pilatus1's Guide to Growing Tomatoes in CH thread
Its February already! Which means, it's just about time to get your first seedlings started for this gardening season.
So here goes - my guide to growing tasty 'maters in CH. This is not a definitive guide, just my personal technique which seems to be working very well so far. This is called the 'dry-farming' method. These 'maters have a cult following in parts of California and sell for double the price of a standard tomato, 'cause they taste so damn good.
Please share your thoughts and input, etc.
Step one: select your variety(ies) of seed. I prefer small tomatoes that can be eaten in one sitting, but to each his/her own. I've been getting my seeds at the local Migros - I suspect/hope that the seed varieties sold here are chosen because they work well with CH conditions/growing season length/etc.
Last year I had 3 varieties, and a few types of cherry tomatoes. I don't remember the names, but one was chosen because it grows with a wavy, rippled skin. Although beautiful, they ended up being mushy and tasteless...
'Dry farmed' tomatoes are a big hit on California's central coast, and the method described in this post is based on how we grew tomatoes there. All of the Cali farmers who grow dry-farmed tomatoes use a variety called Early Girl (And I was taught that this is the only variety that works with this method) But I haven't had any trouble getting the migros varieties to work, so far...but i'd stick with the smaller varieties to be safe.
Step two: Sow those seeds indoors around mid-february. Put them in the sunniest window in your flat, and maybe concoct a little shelf that sits on your radiator to provide supplementary bottom heat and get the seeds sprouted..
Step 3: As they grow, repot them into bigger containers before they get 'root bound' Besides the main shoot, continually remove any little secondary shoots that begin to form. Just pinch them off with your fingers. If the plants get really tall, stretched out and leggy, you may want to put them in a sunnier spot or use some additional lighting...
Step 4: When the weather's warmed up a bit, perhaps in early May, and they can handle the outside temps in the daytime, slowly get them accustomed to the strength of the full sun. Put them out there for a little bit longer each day, starting with maybe just 1/2 hour in the morning. This is called 'hardening off' for you non-gardeners.
Ok here's where my method gets a little out of the ordinary:
Step 5. Approx 1 week before it's safe to plant them outside (Eisheiligen, 15.5 or so), stop watering and let your plants get all dryed out and sun-wilted. Bake them in the sun for a bit at mid day. Just when you think they can't take anymore, bring them inside and nurture them back to health. This turns them very hardy...
Step 6: make sure your area is prepared to plant them outside. You'll want a covered, wind and rain protected spot with plenty of sun. A tomatohüsli/mini greenhouse is ideal, as the name suggests. Be sure to create a tall raised bed (mine's approx. 30cm tall) with plenty of compost mixed in there.
Step 7: A few days before you are going to plant them out, take a sharp blade and cut off all of the leaves on the lower half of the plants.
Step 8: plant out your plants. By now they should be over a meter tall, probably needing a stake to keep them upright, and in 4 or 5 liter pots. But don't just dig a little hole and pop them in... Dig a ditch in your raised bed and lay the root ball and plant stem in sideways. You want to bury all of those spots where you cut the leaves off. Take the still-leafy part of the plant and gently bend the stem so it sticks up from the ground, more or less vertical (It'll right itself later on, so be gentle....you dont want to snap it!)
Step 9: water the plants thoroughly after planting. A thorough soaking. Then wait until the plants are really looking super-wilted and dry before watering again, maybe a week later (at this point I add a little bit of liquid organic fertilizer to the water). At all times from seedling stage until and including now, only apply water to the soil, and never onto the plants themselves...
Step 10: Sit back and wait. Do not water your plants, no matter how hot and sunny it gets. Even when they look miserable and wilted. Do, however, continue to pinch off the suckers that want to grow from where the leaves meet the stem. At most, let one of the suckers grow. (leaving you with one main shoot and one secondary). Also, pinch off any dead leaves, and any leaves that hang close to or on the ground.
Step 11: enjoy those delicious tomatoes.
Step 12: At the end of the season when the weather changes, rains recommence, temps drop: At the first sign of grey mold/ botrytis (black splotches on stems, discoloration, etc. Look it up...), cut down your plants and carefully dispose of them NOT IN YOUR COMPOST PILE! Best is to have a fire and burn the plants.
And that's it.
How it all works:
By starving your plants for water nearly to the point of death when they are still relatively young, they get accustomed to it and become drought tolerant.
By planting them sideways in a small ditch, they will sprout roots from each of the nodes where there were previously leaves. More roots in the ground means more uptake of water and nutrients.
By pinching off any suckers that want to come off of the main stem, more of the plant's energy is focused on producing flowers and ripening existing fruit, as opposed to just pumping out lots of new stems. Less stems also means an easier plant to manage, with less foliage. This in turn promotes better airflow in the greenhouse.
By planting in a raised bed, the plants do not directly recieve any water, after planting, to the main root ball throughout the season, even when it rains all around your tomato green house. This forces the growth of a deep root system that feeds itself by pulling moisture from below, through capillary action. Also, keeping the soil and foliage dry helps to prevent the spores of the dreaded botrytis from being able to attack.
By having your tomatoes stressed for water all season long, they develop a much sweeter and more intense flavor. The inside water content is low, and you never have to go and water them, quite convenient IMO. (Just remember to keep pinching out the suckers)
One thing that really seems to help is a pair of 12v DC computer fans (CHF 5 each on ricardo) wired directly to a small(30cm x 40cm? 10w?) solar panel(40? CHF on ebay). The panel is on the roof of the tomato house, and the fans are positioned in holes in the walls at either end. When it's sunny (and could easily get too hot inside), it blows cooler air into the greenhouse, keeping everything happy.
My garden neighbors are out there watering their tomato plants a few times a week at least, only to end up with a few puny 'maters and a diseased mess of plants by the end of the season. If this has also been your experience, I hope that the above methods will help you to grow more and better tomatoes with a bit less effort.
This method also works wonders with aubergine! But not peppers...
Wishing you all a productive gardening season in 2015...
Last edited by pilatus1; 01.02.2015 at 21:34.