Tomato Fortress of Love

This spring has been tough for gardeners in the Pacific NW. We’ve had 3 times the regular rainfall in May and June that we normally do and the temperatures have consistently hovered in the low to mid sixties. Not exactly the best tomato growing weather. I’m pleased to discover, however, that my rat-outsmarting preparations are helping the tomatoes to set fruit and ripen.

After battling a large army of rats last summer I decided to take some preventative measures this year. No more will I come out to find hammocks strung between the tomato vines, discarded rat magazines and tiny sized cans of bud littering my tomato bed in their campsite.

I’ve built a fortress around my tomatoes that I hope the rats can’t penetrate.

Outside the raised beds: compact dirt covered with weed paper and then gravel.
Inside the raised beds: 24″ high metal roofing
Trellises made from cedar 2″ x 2″ that I can tie twine to. I loosely tie one end of twine to the plant’s main stem, wrapping around the plant as it grows and tie the other end to the top of the trellis. If the vines get too heavy with fruit I can screw c-hooks into the vertical posts and trellis the tomatoes horizontally as well.

As the season goes on we’ll see if the rats can indeed get over the metal, or if they are smart enough to climb up the Camellia tree and jump down to get my prized heirloom tomatoes. Just in case I severely pruned the lower branches of the Camellia so in order to jump they will need to make a large leap of faith.

Just before I added the metal perimeter I found what appear to be rat bite marks on one tomato. Since adding it I’ve not found any new ones.

I’m thinking this enticing red beauty, the first nearly ripe tomato of the season, would be bitten into if my fortress was less secure.

I realized, however, that my rat fortifications are proving useful in ripening fruit sans sun this year. My yard is south facing with full sun exposure and the gravel around the beds does an amazing job of retaining heat into the evening. The metal is reflecting and magnifying the sun’s elusive rays and the red color from the plastic mulch to the tomatoes from the north and east sides that would not normally get as much strong afternoon sunlight and by pruning my tomatoes severely I’m letting light and air in to ripen the fruit.

Despite these tactics I’m still expecting to end the summer with a surplus of green tomatoes. When that happens we’ll be making green tomato enchilada sauce.

Are you having a hard time getting things to grow this year? Don’t despair – summer will come eventually. But just in case we’ll be starting winter crops this week. My fall/winter seed schedule is buried in this post just to get you started. Nearly all the seeds are from so get your seeds ordered!

25 Responses to Tomato Fortress of Love

  1. Annette, you are a gardening MacGyver–what an ingenious and artful design indeed. And did you say “Green Tomato Enchilada Sause?” Perhaps you could reform this green tomato curmudgeon, and rescue me from my shallow ways. Shameful proof that I need to embrace green tomatoes: .

  2. My peas seem to be stunted, don’t know why.

    Love your fortress and I bet it does help to warm up the plants. I had to build a fortress with chicken wire, rabbits were getting my plants.


  3. Your set up looks great! Pests are so incredibly frustrating. We’ve been dealing with a family of deer, rabbits and a groundhog.

  4. We recently moved to Florida from the pacific nw. It is a regular thing for people to hire monthly pest control. It’s been six months since we moved in (no pest spraying for us) and the bugs are taking over. I am hoping the other animals just haven’t caught on yet and it will get better as time goes on.

    Good luck to you!

  5. I am so impress with your red tomatoes!! When did you get them in the ground? Have you had plastic over them too, or just as pictured on your blog? I might need to add the metal roofing to my system. This year was by FAR the latest I’ve ever gotten my tomatoes in (June 19th/20th). Life and weather have gotten in my way, but I’ll be looking forward to you green tomato enchilada sauce recipe….

  6. Tom, Tom, Tom…that breaks my heart. I LOVE fried green tomatoes. I even had Ken’s market order green tomatoes for me when I lived in an apartment and couldn’t grow them myself. However, if you like renfros you’ll like this enchilada sauce. You can basically use any tomatillo salsa recipe and substitute green tomatoes then dial the heat up or down. It’s quite yummy and makes a speedy white bean chili or pork chile verde dish.
    Brenda, I was thinking of building one with chicken wire but then I hit upon this. We’ll see if it works. I figure it’s easier for me to get in than chicken wire would be.
    Joy, so sorry! I wonder how early settlers managed to grow food at all without all our fencing. I can just imagine losing an entire crop, including next year’s seeds to those critters and no store or money to go and buy more.
    Amy maybe that’s why pythons as pets caught on? That’s a hard one. I’m not quite sure what kind of bugs you get but I’m guessing they are big and give painful bites!
    Brittney, they are 4th of July started in late January that have the red blush on them. The other ones I started around Valentine’s day are not as far ahead. Billy helped me on the 4th of July one, I bought the start at the farmer’s market and plan to save the seeds. I was thinking of picking the first one today. It has the fang marks on it though so I haven’t decided yet…

