Gardening Vivian | 21 Feb 2011 11:26 pm

In the Shade Down by the River Under the Silver Maples You Can Successfully Grow Tomatoes

Somehow shade seems to follow me around no matter where I move. Or maybe it is the cool breezes that the shade produces that I love. However, this presents a challenge, when you want to grow vegetables, especially tomatoes. The first tomatoes were grown in bushel baskets and while they did produce red fruit, they were small and sparse. A year later, we dug deep into the ridge, and filled it with manure, sinking the tomato plants into their new home. Those tomato plants grew tall and strong- too strong and too tall. Five feet tomato plants spend all their time reaching up towards the sun, that they don’t have any time left to produce tomatoes. The tomatoes were finally produced in late summer and had to be ripened inside the house as winter came early that year.

I finally had to analyze what I was doing and how I could improve. What needs did the tomato plant have and how was I fulfilling them? Lastly, I knew the craving for those warm rays of sun was going unmet. The mixture of organic cow manure, compost, and regular silt loam provided a light rich environment for those roots to grow and be nourished in. How to let the morning sun shine through? One tree falling over met part of that requirement. If you can’t let in more of the sunlight, why not magnify what already does come in? Aluminum foil brightened up the area around the tomato plants with a bonus of added warmth, something they can’t get enough of.
Living next to the river does have some perks. Plenty of clams shells lace the sandy and silty river beds. These held down the aluminum foil and even captured water providing extra moisture and humidity.

Also, I discovered the Big Boy varieties don’t do well in shade. The Roma and plum varieties get less diseases and seem to thrive in this cooler, shaded environment. This past year I had access to many different kinds of Heirloom tomatoes. I didn’t realize tomatoes come in so many other colors beyond orange and red. I planted Black, Purple, Pink, and White varieties as well as the normal Red ones. Much to my surprise, they did not reach for the sun, but began to produce fruit on top of fruit once they became mature. At first all of the fruit had end rot, even the green ones. I immediately placed crushed egg shells around the base of every tomato plant and fortunately we had 2 weeks of solid steady rain that kept the soil moist. After about 3 weeks, the calcium in those eggshells did their magic, because every tomato plant had healthy fruit well into harvest time.

In the small area available, you can grow lettuce and spinach. These are planted early in the spring before the leaves are on the trees, and so get a chance for a head start before the shade arrives. The confined quarters calls for a different setup than the traditional rows. Why not try circles within circles? The subtle shade differences between different types of green lettuce as well as spinach and collards make for a display pleasing to the eye. Do be prepared to go through many seed packages this way, but the abundance of produce is worth it.

The river has many moods as it passes through the seasons. Sometimes the angry waves lap against the shore while other times it is a mirror reflecting brilliant hues of red and orange. Just think, you get to enjoy all the antics of the geese, herons, and eagles while nibbling on lettuce and biting into juicy tomatoes.

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