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grow tomatoes without irrigation or fertilizer

 
paul wheaton
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So I think that this would come from a combination of things.  The right guild, plus a collection of techniques to reduce water needs. 

Just to kinda prime the pump, a hugelkultur bed about six feet tall should cover most of the water needs.  Maybe in combination with a couple of tap rooted shrubs.   While the hugelkultur beds would also cover a lot of the nutrient needs, some calcium accumulators might be of some benefit.  And maybe some legumes.

What else?

 
Emil Spoerri
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if you can plant the transplants super early in a heated greenhouse, and get them about a foot tall before it's time to set them out, then stick them 6 or so inches down, just make sure that a full stalk with most of the leaves is exposed. The plant will root out all along the underground stalk and be on a great start to needing no irrigation!

Buckwheat accumulates P, stamps out most other weeds, is a useful food and doesn't get as tall as tomatoes, plus it is fairly long tap rooted, though not on the list of long tap rooted plants. It would make a nice nurse crop that can easily get flattened by a rank tomato or quickly pulled and mulched. It's a great way to start a new garden bed where you are worried about weeds coming back and don't care to pull them all out!

Dandelion is the calcium accumulator you are looking for or is it Fava Beans? Fava Beans are another nice nurse crop, make a great salad and punch through good mulch, are ready at a different time of year than tomatoes, in some climates you can even get a double crop from each planting, one in the fall and one in the spring! Dandelion will do a laughable job at competing with tomato, not much need to think here with this one!

 
Brenda Groth
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i have a plan to put some of my tomato transplants into a new raised hugelkulture bed this year..we'll see how that goes here in Michigan. The bed however does have some compost and some composted manure in it..so "without fertilizer" will not apply.

generally i plantall my tomatos in my greenhouse here in Michigan..but this will be an experiement for me here to plant them out in the new bed
 
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I do get pretty close to the no fertilizer/no water(at least I think so)--I mulch heavily with chopped weeds/grass(native stuff) and put a half cup of powdered eggshell in the hole. I water deeply, at the base of the plant once a week when it's hot(August, 90's-100's). I dont' add or make compost otherwise.

One summer was wet enough(usually it doesn't rain July-September) I watered twice.
 
Emil Spoerri
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paul wheaton wrote:
Remember that book called "carrots love tomatoes"?  Maybe Toby's book could be called "tomatoes love dandelions".




I feel like dandelions would be useful with most of the taller types of crops, if not alone for their ability to suppress other weeds.

I remember before I heard of permaculture, trying to convince my old boss that there was no point in pulling the dandelions around the rasberry bushes
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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If the neighbors' many-decades-old sewer pipe runs under the plot, tomato roots might seek out any cracks in it, and escape any need for (intentional) irrigation or fertilizer.

Soil here is heavy enough that what I've read strongly favors building up the field capacity, by finding species of plant that leave organic matter as many feet down as possible. That won't get you as far with sandy soil, but I think it might work for me.
 
paul wheaton
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I predict .... that if you had a six foot tall hugelkultur bed that was three years old, and you planted tomato seeds right into the soil (no transplanting) and once the plant got a foot high, you laid down four inches of hay all around the plant (but six inches away) .....  and you had ...  say ...  a great big oak tree 15 feet to the north of the tomato .... and ....  some onions, carrots, marigolds, peas, dandelions and buckwheat growing near the tomato plant. 

All of these things .... I predict that this tomato plant would be in the top 5% of health, productivity and flavor for all of the tomato plants grown within 10 miles.  Without irrigation or fertilizer.

 
Emil Spoerri
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paul wheaton wrote:
I predict .... that if you had a six foot tall hugelkultur bed that was three years old, and you planted tomato seeds right into the soil (no transplanting) and once the plant got a foot high, you laid down four inches of hay all around the plant (but six inches away) .....   and you had ...  say ...  a great big oak tree 15 feet to the north of the tomato .... and ....  some onions, carrots, marigolds, peas, dandelions and buckwheat growing near the tomato plant. 

All of these things .... I predict that this tomato plant would be in the top 5% of health, productivity and flavor for all of the tomato plants grown within 10 miles.  Without irrigation or fertilizer.




I agree, though I am not sure that it would even need that much. Depends on the climate but tomatoes can get by on very little... I mean my old boss's tomatoes would volunteer in the pea patch (we used the same trellis for tomatoes one year followed by peas the next to avoid moving the fence around too much).
They would produce good tomatoes, though a bit later and this was in upstate new york. They tasted quite good too.
 
Kane Jamison
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paul wheaton wrote:
I predict .... that if you had a six foot tall hugelkultur bed that was three years old...


Paul, are you referring to a hugelkultur bed that is 6 ft tall when created, or 6 ft tall after the soil settles?
 
