green tomatoes

Tomato flowers against brown fence

Growing Tomatoes Part 3

I have heard of gardeners who manage to harvest their first ripe tomato by the Fourth of July. All I can say is these folks must have optimal conditions and superb techniques to achieve this feat. Either that or they’re lying.

I’m happy if any of my plants have visible tomatoes by the beginning of July.

Tomato plants half grown in June

My plants spend most of June just growing to the maximum size their pots allow. I encourage this by making sure they never dry out. I also remove any unwanted side-shoots that appear in the leaf axils. This gets tricky once the plants are a foot or two in height, because the stems inevitably bend a bit. A couple of mine managed to do some sneaky branching.

At some point the plants start blooming.

Tomato flowers close-up

No one grows tomatoes for their flowers, but viewed closely, they are bright and cheery. Their purpose is to turn into tomatoes, however, so I hope they are visited by pollinators. The wait is agonizingly slow, especially if the weather is cool (not a problem this summer!) I’ve even been known to fluff around with a little paintbrush to help things along.

Tomato plants with flowers and small green fruits in July
Small green tomatoes on plants in July

This plant’s flowers have obviously been visited by bees or other insects. Those golf-ball sized tomatoes will expand over the next couple of months and eventually turn into luscious red globes (and salsa!)

Not yet, but eventually!

The only jobs for the gardener now are to keep watering, remove side shoots, and maybe apply some sort of fertilizer. Not a high nitrogen type, however; no need to encourage more leaf growth. I’ve heard that when it rains, it’s a good idea to cover the plants with a tarp or something of the sort to prevent blight. We haven’t had a drop of rain in nearly a month, and none in sight, so I guess I don’t have to worry about blight, either early or late.

Endless Summer

Summer was late in arriving this year, but now that it has, it appears to be here to stay for a while. Record high temperatures are forecast for the end of next week as the dreaded thermal trough develops off the Washington coast. This phenomenon has not manifested so far this summer, so I shouldn’t really complain, even though I’m not a heat lover. Besides, with sunset occurring before 8 p.m., things cool off pretty fast in the evenings, so I don’t expect the hot nights that would happen in a July heat wave.

And the garden? Well, it looks tired and past its best, the way it should at the end of summer. Once September starts, though, I begin to look for that subtle season I call the “fall spring,” when, after a few rains, plants revive and some even flower a second time. The tired look vanishes, and even though the late-season state of things prevails, a modest beauty creeps in. But the last time we had measurable rain was on August 22, and before that on July 21.

On the other hand, it has turned out to be a promising year for tomatoes, after a rather bleak start. In mid-July I would not have believed that there would be trusses of big tomatoes on the plants that at that time had only flowers and pea-sized fruits. And without rain, there is less chance of late blight disease, which causes brown spots and eventual rot, rather than ripening.

Still very green!

A few things are in bloom — not reluctant, end-of-season bloom, but new and fresh — notably a dark blue delphinium that I dug up from one of my tree-root-infested perennial beds and transferred to a pot. Like its paler blue and pink fellows also living in pots, it has prospered and is blooming, late in the season when most other things are in decline.

The thing is to appreciate what is there and stop fretting about everything else. In gardening as in life.

Delphinium