The tomato bed – 2013

It took me 4 tries to type 2013.  For some reason that year just doesn’t flow naturally from my brain to my fingertips.

As you have undoubtedly (because of course you certainly follow every entry in my blog…. right?) seen, our kitchen garden has undergone a few changes this year.  We added a second layer to our biggest raised beds and rebuilt the trellis(exactly as it had been) on our “cool season” bed in March prior to getting it planted.  

tomatoes in a raised garden bed

The tomato bed, however, has experienced the most changes.  In the past, it had a trellis layout identical to that of the other bed- that is,  a 2×4 frame and eye hooks with thin rope strung up on the 4′ width on the north side of the bed.  It’s effective, but last year I tried something new in terms of how to support my tomatoes, and loved it.  I ran a single strand of rope from top to bottom of the trellis area, and carefully twisted the main stem of the tomato up and around the rope for support.  This allowed for a smaller footprint as the vines stayed mostly vertical, and easier to pick tomatoes.  The problem with this method is that my trellis support just wasn’t big enough for as many plants as I wanted to grow!  I could only reasonably fit 3 plants on the 4′ span of the trellis.  When I tore off the old trellis to add layer #2 of the raised beds this spring, I took the opportunity to rotate the trellis 90° so it could run the 10′ length of the bed, thus accommodate more plants!  

eggshells in the bottom of a planting hole

The other major change to the tomato bed is the tunnel cover design.  In the past I used the standard design of loops of pvc pipe over the bed and draped sheets of visqueen over them.  It works beautifully, but simply put, the tomatoes really need the provided heat longer than they are able to be contained by the hoop house.  This year I constructed an elaborate pvc framework that’s also supported by the long trellis frame, which should allow my tomatoes to grow up to 6′ tall before it comes time to remove the plastic.

tomato hothouse frame

We headed to the Snohomish County Master Gardeners’ annual plant sale on Saturday to go get some tomatoes, as the beginning of May is when us PNW gardeners can start putting out warmer season plants.  I was thrilled to see that they had a list of all of the expected varieties on their website, as it would give me some time to obsessively research which varieties I want to plant (In the PNW, our growing season isn’t long enough to choose plants willy-nilly.  They have to produce early!).  I spent at least a few hours doing web searches of each variety and keeping a list with the names of the cultivar and a few other pieces of pertinent information.  Then as I scrolled down to the end of the page, I found that they had a downloadable spreadsheet with all of that information on every cultivar, so way to waste hours of your life, Laurel.  Grrrr.  Anyway, we went to the plant sale, and it was crazy.  I felt like I was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  The aisles were crowded and everyone was going for the coveted varieties.  There was even some shoving!  Craig avoided the fray, opting instead to “guard” the box of tomatoes that I had already collected.  I would venture out, grab as many plants as I could reasonable carry, run back to the box, dump them, and go back out for more!  I wanted to be sure to get a few varieties that I had had success with in the past.  I ended up getting a little caught up in the pandemonium and bought a few more plants than I had intended to.  The problem you see, is that they all look so exciting.  It’s too difficult to just pick 7.  Additionally, I got a couple early-season jalapeno plants and some pretty Japanese style eggplants called Hansel and Gretel for this bed.

freshly planted tomatoes

Due to my total inability to purchase or do anything in moderation, I bought 10 tomato plants.  2 of them stay small enough that they should survive in containers, but I was able to jam 8 into this bed, 7 along the trellis, and one at the end in a cage.

raised bed with cold frame

The varieties that I chose, going from the one in the cage, then left to right are:
Black Krim
Yellow Brandywine
Julia Child (!!!)
White Cherry
Anna Russian
Green Zebra
Orange Paruche

The two that will be going into pots are Glacier, and Oregon Spring, both able to withstand cooler temps and stay fairly small.

cold frame for tomato bed

I have to say that I am quite pleased with my design and engineering skills with regards to how this cold frame system went together.  It seems sturdy enough, though we have yet to experience any serious wind since it went up, so time will tell.  I used horseshoe clamps around T-shaped PVC connectors to stick it to the bed, then it’s all pressed-together with Ts and Elbows and whatnot.

I tented it with 6 mil visqueen sheeting from Ace Hardware. A 25′ long, 10′ wide roll cost about $29.  I usually hold the visqueen on my beds with plastic clippy things that I picked up at the hardware store a few years back for around $1 each, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold the plastic to the 2×4 with that method, so I had to get creative.

binder clip holding plastic visqueen sheet on hot house

 And creative I got!  I picked up some binder clips and screwed them into the wood. They hold the plastic to the frame as well as down to the bottom of the beds, so they’re not flapping around constantly!  I’m pretty much a genius.

binder clip holding plastic visqueen sheet on hot house
binder clip holding plastic visqueen sheet on hot house

Now the bed can be effectively sealed, but it’s still easy to unbutton and access everything inside!

Tomato hot house raised bed
Tomato hot house raised bed

Next up, I need to install the eye hooks and run a few strands of rope for each plant.

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