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Mmmm... tomatoes.... (growing your own)

Mmmm... tomatoes.... (growing your own)
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  • Mmmm... tomatoes.... (growing your own)

    Post #1 - March 1st, 2007, 11:51 am
    Post #1 - March 1st, 2007, 11:51 am Post #1 - March 1st, 2007, 11:51 am
    So, I realize that here in Chicago, it's a little early to be dreaming about home grown tomatoes fresh from the garden. But I'm ready for spring. For the first time, I'm living in a place where I might actually be able to grow my own tomatoes. I have lots of questions, and there are a lot of websites out there, and a few books, dedicated to tomato growing, but I thought I'd get some advice from the very wise folks here at LTH.

    I don't have access to a garden, but I have one large deck right off of the kitchen on the 2nd floor, and a smaller deck above it. Both decks stick off of the south side of the house and will have a lot of sun when summer rolls around. Like, sun all day. So, with some big planting pots, I figure I could grown a lot of tomatoes on the big deck. One thing about the deck. It has a nice sized gas grill on it, and will probably have a Weber smoker on it as well. These will both be used regularly. Is that going to cause problems with tomato plants? Is a few feet of buffer between the cooking devices and the tomato pots enough? Next question. At the other end of the deck are two A/C intakes or exhaust. I know nothing about A/C, so I don't know which way the air blows. But can the tomato plants be near these, or is there a temperature or airflow concern? It's kind of a useless area of the deck, so if the tomato pots can sit right next to them, that would be cool.

    Does anyone have a store in the Chicago area where they go to get supplies for this sort of endeavor? I realize that I can go to Home Depot to get the pots and tomato cages, but for soil and the other things we'll need, I'd like to be leaning towards organic. So a place that has a good selection of organic gardening products, and maybe some employees that know what they're doing, would be nice.

    Lastly, are there any sites people would recommend for both tomato growing advice as well as ordering cool varieties from? Just a google search brought up this site, ... oes-ah.htm
    I like the idea of getting plants that have been started already. Does that work ok? Are seeds better? Any local place for such things?

    OK, long post, thanks for reading.
  • Post #2 - March 1st, 2007, 12:05 pm
    Post #2 - March 1st, 2007, 12:05 pm Post #2 - March 1st, 2007, 12:05 pm

    There is a very good website with gardening forums called These people are as enthusiastic about gardening as we are about food.


    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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  • Post #3 - March 1st, 2007, 12:37 pm
    Post #3 - March 1st, 2007, 12:37 pm Post #3 - March 1st, 2007, 12:37 pm
    I've gotten some very cool tomato varieties here:
  • Post #4 - March 1st, 2007, 1:32 pm
    Post #4 - March 1st, 2007, 1:32 pm Post #4 - March 1st, 2007, 1:32 pm
    I've grown tomatoes on decks and rooftops - also near grills. Basically the biggest issue is the plants getting too dry - and being near a grill or a heat exhaust (AC) will dry them out much more quickly. I've had grills burn the leaves off of plants before as well, even when I thought they were far enough away. If it's too hot for your hand to be near the outside of the grill, it's definitely too hot for the plant.
    Tomatoes that are already started are much better than seeds, as seeds will set you back to eating your beloved fruits later in the season. Also the prestarted plants are hardier. I've gotten excellent results with Burpee (online catalog as well as one you can call and ask for, and drool over all the vegetables. (Where's our carrot emoticon?)) Anyway, another good source is Gethsemane but they tend to be expensive.

    Gethsemane Garden Center
    5739 N Clark St, Chicago, 60660 - (773) 878-5915

    I am daydreaming about homegrown tomatoes too! That first warm tomato with salt on it is heaven.

    Let us know how it goes!
    "Food is Love"
    Jasper White
  • Post #5 - March 1st, 2007, 1:53 pm
    Post #5 - March 1st, 2007, 1:53 pm Post #5 - March 1st, 2007, 1:53 pm
    I will second Gethsemane also because their staff tends to be very enthusiastic and helpful. Several times, I've asked what I thought were questions with "yes" and "no" answers only to have staff show me around, give suggestions, etc.

