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grow tomatoes without irrigation or fertilizer

Roxanne Sterling-Falkenstein

Joined: Dec 17, 2011
Posts: 80
Location: Cave Junction, Oregon
How are Poplar logs as a Hugelkultur base? Will it sprout, as the roots do?

Roxanne Sterling-Falkenstein
aka Wilde Hilde

AKA Wilde Hilde S.Oregon High Mountain Valley
"Ensnar'd in flowers, I fall in the grass."-Marvell
samiam kephart

Joined: Dec 30, 2009
Posts: 39
I would think the bed needs to mature maybe 2 years for it to really grow them well.the deeprooted weeds like burdock thistle alnog with comfrey and some mangle beets could be planted the first year.... assusming they grow fairly well the whole thing smothered in deep mulch ( and I know you don't like it but cardboard or some thing suitable to somther the plants. ) the straw plant the cover crops... buckwheat is a good one.. and then tomatoes and whatever else a high enough bed might warm up earlier too. are innoculations not part of the contest? I would innoculate with miccorhizzae? oops how that? Sam
Travis Philp

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
Roxanne: I buried freshly cut poplar trees and have only had two trees pop up in a 100 foot X 50 foot area. I'm only one example of course so it may work out differently for someone else. I put a 2-4 inch layer of hay on top of the trees, which may have blocked some sprouts. Not sure though.
Zone 5a in Central Ontario, Canada
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
Here are varieties of tomato from the Southwest, they might be a good place to start to breed especially drought tolerant varieties:

Idle dreamer


Joined: Oct 10, 2011
Posts: 25
In regards to using dandelions in tomatoe guilds, another benefit is I believe I remember reading once that dandelions are often (at least in NE) the first source of pollen available to bee's. Which is important in helping them get an early start in brood rearing. Also I was unaware that they were accumulators so thanks for that bit o info!
Padraic Ingle

Joined: Sep 08, 2011
Posts: 2
We had great success growing tomatoes in strawbales last year in MI. We got the bales a little later in the season and missed the rains but once the bales were saturated and with the addition of some kelp, mycorrhizae, beneficial microbes, and blood and bone meal those tomatoes out performed those planted in soil in the gardens. The bales were placed on a concrete parking lot in rows as long planting beds and we wrapped the outer edges with black plastic to encourage quicker decomp and retain moisture however that was also due to getting a late start and missing all three rainy seasons and starting in late May. This year we plan to get a little earlier of a start and frame the bales in with lumber but they could also be buried or just the addition of straw to a hugelkultur setup would work too. My point is that the roots of these plants had grown nearly six feet long underneath the bales and were fat and healthy. I couldn't believe how big and long they were. I think if the medium tomatoes are grown in has just begun a decomp process and is fairly aerated allowing ease of root growth, those roots will continue to grow and find water where it is. Similar to hydroponics roots are unimpeded and will grow to large proportions. Obstructions and compact soils are what stifle root growth. So, the only other question would be not using fertilizer. hmmm. White clover for nitrogen? As a cover crop started in the fall as soon as the bales are saturated? Place the bales out in rows in early fall to get rainfall, contain rainfall until bales are saturated and begin to decomp then plant dutch white clover and possibly comfrey along the outer edges to be slashed and dropped as mulch throughout the season? Now you've got me thinking. LOL. To get around mycorrhizae you could just dig a few scoops of healthy forest soil and add it to the top of the bales along with compost then mulch it over to begin decomp. Hope something in my post is of use.
Suzy Bean

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
Paul and Kelda continue reviewing Sepp Holzer's Permaculture (the book), chapter 1 part 5 in this podcast: podcast

At the beginning, Kelda describes her irrigated vs non-irrigated tomato taste test.
William Adams

Joined: Apr 07, 2012
Posts: 12
Location: West Virginia
If you have chosen your land wisely you might be able to do what I do here in West Virginia. I have hills all around me. Look for hill on your land that has a solid stone substrate close to the topsoil (my topsoil has a lot of clay in it) and is on the south facing slope, look for a lot of rock outcrops in the hillside as a guide. Find where the rock is closest to the topsoil at the base of the hill. When it rains it sometimes takes two weeks or more for the water to leech out into the soil at the base of the hill because it takes a while to get through the clay. Plant crops that don't like lots of water further away or raised from the base of the hill accordingly. I never have to water, ever. Mileage may vary according to geography and climate.

