Tomatoes 2016

Tomatoes July 28, 2016
Tomatoes July 28, 2016

From bottom left, around the outside:  A ripe Black Krim, a not so ripe Black Krim, a counter ripened Big Beef and Green Berkeley Tie Dye.

The small ones in the middle, again starting from the left, Purple Bumblebee, (slightly above) Supersweet 100, back down to another Purple Bumblebee (to show the variation in shades) and bottom right is a sun gold.

I included some of the classics because colors are hard to capture and this way you can compare the exotics.

The classics, for me, are Black Krim, Supersweet 100 and Sun Gold.  All of them taste yummy this year as other years. I tasted one Purple Bumblebee and want to reserve judgment. Haven’t tried the Berkeley Tie Dye yet, either.  I will report back after tasting.

I do not have any large yellow tomatoes yet.  Pineapple seedlings died in the tray and Gold Medal (formerly named Ruby Gold) haven’t ripened.  The Gold Medal plants have stopped growing, acting like determinates, although Tomato Growers lists them as indeterminates.

In a normal year, the tomatoes would just be getting started now.  With our severe drought and the longest heat wave that I remember, it’s hard to tell what will happen.  I’ll let you know.

 

Chlorotic Seedlings 2016

Chlorotic Tomato Seedling
Chlorotic Tomato Seedling

Although I’ve done the same things this year, as far as I know, a lot, not all, of my seedlings have developed these leaves of an unhealthy, pale green.

As usual, I started seeds, one to each 2″ soil cube made with Pro-Mix .  Fertilized with a half-strength solution of Miracle Grow when true leaves appeared.  (Seedlings are supposed to carry their own “food” to this point.)

My favorite theory is that the small soil cubes (like the basil below) dried out on the heat mat and then got flooded when I watered.  That inconsistency would interfere with the plants ability to take up water and nutrients.  It’s my favorite theory because I’m potting everything up, anyway.  As usual, I do that when they have a couple sets of true leaves or earlier, if I see roots at the edge of the soil cubes.

Most of the web sites on this issue are written for mature plants and because the problem is on the newer leaves, most sources would indicate an iron deficiency.  But why this year and not others?

Other theories are a magnesium deficiency, although that would be easy to treat with Epsom Salts, again, why this year only?  And web sites that show pictures of magnesium deficiencies show more damage than just a poor color.

Other years, I’ve had damping off problems and fungus gnats, as well as mice that ate my seedlings, and a cat who ate them and upchucked green goo on my putty colored carpet (sigh).  This is a new one.

So, as I was potting up, I cleaned all of the flats and the watering can with a 10% solution of bleach in water, just in case.  I sprayed the plants with the same fertilizer solution — if for some reason they can’t get food through the soil, maybe they can get it through their leaves.  It has small amounts of both iron and magnesium as well as the usual.

I’m also considering a test where I also spray a few plants with an Epson Salts solution, a teaspoon in a pint of water, because of anecdotal evidence that tomatoes love the stuff.

Doing several things at the same time isn’t a very scientific way of finding out the cause but mostly, I want my seedlings to thrive.

Chlorotic Basil Seedling
Chlorotic Basil Seedling

Coming of Age

An exercise that I wrote in my Thursday writing group.  I have been working intensively on fiction writing skills and not on my blog. It IS garden related so I thought I’d post it here.

Red, it’s almost always got to be red, the color of lust, the beating heart, the cut-vein red of an open wound.  And round like the sun, with the curving, firm heft of a young woman’s breast. 

Anticipation is a part of it, the days waiting, praying to the weather gods, not too cold, not too wet, now not too hot, please.

Worship of the bees.  Just in case, I take an old electric toothbrush to the blossoms or snap my fingers next to their small yellow flowers.  The pollen is necessary.

And smell.  There has to be a ripe, rich odor, slightly acid, sweet.  The tannic smell of brushed branches, their green-yellow sap burning my skin, is all a part of this.  The summer’s first tomato.

It was tomatoes that bought me to this garden, to any garden, in the sense of tending plants.  Well, them and roses.

I was raised on a farm.  My first memories are of vast fields.  Planting corn, it was my job to stomp each hill once the seeds were covered.  The hills went on, beyond my father’s towering frame, to the sky.

I realize now that much of my early years in the garden were because there was no childcare, no pre-school. So I spent my summer days learning soil, small red bugs lighting up the brown; curly fat worms, spiders, my playmates.  Weeds the enemy, the purpose of our labor.