    I also have heard good things about Grand Street Gardens, located on, you guessed it, Grand Avenue in between Damen and Western.
  • Post #6 - March 1st, 2007, 2:22 pm
    Post #6 - March 1st, 2007, 2:22 pm Post #6 - March 1st, 2007, 2:22 pm
    I'll add Meinike Garden Center to the mix as well. It's on Touhy and Lehigh.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #7 - March 1st, 2007, 4:08 pm
    Post #7 - March 1st, 2007, 4:08 pm Post #7 - March 1st, 2007, 4:08 pm
    To mitigate the drying out problem, there are soil additives, polymers that absorb typically up to 400 times their weight in water and then release it as the soil dries out. Some are made from cornstarch, they degrade over a few years and need to be replenished.

    That, along with some time-release fertilizer, will get your tomotoes going well.

    As to the grill, AC vents, those could cause problems. Without seeing the layout of your deck, you might want to consider trellising the tomatoes against a wall to keep them away from those heat sources, if possible.
  • Post #8 - March 2nd, 2007, 11:35 am
    Post #8 - March 2nd, 2007, 11:35 am Post #8 - March 2nd, 2007, 11:35 am
    I became a gardener of sorts last year. Here is what I found.

    The best overall garden shop was The Chalet, selling plants, soil, soil amendments, tools, supplies, etc. at Lake and Skokie Blvd. (Cicero Ave.) in Wilmette, just east of the Edens (Lake Ave. exit). This place has a more extensive and also higher-quality selection of gardening products, including by far the best selection of hand tools, than I could find in any other brick-and-mortar shop in the Chicago area. Although not in-your-face about organic gardening, they have an awareness of its needs, carrying their own label of organic compost, for example. It's the closest I found to an all-around, one-stop shop for the gardener starting from scratch. Not many bargains to be found, though.

    Chalet Nursery and Garden Shop
    3132 Lake Avenue

    Strictly in terms of buying plants, another fine resource is Anton's Greenhouses, hidden away in a side street in the west side of Evanston. This is the only greenhouse to have earned Chicago Consumers' Checkbook's top rating for both quality and value. They primarily carry plants, with a very limited assortment of soils, soil amendments and equipment.

    Anton's Greenhouse
    1126 Pitner Ave

    As for an online resource, check out the Bountiful Gardens web site. Bountiful Gardens is the retail arm of John Jeavon's Ecology Action, the organization behind the Grow Biointensive gardening philosophy and method. They sell heirloom tomato seeds and more.

    I would urge any gardener, prospective or experienced, to investigate the fascinating and highly productive Grow Biointensive approach to gardening (also espoused in Jeavons's classic book How to Grow More Vegetables).

    Bountiful Gardens

    Ecology Action/Grow Biointensive
    Harry V.
  • Post #9 - March 11th, 2007, 4:49 pm
    Post #9 - March 11th, 2007, 4:49 pm Post #9 - March 11th, 2007, 4:49 pm
    I'll second Meineke's as a good source for a wide variety of cheap heirlooms. I don't know how organic they are, though. You've got quite a bit of time, as Mother's Day is the last frost date (unless you get a wheeled one you can bring inside at night, which I'd envy)

    I found this article while searching for the type of container our school uses for gardening, the Earth Box* Another great resource is the IL Extension office.

    This year, I want to make a tomato arbor tunnel, since they always seem to grow taller than my 6' tomato towers. Anybody tried this, either with tomatoes or other plants?

    *Oddly, just as I was writing this, I got an email from a gardening friend; Keep Evanston Beautiful will be hosting a seminar on Earth Boxes on May 23, and there's another at the Chicago Ag school on the 24th from 9-3 by the University of Illinois Extension.