Last year, my vegetable patch consisted of almost 100 square feet of prime veggie real estate – three 4ft X 8ft raised beds filled with manure, peat moss, compost and top soil. And that was about it. Last year’s garden was almost a complete bust. I got a few okra, a couple bunches of kale, some basil, three sunflowers, and five tomatoes out of the whole thing. I probably spent more than $50 on peat moss, plants and seeds (to say nothing about the rain barrels and past expenses to initially set up the beds) for less than $20 worth of veggies. What a rip.
As this article (and others) will attest, I should have gotten a bunch of veggies out of that plot. I ought to have at least broke even on plant expenses. I didn’t. Not even close.
The tomatoes were the biggest disappointment. I filled an entire bed with tomato plants, confident that I’d have enough tomatoes to fill my freezer with marinara sauce. My tomato plants grew strong and healthy, they bloomed, but I got no fruit. Why?
I thought maybe my soil was deficient in something. Maybe I needed to lime. So, this year, I sent a sample off to the Virginia Extension Service’s Soil Testing Lab to see what I could do to get my soil ready to grow tomatoes. Guess what? My soil’s in great shape – plenty of micronutrients, phosporus, calcium – I don’t even need lime. So what gives?
Back to the Extension Service, this time to a publication imaginatively titled “Tomatoes.” There, I found this: “There is consider- able evidence that night temperature is the critical fac- tor in setting tomato fruit, the optimal range being 59° to 68°F. With night temperatures much below or above this critical range, fruiting is reduced or absent.”
Well, last year was crazy hot – but what about the night time temperatures? Fortunately for me, I live not too far from William and Mary’s Keck Lab. They maintain a weather station right next to Lake Matoaka and make the data freely available. So, I looked at the daily high and low temperatures for last summer and graphed them with the night time temperatures required for optimal tomato growing. Well, there were three days in June, four days in July, and one day in August when the temperatures were low enough for good fruit set. That’s right – it was too hot to grow tomatoes here last year.
Looks like we had about 2 weeks of good tomato growing weather, then on June 1, it got too hot and stayed that way until September. When I pulled my plants out in October, there were lots of little green fruits on them, but by then the days were too short for them to ripen. How frustrating.