Rebel youth,  I grew to hate the heat, the work and the isolation of the farm, to dream of living in a house like grandpa and grandma’s in Detroit where evenings were spent on shaded porches, chatting with the neighbors, the ice cream shop a short city block away.  Someday, I thought.

Boarding schools and colleges and big cities later though, I hungered for tomatoes.  Grocery stores sold pinkish things that would turn some approximate shade of red but never make my heart beat faster.  Never remind me of the sun’s heat in August or the last pickings under a cold harvest moon in October, racing to beat the frost.

Now I need a patch of ground, a piece of the sun for myself and the bearing of the tomatoes inside of me, long buried seeds, waiting for a rebirth that only I can bring.

Summer Veggie Problems

cucumbers on supports
cucumbers on supports

Ironically, when I was searching for information about a problem with wilting dahlias, I came across a couple of pictures that looked just right.  When I clicked on them in the search engine, it was from an earlier blog of mine.  And I never got an answer and never came back to it.  Real helpful Gaias Gift lady, she says sarcastically.  What MAY have happened, is what’s happening this year, the plants are recovering.  I don’t know if they will produce any blossoms but they are not wilted in the cool of morning and evening and less wilted in the daytime.

On to this year’s veggie problem.  I was so excited at the healthy growth of my cucumbers; Sweet Success again.  I started them indoors in soil cubes and they transitioned wonderfully in our warm spring.  Then I saw lots of little cukes forming with flowers at the end and I was salivating.  No signs of vine borer anywhere this year yet.  (Now I’ve done it.)

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAAlas, almost all of those little cucumbers have done nothing except sit there and petrify. This COULD be a pollination problem except that Sweet Success aren’t supposed to need pollination.  And they are all female so I wouldn’t know how to do that anyway??  So did I get the seeds I ordered?  I sent off a question to the seed company and got an immediate request for more information; pictures and such.

The one and only cucumber that’s grown to full size hasn’t filled out at the blossom end the way it should but I wanted to keep the plants producing.  It does show promise in its length.

I purchased Super Sweet 100 tomatoes from the same source and have been grumping because they are getting so much SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAbigger than any of that variety and much later.  See the leftmost two tomatoes in the picture; picked green.  Next to the two Sun Golds on the right, picked ripe.  I’ve been picking Sun Gold for weeks; so the seed company got that question, too.

Whatever the red ones are, the chipmunks prefer them <weak grin>.

The Tao of Vegetable Gardening by Carol Deppe – Book Review

The most valuable parts to me

To me, the most valuable parts of this book are where she discusses the reasons, procedures and processes to create our own varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables. The reasons are excellent.  A home grown tomato, selected from the best tasting, and for your garden conditions, is a joy that no amount of money can buy; but you can grow.  This singular accomplishment is threatened by the disease called late blight.  As she points out, programs to develop new tomato strains that are resistant to late blight are likely to start with tomatoes selected for market.  Selected for uniformity, storage and mass growing conditions.

Heirlooms and open pollinated varieties, among others, may be completely lost unless home and small growers do their own work.  She gives concrete, how-to advice for de-hybridizing and creating crosses to come up with tomatoes that have the characteristics that we love in heirlooms plus the genes needed to confer resistance for late blight and other diseases.

She also goes into detail about creating landraces, using seed saving and genetic selection to produce plants that are most productive, flavorful, or colorful – you choose – for your own growing conditions.

Some Surprises

I’ve always thought that seeds were fragile and to keep them viable, they should be kept from getting too dry or being frozen.  Carol talks about using those processes to create a personal seed bank to preserve seeds for periods long beyond what I thought were possible.

Very interesting discussion about tomato taste and when to pick: late day, after the sun has warmed them, for her.  That’s not something that I’ve thought about.  If she’s right, most tomatoes purchased at a farmer’s market and picked the morning they are sold are not as full of flavor as they could be.  I imagine farmers would be overjoyed to find that they could pick the afternoon of the day before, (or a few days before for some varieties) sleep in and have better tasting tomatoes.

A few nit-picks. 

There is nothing wrong with Swiss Chard.  And I’m surprised as Carol really likes greens; it makes a wonderful counterpoint to the sweet winter squashes that she develops and grows.  I would never try to change Carol’s mind but you should try it for yourself and I would recommend you try it in Molly Katzen’s recipe, Pasta with greens and feta.

