Hypothetical tomato question

piscesfish(6)May 20, 2011

So, now that the gardening bug has bitten me hardcore, I think I need a cold frame. I've found a good plan for building one for about $40, which is very exciting. I'm looking forward to spinach and lettuce and kale and possibly radishes until January. But, as I've now become a crazy tomato person and since my DH can't eat store tomatoes because of a medical condition, I was wondering if I could grow dwarf patio tomatoes under a cold frame. Do you think this might work?


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I'll bet you could, but I asked about growing them in a greenhouse when I first became tomato crazy and if I remember correctly, received the bad news from Dawn, that the flavor would not be there because it takes the hot weather to make the flavor of a homegrown tomato. Dawn grew some in containers that winter and was hauling them outside everyday that it wasn't suppose to freeze, then back in for the evening. I don't remember how that turned out for sure but I'm sure she will. Seems like that year in particular she got tired of it and left them out all night and they froze but I may be wrong.

I'm going to try freezing some tomatoes this year, so don't have to rely on grocery store tomatoes for the winter. I'm also going to try to learn how to can, so I can have some salsa and spaghetti sauce etc. That's my big focus for this year.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 2:40AM
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Sheri you are correct. Most who have tried it said the flavor isn't there. Now there are some who transplant in say December early January and start picking in late March or April in the northern areas and say the flavor isn't bad on the early ones and they get better as the season progresses. The common thought is the intensity of the sun light they receive and the length of the day. I tend to go with the intensity as you can grow great tasting tomatoes in the summer that have only 6-7 hours of full sun. If I can figure out how to make my lean to greenhouse sturdy enough to survive the SW KS winds I plan on putting plants in containers in Feb or early March next year. Jay

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 6:10AM
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I've grown greens in cold and hot frames and also use them to grow and harden off transplants. Another problem you would have is on cold nights heating it. It would need some heat of a night if cold. Even if you had a hot frame. They warm up in the day but cool off at night. I kept my high/low thermometer in mine so knew what the temps dipped too for lows. Jay

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 6:24AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Do you mean that you want to grow tomatoes in the winter time in a cold frame? Usually cold frames are unheated, unless you have a very deep cold frame and have 6 to 8 or so inches of HOT manure down deep. As it decomposes, it produces enough heat to keep the frame warm. Warm enough to overwinter tomatoes? No. For that, you'd need a heated enclosure like a low tunnel with heat (and the tomato plants themselves could not touch the plastic of the low tunnel because on a freezing cold night every part of the plant that touched the plastic would freeze. Or, you'd need a heated greenhouse. That would be expensive.

As Sheri noted, I have tried in the fall to carry plants in and out with less than stellar results. The flavor of tomatoes that ripen outdoors after the end of October or mid-November are severely lacking because they need heat and sunlight to develop their best flavor. Are they better than grocery store tomatoes? Yes, but only marginally. And Sheri has a great memory. One year things were going pretty well and then one night I forgot to carry the plants inside and they froze. That's the problem with carrying plants in and out in freezing weather---there is no margin for error. If you leave them out on one freezing night, it is all over.

In a drought year when we go into fall with an early fire season that starts in Sept. or Oct., I am gone to fires so many days and nights that it is hard for me to keep fall tomatoes going since they are likely to freeze on a cold night when I'm at a fire and not at home to bring them inside before the temperatures fall.

What I'd try to do, were I in your shoes, would be to grow longkeeper types and keep them going as late as possible in fall. Then, if you pull and wrap and store the tomatoes when they reach the breaker stage, you could potentially have ripe tomatoes to eat until at least sometime after the New Year begins.

You also could raise some of the smallest dwarfs (Red Robin, Yellow Canary, Orange Pixie) indoors under lights in small pots. Red Robin has been grown indoors in pots as small as 4" by some people, but for best production I'd grow it in gallon pots. If you have a really sunny south-facing window, and no indoor cats who'd use the hanging planter as a hammock, you could grow one of the tumbling types, like Tumbling Tom Red, Tumbling Tom Yellow, Pear Drops, Rambling Red Stripe, etc. in a hanging basket in a sunny window.

