Slowly Sipping Coffee

Is an $8 tomato worth it?

Recently the topic of a fall garden has come up around the SSC household. With the high temps starting to stay at/below 90 during the day, and night temps around 75 (time for a fire!) it got me thinking we should plant some stuff for the cooler weather. We keep talking about wanting to garden and grow more stuff as part of our Lifestyle Change, but we don’t do too much of that now. I figure now is the best time to get with it so we can iron out any bumps and what not before we go big with a garden. However, our success rate with getting anything edible from any plant isn’t exactly stellar. Is it due to our ungodly hot climate, our lack of green thumb, or possibly lack of diligence with taking care of the garden due to our schedule? I’m all for the fall garden, and have even agreed to scale it back a bit, but I’m having trouble getting Mrs. SSC on board due to our usual gardening adventures fails.

Our first “big garden” attempt down here was nothing short of a disaster. We’d decided to do a raised bed, with a garden system that made a 6’x6’ box separated into 4 squares. We then put our usual peppers in 2 squares, some squash in another square, and something else in the 4th square. The fact I can’t remember what it was should be a clue as to how successful it turned out. We were doing well with the garden even though it was as far away from the house as it could possibly be in our backyard. Then we went on vacation. Ever mindful, I set up a timer and watering system so it would get water while we were gone. I hooked up the sprinkler, ran it out to the garden, and even adjusted the flow and coverage of the sprinkler so as to be efficient. I was SO proud of myself.

When we returned home the scene looked like it was out of a plant horror movie. Some plants were dead – straight up dead, while the other plants looked droopy, wilted, and brown. Not dried up lack of water brown, but a weird brown, like a “death” brown. I thought I may have overwatered, but that couldn’t be the case. I checked the sprinkler and timer and they looked good too. Then I stepped into the spray of water and was scalded from my knee down to my flip flop covered foot!

Gah!!! Idiotic me didn’t think about how hot the water would get while it was sitting in ~50’ of garden hose stretched out across the yard, in the sun, ALL DAY, in the middle of Houston summer. Yep, I had managed to kill the garden with repeated scaldings over the course of a week. Side note – if you want to get rid of a certain patch of grass or weeds and don’t want to use chemicals this seems to be an effective method, as even the weeds were dead… We haven’t tried keeping anything alive since beyond our two pepper plants and the occasional tomato plants or herbs.

This guy's about 6' tall and flowering again!

This guy’s about 6′ tall and flowering again!

This year I got one tomato before the heat cranked up and I calculated it cost me around $8. I’ve kept that plant alive and I’m hoping for a fall crop now that it’s cooler and it’s starting to flower again.

She's a sad tomato...

She’s a sad tomato…

However, the other one got decimated by some kind of bug. I went to water it and all of its leaves were gone. There were just little leafless nubs all over it. I brought it inside to try and resuscitate it, to no avail. Our pepper plants are still cranking out peppers though, and we do have a pineapple we started from a cutting earlier this summer that’s looking quite nice.



This guy seems happy as can be!

This guy seems happy as can be!

Now that it’s cooler, I proposed the Fall Garden! However, I want to only put up 2 squares, so it’s half the size. Also, I would put it on our back porch so it’s right next to the hose and in our daily view so we won’t forget about it. Plus, the kids seem like they could get excited about it. Our oldest transplanted a bean plant he started in daycare, and it got over 6’ tall and made a decent amount of beans. He really enjoyed that.

I was thinking of planting some cauliflower, but maybe they get too big for that small of an area. Maybe plant some root vegetables like turnips, carrots, or something along those lines, and maybe something leafy like Collard Greens or Bok Choy. I even proposed to fund it from the allowance, but was reminded my allowance is a bit tight currently, Oops…

I think our gardening fails are mainly due to our busy schedule, not being diligent with the garden, and having the plants out of sight. The high summer heat doesn’t help either, but I don’t want to make too many excuses. With the weather getting nicer, we’ve been spending more time out back, so we should be able to manage it way better. I really think the kids would like gardening too since our oldest liked seeing the bean plant get big and make beans he could eat. I think it’s worth giving it a shot and hoping they want to get more involved.

