Growing Tomatoes on COB Basrah, Iraq

nordfyr315(5)September 14, 2009

One of the downsides to being deployed is being away from my garden. While my "expeditionary garden" will never take the place of my lush backyard in upstate New York, I decided that I would not go the entire year without some sort of gardening activity.

I started researching growing tomatoes in Iraq about a year or so ago but information was scarce so I just went with what I read about growing tomatoes in AZ and NV and looked up average monthly temperatures in Iraq. I decided to keep it small (just over a square foot I think) and limit myself to six plants at the very maximum. I must confess that the water bottle irrigation system I constructed was not an original idea but cribbed from the below posting. It seems to be somewhat effective in keeping the soil moderately moist but I still give my planter about two liters every night and one in the morning.

My mother sent me some Miracle Grow potting soil to mix with the mostly sterile sand/soil that is around here. Being a diehard organic gardener, I wouldn't normally use enhanced soil but you can't be too picky around here and plus, there are not too many options for amending soil on COB Basrah.

I knew that hardening off seedlings in 100+ heat would be tough so I just planted everything in the ground. I always wanted to grow watermelons but have never succeeded in upstate so I put some Sugarbaby seeds in that my mother sent along with some Black from Tula seeds I saved from last year. This was in mid August with daily high averaging 110-120. In less than four days the melons had sprouted and started to take off. The BFT seeds took a little longer and then sent up a couple sickly seedlings that died within two days. Poor things were probably expecting a late April day in Syracuse. I figured that the other seeds had most likely died in the soil and so I had my girlfriend send me some Large Red Cherry seeds from last year. I figured they would have a better chance for maturity before the weather gets too cold in late Nov/early Dec. Again, a couple weak seedlings that died soon after. Finally, I took my remaining seeds and planted them in cups inside, hoping I would be able to harden them off when they developed their true leaves. I continued to water my planter and put about an inch of coffee grounds on top of the soil for my melon plants. I also increased the amount of water I was giving to them. I don't know if it was the grounds, the water or the fact that the highs are now below 110 but now I have about ten nice looking seedlings growing among the three melon plants that I have decided to keep. Of course now I am unsure of which ones are BFT and which are LRC but I suspect the BFT seedlings are the ones with the purplish stems (at least that is how I remember BFT seedlings looking). I will limit myself to three tomato plants and whatever cilantro seeds are willing to grow in the shade of the tomato and watermOne of the downsides to being deployed is being away from my garden. While my "expeditionary garden" will never take the place of my lush backyard in upstate New York, I decided that I would not go the entire year without some sort of gardening activity.

I started researching growing tomatoes in Iraq about a year or so ago but information was scarce so I just went with what I read about growing tomatoes in AZ and NV and looked up average monthly temperatures in Iraq. I decided to keep it small (just over a square foot I think) and limit myself to six plants at the very maximum. I must confess that the water bottle irrigation system I constructed was not an original idea but cribbed from the below posting. It seems to be somewhat effective in keeping the soil moderately moist but I still give my planter about two liters every night and one in the morning.

My mother sent me some Miracle Grow potting soil to mix with the mostly sterile sand/soil that is around here. Being a diehard organic gardener, I wouldn't normally use enhanced soil but you can't be too picky around here and plus, there are not too many options for amending soil on COB Basrah.

I knew that hardening off seedlings in 100+ heat would be tough so I just planted everything in the ground. I always wanted to grow watermelons but have never succeeded in upstate so I put some Sugarbaby seeds in that my mother sent along with some Black from Tula seeds I saved from last year. This was in mid August with daily high averaging 110-120. In less than four days the melons had sprouted and started to take off. The BFT seeds took a little longer and then sent up a couple sickly seedlings that died within two days. Poor things were probably expecting a late April day in Syracuse. I figured that the other seeds had most likely died in the soil and so I had my girlfriend send me some Large Red Cherry seeds from last year. I figured they would have a better chance for maturity before the weather gets too cold in late Nov/early Dec. Again, a couple weak seedlings that died soon after. Finally, I took my remaining seeds and planted them in cups inside, hoping I would be able to harden them off when they developed their true leaves. I continued to water my planter and put about an inch of coffee grounds on top of the soil for my melon plants. I also increased the amount of water I was giving to them. I don't know if it was the grounds, the water or the fact that the highs are now below 110 but now I have about ten nice looking seedlings growing among the three melon plants that I have decided to keep. Of course now I am unsure of which ones are BFT and which are LRC but I suspect the BFT seedlings are the ones with the purplish stems (at least that is how I remember BFT seedlings looking). I will limit myself to three tomato plants and whatever cilantro seeds are willing to grow in the shade of the tomato and watermelon plants. It will certainly be taking square foot gardening to an extreme but I have always been reluctant to pull seedlings. I will take some pictures of the tomatoes when they get their first set of true leaves and I am confident they are actually going to make it. In the meantime, here are a couple preliminary pics.

