tomatoes in the far north and Edmonton area

ljpother(3a)September 13, 2011

I've been serious (I actually want some productive tomatoes) about growing tomatoes for about 4 years. I'm getting closer to success but have quite away to go. Determinants in pots are doing well. The tomatoes in the ground are slow to ripen and smaller than expected. My neighbour has massive tomatoes and a neat micro-climate. He prunes to one stem. Mine are crowded and untouched by human hands (except for tieing them to stakes).

I'd like to know how others in the far north are doing, particularly in northern zone 3a or lower and Edmonton area.

Here are some charts with my weather this year.

heat units at local weather stations from planting out

heat units and frost from May 1, 20011

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This year's tomato crop is both smaller and lighter than normal, but still a good productive one. There are certain things I always do to assist in having a reliable crop despite weather conditions. Firstly, I place a makeshift mini greenhouse over the entire row and this being left on until plants are large and blooming away. The plastic is flipped off to ensure good wind and bee pollination, but placed back on in the event of chilly or overly wet conditions and if hail threatens! Plants are pruned to three or four main stems with lower foliage and suckers being removed, I also prune out foliage that congests the center of the plants and nip back the large leaves by half. Of course, plants are always kept fed and watered.

Abundant fruit shown here, I also have clusters with much larger individual fruit :)

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 3:55PM
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northspruce(z3a MB CDA)

The past few years I've only grown indeterminate cherry tomatoes and 3 plants produce enough to eat and can. (yes I can cherry tomatoes, it's not as bad as it sounds and they have a lot of flesh) I don't prune at all, this year I actually dropped the ball and they didn't even get staked up properly. They don't get BER which is my problem with tomatoes. Mine are planted in full sun all day except early morning.

I start all my tomatoes indoors in about March and repot them until it's time to plant them out. Pinch them out a bit and nip off the flowers. They always produce ripe fruit by mid summer. I don't consider myself a tomato expert but I'm happy with the results I get.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 9:06PM
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Ginny McLean_Petite_Garden

Was attempting to reply to this thread earlier and lost my message. Silly computer!
Hi Larry,

I have been growing tomatoes in this house for the last 7 years and Dad has been growing them here for the 60 or so years before that. You are not far from me in Edmonton either. I have picked up a few tips for successful tomatoes from the old neighbours around here over the years and a few things I have learned myself by trial and error.

The most success I've had is with early, northern bred tomatoes and ones that don't get too big unless you want to baby them a bit. Bush Beefsteak I have had lots of success with if we get a warm summer. They are huge! Early Girl, Ultra Girl, Celebrity, Romas and all the cherry ones are great. I especially love the Sun Sweet yellow cherry toms. This year I put in 2 Sun Sweet and an orange cherry and Sweet Millions red. Pink Ultra Girl, Early Girl, Bush Beefsteak and a red Ultra Girl I think. All have done ok but not a great year for tomatoes thanks to the lack of sun!

So this is what I have learned:

Tomatoes like water. LOTS of water. Dad used to put the hose on low and move it to each tomato as he worked around the yard. He called it "flooding the tomatoes"., Many times that was my job. I put bottomless ice cream pails over mine when I plant them so they get more water sinking in slowly. Also protects them a bit when they are little. Water from below and not from a sprinkler. They don't like wet leaves.

Tomatoes like to eat! I try to use organic fertilizer like fish guts or kitchen scraps but they like food of any kind it seems! Compost tea too! Alaska fish fertilizer, if you can find it, works great too!

Tomatoes like protection from the elements. I plant against a south wall, fence or other structure. They also like protection from bugs so I have made it a habit to plant marigolds and basil or sage with them. Lemon basil is the best as it isn't too strong. I have yet to find bugs on my tomatoes.

Tomatoes like support. I tie mine with vet wrap ( available at All Care Vet and Pet on 82 St and 132 Ave in Edmonton), panty hose or strips of fabric. I usually put a cage around them when I plant them out and stake higher if necessary. The cherry toms are grown against the fence or garden wrought iron thingies. Or the wire dog pen!

I have found that I get ripe fruit and more of it if I keep the vines trimmed of excess foliage so the sun can reach them and so the energy they have goes into the fruit and not the leaves.

