by Robert Bradford
(SW MO USA)
Over the years I have tried many ways to grow tomatoes. Once I made a small garden and set out several regular plants and a few cherry tomatoes. There were three cherries left over and I set them on the rock retaining wall by the front door. There was no decent soil for back fill above the wall so I cleaned out under the rabbit cages. They took root and planted themselves. The garden died from drought, but the cherries by the door thrived without water. Each time the cherry tomatoes grew up, fell over and touched the ground they rerooted and soon were a solid mass of plants. The first few days of harvest a bowl was okay. Soon the coal bucket was needed every evening. One year my garden was plastic milk crates lined with cardboard and filled with sawdust, floor sweepings and charcoal. The harvest was good with no wilt. The next year in the same general location in amended soil, wilt precluded any harvest. Next I tried a location about 50' away. The plants were dwarfed and did not produce. That fall, investigation revealed a 2'X3' 2” thick rock about 6” below grade, ever after known as The Tomato Rock. The next year I set plants out very early and watched the forecast every day and covered with bed sheets whenever it was to get below 39. On May first I decided the weather was no longer a problem. On the tenth, they all froze and died. More recently we made raised beds and filled them with a combination of screened native soil, square foot mix and lasagna. Every year the harvest has improved. Last year we started hauling old bedding from the chicken coop to the garden to add as compostable amendment and mulch. The raised beds still required a lot of irrigation. This year I fenced a 4'X16' bed in the orchard that the chickens patrol daily. Whenever they were given scratch, grass clippings, leaves or vegetable trimmings it was in this bed. Also every time I mowed I removed 5 bushels of bedding from the coop for the future tomato bed and added ten bushels of grass clippings and leaves to the coop as new bedding. One reason for the shape of the bed is that the chickens can still get within inches of the crops to harvest weeds and bugs but not the flowers or fruit. In the spring the chickens were gated out and Roma tomatoes were planted interspersed with 5 gallon buckets with small holes in the bottom between every two plants for watering (fast fill, slow drain). They are doing great. We harvest every day and have to water very seldom even in our dry 100 degree plus days. We have added a 4X16 bed adjacent to the first which the chickens are preparing for next years crop. We will elongate each to 4X32 to have enough tomatoes to can, freeze and dry and also to test and try other vegetable varieties. As my good friend Asau says, “Some will live and some will die, but some will thrive and multiply.” We need to find what does best and where.
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