A Gardener’s Diary: One Year of Raising Tomatoes

After a move to a new climate, one gardener shares her trials as she tests her land and attempts to raise tomatoes.


| May/June 1974



Struggling Tomato Plant

Gardening isn't all know-how: However green your thumb, you're still at the mercy of the weather. In a long spell of contrary conditions, all you can do is throw out the rule book, use your common sense and hope for the best.


PHOTO: FOTOLIA/DAVID WOOLFENDEN

Here we are in our first Iowa winter, with plenty of time to consider whether or not to plant our "field" of an acre and a quarter in tomatoes. The nearby Heinz cannery promises profits of up to $1,000 . . . if the crop is good. In spite of an advanced education in horticulture, however, I have a black thumb, and all my garden successes are tempered with failures. True, back in Ohio it was only once in many years that the tomatoes flopped, but even once is enough to make us cautious.

"Wait and see what the new soil and climate are like," suggests my family. "Find out what problems we have in the garden before you commit us to a summer's work in the fields . . . maybe all in vain." Reasonable enough. I certainly didn't expect to have as many problems raising tomatoes as I did.

February 13: The Caro Red seed arrived. This is our favorite tomato: not quite red but darker than orange . . . meaty, delicious and low in acid. Since many varieties can be purchased as plants from the local greenhouse, we'll concentrate our meager resources on Caro Red . . . which can't be bought around here.

Back when we had a greenhouse, this was Tomato Planting Day. The seedlings—grown cool, with no setbacks—would be sturdy plants with tiny fruit by May 15. But here in Iowa it's 20 degrees below zero, with snowdrifts over our heads, and all the growing space we have is a sunny but frost-covered window. Now is the time to wait.

February 25: A neighbor called to ask if it was time to plant tomatoes yet. "We ought to wait," I told her. (Then I thought, "Maybe I shouldn't have said that if she was in the mood. Seed planting and watching is cheap therapy and—winter-weary as we are—we need it now.") "Plant petunias instead," I suggested.

March 27: Planted tomato seeds today: put them in a clay pot of soil with an inch of vermiculite (sterile medium to guard against disease) on top and covered the whole thing with a plastic bag to keep in moisture. Maybe I waited too long . . . even March goes fast.





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