I extended the tomato season last year by dragging a few 'old' summer tomato plants and two pepper plants in containers into the garage at night and back out in the morning simply because they were covered in tomatoes and peppers I didn't want to lose with the first freeze. Those plants finally froze (inside the garage) in Dec. or Jan. when the temps dropped very low overnight, but I knew they'd freeze that night and harvested all the green tomatoes and peppers that afternoon. We continued to eat them for about a month as they slowly ripened. Were the tomatoes as tasty as sun-ripened summer tomatoes? No, but they weren't bad.

I think it is more productive to keep summer or fall tomatoes going into late fall/winter than to start fresh tomatoes for winter like I did in the year Sheri remembers. I think I started them in early fall and they hadn't even bloomed by Thanksgiving, so if they hadn't frozen, they likely wouldn't have produced ripe tomatoes until late Jan. or Feb. anyway. At least mature plants are setting fruit in the mid- to late-fall when the cold arrives.

Also, in cooler temps and with less intense light, it takes fall and winter tomatoes forever and forever to ripen.

I try mostly just to extend the season by preserving tomatoes. Even without a dehydrator, you can dry tomatoes in your oven set at its lowest setting. When we bought our 'new' stove about 3 or 4 summers ago, we bought one with a convection oven that has a 'dehydrate' mode. I love it. I dry thousands of bite-sized tomatoes all summer and fall and pack them into sandwich sized ziplock bags. Then I put the sandwich-sized bags into freezer zip-lock gallon bags. I try to make them last all winter by using one sandwich-sized zip-lock bag per week. Some of them we eat dry and tossed into salads. It is sort of like having raisins in your salads, except they are tomato-flavored raisins. Taisins? Others, I rehydrate in a bowl of water for 20-30 minutes or so and then sit and eat from the bowl like a kid eating a bowl of grapes. I love them. I also drop handfuls of the dried tomatoes into homemade soups in the winter. In my oven, I can dry about 500-600 bite-sized tomatoes in one batch, depending on the size of the tomatoes. That explains why I plant a ridiculous number of cherry, grape and currant sized tomato plants. I think this year I have 15 or 20 of them.

Other ways to preserve the harvest: can or freeze your own salsa, tomato sauce, tomato juice, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, catsup, stewed tomatoes, etc. You can make tomato jam or jelly or preserves. You can freeze tomatoes whole in zip-lock bags and use them in cooking in the fall and winter. If you can some, freeze some, and keep container plantings going as late as possible in winter, and start as early as possible in spring like I do, you can eat home-grown tomatoes almost year-round. We ate our last fresh tomatoes from the fall plants in January or February, and harvested our first ripe tomatoes from the new spring plants in April. That's not bad.

There is a reason I plant an insane number of tomato plants and that reason is that I want to put up and preserve all I can. We give all of Tim's co-workers gift bags at Christmas that generally have 4 jars of home-preserved food from our garden. This past year, most of them received 1 jar of salsa, 1 jar of bread-and-butter jalapeno peppers, 1 jar of plum jelly, and 1 jar of Habanero Gold jelly. That's approximately 100 gift bags for him to take to work, and then another 30 or so for our family and friends, and our son takes a lot of canned foods to work at the fire station year-round. I can a LOT--around 700 jars last year, and filled up three freezers.

People beg us for fresh tomatoes in summer and, while I used to give away tons of them every summer, nowadays I mostly tell them they'll have to wait until Christmas because I can and dry my extras instead of giving them away in summer. Some of our friends aren't crazy about that, but I feel like if they want fresh tomatoes in summer, they are perfectly capable of raising their own.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 6:50AM
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Kelly, back in the mid 1980's I built, what I called Spa/ grow/play room onto the house we lived in. All worked very well, except, GROW does not mean produce. The down side I had not planed on was insects.

I forgot about growing veggies and just over wintered the tropical plants in that room.

