As fall finally arrives, it’s time to think about early frosts and the end of the growing season. At our house, we are happily celebrating the end of the summer squash glut, and I have no plans to prolong that harvest. Our pole beans are looking a bit peaked, and production has stalled. We enjoyed a bountiful crop, so again, I’m happy to let them succumb to frost.
On the other hand, our tomatoes have just started ripening. (They wilted severely while we were evacuated for the Black Forest fire, and I think it set them back at least a month.) The huge plants are loaded with promising yellow, orange, and pale red fruit, and I’m unwilling to give up so close to our goal.
When it comes to the perfect tomato, we gardeners have sky-high expectations! We all have our own concept of tomato heaven—healthy plants bearing tons of huge fruit with exactly the right sugar-to-acid balance, thin skin (but one that doesn’t crack), early, full of flavor, and resistant to whatever Mother Nature can throw at it.
Here in my high altitude garden, I can’t afford to be so picky. Forget long-season heirlooms and humongous beefsteaks. I just want a tomato that will ripen before it freezes to death! It does, however, have to taste better than store-bought. Isn’t flavor the whole reason to grow tomatoes in the first place?
It seems that only yesterday I was picking my first ripe tomato of the season. Now I’m looking at the vigorous vines still full of green fruit and wondering… how long will the warm weather last this year? Is there will time for these to ripen? If not, when should I pick them? How should I store them? Is it OK if they freeze?
It’s early October, with warm, golden days and crisp nights, and frost could come at any time. In fact, October 10 is the average first frost date in Colorado Springs. (Where I am, 1,000 feet higher in elevation than downtown, I have to subtract 10 days (one day per hundred feet), which means that in any given year, my garden has a 50% chance of seeing a frost by October 1.)
This last week of gorgeous spring weather has certainly brought out the crowds at the garden centers and home improvement stores. When I visited last weekend, carts full of geraniums, tomatoes, and other tender annuals were lined up at the checkout.
Today, the forecast is for snow. It was 30 degrees when I got up this morning. There was frost on the parked cars. As I type, big flakes are softly landing on the freshly turned soil out my window. I wondered how many of the people I’d seen at the store had gone home and planted their flowers, only to find them blackened after the sub-freezing night.
We’ve probably all seen the ads for growing upside-down tomatoes, with the plants protruding from the bottom of a hanging plastic bag full of potting mix. They’re the Big New Idea in gardening. The question everyone’s asking is, does this work here in Colorado? After all, this isn’t exactly prime tomato-growing country.
Carol O’Meara is the horticultural extension agent for Boulder county. She has decided to find out for herself if growing tomatoes upside-down works in our climate, and is sharing the ongoing results of her experiment on her blog, Gardening After Five. Carol brings up a number of important issues; if you want to try this too, reading her article is a good place to start.