Tomatoes

My green car is even greener.....

Elisabeth and I have developed a system for the seedlings we start indoors.  She has a cold basement and a shady backyard.  I have a warm basement and a good-sized sunny patch in my backyard.  She starts the cool weather seedlings (like the brassicas) in her basement, and I start the warm weather seedlings (like the nightshades) in my basement.  When the seedlings are ready to go outside, they go first to her backyard, and then to mine.

 

Today was transfer day for most of the warm weather seedlings, from her backyard to mine.  My car was completely filled (the back, the floors, and all the seats except the driver’s seat) with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos.  It did all fit, but barely.

Technology to the Rescue!

You may have noticed a curious addition to our tomato beds this week: compact discs. They are an experiment to try to deter the birds from eating our tomatoes.

The trouble started when our first full-size tomatoes ripened. We showed up at the garden expecting to pick ripe tomatoes, only to find all the ripe ones already partially eaten.

We suspected squirrels, raccoons or bunnies. Then we began to wonder if the ever-present birds might be the culprits.

The presence of birds is generally a delight in the garden. Yet, we definitely draw the line at deeding them our tomato crop.

We're not the first to keep birds from their garden with CDs dangling from strings. It's generally acknowledged that their movement in the breeze and reflectivity can make birds uncomfortable enough to stay away from adjacent food crops.

At the very least, they should make for interesting conversation.

Update 8/28: The CDs have made a noticeable difference. A few additional tomatoes have been damaged, but the remainder of the crop has been beautiful!

What's with the red plastic?

Q: Why did we plant the tomatoes through red plastic mulch this year?

A: It's an experiment. According to a UMass Extension report on the use of plastic mulches "Researchers at the USDA and Clemson University noted that certain crops performed better when grown in red mulch as opposed to black mulch: tomatoes, which yielded 20% more fruit; basil, the leaves of which had greater area, succulence, and fresh weight; and strawberries, which smelled better, tasted sweeter, and yielded a larger harvest. Penn State researchers found yield increases for tomatoes and eggplants on red mulch compared to black. Anecdotally, gardeners in Berkshire County saw marked increase in overall plant size, fruit size, and yield of tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers when plants were grown in red mulch as opposed to straw mulch."

We have noted that weeds are growing under the mulch, which might be a problem later in the season.

The particular perforated product we are trying is "Better Reds", by Dalen Gardener, about $8-10 for 8 3'x3' sheets.

2013 Nightshades (end of season notes)

Eggplant: Italian, Asian & White, plants less robust – result of weather or fertilizing or location in garden?
Peppers: the best year ever, all varieties (bells, poblanos & chilis) did well – repeat varieties, staging
Tomatoes: many suffered from diseases, good long yield from remaining plants – grow more resistant varieties next year, cover soil with landscape fabric to warm it before planting, experiment with clover groundcover, repeat sucker experiment, plant some in lettuce bed, try a grafted plant, more normal-size varieties & fewer zebras next year?
     SMALL: Sun Gold*, Super Sweet 100*, Green Grape*  
     MEDIUM: Mountain Magic, Stupice^, Ramapo*, Paul Robeson^, Green Zebra^, Red Zebra^
     SAUCE: Granadero, Mariana*
     * varieties we should definitely consider next year
     ^ varieties that failed
Tomatillos: grew well, caging worked great – try one purple plant, start seeds a week or two later than tomatoes next year

Fresh-from-the-garden Chili

If you garden, you know the question: How do I make the most of the seasonal selection of vegetables from the garden tonight? In this case, it was finishing up several small Onions, five random Tomatoes in various states of ripeness, a few green Peppers, a half-dozen Tomatillos and some charming little Hot Peppers.

fresh from the garden chili

The answer was Chili. I chopped the Onions, Peppers (green & hot), Tomatillos and skinned Tomatoes, adding them sequentially to a sauté pot with a small amount of oil. When the veggies were all in, I added a standard can of rinsed beans (in this case, butter beans), whole cashews and some chili seasoning. The result was three very hearty servings of my best chili ever!

Hornworm returns

HornwormSphinx moth

A sphinx moth has dropped by the garden once again. That's the parent of the hornworm caterpillar Lisa found munching last week on one of our green tomatoes.

The hornworm looks like something out of a medieval fairytale. It's bright green with slanted white stripes and dark eye-spots on its sides and a curved black horn extending out from its rear end.

Because their coloring is so close to that of the plants they visit, hornworms can be hard to spot at first, clinging as they do to the underside of the branches they defoliate. But once you see one, you think you're looking at a miniature monster.

A hornworm brigade attacked our tomatoes two summers ago. Fortunately, however, right behind them came a flight of parasitic wasps launching a counterattack of their own. They stopped most of the hornworms in their tracks, but not before the little monsters had stripped bare the tops of several tomato plants.

So far this summer, we've spotted just one horn worm, and no parasitic wasps.

Curiously enough, this time the hornworm did not go for the tomato plant's leaves. This time Lisa found him munching on a tomato.

 

Oh No!

 

Last week I found the first tomato hornworm of the season!  Last year they were a big problem- they grow insanely large and can quickly decimate the leaves of a tomato plant.  This one is just a baby, and looks just like an inchworm except for the horn.

 

Blossom End Rot

On Monday, I discovered that our mystery tomato plant (which clearly seems to be a plum tomato of some sort) had tomatoes that had blossom end rot.  In my container garden, this is usually solved by an application of lime.  It seem like for tomatoes in the ground this is caused by a lack of calcium uptake by the plant caused by uneven watering.  We need to pay more attention to watering the tomatoes.  Odd, however, that this seems to be occurring on only 1 of our tomato plants.

 

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Tomato Hornworms Spotted

Today we spotted our first tomato hornworms munching on our tomato plants.  These bugs are incredibly destructive- look at the size of this one- Elisabeth's hand is behind it for comparison!

 

This one had been colonized by the eggs of a parasitic wasp:

This is what they will do- strip all the leaves off of a tomato plant.

 

The coming tomato flood

The tomatoes are coming along very nicely, in control of a sizable swatch of garden land in the back left (thanks to Michael for giving a reference point for how high some of the plants are getting). Big clumps of fruit, some ripening and some not yet, are everywhere, and a grape variety is barely going to be able to stay upright, if each from its forest of blossoms becomes a fruit.

Visitors enjoy the progress

I opened the garden for an hour and a half yesterday afternoon. Though there were dramatic rains in both Lexington and Boston, none here! Even so, the garden looked well watered.

A nice group of Asian-American mothers and children came to visit. They remarked on the eggplants (great purple blossoms), the amaranth, and the tomatoes. Earlier a mother with two daughters enjoyed finding the hidden zucchini. Several people took the cards.

I tried to draw the amaranth and the basil, impossible as usual.

Promise

The tomato patch is full of promise, from the insanely huge clusters, galaxies, of flowers on the Blondkopfchen to the fully fleshed fruits of a neighbor. The Blondkopfchen, "little blond head", is producing true to its description in the Seed Savers catalog, "enormous yields and never a cracked fruit" (we'll be happy to see the latter). All that and it is said to bear until frost!

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