The room was not a failure but the warm season crop sure was. Even I had a 22 foot wall of glass and 3 large skylights I still could not get the light and temp. I need for summer crops. Maybe I could have but I expect I could have bought a grocery for about what the utility bills would have been.

I would expect the best route to take would be to till up more lawn and try to grow extra in the summer and preserve for winter use.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 9:24AM
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Last year I raised a patio tom. in our north facing sun room without any supplimental light and they tasted worse than grocery store tom. The room has no heat and air so we open the kitchen door to bleed off some heat from the house. We do have a portable heat&air unit but try not to use it unless it get's really cold. ( like 2 below this winter) When I lived in Edmond in the 70's & 80's I had 2 greenhouse's in my backyard . The smaller one was used for starting seed's(mostly flowers) and I built a 4x8 ft. bed in the middle of it. In that bed for several year's I raised 4 tom. plants in the winter. My favorite was F irst Lady. they had that fresh summer taste and were about twice the size of a golf ball. I can now admit to having stashed afew away occasionallyfor my own selfish self. Those of you who have a greenhouse know how warm it is on sunny days when the sun is shining even in the winter. On cloudy days I had a nateral gas heater if I needed it. I pollinated the tom. with tom. blossom set.It took very little heat to keep it warm even with 6 or 8 in. of snow on the roof which acted as an insulater. I think if you find a variety of tom. that you like, supply it with enough heat and light......even if its artificial light, you can raise tom. successfully indoors all winter. Like Dawn said, if a dog can raise birdhouse gourds, how hard can it be.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 10:53AM
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I think everyone has pretty much covered it. I would have to say growing a tomato to harvest in a cold frame would be extremely difficult.

If you did succede, the flavor would not be there.

I usually start some tiny tim tomatoes(cherry size) early in the yr in my greenhouse. Mainly as they are not a big plant and do well in containers. they have a decent flavor and can be sliced in half to make a BLT.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 11:30AM
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Ahh well, it was worth a try. I guess it's time to put more cherry tomatoes in the ground. Cold frames work for lettuces, spinach, and radishes, right?


    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 11:48PM
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seeker1122(7a ok)

thank you.
A few years ago me and DH tried taking a long weekend
Bike broke down so we came home.
First thing I did was check on my garden.
Lo and behold who was stilling from my garden?
His mother! Oh I didn't know yall be here. So how often do u rob my tomatoes and peppers?She says everytime I think your gone.She livs on a 15 acre farm. I have a corner block.DH cussed me for not sharing I said she can grow her own.I offer her plants every year so she can garden.He says i'm mean.


    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 2:39AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I used to love giving away tons of fresh produce and did give away a lot for a couple of decades. I thought sharing was fun and hoped it might encourage others to garden too. When some of those people starting tell me that they'd "never" plant their own garden and grow their own plants because they were too busy and didn't have time, I started giving them lots less produce. I didn't like their implication that their time was more valuable than mine. I even had one tell me "why do all that work if you'll do it for me". I no longer do it for them!

I still share, but very carefully and with a very small number of people. Now, I'll give a tomato plant or 2 or 10 of them to somebody so they can grow their own, but in general 'Dawn's Free Produce Store' is no longer in operation.

I also found it hard to give fresh tomatoes to everyone equally. It was hard to remember if I gave 'this family' some last week or the week before, or if I'd given any yet to 'that family'. Now, they all get their tomatoes in the form of salsa at Christmas, and I don't fail to give some to anyone because they all get it at the same time.

I like giving produce to selected people at times when I have it available, but when they start acting like I "owe" them free produce every week, I stop giving them any at all. I'm a nice person until someone crosses me, but once they've crossed me......well, you know, I'm not as nice.

One of my favorite childhood story books was the Little Golden Book that told the story of The Little Red Hen. I am The Little Red Hen.

I believe if I caught someone---anyone---taking produce from my garden I'd go all Chuck Norris on them and make them sorry! I realize there are lots of hungry people in this country and I hope they are able to obtain enough food through legitimate channels, but there's lots who are too lazy to grow a garden and those people had better not try stealing from mine.