Charlie Michaels
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I can't even grow buckwheat without irrigation. How in the world could you grow tomatoes without irrigation? That could be enormously useful. 

Maybe if you limited it to lets say 3 generous watering in the first week, it could be possible. Would you need the power of a 3+ year hugelculture bed for this?
 
Brenda Groth
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my best tomoatoes were grown in beds formed from an old compost pile, no other water or fertilizer was added, hugel beds also grew some very good tomato plants as well..first year hugel beds
 
Travis Philp
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Brenda, if I may: Did you use mostly logs or brush in your hugelbeds? How big are the hills, and how deep are the trenches? Got any pictures?

I tried looking for them in your blog but couldn't find em. I'm not very blog-savvy though.
 
                                  
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I guess the no irrigation/fertilizer quest might be interesting to some, but I would point out that tomatoes will repay the costs of water and fertilizer better than almost any other crop. Lettuce is the next best I can think of.  Spend a few bucks and make the suckers GROW. 
 
paul wheaton
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Kane wrote:
Paul, are you referring to a hugelkultur bed that is 6 ft tall when created, or 6 ft tall after the soil settles?


When it is created
 
paul wheaton
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mrchuck wrote:
I can't even grow buckwheat without irrigation. How in the world could you grow tomatoes without irrigation? That could be enormously useful. 

Maybe if you limited it to lets say 3 generous watering in the first week, it could be possible. Would you need the power of a 3+ year hugelculture bed for this?


The first part would be to plant in the spring.

Something else that could help would be do have deep, rich soil. 

If you don't have that, then we pull out the big list of things that could do the trick - generally if you pick any three off the list you can get it done.  But hugelkultur alone can do the trick.
 
paul wheaton
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Leucaena wrote:
I guess the no irrigation/fertilizer quest might be interesting to some, but I would point out that tomatoes will repay the costs of water and fertilizer better than almost any other crop. Lettuce is the next best I can think of.  Spend a few bucks and make the suckers GROW.   


And if you do it without irrigation, you will have better flavor. 

And better flavor almost always means better nutrition.

 
Travis Philp
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Leucaena wrote:
I guess the no irrigation/fertilizer quest might be interesting to some, but I would point out that tomatoes will repay the costs of water and fertilizer better than almost any other crop. Lettuce is the next best I can think of.  Spend a few bucks and make the suckers GROW.   


My impression is that the hugelkultur is the irrigation, in a sense. The logs store water and wick it to the soil above, no?

To me its sorta like Fukuoka's 'o Nothing' method; He certainly did things...So with hugel, you grow tomatoes without conventional irrigation, but there is still a form of irrigation. Maybe I'm off target here as I just got off from working 10 hours.
 
Rob Sigg
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For what its worth, this was my first year with hugelkulture style beds. I did not use fertilizer and I have not had to water despite a drought. I will say that my heirloom tomatoes did much better than the hybrid and they did slow down a bit in the dry weather. My bed is about 3 ft wide, 2 ft tall and about 10 ft long. My main bed is u shaped to act as a suntrap and a water trap since all my water run off runs right into the interior of the U and stays there. The bed wicking does the rest from what I can tell. I actually set all my beds up this way so they flood when it rains, it really works great. My beds were green plants, cardboard, dirt, dry leaves, dirt and then wood mulch. I was suprised that there was even enough nitrogen in this scheme but the leaves must have had the right ratio since it worked well.
 
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here is a vid that really hits the idea of growing tomatoes without irrigation or fertilizer



 
Jordan Lowery
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i got no sound paul.

edit: sorry computer problem. works now
 
Rob Sigg
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Worked for me.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Thoughts...
flux in moisture during rapid growth causes cracking -- perhaps this approach would reduce risk. 
Mr. Shomer's example used relatively fine textured, balanced organic matter (sod).  I wonder how different kinds of organics perform over time, and the extent to which tomato is dependant on soluble nitrogen, and the importance of a seasonal legume partner, that would get cut back to reduce water competition, providing some of the mulch, and cause a flush of nitrogen to release... what about a woody legume like goumi or lupinus arborescens that could support clambering tomato vines?
If you need mulch it would make sense to have an adjacent vegetation that was good to harvest for mulch in late spring (aroudn first haying time).
I am slowly working up to a Hugelkulture scheme... and was thinking of having overflow roof water run to the beds, maximizing late spring recharge of stored water.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Looks pretty nice and green there.....
 
                        
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bit of a johnny come lately i suppose but!

we do just that in our raised beds, our tom's except in the worst of the drought grow on available rain water and without any applications even fertilisers or manures, we mulch heavily and feed all our kitchen scraps to the garden. too easy hey?

len
 
                              
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OKay, just watched the video, where is this?

Also, noting days without rain really doesn't mean much without noting day/nighttime temps, cloudcover, etc. I realize that's a lot of factiods to add, but it sure does make a difference.

