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No, actually, I’m in the northern hemisphere…

December 9, 2013

The first week of December has passed and we are enjoying fresh vine ripened tomatoes. (Really)

Granted, these aren’t the best homegrown tomatoes we’ve ever tasted but they sure beat anything available in the produce section this time of year.

With winter solstice fast approaching, you might be wondering how this is possible (assuming you actually believe my claim).

First, the proof:

Tomatoes, variety Rutgers, picked in the last 4 or 5 days:



A current picture of the producing vine:

OK, how?

First, don’t even consider trying to keep one of your April plantings alive until December as the plant will be far too spent and “battle weary” to set any decent fruit in late September and October. Root a sucker in late June or July that can be transplanted to the warmest and best “southern exposure” location that you can come up with around your home. It also helps if you have a convenient power source nearby (more on this below). In my case, this spot is outside of my fence at the southwestern corner of my house.

This spot has a few things going for it besides southern exposure; the house acts as a giant “heat sink” that collects solar energy (in the form of heat) over the course of the day and releases it overnight. This, along with furnace and dryer exhaust vents in the area, help create a micro-environment slightly warmer than the rest of my winter landscape. (On the rare occasion we receive snow, the visual confirmation of this modest difference in temperature is obvious to the eye, although I have no pictures to prove my point.)

By mid-October, this plant was quite healthy and had a good number of fairly large green tomatoes set. As our first freeze approached, I hated to give up on it and decided to wrap the cage in the row cover and old greenhouse plastic you see on the ground behind it. I stuck a shop light with a warm incandescent bulb inside on the nights where frost was expected and the plant did fine. When the lows were forecast to be in the mid to low 20s for a week I stuck a tiny space heater underneath and sliced a vent in the top to keep it from overheating. You can see where heater dried the middle level of leaves out even on the lowest setting and with the vent on top.

The idea isn’t to create an environment where the plant actually grows; this would be impossible given soil temperature and lack of solar energy this time of year. Instead, the goal is to avoid freezing of both the leaves and the tomatoes, therefore allowing the existing tomatoes to mature on the mostly dormant plant. The tomatoes harvested now are the same ones that were green on the plant 2 months ago; the ripening process has been excruciatingly slow and any additional fruit development has been modest. Note also that I started pinching blossoms off of the plant in October to allow as much energy as possible to go towards the existing fruit.

Will I do this every year?

Probably not.

I actually just wanted to see how long I could keep one plant alive and “producing”. I’m even not certain that I will cover the plant again for the colder temperatures that will descend upon us later this week.

BTW, The answer is December 9th.

(So far.)


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brent Eamer permalink
    December 9, 2013 1:32 pm

    I grew Rutgers Red up here in PEI, they are fantastic, no blight at all. Nice 4-6 oz fruit. Seeds from Penny’s tomatoes.

  2. December 9, 2013 2:49 pm

    Wow those look good. Here in Washington we’ve had abnormally cold and dry temperatures so almost every plant outside is screaming for help and wilting dramatically.

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