Here is a link that might be useful: The Tale of The Little Red Hen

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 12:14PM
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Seeker, If you share with her then I don't think you are mean. I have non-gardening friends that I share with but they share a lot of things with me also, and I could probably never balance out with a little produce... BUT...if I thought someone was taking it that hadn't been told to do so, I would be really mad. This year I planted cherry tomatoes near the fence and told my neighbor that they were planted there so he could reach them, and I want him to pick them. He has a small garden, but mine is normally much more productive.

On the other hand, I have people say things like, "Remember me if you have extra", or "I sure would like to can a few things this year", and they get nothing from my garden. I offer transplants almost every year but not produce. My theory is that it's the same earth, same water, and same sunshine available to all and the only missing component is their effort.

If I choose to give someone something, that is a different thing. I wouldn't go into someone's clothing store and say, "Oh, you have so many clothes, can you just share a few with me?" To me that is the same thing. It takes money, hard work, and a good bit of luck to garden in Oklahoma, and so far, it is not part of the welfare system.

If they are elderly, disabled, college students, or close friends, I am likely to share anyway, but they had better not steal it.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 12:19PM
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One of my favorite childhood story books was the Little Golden Book that told the story of The Little Red Hen. I am The Little Red Hen.

For the cartoon version of Dawn playing herself in the Little Red Hen, Click Here

Of course for those who know me, you'll know my favorite character is the Pig!


    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 1:20PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Keith, lol That vintage cartoon is hilarious, but I have a much cuter hat than the Little Red Hen's. Owiebrain made it for me and it is covered in tomatoes (of course).

Carol, That's a very good point that you wouldn't walk into someone's clothing store and ask for some of their clothing.

I get into trouble when I send tomatoes to work with Tim. There are a couple of people there I like to share with, but then if someone else sees the tomatoes or even hears about them, they start in with the chorus of "I want some...." which leaves him in the unfortunate position of trying to explain that his wife doesn't "let" him give away very many.


    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 1:42PM
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Would you use walls of water on your container tomatoes that early in the year? Or would the lean too protect them from a frost? I'm curious what town in SW Kansas do you live in and where do get your plants or seeds? I live in Buffalo, just south of the Kansas/Oklahoma state line, so probably not far from you. I have a pretty good stock of seed going now, and can always pick up a few plants at Ace Hardware, Atwoods, or Walmart for a few good sized plants when mine arent big enough, but the problem there is that they always have the same selection. Atwoods had Brandyboy by red dirt company, and that was one I wanted to grow and hadn't found before, but they have some sort of issue with not watering their plants lately, so the 2 I drug home are pretty rough looking. The ace hardware takes the best care of their plants, but all our ace carries is the Chef Jeffs and I've bought seed for most of the ones they offer.

I'm actually getting started earlier this year and bought several plants and got them planted in the last week of April, didn't get seed started until March 16. As warm as it was for most of March, I think next year I might put to use all of those walls of water I bought and haven't used yet. I get mad at myself every year when I see pol posting about their first tomato in May when I'm usually starting to put my out!

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 2:49AM
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I don't plan on using WOW's on the container plants that will be in the lean to at this time. My reason for building a lean to was I put it on the south end of my utility room and it covers a large double window. My plan of a night it too put a fan in one window and to circulate the air from the utility room which I heat and hopefully can keep it warm enough on cold nights that they won't freeze. I will watch my high/low thermometer for a while next winter and see how it works. I can always use WOW's if necessary when they are small. My plan is doing it on just a few plants at least the next year to see how it works. I just want a few early tomatoes to eat. I had planned on using WOW'S this year but never did due to my current work location.

I live in Elkhart,KS. I'm currently working 8 miles east of Forgan, OK on highway 64. I drive back and forth each day. I know Buffalo well. My stepdad was raised there. He has a sister and her husband who still lives there. Just recently when I was considering transferring to my current work location I looked for rural properties from Buffalo west. I found one south of Laverne that would of been ideal but it had a contract on it. I never found anything that I really liked. So have decided that once I get the new hires trained I will stay in Elkhart for the present.

