Phoenix Arizona
MaryMcP
Feb 14, 2010 5:29 PM CST
Jayne, I doubt you can attach the document. Just select all with Ctrl+a, then copy and paste it into the message body.
Name: Jayne
Glendale/Parks Az
Charter ATP Member Permaculture Vegetable Grower
rtl850nomore
Feb 14, 2010 5:43 PM CST
Jayne’s notes:
The First Annual Tomato Fest was…well it just was. The first presenter was Tim Moore
from the Gila River School. His subject was building the soil and he mainly talked about
composting. He did not mention anything that you all don’t already know. He did stress
that water was essential for good compost. There is no microbial activity in a passive
compost pile only in one that is kept damp like a wrung out sponge. I had a chance to
talk to him prior to the final class and he said passive composting in this environment is
akin to putting nothing of any value into your soil. Why would you do it. For his 2011
garden he is going to make a compost pile this fall, contain it with chicken wire, let it
break down and then plant around it in the spring. He will water the compost pile letting
the water drain out onto his tomato plantings along with all that good stuff from the pile.
When he plants his tomatoes he puts bone meal, blood meal, kelp powder/meal, banana
peel in the hole and then sprays the hole with fish emulsion and inserts the seedling.

The next presenter was Carl Seacat of Seacat Gardens, a local tomato grower for valley
chefs as well as farmers markets. http://www.seacatgardens.com He has an acre in Litchfield
where he grows his tomatoes. He starts all his own seed in his home bathroom.
Temperature for germination is 70-75 degrees which he achieves by leaving his bathroom
lights on. He uses a soilless mix for seed starting then when the seedlings have two sets
of leaves he pots up using Black Gold potting soil. He foliar feeds the seedlings with fish
emulsion. He likes to buy his seed from Tomato Fest http://www.tomatofest.com He isn’t
affiliated with it in any way and neither was the event we attended. He maintained there
was a lot of useful information for tomato grows on the site as well.

In the planting hole he puts a pinch or two of bone meal then covers it with dirt so that
the roots do not come in contact with it until they start to grow. He adds my mycorrhizal
fungi to the hole as well, then waters prior to inserting the seedling. If you don’t want the
expense of the mycorrhizal fungi, then fresh, just made compost will accomplish the
same thing he said.

As Mary mentioned he calls out two seasons for this environment. He plants in
September and February. Night time temperatures are his gauge and he likes between 50
and 75 degrees for his growing seasons.

For the September planting he likes cold weather tomatoes and some that he mentioned
are Stupice, Glacier, Early Wonder, Legend, Siletz, Taxi, Buckby 50 day, and Fireworks.
Since most tomatoes want heat to ripen, he gets them in by the first of September and
sometimes late August. He stressed that you have to pay attention to the weather and
there is no set rule about when to plant. Just make sure the night time temperatures will
not be above 75 degrees during its growing time nor will they be below 50 degrees.

For the February planting he mentioned Black Krim, Paul Robeson, Cherokee Purple,
Black Cherry, Brandywine and lately he has been messing round with Radiator Charlie’s
Mortgage Lifter.

Most interesting to me is that none of the three growers looked for heat tolerant varieties
and they all grew Brandywine.

Carl gave a seed saving demonstration which he said is the only way to get tomatoes that
are used to growing in this environment. If you take your best looking and earliest
tomato from a variety you like and save the seed, replanting it from year to year, you
automatically create a tomato that will grow here.

As far as removing suckers from tomato plants he always removes them from
determinate tomatoes and does not remove them from the indeterminates. He removes
the lower leaves from all of his tomatoes. He does not want them touching the dirt or the
dirt splashing up on them because of the viruses in the Southwest soils.

He begins fertilizing when the fruit starts to set and or when the temperature starts to go
up. He uses liquid fish emulsion and humic acid.

The final presenter was Dave Parkin, a home gardener. In order to expand his growing
capacity he began growing tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets. He only grows determinates in
buckets though. He maintains that by the time it heats up here the determinates are done
anyway so he isn’t concerned about heating up the soil.

He puts bone meal and banana peel in his planting hole and foliar feeds with liquid fish
emulsion every two weeks. He erects shade cloth when the temperature hits 100.

He brings his tomatoes through the summer and in the falls chops back his tomatoes to
where he sees new growth and lets them run again. Not all of his make it through the
summer.

A final note, they all used their own compost and stressed the importance of having
microorganisms alive in the soil. Maya’s farm, which hosted the event, also uses
compost made right there on her farm.