"Mankind has far passed the day that the day was met in wonderment and not expectation." - Me

Joined: Jan 13, 2010
Posts: 238
Location: swampland virginia
the deep and wide (i.e. 2ft paths dug out and dumped on top of 4ft beds) with mulch (grass clippings, leaves, whatever) has worked for me. At least with transplants planted deep. We get lots of rain and but have had drought too. I've seen the walking paths flooded (clay below) and had the so hard you can't get a shovel in.
Chris Hehn

Joined: Apr 09, 2012
Posts: 1
This year I grew grape tomatoes with almost no watering and absolutely no fertilizer. Just a single plant as a test and I've picked about 100 tomatoes off of it so far. I planted these tomato seeds last year at the base of where my pole beans were growing in November when temperatures were in the low 60's at night and high 70's during the day. We got very little rain through January and just a couple of front related showers in Feb. but this was enough water to get them to sprout up. 5 plants sprouted and only one survived until the next rain. The spot I had chosen for this little experiment is in the drip zone of a young tangerine tree. I mulched this area heavily with about 8 inches of pine straw the year before. My pole beans were grown in 4 inch tall mounds of compost placed directly on top of the mulch and the tomatoes were seeded directly into one of those mounds. I think the key for my success here was the fact that these tomatoes were the third generation in my garden. I had an heirloom variety of yellow pear shaped tomatoes that a neighbor gave me 2 years ago that I seeded and grew last year. I grew them in a bed with some heirloom cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, plum tomatoes and carrots last year and collected seeds from all of those but I'm not the best at labeling so I'm not sure which ones these tomatoes came from. What I got is a grape size tomato that grows indeterminately. It starts and remains quite sweet like those yellow pear shaped tomatoes did. They ripen to an orange color and the tops stay green even when the bottoms turn to a puddle of goo, not that it matters because they are sweet when they are green too. We had 3 weeks without rain before I saw them start to wilt and on the 4th week without rain I decided to water them well. I've had 2 people tell me that they liked these even though they don't like tomatoes. It makes me think of Fukuoka when I hear this because he always advocated for the quality of produce once it had moved a few generations away from a common cultivar. I often let my volunteer plants go to fruit to see if I won the lottery or lost my shirt. I had a particularly bitter tasting tomato grow up among some yellow lettuce. I buried that particular plant in a hole under the live oak but I saved a few seeds to try in other places in hopes of the soil and surrounding plants having been the origin of the bitterness. I walked through the garden yesterday and I saw some new volunteer tomatoes with purple starter stems, I can't wait to see what those end up being.
Alex Ames

Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 351
I am curious about how swiss chard and tomatoes get along. I have not had the giant leaves like
grow on chard in the great northwest so I don't think the tomatoes will get crowded out. The Swiss chard
has been very good and I hate to take it out.

This year I have one tomato cage in each bed along with something else. I have 15 heirloom varieties and they
have all been in the ground 3 weeks or more and normally I have not even planted until April 15. I hope the
weather holds!

[Thumbnail for IMG_1620.JPG]

Alex Ames

Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 351
This shows the Swiss Chard and the cage has a couple of seedlings in it but they are planted deep
they were the same size as the one still in the pot. There are some onions and garlic and the bed
is primarily planted in strawberries.

[Thumbnail for Photo002.JPG]

P Thickens

Joined: Jan 15, 2012
Posts: 177
Location: Bay Area, California (z8)
This sounds quite a bit like dry farming.

