Seed Planting by the Thousands – and Then?

Several small snowstorms in March – much needed moisture!

Seed processing from 2020 continuing.

Squash, Beloplodnyi

Squash, Beloplodnyi

Pepper, Jalapeño

Pepper, Jalapeño Early

Eggplant, Thai White Ribbed offtype, distinctive netting coloration of purple, green and yellow.

Pods were still edible until mid-February, seeds extracted March 26th.

Moving on to the 2021 growing season, I’ve planted thousands of seeds of hundreds of varieties of lettuce, onion, pepper, tomatoes, etc. for seed germination tests and for plants to grow this year for seed saving. Seed germination tests for both lettuce and peppers seem to drop off dramatically after about 5 years old, but I need to compile and publish results. Here’s what some of them look like today:

Lettuce and onion seedlings, germination tests

Stokes Purple sweet potato seedlings are more like stunted vines now, with some runners over 3′ long

Of course a “few” early tomato seedlings (many thousands still to come):

Other things up and growing include:

Fig, Black Manzita –

Garlic – first up was the variety Kilarney Red –

Dwarf Pomegranate –

Ginger, Turmeric (neither yet sprouting) and very pricy wasabi, which I will attempt to grow in the cellar, where they temperature never gets above 65° F.

The nasturtium plant is growing rapidly and producing flowers in abundance, now that the weather is getting warmer. I’ve had to move the plant to the kitchen to make room on the wire racks for seedling production. I’m pollinating every open blossom several times a day with a Q-Tip.

Nasturtium Bud
Nasturtium Flower
Nasturtium, Large Plant Flowering

I’ve already planted seeds of about 130 varieties for other gardeners. More about this seedling project is available here:

DT Seedlings


At the moment I’m in the middle of planting seeds of 234 new (to Delectation of Tomatoes) tomato varieties. This will be followed over the next few days by plantings of seeds of an estimated 350 additional tomato varieties to replenish supplies and replace seeds of varieties that are more than 8 years old.

This year I’ve purchased three additional light stands (2′ X 4′, 4-shelf wire racks), each of which can hold 20 trays, which brings my capacity to 80 trays simultaneously. And the lights: LED, 4′ long, two lamps per fixture, “Utility Shop Light Fixture, 4400lm, 42W [250W Equivalent], 5000K Daylight White Shop Lights”. And three more 2′ X 4′ heat mats, along with a thermostat temperature controller.

Some germinating seeds got too hot today where they were exposed to direct sunlight next to the south-facing window.

I closed the curtain, completely removed the humidomes, and turned on the box fan. Within two hours, temperatures were back in the 78-80° range, much more to the liking of tomatoes and peppers. Constant vigilance appears to be mandatory!

New light stands at various, with an abundant use of Mylar fabric –

And now, the BIG project – the most expensive thing I’ve ever purchased, aside from three houses and one new car 18 years ago.

A 200 square-foot greenhouse with a framework made of treated lumber, to be covered with Solexx – distinctly NOT the cheap stuff. Here is the 225′ roll of 4′ wide, 3.5 mm Solexx:

Now that the huge Siberian Elm tree is down, it makes sense to construct a greenhouse, which will also serve as a solarium, providing heat for the house during the cold months of winter.

Here is some progress made over the past few days –

Postholes and Lumber for Greenhouse
Center truss, abutment, hangers
More posts and trusses

There is a good chance that all posts will be set in concrete tomorrow, trusses placed, and some cross-bracing installed. Construction is behind schedule, but progress is significant, with some good help, of course. I can hardly keep up with filling seed orders and planting thousands of seeds for the 2021 growing season. Designing and construction a customized greenhouse like this is something I just could not do on my own, even if I could somehow manage zero sleep every night for a month!

I will still need to setup the low tunnel like I did last year, since I will have about twice as many seedlings.

Then there is the issue of leveling and plowing the garden spot that has never been cultivated. And building high tunnels. And putting a tall fence around the property. And – not a moment of boredom!

Greenhouse coming!

Hopefully by this time next month, I will be able to report that a 200 square-foot greenhouse has been built and contains hundreds of young plants, destined for other gardens and small farms throughout the area. More on this when I have photos to show – not just words!

That one purple sweet potato produced 31 slips, which I potted up into 5-1/2″, 2-quart pots and placed on a large heat mat. They are growing like crazy and are ready to go in the ground now, 3 months ahead of schedule! What to do, what to do.

A character flaw is once again on public display: I cannot bear to throw away healthy plants or seeds or seedlings. I am quite familiar with the laws of ecology, but seem to be unwilling to accept limitations of time, space and energy — an emotional attachment to imagined possibilities, or something like that.