Regardless of the cover subtitle:  “Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy and Serenity”, it was hard for me to identify the audience that the author had in mind.  It gives some basic cultivation advice but not enough for most beginners to be successful.  That’s all right; there are other books that do this.  She mentions a lot of helpful resources beyond her own books.

The Taoist stories and sayings are amusing and entertaining but in my opinion, amount to a sort of “what ever” from a philosophical viewpoint. But then, the older I get, the more I resist any rigid belief system.  So maybe I am Taoist.  Whatever. <s>  When it comes to joy and serenity in the garden I am a long-time true believer and I can respect anyone who shares that and applaud anyone who wants to share it with others.

Unfortunately, with only room for about a dozen tomato plants; I grow only two or three of each variety (with no ability to rotate where they grow), I can’t afford even the modest space that she suggests to experiment.  So I hope some of you with a little more sunny space will read this book feel inspired. It’s probably less space and trouble than you think.

 

Tomato Seedling Problem

another shot
another shot
Brandywine tomato with problem
Brandywine tomato with problem

I threw out about two thirds of my Brandywine seedlings yesterday as I was potting up my tomatoes into three inch peat pots.  The leaves were starting to curl, wilt and yellow.  With a close look, I was thinking maybe scale but the fuzz is not something that I associate with scale.  Then saw pictures and descriptions of older plants with early blight.  I’ve never known it to hit seedlings. Any ideas?

June is here

Gertrude Jekyll
Gertrude Jekyll

I mowed the last of the bugleweed (ajuga) in the lawn as the blossoms were over and the pollinators had moved on to the rhodies.  The smell of lily of the valley was replaced by the more subtle scent of iris and now the roses begin. Gertrude is the first of the roses to put on a display.  A serendipitous conjunction of a junk rose (I think it’s a climbing rootstock where the display rose died) that I’ve never completely killed, though I’ve tried, and a couple of varieties of honeysuckle that I grow up the fireplace make for a very pleasing combination.  The more solid yellow honeysuckle is the one I grow for scent.

Junk rose in the honeysuckle
Junk rose in the honeysuckle

It’s way too early but I’ve given up on culling blossoms on the tomato plantTomato blossomings.  This early blossoming phenomenon is something that started last summer when I first used the LED lights to grow the plants.  Both years, I’ve snipped off any small blossoms that were present at planting and still the plants want to bloom.  But last summer was uncharacteristically hot and early.  We’ll see if this is a mistake.

 
Tomato blossoming

 

More Critter Wars

 

Black Krim eaten by chipmunk
Black Krim eaten by chipmunk

So I guess this kind of mesh doesn’t  prevent chipmunks from eating tomatoes as they ripen.  From a wine purchase, it was the easiest to apply.  Just slip it on; no tying.  I thought they might take advantage of the open ends.  But no, they just ate through it.

Critter wars

 

Brandywines in mesh
Brandywines in mesh

I mentioned my problems with chipmunks and watching them eat almost all of last year’s tomato crop.  They seem to have an uncanny ability to know when a tomato is going to turn color and demolish it the same day.  When I stopped at one of our local farm stands for some 4th of July raspberries, the woman who took my cash suggested mesh bags, like the ones that onions are sold in, to protect my crop.  It’s not really feasible for all of my crop, like the sprawling bunches of cherry tomatoes, but for some of my prized, large heirlooms, it may be.

I don’t honestly know if mesh will work.  The woman who made the suggestion had actually used brown paper bags.  She said that they’d worked well, even ripening the tomatoes more quickly, but she quickly learned that they had to be emptied and reset after every rain or they’d hold the water and rot the tomatoes.

The problem with mesh is that I know my little chipmunk friends can eat suet through the suet cage and I’ve seen them use their sharp little claws.  They may be able to eat the suet through the mesh.  Or maybe, the strangness of the stuff will deter, on its own.  Although I doubt that.  These are very tame chipmunks.

Black Krim in mesh bag
Black Krim in mesh bag

If a  coarse mesh will work, the easiest to apply is the plastic mesh “jackets” that they use to separate bottles of wine when they are packed two to a bag.  They don’t need to be tied, just slipped on.  And their natural stretch settles in around the  tomato and can easily expand as it grows.

I had a couple of different bags; the one that I purchased with limes in it had the smallest mesh.  It’s all an experiment.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tomatoes, 2012

 

Green Supersweet 100
Green Supersweet 100

It’s the time of year when most garden chores change from starting things to maintaining them.  Mundane tasks like mowing and weeding have taken the place of dramatic decisions about what and when to plant.

