Desert Adaptation

Bonnie has been growing cherry  tomatoes for nearly two decades and they seem to have adapted to the southwestern Mojave climate. Her planting method is not orthodox. She either crushes some of the tomatoes into a pot at the end of the season or collects some and lets them dry a bit and then crushes them into pots. She places a fine layer of soil over the tomatoes and then she covers the pots with wire mesh to keep birds and ground squirrels out…a rock goes on top to hold the mesh in place in the high Mojave Desert winter winds. She doesn’t water them through the winter but lets the rain and snow get to them. Then in the spring or early summer (depending on our weather) when the sprouts begin to show, she waters them as she would any other patio veg or fruit. They are amazingly small, very sweet, and very productive.

We have noticed that some perennial herbs, as well as many annual garden crops, tend to grow smaller leaves, flowers, and fruits in the southern Mojave Desert than they do in other less harsh climates. Being sensitive to drought, their growth is more thrifty under water stress and the wind desiccation we have which dries plants out. Echinacea, grown from saved seed, produces smaller, more gracile flowers, leaves, and stems than commercially grown echinacea seen at big box stores. Vegetable crops are also often smaller than expected but prolific, healthy, and tasty, like Bonnie’s cherry tomatoes. Being more closely related to the original wild tomato, cultivated in southern Mexico, cherry tomatoes are usually fairly prolific in the southwestern Mojave Desert. Some local gardeners grow them to the exclusion of other varieties. Many local gardeners allow their cherry tomatoes to trail, without staking and they produce bumper crops this way.  Bonnie, who is a Rainshadow Farm collaborative researcher, rarely plants new cherry tomato plants – she simply crushes the seeds as described above and waits until spring.   Essentially, Bonnie has demonstrated one way of growing cherry tomatoes as a perennial, or at least a semi-perennial using a bit of horticultural assistance at the end of the season.

This sort of local knowledge is being enthusiastically exchanged among the farm’s collaborative researchers along with more complicated thoughts on growing techniques for semi-arid country.

This particular experiment, facilitated by Bonnie at Rainshadow Farm, was more than successful! Here at RSF we’ve been using these tomatoes in salads, pick ‘n’ eat, and in stir fry.

Bonnie’s cherry tomatoes at Rainshadow Farm

Bonnie’s tomatoes


Bonnie’s tomatoes in her courtyard garden




About rainshadowfarm

I teach anthropology, am an archaeologist, a drylands agroecologist, community educator, and a single mother of eight grown kids. I currently own and operate an educational and research farm in the southern Mojave Desert, Rainshadow Farm. I'm 100% West Virginia hillbilly. Not necessarily in that order.
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