Friday, September 2, 2011

Tomato Tips for September in Western Washington

Growing tomatoes in western Washington is a vegetable garden challenge that many give up on or simply try repeatedly and fail. In Bellingham, my town, it is perhaps a bit harder than most but not all western Washington sites. 80 degree weather is uncommon and 90 degree weather is flirting with records.

This year has been a particularly challenging year because it was so cold deep into Spring and stayed cool well into July. But the second half of August brought steady sun. I missed a large part of August, but upon returning I have been harvesting a bowl full of tomatoes every day. And it appears we will be getting some exceptional September warm weather this next week so lots of ripening days and lots of tasty fresh tomatoes ahead. The delayed corn should ripen as well during this stretch. My tomato patch  is planted in a hot spot in our small yard at the top of a rock retaining wall above the alley. It is a spot that is sunny almost all day, residual heat from the rock wall and cement alley maintains the warmer temperatures well into the night, cool air can not pool around the plants, and the soil is well drained and does not get heavy and wet. Hence, I get tomatoes every year.

However, even with some tomatoes they tend to come pretty late and it is frustrating when September arrives with much shorter days and rapidly cooling day time and night time temperatures and the tomatoes never ripen. With the long cooler nights, dew becomes an enemy and fungus begins to attack the plants.

I do two things in September to maximize my cherished tomatoes. Once the night temperatures start dipping below 50 I put a tarp over the plants in the evening to prevent dew from forming. I watch the weather carefully and when the first significant rain is predicted I pull all of the plants out and hang them upside down under the eaves and out of the rain. The tomatoes will continue to ripen well into October as long as they are kept dry to prevent fungus. Of course bring the plants inside to a sunny room will work to but it is a bit messy. My best tomato fall was the year Lisa was working out of town and I hung the lines in her studio. We picked tomatoes all the way till thanksgiving that year.   

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