Were the tomatoes planted into the sod, were the seeds thrown on top, were plants inserted...?

Cherry tomatoes are pretty scrappy to begin with.

Yes, a compost pile made of sod rocks, I kinda do the same thing, when I make new bed I take the grass clods and pile them up on top of a sorta new bed--it's best to let the clods dry out good first so the grass doesn't sprout again. Doing it on a nice dry sunny day does it good enough for me. Cover with slash and next year the bed is perfect composty friable goodness(clay soil here). Cabbage is a good first year crop for these beds(it will grow in the clumpy clods).
 
                                    
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i am going to try this out w/paste tomatoes this year and hopefully can a lot of sauce!
 
gary gregory
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This video was taken where?    Some folks are wearing jackets, and any area in the background not covered by road is green.    Not that way here in the summer.   All the roadside grass here is brown by june 1st.    California wasn't named the golden state because of the gold.     

And I'm sorry but the tomato plants in the video don't look very healthy.  Definitely not thriving.  What am I missing?
 
Mekka Pakanohida
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paul wheaton wrote:
So I think that this would come from a combination of things.  The right guild, plus a collection of techniques to reduce water needs. 

Just to kinda prime the pump, a hugelkultur bed about six feet tall should cover most of the water needs.  Maybe in combination with a couple of tap rooted shrubs.   While the hugelkultur beds would also cover a lot of the nutrient needs, some calcium accumulators might be of some benefit.  And maybe some legumes.

What else?




My guild last year was bunching onions, carrots, and tomatoes.  The carrots and onions made a XXXXXX pattern around the tomatoes with the tomatoes inside the diamond shapes of the XXXXXX,  Mesculn salad was on the west side, and I didn't water once in the raised beds.  I had tomatoes not only earlier then most people, but mine actually got ripe on the vine as well.  Yarrow was scattered around the bed as well.
 
gary gregory
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Mekka Pakanohida wrote:
My guild last year was bunching onions, carrots, and tomatoes.  The carrots and onions made a XXXXXX pattern around the tomatoes with the tomatoes inside the diamond shapes of the XXXXXX,  Mesculn salad was on the west side, and I didn't water once in the raised beds.  I had tomatoes not only earlier then most people, but mine actually got ripe on the vine as well.  Yarrow was scattered around the bed as well.


I lived on the oregon coast in Nehalem for ten years.  Didn't need to water the garden much there.  I think we got 150" of rain the last year we lived there.

Where I live now is hot and dry in the summer with no rain or even dew for 6 months.    I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around how I could grow a large garden (three dozen tomatoes, six hundred onions, etc) without water.    I am unable to make a hugelculture that large. 

 
Mekka Pakanohida
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gary gregory wrote:
I lived on the oregon coast in Nehalem for ten years.   Didn't need to water the garden much there.   I think we got 150" of rain the last year we lived there.

Where I live now is hot and dry in the summer with no rain or even dew for 6 months.    I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around how I could grow a large garden (three dozen tomatoes, six hundred onions, etc) without water.    I am unable to make a hugelculture that large.   




the more you plant, the higher the increase in humidity thus making it confusing for you, me and everyone sometimes.


remember up here Nehalem that when the storms pass, the forest would suddenly increase in humidity (and I have obsevered with mine) that it sounds like it continues raining for another hour due to said humidity.

that's the kind of microclimate you create when you densely plant.  Other factors are also involved such as the capillary actions of the plants, trees, bushes, onions, fungi, mycellium, and other plants and things that live in the soil. 
 
paul wheaton
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The grass was brown just a month before the video was taken.

The tomato plants might not look really good because they have been suffering some really cold temperatures just before the video was taken.  Their last day is nigh.  The important thing is that the tomatoes made it through the summer without a drop of irrigation.  they did get some trace bits of rain - but very little.

The date of the video is approximately September 19th, 2010.

Keep in mind that sepp holzer raised a garden without irrigation in an area that got only three inches of rain per year.


 
                              
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Hi,

You can do Huegelkultur in a wet climate.  In a wet climate you don’t need to irrigate tomatoes anyways.  In a dry climate Huegelculture is no good because the capillaries in the soil that transport humidity are cut by the layers of organic matter.  Therefore, the beds dry out rapidly.  Therefore, the opposite of raised beds, sunken beds called “waffle beds”, are sometimes used in a dry climate.  But that is only possible if you have a very deep and sandy soil.  It’s no good for a shallow clay soil.

Tomatoes grow with little water but not without water.  Without water they will produce just a few small fruits with a hard skin if they survive at all.  Some varieties will also develop bottom rot when there is insufficient water.  Tomatoes will grow well without fertilizers in a humus-rich soil that can store lots of water without getting water-logged.  I do natural farming without fertilizer, manure or compost.

