Rain Sheild for Tomatoes

Ask any group of people how they feel about tomatoes, and you’ll get mixed reviews. A lot of people love tomatoes with their bright colors and acidic but sweet flavor. Some will pass on eating raw tomatoes, preferring them in soups, sauces and salsas. Others will completely avoid eating them. One thing is for sure though, tomatoes are a versatile and very popular home garden vegetable. This is true because eating a homegrown tomato, freshly plucked from the vine, tastes SO much better than any store bought ones.

Here on the West Coast of BC, we have to contend with late blight, when growing our tomatoes. This link explains the conditions under which late tomato blight could infect our gardens. Taking some fairly simple precautions, can help ensure a successful tomato crop at home. This blog post is about how we prepared our tomato plot for this year. Here’s hoping that we can pull off another bumper, blight-free crop this summer!

After harvesting garlic in June, then bok choy, bush & fava beans crops from this plot last fall, we started preparing the bed for spring tomatoes.  I plucked out any weeds and then I sprinkled a generous portion of dolomite lime over the soil. Dolomite lime helps to bring up the ph level of our acidic coastal soils. Hubby added 3 wheelbarrow loads of compost that created about a 4″ top layer over the plot.

The fall compost layer over the future Tomato plot and to the right, winter Collard Greens are starting to grow. **Notice that this plot doesn’t go right up to the front fence**

To add organic matter and nutrients to the soil, I planted a cover crop of winter rye on this plot. The cover crop helped lessen erosion from winter rains and prevented weed growth. Its root system also provided organic matter and opened passageways that helped improve air and water movement in the soil.

A close up shot of the winter rye cover crop sprouting. You can also see many crushed egg shells in the compost layer, which will add calcium to the soil. Calcium is important to help prevent Blossom-End Rot.

While the cover crop was growing over the winter, we also added small amount of seaweed to the plot. Seaweed contains all kinds of beneficial properties that will improve our soil, even the few shells that came with it, will add calcium as they slowly decompose. Next, a few inches of horse manure was spread over the plot. The manure wasn’t completely aged or composted, but with winter rains, I knew it wouldn’t cause burning problems for spring seedlings.

The cover crop is almost ready to cut and turn into the soil. The perennial Columbine and Peonie flowers are also poking through 🙂

Once the cover crop (also know as “green manure”) was chopped and turned into the soil, we let it rest for about 3 weeks to off gas and start decomposing. While this was happening, I raked the top smooth and moved sticks and chunks, that didn’t break down over the winter, to the compost pile. I also gave the plot another light dusting of lime and spread a pail full of wood ashes around. Wood ash is also alkaline (like lime) and contains potassium which is vital for crop growth.

We also decided to extend this plot right to the fence, where a path was before. The extension would enable us to grow a couple more tomatoes plus grow some Italian Borolotti dried beans up the wire fence panel.

Ready to go! More garden square footage filled with leaves, compost and soil.

Now that the plot was ready for planting, I designed some covers that would help keep rain and overhead sprinkler water off of the Tomato plants. Other than keep the tomatoes dry, there were two other important characteristics that my tomato covers needed to have; beauty and mobility.  Since the structure is going to be in our front yard, I wanted to keep it aesthetically pleasing. To enable crop rotation, the cover had to move with the tomatoes to their new plot each season. From my design plans, our son built 4 free-standing posts and then two A-frame roof sections.

I painted the roof panels before adding the corrugated plastic panels.

Lightweight and ready to be placed on top of two free-standing posts. I put the posts in the tomato plot, levelling them and placing them the proper distance apart. Once the posts were set into the proper position, I lifted the roof section on top of them and secured it with a couple of screws. The first one is completed in the background. I am in the process of setting the posts for the second roof in this photo.

Ready to plant!  I’ve dug 14 holes under the tomato covers in preparation for planting. To each hole I’ve added a shovelful of finished compost, some banana peels, some crushed egg shells and one fish head. I haven’t tried this planting technique before, it is a compilation of internet advice (or superstition perhaps?) on “how to grow super tomato crops”. I’ll let you know how it all turns out 🙂Here’s a picture of the tomato plot from a few days ago. The fourteen tomato plants (9 different varieties) are nestled in, and the cover is working well to eliminate overhead water falling on the plants. A soaker hose is winding between the tomatoes and is covered with lawn clipping mulch, to keep the water from spraying up onto the plants.

Now we wait and watch, as Nature does her thing. I’ll be sure to post updated photos of our tomato plot progress, in the weeks and months to come 🙂 Enjoy the sun!