Frost in July? The Challenges of Cold-Climate Production

By Jonathan Burrus

July is in full swing and Butte is buzzing with excitement leading up to this weekend’s renowned music festival. The same can be said for those of us working on the SIFT farm, buzzing around like busy worker bees trying to keep up as our production really begins to take off. And though our production is well underway, and seemingly on target, we’ve had our share of setbacks lately.

One of our SIFT hoop houses, unscathed after an
early July frost. Photo: NCAT

Last night, July 6, marked our latest unexpected frost. Most of our frost-sensitive vegetables are either inside hoop houses or in low tunnels covered with Reemay garden blankets. And fortunately, everything inside those structures survived the frost, including our tomatoes. A few plants that were not sheltered were lost.

Speaking of tomatoes, every year brings the daunting task of maintaining over 70 tomato plants. These unruly plants take quite a bit of time and, while they will inevitably turn our hoop house into a jungle, we will be installing a weave trellis to both tidy up the growing space and also provide support when the plants are loaded with fruit. This is a good method for small-scale producers, since it is easy to maintain, sup¬ports a large number of tomatoes in a small space, is inexpensive, and requires little storage space. It also reduces damage to the fruit from being on the ground.

To learn more, check out the You Tube tutorial How to Grow Tomatoes: Basket Weave, which demonstrates how to utilize the weave trellising method.

Also be sure to check out ATTRA’s Organic Tomato Production publication. It addresses practical questions and production challenges, including site selection (soil and climate), variety selection, organic grafting, planting and training/staking arrangements, soil fertility, pest management, and more.

This year, we’ve dedicated one row of our tomatoes to a pruning trial. We hope to show how pruned plants produce larger fruits more abundantly than their unpruned counterparts. Either way, we wouldn’t be having this discussion without the aid of our season-extension technologies.

Stay tuned as we continue to report on our progress on the SIFT farm. Hopefully we won’t be reporting another front until fall!

Posted on: July 7th, 2016