Saturday, April 23, 2011

Perennial Tomatoes?!?!

Last year I began researching  a few articles on perennial vegetables and I found out that although tomatoes are not traditionally thought of as perennials if given the right set of circumstances they can overwinter. Over the past few years I have successfully overwintered Eggplants, Peppers sweet and Hot and for the first time Tomatoes. Last year I started some cherry tomatoes from seed and grew them in containers. Container garden for tomatoes has it challenges. First cherry tomatoes want to go everywhere. However, if you like the wild Hair look than cherry tomatoes in a container is the way to go. I'm not particularly fond of it but as an experiment it worked. As winter set in I kept the tomatoes out for as long as I could, checking the temperatures daily to to make sure they did not go below 45-40 degrees. As the cold weather set in consistently, I pulled the plants into the sun room and sat them by the windows. The rays from the sun intensify as they pass through the windows of my sun room. In there the temperature is comfortable and even on days of frost the tomatoes in my sun room do not wilt. My only downfall during this project was paying to much attention to water and overall leaf health and not paying any attention to the aphids growing unchecked in my sun room. During the overwinter process, the plants do appear to go dormant. But with tomatoes as long as there is sun they keep on producing flowers and through the winter many flowers were set and although they didn't produce bucket loads of fruit; they did produce fruit occasionally. As the spring arrived I put the plants out and for the first several weeks I saw and fought with the aphids for the first time. They were everywhere. On my eggplants, peppers, and hitting my tomatoes hard specifically targeting the new growth. The war of the aphids is not over but I'm winning and my plants are starting to show tall tale signs that they appreciate the dedication. I believe overwintering is important for urban farmers. Many of us don't have the land or space to properly rotate crops. However, with container gardening and your overwintered plants all you need to do is fertilize and re pot if needed. Recently, I added some Grade A compost manufactured from my chicken coop and the Tomatoes are absolutely loving it. The next phase of this project is to do more research on developing seeds that overwinter well. This is a whole new animal for me and the reading is intense but I find it absolutely exciting. The fact that individual plants that are exposed to certain conditions and thrive as a result only to pass on this code to future seeds of their prodigy is territory that is both foreign and amazing to me. My hope is to one day develop strains that first overwinter well and then produce sweet delicious fruit. Well see..... I feel like my journey has just begun.


becky3086 said...

Very interesting. I don't have a sunroom but I wouldn't mind trying to overwinter my tomato hanging baskets this year.

Rachelle said...

As tomatoes are a South American plant, I would expect a period of some type of dormancy and then regrowth. Nightshade is related and is perennial here (zone 4). Potatoes, given that the tuber does not freeze over the winter; will regrow and set new potatoes, but you don't want to mistakenly eat a tuber from last year (bleech!). Is it possible, that roots could be held over winter like a dahlia and then grown in spring? Obviously this is not the way big commecial farms do these things, but I wonder if there has been any research done in this area. Probably not, not where the money is. What would be really useful would be finding tomatoes that will bear under lower light and cooler temps.

ATW said...

becky- It's definately worth a try. My plants responded very well to the window and grew strong limbs during the winter. As long as you keep the frost off of them, in an area that gets some sun and watered they should thrive. As long as there is life in the limbs they will be ready for the next season. Good Luck!!

Rachelle- Your right on point. They did appear to go dormant as did many of my other overwintered plants. Interesting that you spoke about developing a variety being able to flourish in low light and cool weather. I currently have one of my overwintered tomatoe plants underneath a canopy. It recieves the first sunlight in the morning and after that it's strictly shade. I have noticed that although this plant is growing some really strong limbs; compared to the other plant that is recieving full sun all day, it is not setting flowers and and fruit as often. I do see some promise with the chicken manure compost I just added to the container a week ago. Thanks for the comments

Flowering Trees Tennessee said...

Interesting! I really enjoyed your these post, i like tomatoes and i have plant..
Thanks for sharing..

Kristy said...

We're in Aus and our tomato plants that we started off in bath tub beds this year in March,

have gone nuts ever since they were planted and despite the cold wintery/rainy/windy weather we've had of late this June/July, they are still producing daily, with new flowers still coming.

It seems lots of our plants 'break the rules' round here and just do what they like lol but if they have enough sun, water and good 'food' then I think they'll go as far as they can.

Good luck!

Kristy said...

eta I think our lowest temps are regularly 'just above' frost temps, but occasionally I know it dips down that low and we do get a true frost. In the meantime, I'm frozen. Does that count? :)