Dieter
 
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Dieter wrote:
.  In a dry climate Huegelculture is no good because the capillaries in the soil that transport humidity are cut by the layers of organic matter. 


Hmm, I'm using sunken hugel beds in my clay soil in a dry climate and so far they seem to be working really well. 
 
            
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I'd just reiterate the early start, as I consider it to be pretty critical - especially in a semi-arid mediterranean climate like ours here in central CA. You want to aim for germination eight to ten weeks prior to the end of rainy season, so you can capitalize on stored moisture in the ground for initial growth of the transplants (when it's most important). "Potting up" the starts as required for root space is important too, especially in regard to tomatoes, as is minimal disturbance of the root systems when you're handling the starts or transplanting them. Combined with mulch and/or a hugel/raised bed, I think they'd yield all summer with maybe a watering or three to help them along if they get too stressed. I watched "organic" row-cropped heirloom tomatoes (no raised beds, no mulch, no nothing) produce for the last month and a half of dry season last year with zero irrigation, withstanding zero humidity and 90+ temps daily with barely noticeable decreases in yield. The quality of the fruit, on the other hand, was greatly improved (lower moisture content apparently = higher brix [sweetness] and better flavor).
 
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As part of my hardening off process for tomatoes, I 'water stress' them.  I withhold watering until the leaves begin to curl.  Some of the finer roots will shrivel and die.  The plant kicks into survival mode and begins producing more roots to seek out the needed water.  This added root mass will serve the plant all season.
 
gary gregory
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John Polk wrote:
As part of my hardening off process for tomatoes, I 'water stress' them.  I withhold watering until the leaves begin to curl.  Some of the finer roots will shrivel and die.  The plant kicks into survival mode and begins producing more roots to seek out the needed water.  This added root mass will serve the plant all season.



Do you do this after they are planted in the garden or while still in pots?
 
                              
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HL Tyler aka Ludi wrote:
Hmm, I'm using sunken hugel beds in my clay soil in a dry climate and so far they seem to be working really well.   


It depends on how dry and how hot it gets.  In a severe dry climate you see the disadvantage more clearly.  About 7 years ago, I filled in a trench with wooden logs, branches, green stuff, topped with lots of compost and soil to what essentially amounts to a sunken Huegelkultur bed.  Today, that soil is still useless for normal gardening because it dries out very rapidly (much faster than my normal clay soil), and during the dry season, it would take enormous amounts of water to irrigate.

Dieter
 
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So far my hugel beds seem to be holding water better than the surrounding soil, and the small amount of beds I had done by the hot summer last year survived better than the non-hugel parts of the garden.  This is Central Texas in severe drought, rainfall around 15 inches per year  ("average normal" rainfall about 28 inches per year) with summer temperatures of 95 F or more.  I'll be interested to see how the larger area of hugel beds I have now fares this summer. 
 
                                
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One year I tryed laying down a layer of grass clippings about 3-4 ince deep, then threw wood chips (waste) ontop about 2-4 inch also.  That stayed extra moist throughout august, which is the drought seasion here in NY.  The grass clippings could be considered fertilizer however, or junk considering who is making the judgement (you could just call it mulch).  Grass clippings makes excelent fertilizer by the way.  The stems thicken up, leaves become large, leathery and dark green.  Making the plants more resistant to piercing-sucking parasites like aphids.
Last year I used cardbbord on top of the soil, but under a layer of wood chips about 2-4 inch thick.  This method worked pretty good at keeping the weeds down.  perhaps a little to good becouse I eat some of those weeds.  This was actually done over the top of lawn and not bare soil.  This method was suggested by somebody on PFAF (plants for a future).  However that was the first year the mulch/chips was there.  In order to rot the chips need to take in nutrients from the soil especally nitrogen.  Perhaps this year without adding something the plants will become yellow with nitrogen defiency.  The existing lawn was established a long time ago and the topsoil is deep becouse of it, and perhaps held enough nitrogen for last year.
The two previous methods would not work in desert regions, for reasons highlighted by other people who posted. 
This year I'm going to try the dandilion method.  Starting the tomatos first, then seeding in the danilions around the tomatos.  I have not used a ground cover method yet.  I'm expecting two problems to occur.  First the calcium that the dandilions draw to the surface to cause bottom end rot in the tomatos.  Bottom end rot is the why farms in areas with sweet soil do not grow tomatos.  Tomatos prefer acid soil.  Perhaps the clover would work better.  Second the ground covers are plants that transpire water from the  ground into the air like any other plant and leave the soil less resistant to drought, especally the first year when no organic matter has had the time to build up on the surface.  But I might be wrong, hopefully, and thats why I'm trying it out this year.

The best way to make grow tomatos with out irrigation and fertilizer wold be to delelop a variety itself.  Grow the garden without fertilizer and water and collect the seeds from the most desireable plants year after year.  However this method takes much patience grasshopper.
 
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