Please forgive the typo’s if you find them.
The reason most people fail instead of succeed is because they give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.
Name: Dan
San Tan Valley, AZ
Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Region: Southwest Gardening Vegetable Grower Dog Lover Tropicals
Dann_L
Feb 14, 2010 5:51 PM CST
Thank you Mary and Jayne for posting your notes. This is great information for anyone new to growing tomatoes in the desert.
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘...Holy Crap ...What a ride!'
Name: Kelly
Phoenix, AZ (Zone 9a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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locakelly
Feb 14, 2010 7:23 PM CST
Good information, ladies! Never knew about the banana peel, hmmmmmmm...
God made rainy days so gardeners could get the housework done. ~Author Unknown
Moderator for Southwest Living Vegetable Forum


Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ (Zone 9a)
Southwest Gardening~ moderator/ATP.
Charter ATP Member Tip Photographer Forum moderator Region: Southwest Gardening Garden Ideas: Level 2 Roses
Birds Region: United States of America Garden Art Dog Lover Daylilies Hummingbirder
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Aguane
Feb 14, 2010 7:57 PM CST
Great information and thanks for taking the time to type and share.

I'm inspired.

(I've always put dried and crumbled banana peel in the soil around my roses.... because my mom did. Dunno why)
“Don't give up too quickly"... unknown, I heard it somewhere.
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
Name: Jill (no, really?)
Tucson, AZ
Tucsonjill
Feb 14, 2010 9:45 PM CST
Mary, Jayne, thank you SO much for all your notes! It sounds like you've learned some great stuff--and now, so have we.

Jayne, I had one question about something you posted. You said that Carl Seacat's advice was to "Just make sure the night time temperatures will not be above 75 degrees during its growing time nor will they be below 50 degrees. "

Do you know if he was really talking about growing time vs. blooming/setting fruit time? I know there are overnight temp limits on fruit set, but I didn't know about growth being temperature limited. Interesting!

Here's to growing bumper crops this year!
Name: Jayne
Glendale/Parks Az
Charter ATP Member Permaculture Vegetable Grower
rtl850nomore
Feb 14, 2010 10:20 PM CST
Actually he was talking about blooming/fruit setting. He says the daytime temps aren't of concern to him, that fruit will not set when the night time temps get above 70 degrees and below 50 degrees. Sorry I wasn't more clear. Another thing all three of them said was they strip the lower leaves and plant as deep as they can to promote root growth. Also, both Tim and Dave said they mulched to keep the soil cooler. Dave does grow in the ground in additon to having containers. I don't remember Carl saying anything about mulch so I don't know about him.
The reason most people fail instead of succeed is because they give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.
Name: Jill (no, really?)
Tucson, AZ
Tucsonjill
Feb 14, 2010 10:39 PM CST
Thanks for clarifying, Jayne!
Name: Jayne
Glendale/Parks Az
Charter ATP Member Permaculture Vegetable Grower
rtl850nomore
Feb 15, 2010 8:35 AM CST
Repeating what Mary said, Maya's farm is a great place to visit if you can. For those that are not aware, it is a working farm, they were planting during the class. She has chickens and there were some little kids that were completely fascinated by them, especially the rooster when it crowed. The looks on their faces were precious. Maya farms using the Biodynamic principles taught by Rudolf Steiner in the late 1800's. She has an upcoming class on making a Biodynamic compost heap where you can see the principles being applied to her compost heap. It is a strange but fascinating concept and it surely is not for everyone. In the fall the AZ Homegrown Solutions sponsored BD500 stirrings and if you helped them stir they gave you some to spray on your gardening area. Am I one of those fascinated by Biodynamics? YEP.
The reason most people fail instead of succeed is because they give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.
Name: Mary
Phoenix Arizona
MaryMcP
Feb 15, 2010 9:19 AM CST
It's so.....like.... out there for me Jayne. I wish I could 'get it'. Guess I should read some more about it. Whenever I've tried to tune in to what you're telling me about it, my eyes just glaze over, my head swims and then my mind wanders off somewhere of its own accord. Maybe I'll try her upcoming class.
Name: Jayne
Glendale/Parks Az
Charter ATP Member Permaculture Vegetable Grower
rtl850nomore
Feb 15, 2010 9:48 AM CST
One thing I am sorry I didn't remember to do was take my refractometer with me. I would have loved to test the Brix of those tomatoes they passed around.
The reason most people fail instead of succeed is because they give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.
Name: Mary
Phoenix Arizona
MaryMcP
Feb 15, 2010 9:55 AM CST
See! there you go again. :~))
Name: Jayne
Glendale/Parks Az
Charter ATP Member Permaculture Vegetable Grower
rtl850nomore
Feb 15, 2010 10:18 AM CST
I can't help it. 32 years in an engineering environment. 3 sons that are engineers. I run my garden on an excel spreadsheet and make improvements using B vs C experiments. I have my own Skinner Box in my back yard where I conduct behavioral science experiments on my veggies. yeah...thats it. And, I am retired...I need something to do.
The reason most people fail instead of succeed is because they give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.
Name: Jayne
Glendale/Parks Az
Charter ATP Member Permaculture Vegetable Grower
rtl850nomore
Feb 15, 2010 2:12 PM CST
What is Brix... http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1670/ and http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/2401/
The reason most people fail instead of succeed is because they give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.

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