I have over 50 different varieties of tomato seeds and have had some success with most of them. It is just a matter of personal taste I guess. I have started toms inside in front of a south window and under lights. This year I had volunteers in my garden from last years seeds! I don't plant them out till all chance of frost is gone, hopefully.....even if it is June 1st. And I pick them right up until frost. Pack the green ones in layers until ripe and freeze them to use throughout the winter. If you can get pear boxes with those bumpy cardboard sheets to put between the layers it is easy to check them as they ripen. :)

That's what I have learned about tomatoes. I hope I have given you some food for thought. :)

Pics taken today.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 10:41PM
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Pudge 2b

This year I grew tomatoes in the raised beds, used agribon over hoops after planting out good sized transplants, used the red plastic mulch and fertilized regularly with 15-30-15. I used rain water initially, then switched to drip irrigation when the plants had a lot of fruit and needed to be watered more frequently.

My raised bed garden is protected with cotoneaster hedging to the north and west, and is in full sun all day long.

We had a nice summer although not excessively hot and not very many warm (warmer than +15) nights. But there was plenty of sunshine.

I grew 3 varieties - Sungold which are an indeterminate very sweet cherry type and am more than happy with how they produced & ripened. Roma's produced heavy but have been slow to ripen. And Celebrity, a hybrid, which has also been slow to ripen although produced plenty of fruit. Roma's ripen faster than Celebrity. They also taste much better. I won't grow Celebrity again - bland tasting like grocery store tomatoes.

I did not prune the plants until about mid-August, at that time I pruned off most of the leaves and stems and pruned back all the tops to stop the production of more fruit.

I won't use the red plastic mulch again, although I may use black plastic to keep the soil as warm as possible. I think warming the soil well before planting is also beneficial, as is initially using warm-ish water if irrigation is necessary.

Right now it's 8 pm and only +3C...frost for sure tonight. Yesterday I picked off all the Celebrity and Roma's, and any of the Sungold that were ripe or almost there (2 gallons worth). I've covered the Sungolds with a double layer of Agribon, I'm hoping that will be enough to get them thru tonight.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 10:50PM
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Reading this thread, I'm regretting that I planted no tomatoes this year :-( They are such a fickle crop in Edmonton... one of the first years I grew them (about a dozen plants), I was so swamped with ripe tomatoes that I canned 10 gallons (40 - 1L jars), on top of what we ate fresh and gave away. Then last year I got zero ripe tomatoes before frost. But homegrown tomatoes beat anything else we can get around here for taste, so I think I'll grow them next year and not worry about whether I get a lot or a little.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 3:59AM
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Ginny McLean_Petite_Garden

You got that right! Fresh toasted tomato sandwiches!!! Sooo yummy! There is just no way to compare! I give lots away too, and freeze lots for soups and sauces! More yummy! :)

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 9:10AM
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Grew Sungold, Tumbler and Sophie's Choice this year. Got lots off of Sungold and Tumbler already, with more ripening rapidly. Sophie's Choice has a good yield but still needs to ripen.

I always do Sungold and Tumbler. Both are quick growers with good yield. I did get thousands of tomatoes off six Tumbler plants a couple of (or was it three?) years ago.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 4:35PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

My tomato crop got pretty well wiped out from the hail this year, from about 10 plants..out in the open, we got about five pounds, had about another10 plants on the south side of trees and the hail didn't do as much about 60lb. and only about 5 were red, luckily we have some in the greenhouse. The best results we usually have with Early Girl, starting in April with seed in the house. It seems every time we buy plants we end up getting some disease.

This from a better year, early girl.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 12:33AM
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It was a terrible year for tomatoes in Peace River -- most of mine are just ripening now, and we've only got about another week before the first frost hits. I usually have best success with indeterminate varieties -- "Sweet Million" is incredibly prolific, and I usually have ripe tomatoes in mid-July.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 1:03AM
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Good cold morning all.

My tomatoes this year were terrible and I even got blossom end rot for the first time. I do most of all the hints on here although, twrosz, I'm certain we'd all be interested in pictures of your "makeshift mini greenhouse". I assume it also withstands wind and that you also use it in the fall if necessary?


    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 11:10AM
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Well, even though my plants didn't produce much this year, I just had a toasted tomato sandwich for lunch. It dripped down my face.

Life is good, isn't it?

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 2:20PM
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Ginny McLean_Petite_Garden

Ditto that one Lynn! Can't beat home grown tomatoes! :)

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 3:18PM
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northspruce(z3a MB CDA)

Davidcalgary, Sweet Million is what I grow too. They grow, produce and ripen really well in my climate. My only complaint is the skins are a little tough. That's why I thought of canning them this year.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 7:33PM
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