What are your thoughts? Should we start a fall garden? Thoughts on what we should try to grow – any advice is welcomed. Do you want to hear about more gardening fails? I have plenty!

10 thoughts on “Is an $8 tomato worth it?

  1. Our Next Life

    Oh my gosh — that scalding water story is crazy! I hope you can laugh about it now, in hindsight? Maybe water first thing in the morning in the future? 😉

    I think gardens are great for kids. Though not always cost effective unless you put in a lot of sweat equity. We’ve for sure had our share of $8 tomato equivalents in the past! I think you should do it if you’re excited about it and think you’ll love it, but not otherwise. You certainly have enough chores and don’t need another one!

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I was laughing about it then too, but definitely a face palm moment. D’oh! That’s a great tip about watering first thing in the morning – I’ll have to try that in the future.

      I think the kids will get a kick out of it, and I remembered I have a gift certificate from Home Depot due to the garage door fail that will more than cover the cost of the dirt, seeds, and if they have plants there instead of a nursery.

      Since it doesn’t feel like a chore, even if it doesn’t produce much, I’ll probably go for it!

  2. Vawt

    You can set up some screens to reduce direct sun, but I have foudn the water timer to be my best friend. I live in Central California, so the summer heat can be brutal here as well. The only problem is sometimes the little hoses on the drip nozzles come off and the water sprays everywhere, so you still have to check on the plants and watering system quite a bit!

    Look into planting veggies that compliment each other and heat tolerant hybrid tomatoes are a real thing!

    I say go for it.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      When we lived in LA we found those and they are awesome! We would set those up for our plants and they watered everything beautifully. It was one less thing to deal with as well.

      I’ll have to look for heat tolerant tomatoes this spring, and I’ll also look for complimenting vegetables. Thanks for the tips!

  3. TheMoneyMine

    I have tried growing tomatoes and also had difficulties. The only things that I have been successfully growing in Houston are basil, chili peppers, cilantro, parsley, chive, … I think the summer temperature are way too extreme, especially when your plants don’t have shade.
    Temperatures are much cooler now and my cilantro is growing again.
    Keep trying! :)

    1. Mr. SSC

      Haha, I’ve had the same luck with the same types of plants! Yeah, chili peppers are almost like weeds, all but impossible to kill down here. We’ve had pretty good success with the other herbs too, but tomatoes have been difficult. My lone plant is big now, but it took a lot of babying to keep it alive thru the heat this summer.

      Our oldest seems excited to help with the garden and planting and watering. When I asked if he wanted it to be his job to help water the garden he got even more excited, so I’ll keep at it and post some pics as it progresses, good or bad…

  4. Kelly

    My husband and I just started a garden last year, I’m on the East Coast. Definitely not as hot as Houston, but plenty hot and humid in the summer (regularly 90-100 degrees).

    Don’t be discouraged, tomatoes love hot weather and there are heat-tolerant types (I think some kinds are Florida 91 and Heatmaster from Bonnie plants?). But you have to be diligent about watering, they need moist soil. We water very early in the morning or evening to prevent scalding like you mentioned. We’ve had excellet success with cherry tomato varieties — they just keep putting fruit out.

    Cukes and zuchinni are also hot weather loving veggies.

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I did okay in LA with different tomato plants, but I would vary the breed each year hoping for a better yield. I never found one that did great, but maybe I wasn’t as diligent with them and watering as I could have been.

      I’ll have to try for some cukes and zukes next year in the summer garden. Although, garden is a stretch, as it’s more of a little corner in which I put plants that sometimes make veggies, lol.

  5. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Gardening successfully takes many attempts, IMHO. Each year builds upon the previous year as you learn the many lessons about how to not suck at gardening. Yep, go for that fall garden. By the time you move to your dream retirement destination you’ll be pros. :-)

    1. Mr SSC Post author

      I definitely keep learning little things each time I try to grow something, especially something new. Our 3rd citrus tree is doing much better than our first one did, and our second has a single grapefruit on it. First time we ever had fruit in almost 5 years of having a citrus tree…
      I went ahead and planted it, and will update with pictures. The plants have already doubled in size! It’s awesome watching things grow and flourish, even if it isn’t necessarily the most frugal way to get food. :)

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