Planter Box/Protective Wall:

Watermelon Seedlings:

Where I got the bottle irrigation idea from:

http://www.instructables.com/id/How_to_grow_flowers_on_a_military_base_in_Iraq/

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nordfyr315(5)

By the way, I am not a spambot but obviously have a problem with cutting and pasting. Sorry about the repetitive text. My internet connection is pretty bad so I type longer posts in a word document and then paste when I have a good connection.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2009 at 2:43PM
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cbadcali

Hi. Great story. You guys and gals are the best. May you soon see the benefits of your garden and my prayers are with all that you come home safe and sound. Take care and keep us informed of your garden's progress. (I guess I shouldn't complain when we get hot and humid in Carlsbad, Calif., I don't think I could do 110) Cbad

    Bookmark   September 14, 2009 at 2:48PM
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ediej1209(5 N Central OH)

Good luck with your garden; keep us posted, and most importantly -
THANK YOU for your service.

Bless you!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2009 at 7:55PM
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fulton

It's the experimenting I enjoy. The results seem secondary.
Thank you very much for your service.
Larry

    Bookmark   September 14, 2009 at 8:42PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

nord,

Great effort growing in the heat over there!! My cousin an E6 has done 3 tours of duty there, most recently at Camp Falcon. He was just reassigned to be an Army Recruiter in Butte, Montana, which will be a totally different climate for him.

Let all of us know if we can send you any seeds, or other supplies, as they must be pretty scarce over there.

Raybo (originally from Upstate NY - Rochester)

    Bookmark   September 14, 2009 at 8:42PM
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tomatojoa

Best of luck to you and your garden! Please let us know if we can send anything for the garden.

-JoAnne

    Bookmark   September 14, 2009 at 10:29PM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

nordfyr315,

Thanks for the post about your Victory Garden!! Thank you for your service!!

DL

    Bookmark   September 15, 2009 at 2:25AM
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vgary(z6KY)

What an inspiration!
And, We complain about our gardening efforts! I think it is wonderful that you love gardening enough to try growing things there when you are faced with such challenges. I am pleased to know that you have this diversion from all the pressures you experience each day!
Perhaps it would be good for you to Journal some of you gardening experience so you will have a record of it in the future!God be with you and Thank You for serving our country!
Gary

    Bookmark   September 15, 2009 at 7:24AM
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miesenbacher(7)

nord, I'll echo the same offer as rnewste. I work at a comm site in Germany supporting our soldiers down in SWA such as yourself. Need anything shoot me an e-mail via (My Page). Ami

    Bookmark   September 15, 2009 at 9:23AM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

nord, well I remember your posts here at GW when you were still in Syracuse.

Let's look at the bright side of things for a sec and that's that if you were still back in Syracuse no doubt you would have lost most or all of your tomato plants to Late Blight b'c of the disastrous Late Blight ( P. infestans) season here in the NE.

I know that some of the Iraquis do grow tomatoes. IS there any way you could make contact with some of them to ask about their timing and what they grow?

And do you ever see any veggie and fruit stands along the roads with local produce? Maybe getting some seeds out of the local tomatoes might be something to think about.

Concerning a garden next year also depends on how long you'll be deployed in Iraq? Do you know how long you'll be in Iraq?

It's great to hear from you and of course I have seeds I can send too, just contact me at cmale@aol.com but will you be trying a garden next year as well if you're going to be there?

Carolyn

    Bookmark   September 15, 2009 at 9:42AM
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diclemeg(7a)

hey,
im in long island and planted a ton of heirlooms and a few hybrids... with all the rain we got in june, most everyone got wiped out around here from blight.

so you know, the only ones that made it were the russian ones, the black tula and the black krim. which leads me to believe, that iraq is way too DRY from black tula, and probably hot, too. i'd try growing it in all shade, seriously, and watering it every day. i think only then it would stand a chance.

good luck.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2009 at 2:27PM
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jll0306(9/ Sunset 18/High Desert)

Good Luck, Nordfyer.