And some harvesting. I’ve let the first year asparagus go weeks ago, to get more next year and I’m picking snow peas at the rate of a pound every few days. The tomatoes are at least a couple of weeks early, which is pretty much how this season has been going. Picking even a cherry tomato in June is almost unheard of and if you look carefully at the top, left of the picture above, you can see my second ripe tomato getting redder.  The first one was picked slightly green and ripened inside.

I’m playing chicken with the chipmunks, who ate most of my crop last year. The sight of this one turning red untouched had me a little hopeful that the family who likes tomatoes moved on, but I see a quarter of a ripening Black Krim has been eaten, just as it was turning color. Last year I tried Coyote urine around the perimeter of the beds and all I got out of that was ruined shoes.

Green Brandywine
Green Brandywine

 

Teasing Georgia and a foxglove
Teasing Georgia and a foxglove

Focusing on happier things, a pretty shot at about eyesight where the last, slightly chewed, small Teasing Georgia blossoms made friends with the last few blossoms on a lavender foxglove stalk; making for a beautiful relationship.

10 Reasons to Plant the Tomatoes

Although it’s two weeks earlier than I would like due to risk of cold weather.

  1. They are too big and top heavy to carry in and out without damage.
  2. Every time I try, something flops and threatens to break.
  3. The peat pots wick water unevenly, especially under the influence of sun and wind and I go to work thinking they are well watered and come home to a badly wilted plant or two.  Wondering why only one or two?
  4. They are probably not getting the food they need for this stage of their growth.  Resulting in yellowing of bottom leaves.  Fertilizer delivery mechanisms rely on the uptake of water; see # 3.
  5. When I leave them out at night and temps drop, the small amount of soil in their pots probably gets cold, too.  This morning it was 41 deg F.  The earth has been consistently over 50 deg F for a month or so.
  6. Forecasters are saying days in or near 70s and nights in or near 50s for the next 10 days.
  7. I have remay and know how to use it if they are wrong.
  8. The dahlia tubers that I was planning on working with this weekend won’t come to harm if it takes me another week to plant.
  9. The tomato plants woke me up at 5:00 am saying plant me, plant me.
  10. The formerly floppy SuperSweet 100 that I planted over a week ago looks like this!
happy if cold tomato

LED Lights and Seed Starting

tomato trees
tomato trees

All of the articles that I could find talked about growing things under LED lights were for just that purpose, growing things to maturity.  There were also some cautions about how they could hurt seedlings.  So I dithered about whether to use my old setup with shop lights or try the LED lights that I’d purchased for winter growing.  I think the things that decided me are first, the shop lights are getting old and the recommendation is to use new bulbs.  And second, the LED lights are cheap. My electric bills don’t show the use enough for me to know how much this lighting costs

I did hedge my bets and keep some of the seedlings under a single cool light fixture, but the ones that I put almost immediately under the LEDs did better.  I did keep the LEDs a couple of feet away.  I started lettuces and Piracicaba in the guest room under one light.  When these cool weather plants were ready to go out, I moved the light down to the basement to enlarge the warm planting area where I can provide bottom heat, giving the tomatoes, basil and eggplants more time while the outside temps warm up.

The area over floweth.  In addition to my seed starts, one of the dahlia companies sent me plants, not tubers, so I’m babying them on the heat mats that are no longer needed by the bigger seedlings.

My remaining worry is that the plants are so comfortable in the basement that they will sulk outside.  I’ve been removing suckers and even blossoms, which tells me that they are too happy.  Next year I move back the start date by at least two weeks (the seed went into the cubes on 3/25/2012.)  It’s also a clue that I should probably be using a more limited spectrum of lights for seedlings.  In addition, Supersweet 100 is the plant that wants to blossom so that also suggests a tomato I should try inside this winter, if I want to.  Here’s a shot under normal light for those of us who can’t see through the lurid LED colors.

more tomato trees
more tomato trees

Counter half full

Pineapple tomato with purple ruffles basil
Pineapple tomato with purple ruffles basil

Although the water spray that’s triggered by a motion detector seems to have stopped the deer damage in the garden, the chipmunks have eaten more of my tomatoes than I have.  I was feeling a bit deprived as I looked at the chewed tomatos hanging sadly here and there in my late summer garden.  But then I looked at my large kitchen island and saw it covered with enough food for a family of six, large and small tomatoes, two kinds of cucumbers, summer squash and baggies of beans and Piracicaba in the refridgerator.  (onions and garlic curing in the garage…)  Yes, most of the tomatoes on that counter were picked green, that pale light green that they get just before they turn color, but there are more than I need and they will still taste better than anything I can buy at the grocery store.  Even local farmers pick them early and let them “counter ripen” for sale.  So is that counter half empty or half full?

