Monday, January 23, 2012

A Quick Harvest Picture

Not a bad morning ... I'm starting to harvest big tomatoes pretty much every morning now. This picture shows green zebras, two Paul Robesons (woo hoo!), and a whole lotta Brandyboys. One nice thing: the Kellogg's Breakfast are slow to ripen, so I'm not getting my whole harvest at once, which is annoying because one household can only eat so many tomatoes.

I'll post on the Brandboys later, but so far, I've been very impressed with the yield on these suckers. These are very productive plants ...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day Two: Tomatoes and Cold Weather

There must be a better way ... I'm right now thinking of developing a way to better protect tomatoes than sheets and bags. Maybe I'll give LEDs a try. Or maybe I'll invest in a small heater of some kind to put under the sheets. Anyway, going on Day Two of this cold snap, I thought I'd update on the damage. And be prepared: today's blog is full of dead things. It's not a great day in TomatoLand.

Cold damage to tomatoes is an insidious thing. It tends to creep up on the plant, so it might take hours or even a day or two to see the full effects of the damage. It might be tempting to cut away wilted, dying or dead growth right away, but it's important to resist that urge. First, there's no sense in shocking the plant. Second, you don't yet know the true extent of the damage. So I say wait until the damage is completely revealed, then cut away the dead parts of the plant. And don't worry if you have tomatoes on the vine—they will still ripen, even on vines that are heavily damaged. Also, you might be surprised: the plants will often bounce back surprisingly well as soon as the weather warms up.

Anyway, last night I did the best job yet of covering my plants. I first covered them in giant bags, then wrapped them in sheets. The worst damage from last night appeared where the plants actually touched the insulation material, which acted as a conduit for cold temperatures. Otherwise, all of the damage in the pictures below is from the night before, when the plants blew over. The first picture shows the north exposure (direct exposure to a cold wind); the second picture shows the southern exposure on the same plant. So you see ... the damage is extensive but limited to the northern side.

And lastly, this isn't tomato related, but also kind of a bummer. I'm a pretty dedicated lover of lizards. I was the kind of kid who begged for things that slithered and caught snakes by the bagful in the forests and swamps around my house. While other kids were dressing their puppies in adorable hats, I was breeding praying mantis. So I was kind of saddened to find this knight anole dead on our porch overhang last night. Yes, I know he's an invasive species, etc., etc., etc., but still ... that's a tough way to go.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Damn Wind

Remember how I said that, barring some kind of disaster, this was a magical season? Ha ha. I suppose this is what I get for getting greedy and growing 10-foot top heavy vines. I was prepared for the cold, but not the wind. Or at least not prepared enough. I woke up this morning to see that two large towers of Paul Robesons and Kellogg's Breakfast had blown over. Fortunately (I guess), their fall was broken by our patio furniture, so I don't believe the plants were actually uprooted. Just very annoyed. So I don't know if you can see very well, but I stood the towers back up and ended up tying everything off to my fence. For reference, that's a 7-foot fence (below).

In better news, though, I did harvest my first ripe tomato this morning (below). There's something wonderful about that first tomato of the season. It's a Brandyboy, so I'm really looking forward to lunch--and not just because I'm hungry. Let's see how these Burpee hybrids stack up against the Brandywines they were bred to imitate. It doesn't have the same ribbed shoulders exactly, but it's a lovely fruit.

And just to make myself feel a bit better, I've posted a few pictures of tomates still on the vine (Brandyboys, Paul Robeson, first and second pictures below). The fruit is still mostly green, but the tomatoes are fist-sized now and starting to lighten up (the first stage in ripening). So assuming the cold isn't too bad tonight and nothing else blows over, I'm thinking the harvest will start in earnest in about two weeks.

But really? Did they have to blow over?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cover 'Em Up

Well, I guess we were bound to hit some bumps sooner or later ... and tonight is going to be one of those bumps. With temperatures expected to drop well below 50˚F tonight, it's time to take preventive measures. (Any temperatures below about 50˚F begin to interfere with tomatoes setting fruit.)

So, here are the steps I'll be taking tonight:

  1. Deeply water the tomatoes as night sets in. Water is a great insulation and protects tender roots. As you water at night, though, make extra sure not to get any water on the leaves.
  2. Cover the tomatoes with sheets. Try to get as much coverage as possible.
And I've never done this myself, but I've heard of people using LED holiday lights with great success. The LED lights put off just a tiny bit of heat, just enough to keep the plants warm. Professional growers also use misters to prevent frost, but I don't think we're at that point yet.

I've already got a little bit of cold damage on some of the leaves (purplish blotches) from these last few nights, but I expect tonight to represent the first real challenge to the healthy plants. So cover 'em up and cross your fingers ...