Tomatoes? Hold Your Horses!

Blossoms are showering our sidewalks with pink snow, tulips and daffodils are out in full force, so it must be time to plant our vegetable gardens, right?

Patience is a virtue when it comes to tomatoes.

Not so fast, according to Ginger Rapport of the Beaverton Farmers Market, a seasoned plant maven. "Now is the time of year to get your peas, kales, rhubarb, broccoli, beets, carrots and some lettuces in the ground," she said. "It is not the time for planting tomatoes and basil unless you plan on keeping them protected from the cool temperatures and rain."

Another voice of reason comes from Chris Hertel of Sun Gold Farm in Forest Grove. "Don’t be fooled and have patience," he cautions. "We can’t mess with Mother Nature! We can only work with her. Too much rain and cold weather will either harm your tomato plant or make it weak."

Radishes and greens? Have at it!

Those garden center tomatoes that are waving their leafy appendages at you, begging you to bring them home and plant them in some nice, richly composted soil? They're grown in heated greenhouses, said Hertel. "The plants are not conditioned to anything that Mother Nature is giving us now. If we wait and have patience, the nights will get warmer and days will be drier. That usually happens around Mother’s Day weekend."

So go ahead and get your spring yayas exorcised and plant rows of those hardy spring greens and root veggies, and wait until the soil temperature gets up to at least 55 degrees—60 is even better—to plant those tomato starts. Your summer will be that much sweeter with a little added patience along with that compost.

Making Our Bed

Ya gotta love a guy who gets all motivated by the activity next door and decides to build a raised bed for our tomatoes this year. The local paper had an article about how to build one, but no, that was pooh-poohed as not being sturdy enough to last his minimum requirement of twenty years.*

This, of course, necessitated getting out the computer and drafting a plan of his own, which translates into the opportunity to use as many saws, drills, planes, levels and other tools as he possibly can. After myriad trips to the hardware store to get the cedar, screws and any new tools that might come in handy, he got down to the business of cutting the wood and assembling the materials to make the frame.

We had to wait a week or so for the weather and our schedules to clear, then we dug up the lawn, put the frame together and hauled in multiple bags of compost and manure, a solid afternoon of hard work that was rewarded with a very dry martini and toasts to the eventual harvest. The next day I planted two Cherokee Purple tomatoes, a Brandywine, a Green Zebra, a Black Plum cherry and an Isis Candy cherry, then surrounded them with their red Wall O' Water tomato teepees. The bases were scattered with basil and arugula seeds and watered liberally.

There's room for another bed next to it, which fits nicely into my plan to eliminate as much grass as possible and turn this patch of southern sun into a productive terraced garden. That and get rid of the arbor vitae and replace it with...oh, well, you don't need my whole list. I'll save that for another post!

Details: Get Dave's 10-Year Raised Bed plans.

* They actually lasted ten years before needing to be rebuilt, but considering our wet Pacific Northwest weather, that was just fine.