Even shading plants here where it can also get over to be 110 doesn't do much for their growth except keep them alive until the weather breaks. One of these days I may try the Iraqui tomatoes offered by some of the US seed companiies, but I'd love to know how the locals grow them.

thank you for your service. God bless.

Jan

    Bookmark   September 15, 2009 at 4:32PM
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sautesmom

Gosh, I wish you had posted BEFORE you planted! Not to rain on your parade but...
(1) Cilantro is, contrary to what one would think, actually a cool weather crop. In those temps it will bolt right away, but hopefully it will grow slowly until it cools down! Or you can replant every couple of weeks, to see what takes.
(2)When my family lived in the sandy desert of Southern California, they tried to grow watermelons. Which did GROW fabulously, but they were absolutely tasteless, probably because of the lack of nutrients in the sand. I hope your Miracle Grow potting mix makes a difference, but if it doesn't, blame the sand, not yourself!
(3) Black from Tula would definitely not be one of my first choices for desert growing. I think you will get a couple of fruit, but certainly not a bounty. If there is still time for you to start seeds, I would be thrilled to send you a selection of my "happy to grow in the heat" seeds for you to experiment with, ones that grow nicely for me above 100 degrees!

Let me know...

Carla in Sac

    Bookmark   September 16, 2009 at 3:11PM
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sue_ct(z6 CT)

Let me add my thanks for your service, also!

Highly dependent on how long you are likely to be there, but have you considered burying food scraps in the garden to add organic matter to the soil and maybe loosening up some dirt in anther spot and making it a compost area? I bet in those temps it would break down pretty fast. Do you have earth worms? Collect a few if you can find any and throw them in the area and I bet they will be best fed worms in the country. When you leave you could turn it over to the next person who might find a couple of garden veggies welcome.

Sue

    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 2:12AM
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lazy_gardens

there are not too many options for amending soil on COB Basrah

Talk to the cooks, and the clerks. With enough coffee grounds and shredded paper you could get a good sheet composting going. And I think camel dung could be considered equivalent to sheep manure. :)

You might be able to grow tomatoes over the winter there, with a bit of protection. My Romas and Matt's Wild Cherry plants finally slowed down and stopped producing after a couple of weeks of 110+ heat, but they are starting to set fruit again. I'm going to try to get some of them through the winter.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 10:58AM
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jessicavanderhoff(7 Md)

That's very cool!

    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 12:45PM
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korney19(z6a Buffalo, NY)

Thanks for your service and here's to you and some buddies a few ticks over, to the right:

    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 3:13PM
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bcskye

Good luck on your garden and thank you so much for your service. Lots of prayers going your way.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2009 at 3:55PM
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nordfyr315(5)

So a few years later I finally review this thread and I noticed all your good will and good advice. Carolyn, I greatly admire your work and would have loved some seeds from you but I guess I got too busy with work during the deployment to check this thread. Since the tomato experiment never resulted in a fruit, this is a little off topic but here are a few snaps of the end results of my gardening experience in Iraq.

This was my largest tomato plant. Had some pretty flowers and decent vigor but when this was taken in March, it was already getting too hot and the blossoms would just drop off.

My watermelon vines. The most successful plants I had over there.

Impressive, right? LOL

They actually tasted better than they looked.

The cilantro grew well in February and early March. I would chew a few leaves when walking to work in the morning.

I later learned that someone else in my unit was growing a few plants. Sunflower, cilantro and I think a few other herbs. Cute little setup.

A few local Iraqis did maintenance work around our living area. Nice guys. This was in front of their building. Arugula. They gave me some seeds and I gave them some snap pea seeds that they planted in soda bottles so the house sparrows didn't eat the seedlings. Clever fellas.

A cold frame the locals built. Sunflowers and arugula. Hope those guys were ok after we left. Some of the contractors got heat for working on an American base. I am growing both varieties in NY now as a living memento of my time in the sandbox. COB Basrah was known in Southern Iraq for taking a few rocket attacks so I named the variety of arugula Basrah Rocket. If anyone would like some seed, I will have a limited quantity at the end of this season.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 11:47PM
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