Taking on the tomato-growing challenge

By Peter Martin

Big red juicy tomatoes are a staple in home gardens here in Flagstaff. Taste wise, gardeners love to grow them, but here, they’re a bit difficult to cultivate.

John Keith, a local gardener, describes the problem, “The biggest challenge is the short growing season ‘cause we have had frost as late as July tenth and as early as August. So there is virtually no month that is frost-free here. So, you have to be prepared to cover your plants or take heroic measures.”

All Flagstaff gardeners have to take some measure or another to keep their tomatoes alive until the growing season starts and they can survive on their own outdoors. Many people will start their tomatoes in their houses, or, if they have it, a green house.

“The production requires a lot more effort and a lot of attention on the weather because you do not have the guarantee of a frost-free season,” said John. “Hot weather plants (like the tomato) don’t do well outside. The greenhouse changes everything.”

Even with the greenhouse however, there is no guarantee that the frost won’t seep in and destroy plants. So, John has a wood stove that he lights to keep the greenhouse warm enough for the tomatoes.

But, after all the effort put into just keeping them alive, there is a great reward at the end of the growing season.

“The tomatoes we have here are super nice heirlooms — we eat an enormous amount of wonderful tomatoes that we would never be able to buy ever,” said John.

By starting tomatoes out in warmer places, either inside or in a greenhouse, they can be cultivated long enough till the growing season in Flagstaff starts and they can be transferred outside and survive. In doing this, Flagstaff gardeners are able to enjoy their own big, tasty tomatoes.

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