Anyhow, the variety name is Stokes Purple, and it has an interesting history, which can be read about at this newspaper article:

Stokes Purple Sweet Potato

If any reader wants to give some of these a good home, drop me an email at dale@gianttomatoseeds.com and lets work something out. Offer good until June 01, 2021, at the latest. Sweet potatoes like a warm climate with well drained soil – not something I can give them right now.

Now that my non-tomato seeds are semi-organized, I’m conducting hundreds of seed germination tests on older batches of seeds in these families:

Amaryllidaceae (Alliaceae)
Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)
Asteraceae (Compositae)
Boraginaceae
Brassicaceae (Cruciferae)
Lythraceae

This will be followed soon (time management is critical..) by close to 2,000 germination tests of seeds in these families:

Amaranthaceae (Chenopodiaceae)
Asparagaceae
Cucurbitaceae
Fabaceae (Leguminoseae)
Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Malvaceae
Poaceae
Polygonaceae
Rosaceae
Solanaceae

It probably goes without saying that 75% of the effort with this project involves seeds in the Solanaceae family – tomatoes, peppers, etc.

With approximately 25,000 batches of seeds in inventory, it simply is not possible – logistically, financially or otherwise – for me to conduct “official” germination tests on every one of these batches every year. Not to mention, such tests would use up around 80% of my seed inventory every year, especially with tomatoes and peppers, where many batches involve only 10 to 50 seeds.

Some people have expressed concern over tomato seeds that are more than 5 years old. With the dry climate where these seeds are stored, they should be viable for at least 10-12 years. Please refer to this blog post from two years ago:

DT Seed Germination Tests and Rates

I am doing my best to replenish these older seeds and conduct current seed germination tests. If you would like more information on this effort, please drop me an email. And on the Delectation of Tomatoes Store page, this seed refund/replacement policy is published:

I will promptly replace seeds that did not germinate or did not produce true-to-type with seeds from another batch of the same or similar variety as you prefer. Or I will refund full or partial purchase price of any order at your discretion, for any reason, no questions asked. I strive for perfection but have not yet arrived…

A reminder that Delectation of Tomatoes is a one-person operation, and I offer only what I personally grow – no seed co-ops, no middleman, no reselling, no restocking from what other people have grown, no employees, just the occasional volunteer (thanks a bunch, you know who you are! 👌 ) . When I run out of seeds of a variety, it will take me up to a year to regrow and replenish my stock. But for now, running out of seeds has only been an issue with a handful of varieties – just not that many gardeners know about this endeavor.

Recently I have harvested peppers for seed saving from the plants growing under a metal halide light in the cellar, Including Aji Limon:

and Bhut Jolokia (aka Ghost Pepper):

Not very many seeds result from such a meager harvest! The cellar is just too cold for pepper plants to thrive.

I’m also still processing seeds from several squash varieties, including Beloplodnyi, an excellent, “white-fruited” zucchini-style summer squash that turns yellow when fully ripe. This one is extra early producing, listed as 36 days from seed on one website! Perhaps – if not planted in early July, as the vines grow like crazy when it’s nice and warm.

As with the nearly 2,000 other types varieties that don’t yet have their own page on the website, seeds of this variety can be ordered through this link:

DT Seed Store, Generic Ordering Page

Nearly all revenue from seeds goes towards preserving heirloom varieties from around the world, and sharing those through seedlings, fresh produce and seeds. And for the next few weeks, that means some heavy inputs into constructing a greenhouse and high tunnels — all purchases and contributions to these efforts are much appreciated!

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$10.00
$25.00
$50.00
$5.00
$10.00
$20.00
$50.00
$100.00
$250.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Supporting Delectation of Tomatoes means supporting the preservation, propagation and promotion of an amazing diversity of fruit and vegetable varieties from around the world, while also enjoying and appreciating the best that Nature has to offer. You will also be promoting your own health and supporting the local economy when you grow and share what you grow.

Tenth and First Anniversaries

Delectation of Tomatoes was established in February, 2011 with no expectation that it would transform from a hobby shared with others into an all-consuming passion in one decade!

Poverty, instability and deaths have resulted in moving the business five times since August, 2015.  A (hopefully) final move happened one year ago.  This past week, I made some significant progress towards getting seeds organized — you can scarcely imagine the chaos, the frustration!  Here’s a short video update:

This project has put me a couple of days behind with filling seed orders; but with seeds much better organized now, I hope to be able to catch up very soon.

A month ago I placed the pots containing chunks of purple sweet potato (variety Stokes Purple) on a heat mat.  They did finally sprout and I now have about 25 slips from a single tuber!

Now what to do with them?  Sweet potatoes like hot weather; but sub-zero temperatures are in the forecast this week.  Besides, it will take many weeks of work to get a garden established here.