Just as I was pondering that, sister stopped by with a gift.  A beautiful, vine-ripened tomato of the variety called Pineapple, from the plants that I had given her this spring.  And that decided it.  The counter is definately half full.  Overflowing, even.

Counter half full
Counter half full

Harvest begins

My summer food garden is moving quickly into full production.  I’m picking a handful of green beans every morning (which really adds up), the cherry tomatoes have been giving me sugar for weeks and I picked the first of my large tomatoes today:  a small Brandywine, a damaged Virginia Sweets and a good looking Black Krim.  Although all have turned color, they will benefit from a day or two on the counter.  The chipmunk(s) got the first of my crop.  They seem to have a sixth sense for when a tomato is going to turn color and eat it before I can.

I was feeling a little sorry for myself until I stopped at a nearby farm stand and saw the Heirlooms priced at almost $5 a pound.  I’m rich!  Also asking the age-old question, how do you know when a green tomato is ripe??  (A:  When the chipmunks eat it.)

One small head of Piracicaba, can more be far behind?  I’ve eaten a couple of Zephyr summer squash; this variety keesps me from having to choose betwen growing yellow ones or green ones, and both the small yellow cukes and Sweet Success main crop cucumbers will be ready to pick within days.  Everything has grown into a solid mass of green and I have to tiptoe between the beds to pick.  My meal plans focus on, how can I use…?[oqeygallery id=16]

Mainely Mulch trial

I grow my tomatoes in the same beds every year so when I was planting them before a week of wet weather, I knew I needed to find something to mulch with and find it quickly.  Soil borne diseases are the problem when you can’t rotate.  Mulching, to prevent the soil from splashing on the leaves, is a good way to minimize their impact.

Salt marsh hay is the preferred mulch here in New England but almost impossible to find.  Mainely Mulch (you can google it) is what my Agway offered as an alternative so I bought a bale of it.  I applied it just as the rain was coming in, which was probably a good thing.  It’s chopped quite finely and on a dry and windy day, I think it might blow around a lot.  Also, dust, for those of us with tendencies toward asthma might be an issue, too.  The biggest problem, however, is that about three weeks later, it’s full of a particular kind of weed.  Whatever it is does dig down in the soil and breaks off when you pull it.  No way to get the root without seriously disturbing the mulch and that would defeat the purpose.  While it would be difficult to say for sure where these weeds came from, since they are not growing in the areas of the bed that aren’t mulched, circumstantial evidence would say they were imported in it.

Mainley Mulch and weeds
Mainley Mulch and weeds

Tomatoes are in the ground

As of yesterday and these may be some of the best starts that I’ve grown.  You can see they have little in common with the ones you buy in sixpacks.  Some of the credit has to go to our weather.  The storm that churned around in the ocean for a week or so didn’t come this far inland but it did create some substantial winds.  Which made for some very sturdy stems on the tomatoes as they hardened off.

So it’s a couple of weeks earlier than I would normally plant them but they look ready and the nights are forecasted around the 50s for the next two weeks.  Days not a lot warmer but warm enough.  With all of the rain in the forecast I need to get them mulched.  I do not have room to rotate tomatoes and most diseases that bother tomatoes are overwintered in the soil.  Mulching will keep the rain from splashing the spoors back up onto the leaves.

As always, I have more plants than room and a couple of the tomatoes jumped into the new asparagus bed when I wasn’t paying attention.  Naughty; naughty. 

The tomato in the picture is Black Krim, a favorite of mine for both color and flavor.  I hope that either the Pineapple or Virginia Sweets will act as a beautiful contrast on the plate.

Varieties I’ve planted

Old favorites:

  • SuperSweet 100
  • Sun Gold
  • Yellow Pear
  • Black Krim
  • Brandywine (Suddith’s Strain)
  • Pineapple

Challengers:

  • Black Cherry (I’ve grown Black Prince but it was a bit larger and slower to ripen than I like.)
  • Green Envy (Never grown a green that I thought was worth the effort.  Trying again.)
  • Lemon Cherry
  • Balls Beefsteak and Chapman (I’m still looking for a reliable, high producing, red beefsteak)
  • Virginia Sweets (a red/yellow bicolor)