August 15, 2014 at 1:00 am

Gardening

2014 hasn't been the year for great tomato growing

Lack of sun has kept this year's tomato crop behind schedule. (PhotoDisc)

Weather-wise, this has been another summer for the books. Great for planting and growing trees, flowers and shrubs, but when it comes to growing great tomatoes or hot peppers, not so much. The biggest issue as is lack of sun.

I planted my tomatoes late this year, and a cold snap hit shortly after so they just sat and pouted for what seemed like weeks. I harvested my first Burpee 4th of July tomato on the 14th; however, the plant has only given me a half dozen since and at the pitiful pace of one every four or five days. 4th of July’s are small salad tomatoes, so my first BLT of the season was open face on a half a piece of toasted, thinly sliced whole-wheat artisan bread and small spoon of crisp crumbled bacon along with a very thinly sliced tomato. It looked more like a serving of bruschetta than a sandwich.

My Sungold orange-colored cherry tomato plant that would usually be cranking by now is heavy with fruit, but they too are taking forever to ripen. Though I know full well no amount of fertilizer will make up for heat and sun, I did give them and the rest of my garden a pick-me-up of fish and kelp fertilizer the other day. Before fertilizing, I checked the weather to make sure one of those sudden 90-degree heat waves was not eminent.

While perusing for seeds on the Totally Tomatoes website (totallytomato.com) earlier in the season, I came across red plastic covers for tomatoes called Tomato Greenhouse by American Netting and Fabric Inc. According to the folks at Totally Tomatoes, by encasing the tomato plants in these red-tinted, see-through plastic bags, I can enhance their growth up to 20 percent. Research shows the use of red plastic mulch increases tomato production. The plastic is perforated to allow air circulation, but the covering will warm things up on cool days and improve heat retention at night. The bags are actually one long tube, so they’re open at both ends. Included are six twist-ties to close the top, depending on the weather. Priced at $9.95, one package will cover several plants.

They’re sized to fit over standard tomato cages, but if you use the giant ones, you might consider rigging a temporary green house using a clear plastic painter’s drop cloth. Be sure to make slits in the sides and an opening at the top so your tamats don’t cook in the sun.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question, go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at http://detroitnews.com/homestyle.