You don’t need an expensive cold frame or greenhouse in
which to grow plump, beautiful red-ripe tomatoes . . . over
an extended season. All you really need–says
Randy Sutton–are a few worn-out old tires and some
throwaway plastic clothes bags!
Getting a handle on the art of growing tomatoes can be
pretty difficult when you have to contend with wind, rain,
or a cool climate . . . and up here in Oregon’s coastal
rain forest, we receive our share of all three.
Our neighbors, however, have devised a method for
successfully growing tomatoes in just such conditions. What
they do is use old rubber tires–obtained free from
service stations–and leftover plastic film (such as
dry cleaners put around clothes) to make a combination
greenhouse/wind protector that virtually ensures a bumper
crop every year. Here’s their exact procedure:
First, in a sunny location, lay out one tire for each plant
you want to grow. Then, using a stick, scratch a line
around it in the dirt. Remove the tire and till compost or
fertilizer deeply into the soil inside the circle.
Next, scoop out a shallow tire-shaped depression (a couple
of inches deep) in the ground that you’ve tilled and
fertilized. Plant two or three seeds a half-inch deep in
the center of the circle. (If you’re transplanting
seedlings, bury them up to the first set of leaves . . .
this’ll permit each plant to send out feeder rootlets from
I might point out that weeds dearly love this gardening
system too, and that–for this reason–you’d do
well to mulch around your seeded area with cut-up inner
tubes, wood chips, tar paper, straw, or whatever mulching
materials you can scrounge for free.
Now. Place the tire around your planting so that it nestles
comfortably in the depression you’ve made for it. Then fill
the inside bottom of the rim to overflowing with water (but
be careful not to get too much on your plants or seeds).
Next, cover the tire with a big, clear piece of scrap
plastic, and tuck the edges of the film tightly under the
Finally, just scoop some soil firmly against the sides of
the wheel to help hold the plastic down and to provide
additional insulation. That’s all there is to it.
What does the tire-and-plastic enclosure accomplish? Three
things. It serves as  a cutworm collar,  a windbreak,
and  a miniature solar greenhouse. During the day, the
black rubber absorbs heat from the sun’s rays (even, to
some extent, when it’s cloudy), and transfers that thermal
energy to the water inside the rubber doughnut’s rim. At
night, the heated liquid then slowly releases its warmth to
the air surrounding the plant. Thus, conditions of
temperature and humidity (and pest exclusion) are
maintained which tend to foster rapid–and
You’ll need to add little water to your “greenhouse” as
long as the plastic roof is covering the tire. Nonetheless,
do check the water level in the tire periodically and “top
off” the sidewall reservoir whenever it gets below half
When your tomato seedling reaches the “roof”, simply [A]
remove the plastic, [B] stack a second tire on top of the
first, and [C] put the plastic over the second tire
(tucking it between the two to secure the covering in
It’s probably a good idea to remove the plastic roof
altogether when blossoms begin to appear, so that bees can
get at them. Leave the two tires standing, however, to
serve as a windbreak.
Later on–as your tomato plant reaches its full size
and begins to bear fruit abundantly–you’ll discover
that the double tire “trellis” holds the fruit off the
ground and thereby prevents rot.
So far, we’ve seen this method used only for tomatoes . . .
but it brings such fabulous results with these
plants that we plan to try the same idea for starting other
vegetables as well (green peppers and eggplant in
particular). Whitewalls, I would think, should produce
equally fine results . . . but–because an all-black
exterior will probably absorb more heat–we plan to
turn whitewalls dark side up, just to be safe.
Rubber tire tomatoes? See you in back of the service