Dry Gardening Tomatoes: A Report

I purchased four tomato starts with the intention of trying out dry gardening. That means planting the tomatoes early and then giving them minimal water through the growing season. Reports I’ve read say that such tomatoes tend to have the best flavor.

I will say that this is a partial report on a not-fully-carried-out experiment. I didn’t get the tomatoes in the ground as early as I should have. They spent their first seven weeks in pots that I think doomed two of the plants to failure. It was a cold and wet spring and I just couldn’t motivate to get those plants in the ground. If they had spent five of their first seven weeks in the ground, I think they would have gotten off to a better start (two plants) or survived (two plants).

I only watered them once. I had blue 5-gallon buckets with holes in the bottom and intended to give them some water weekly, but that did not come to pass. Once it stopped being cold, it was a fairly warm summer—though we did not have days with 110+ degree heat like we did in 2021.

One thing I liked about the dry gardening the tomato plants didn’t put out any of the extraneous foliage they do when they are well watered. The plant sent out enough growth to support the making of tomatoes. It did not send out any more.

I got the most cherry tomatoes, but it was a fairly paltry number, cherry tomato-wise. Perhaps 20. And they were very staggered. I had two or three at a time, max. They did taste good though.

The Brandywines were the full-size tomatoes that survived. I tend to stay away from Brandywines as I think their growing season is too long for our summers. But we had a very long summer, so soon after I took this photo, I harvested the two tomatoes that grew. They were indeed delicious.

This little guy never got going. I think he was root bound. The other one died a few weeks after I planted it.

Overall, I think this might be a good method if you are growing your starts from seed and have a lot of land. Tomatoes that are dry gardened need to be spaced six feet apart. With a packet of cherry tomatoes and a packet of regular size tomatoes, you could easily end up with 10 starts of each for not very much of a cash investment. If you planted 20 tomato plants over a very large space, the yield would be much higher, and you wouldn’t have to pay for watering.

Also, when you don’t water, the weeding is much less complicated. That was a big plus.

If I’m up to gardening in the spring, I might repeat this experiment in 2023.

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