I obtain most of my seeds from online sources. I have bought several in the past. Currently I have enough in my inventory and also receive several new ones from tomato growing friends every year that I don't buy many. It seems every year I will buy a few. I had an inventory of over 400 varieties but have cut that down some. I save seeds from most I grow. I start about all of the plants I grow. I did buy a few large plants this year and ordered a few which I hadn't done in several years. And probably won't again for a while. Had some disease issues with the plants I ordered. I only ordered because I wanted to try a variety that seeds aren't currently available for. And then was going to share seeds with some other growers in an online network I frequent. Although I stated no substitutions I didn't receive the variety I ordered anyway. Anytime you desire seeds of a variety just drop me an email. I have plants of around 80 varieties growing now. I will only plant around 60 varieties due to my current work location. I'm growing some from a grower in Santa Fe, NM that I hope will be better adapted to this area. Yes most of the plants at the stores around here get abused and don't look good long. We have a few greenhouses/nurseries around that sell nice plants usually. One in Liberal named Mayhan's and one in Goodwell/Guymon named Helms. They both grow all of their plants. I stopped by Helms yesterday and to pick up some Fertilome Blooming/Rooting formula and always have to look at their plants. Also looking at flowers to buy to plant among my tomato plants. Their plants didn't look as good as they did 6 weeks ago. I buy most of my potting mix and germinating mix when I use one from Mayhan's. I tried a commercial mix from Helm's this year. Don't like it near as well. Requires more supplemental feeding to keep nice looking plants. And why I think theirs are looking a little yellow and puny now.

You are probably very similar to me in when you can safely put out plants. And I will be a few weeks later this year due to my situation. I put out six plants in April. They do have tomatoes and blooms on them but haven't grown much. Those I'm putting out now are basically the same size. But no fruit and only a few blooms. My plan for the future is too transplant up to large pots. Which will allow for a larger root system and larger plants before I need to set them out. I have already obtained the pots and trays. I will start them inside and then move them to the lean to and then on to the larger greenhouse if the winds and time allow me to finish it.

I started seed around when you did. If you have a good lighting system you can have large plants by May 1st starting then. I plan to move my starting time up 7-14 days next year. I also toyed a little with grafting this year. I lost all ten plants I grafted. But learned a lot. I will do more next year. Maxifort and Emperado are both very vigorous growers and I can see benefits from using them and grafting. Next year I will start early and with the lean too will be able to experiment and hopefully have some successful grafts. Jay

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 8:01AM
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Jay, thanks for the seed offer, I may take you up on that next year. I have seed for all but 3 that are on my growlist and would trade you if I have anything that you want.

Finding a house and property around this area is not an easy task, which I'm sure you found that out. I've been to Forgan, but not as far west as Elkhart or Guymon, I do go up to Dodge City once in awhile to the drive in theater, and hit the casino when my daughters not with me. Haven't really seen any good places to buy plants there either.

I was ordering all of my plants online or buying them at Ace, Atwoods etc for a couple of years. Tried to grow some from seed one summer for fall tomatoes in May of June in those little peat pellets, I'm sure I don't have to tell you how that ended once I set them out in blazing heat. Hehe. I did grow a bunch last year from seed i bought at tomato growers supply and started them under lights but had the wrong kind of lights and the were leggy and by the time I got them large enough to plant something just went wrong and I only got a small number of tomatoes by the end of the season. This year is going much better, I started the seed and put them in the greenhouse at the high school. Im using some type of fetilome potting soil when potting the seedlings up, but I'm noticing that it seems like they are loosing their color pretty fast. I've been giving a stout drink of garrett juice compost tea every once in awhile, so not sure if the ones I've not planted yet have just been in the cups too long or if I need to do something else. I noticed today I have a few a tiny tomatoes on the beefsteak I bought at Walmart. Yea!!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 3:42AM
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