Basically, dry farming is growing crops without any irrigation to supplement rainfall. This does not mean your tomatoes will not be watered, just that you are not irrigating them yourself with drip irrigation or other watering methods. The plants are water only by rainfall only. Of course in extreme drought conditions you will need to water the tomato plants a little to keep them alive. Under normal weather conditions, dry farming is used.

Tomatoes that are overwatered tend to taste bland and watery. Dry farming creates a more flavorful tomato because the tomato plant will concentrate its sugars into the fruit, and can also help the tomato ripen much quicker.

In California where torrential rains saturate the soil in the winter and the summers are bone-dry, our climate naturally allows for dry-farming, a method where all irrigation is cut off after the plants have become established. This lack of water stresses the plant, forcing its roots deep into the soil in search of water and focuses its efforts on producing fruit. The resulting tomatoes are usually smaller and lower in yield but pack tremendous flavor and texture.

Dry-farming is also an environmentally sound practice as it uses much less water than conventional methods, a big issue in California. The method is centuries old, orriginating in the Mediterranean where it is still being used for growing grapes and olives. Here in California, other fruits and vegetables such as melons, squash, and potatoes can be dry-farmed, as well as wheat and corn and other grains.

Vivienne le Chanteuse

Joined: May 14, 2012
Posts: 6
I've found that my dog, as she picks the ripe toms that she things are balls, does a really good job of planting new tomatoes. I have them coming up everywhere! I can't believe it's the middle of autumn and I'm still picking tomatoes, but i've got them growing on every side of the garden now and it's amazing to see where that sun reaches or where the compost mulch has really warmed up.
Davilyn Eversz

Joined: Sep 13, 2012
Posts: 13
I find it unusual that in this particular category, there are no facts to back up the non-use of fertilizer. Has anyone taken a BRIX reading and confirmed that the resulting produce is of high BRIX? Looks and taste can be highly deceiving - once you start taking BRIX levels with a refractometer you realize this.
Alex Ames

Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 351
Davilyn Eversz wrote:I find it unusual that in this particular category, there are no facts to back up the non-use of fertilizer. Has anyone taken a BRIX reading and confirmed that the resulting produce is of high BRIX? Looks and taste can be highly deceiving - once you start taking BRIX levels with a refractometer you realize this.

I for one won't be whipping out any refractometers. I eat all the evidence anyway.
Alex Ames

Joined: Feb 24, 2012
Posts: 351
Alex Ames wrote:
Davilyn Eversz wrote:I find it unusual that in this particular category, there are no facts to back up the non-use of fertilizer. Has anyone taken a BRIX reading and confirmed that the resulting produce is of high BRIX? Looks and taste can be highly deceiving - once you start taking BRIX levels with a refractometer you realize this.

I for one won't be whipping out any refractometers. I eat all the evidence anyway.

In tomatoes that look and taste good where would the need for a high BRIX come in. If tomatoes were only sweet
you would not have as much as you have with the acidic balance, at least in my opinion. If the purpose is scientific
in nature to prove or disprove the advantages or disadvantages of fertilizer that would spoil all the fun of making
unfounded claims.
Dawn Hoff

Joined: Jun 30, 2013
Posts: 226
Location: Andalucía, Spain
I have a small patch of tomatoes here in zone 10 - it has been planted late - a month ago, and is shaded most of the day (by a huge carob-tree) except late afternoon (very very hot). It is irrigated but only with the water from our sink in the bathroom - very very little water comming through there. It is planted on a terrace, except for rocks the terrace is filled with wood, old clothes some coal and ashes from the pizzaoven (olive and carob tree), some (storebought) compost and heavily mulched. They are growing - even throughout this past month where we have had little to no water, they are growing. Slowly, and I should shade them from the afternoon sun, but have been too busy dealing with the water issue, but growing. In the next veggiebed I have a volunteer avocadotree - maybe the two would do well together?

I saw a tomato-plant that had grown into a bush - it must have some seriously deep roots! It wasn't pretty though, but I bet it didn't need much water.
subject: grow tomatoes without irrigation or fertilizer
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