  7. I am so impressed with the year-’round plan in an urban garden. Are you going to have an open house/garden this year?

  8. Hi Lara, I had to put my love of excel somewhere when I had kids. ;p I have had 2 open houses already and trying to figure out when to schedule another one given our vacation schedule, birthdays, the Portland Brewfest. I’m free the 4th of July but that might not work out well for anyone else. I wanted to have a midsummer one but it just snuck up on me. This weekend might work though…

  9. Wooohooo on the red tomato! Very exciting and well done! My January started super earlies should not be too far behind you but they lack the benefit of that nifty metal sheeting to warm them up that yours have. It seems like that is a winner all the way around with both heat retention and rodent prevention combined. Smart thinking. :D

  10. if it is open to readers – could you add me to your e-mail invite list (if you have one)? I would love to come take a look at your gorgeous food garden.

  11. Wow. Red tomatoes! Unbelievable! A few days of sun and ours are perking up already. The tomato fortress looks cool too!

  12. KFG there are a few more behind it. I may sacrifice that first red one given the fang marks so it’s bittersweet.
    Lara I don’t have an email list per se – are you free on Sunday? I wouldn’t have time to clean up the chicken messes in the back but you could come get the gist.
    Meg – I’m happy for some sunshine, now on to finishing the irrigation…I have some bad connections, need to rezone and re attach sections of the garden. I don’t even want to think of the parking strip and the back yet…tunneling under the sidewalk will not be a fun job.

  13. yeah! shoot me an email with details!

  14. Lara, what time works best for you? I’m not sure where you are coming from. I’ll post an open house tomorrow with my address.

  15. Love the metal around the tomatoes – can completely see it warming everything up as well as the gravel. Someone just told me about putting 12 x 12 mirrors below my peppers to heat them up and help them grow. The twine works well – did that with some of my tomatoes last year. And those raspberries sound divine! That is my fav variety.

  16. Anna Katherine you should come back! Hope you are doing well and your dh is feeling fine. I was just canning some bone broth tonight and thought of him.

  17. Rats would not be fun. The rabbits just ate all the flowers off my zucchini plants so there goes that harvest. I bet your fortress would work for rabbits too.

  18. Cynthia, it would only if they couldn’t dig in under it. I know a lot of people with voles and rabbits put hardware cloth down under the dirt in their raised beds to keep critter from burrowing up into them. We had an errant city rabbit one time several gardens ago and it ended my love for gardening so I can empathize. It’s amazing how much damage one little bunny can do in no time flat!

  19. Hi, Annette: I read about you in today’s Times. I too was book-driven back to my vegie patch: for me, it was Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma.” I found another great way to use up green tomatoes: in a green tomato/apple chutney. If you add more apples (60/40 rather than the 50/50 of the chutney), this chutney turns into a refreshing mince pie filling!

  20. Hi Karen, Barbara Kingsolver led me to buy at the farmer’s market but it was Michael Pollan who pushed me over the edge. That is what made me rip out the lawn. Your chutney sounds great! I found an affordable local organic source for legumes this year so we’ll be eating a lot more things that chutney would go well with. Thanks for the suggestion!

  21. Pingback: To Do In The Northwest Edible Garden: March 2012

  22. Hey, I live just a couple of miles down the road, in Fall City, and I would love to know where/how you got the two-foot lengths of galvanized steel for barricading your tomato plants. With this late spring, I still have time to put this up before the tomatoes come out!

    • Annette Cottrell

      Hi Cheryl! I got them at Home Depot. I’m actually not using them in this new garden, only because I left them when I sold the old house. And here it is June and no tomatoes in sight for me either. I miss them!

      • Wow, and it’s already cut to size??? Who’da think! I think I’ve spent a couple of hours trying to figure this out. Thanks for the response!

        • Annette Cottrell

          I cut it with tin snips, I think it’s something like 4×8 and they cut it to 4×4 for me at the store so I could get it in my car.

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