Likely they will end up in cellar, where all the pepper plants are pretty much dead:

Aphids + cold nights + benign neglect, and my hope to have 20 pepper plants survive the winter are pretty well dashed.   But, where the watermelon and cucumber vines died, I planted some onion bulbs —

I tried this last spring.  The onions grew fine and flowered well.  But I got not a single seed – there just were not any pollinators!  I hope to make significant improvements in the pollination realm this year by improving the habitat and planting lots of attractive plants and wildflowers.

Here is one last Muncher cucumber, grown in the cellar, that  I broke open on January 8th – still no seeds:

 

And a tiny, golf ball-sized watermelon (variety New Hampshire Midget) that was picked very immature on October 20th, 2020.  Just out of curiosity, I wanted to see if it would produce viable seeds.

Surprisingly, this tiny watermelon produced 11 seeds which look viable!  I’ve documented this phenomenon with tomatoes as well: small, hard green fruits, can ripen indoors over several weeks or months and still manage to produce viable seeds.  The fruits remain alive, and continue to metabolize and perform their evolutionary duty: produce viable seeds for the next generation.

This does NOT seem to work for most other vegetable varieties, however: peppers, cucumbers, squash and many more.  With those, fruits need to be fully mature or over mature and wrinkled before harvest.

Just moments ago, I decided to cut open one of the Straight Eight Cucumbers I mentioned in my last blog.  Here’s what I got:

About 13 viable seeds after 3-1/2 months of waiting since harvest.  Not surprisingly, the flesh was bitter, tough and rather dry.  At this rate, I would need to grow 20 hills of cucumbers for every variety in order to be able to collect enough seeds to offer on the website. Very likely, pollination was a problem, as it was for most tomato and pepper varieties also in 2020.

Here is a link to several files I have developed and shared over the years:

Delectation of Tomatoes, Shared Files

  • The Big Tomato List
  • List of Extra Early Varieties
  • List of Very Productive Varieties

And so on.

Here’s the link for purchasing seeds:

DT Online Store

So, what have I done with this business, and what have I learned in the past ten years?  Well, I don’t have time to write a 1,000-page tome, and nobody would want to read it.  But a few highlights might be informative.

  • People come first.  Respect others, communicate well, provide a quality product.  This all seems like common sense, common decency to me.  With no budget or time for advertising, I depend upon my colleagues, my fellow gardeners, to let others know about the seeds, seedlings, and fresh garden produce that I have available.  If this were only about the money, I would have quit years ago!  I have been horribly disrespected by others in my life, and it hurts.  So being respectful has become second-nature.  Even if that means spending up to 10 hours per day responding to emails.  I am no more important than any other gardener or small farmer.
  • Keep hands and fingers moving as fast as possible every waking minute.  It’s called “manual labor” for a reason.  Always strive for increasing efficiency.  I operate Delectation of Tomatoes like an artisan craftsman, pre-Industrial Age, aside from computers, printers and the Internet.  No machine labor, no mass production, no economy of scale here!  Just good, old-fashioned, one person at a time service.
  • Most people don’t want to work fast, especially for very low wages; thus, I have no helpers.  Yes, I have tried…

[More to come here, maybe, if I can manage the time]

 

 

 

 

As the World Turns and Tilts

2020 was an extraordinarily dry year, at least from May through through November.  In December, there were three significant snow storms, dropping between 1″ and 4″.

I tried to capture the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction on the winter solstice, but this is the best I could manage with my equipment (powerlines in the foreground):

I have not seen a ladybug in the cellar since December 7th, and most of the plants have died.  Between the cold nights and the heavy aphid load, it’s just too much for subtropical plants.  I could turn on a heater in the cellar, but I just don’t see how I could recover that high heating expense.

Outside temperatures have dipped into the single digits several nights and into the mid-30’s indoors.  Here’s the thermometer in the seed room this morning:

I only heat the room where I package seeds, prepare seed labels, etc.  Use of electricity has jumped from 209 kWh in August to 562 in December.  Tough on the budget – one of these years I’ll install solar panels.

Here’s a little project that takes up a bit of electricity in the form of a seedlings heating mat – purple sweet potato purchased from the local grocery store:

So far, after 18 days, there is no sign of slips starting to grow.  I’m thinking maybe they were irradiated, or perhaps it’s just not warm enough for this heat-loving vegetable.

I am seeing very good growth from the nasturtium plant that I dug up on October 22nd and transplanted indoors:

This is just about the only plant that the deer didn’t destroy among those planted along the sidewalk.

On November 24th, I started processing the last major batches of tomatoes for seed extraction, which included about 45 batches.  A couple of the more attractive specimens included:

Barnes Mountain Orange

Gezahnte Buhrer-Keel

Final batches of tomatoes, about 20 batches, were processed for seeds starting on December 10th:

Since most of the tomatoes in these final batches were picked green and ripened indoor (in direct sunlight, as much as possible), it’s not surprising that about half the seeds floated and so were discarded.  The rest should be viable.

Tomatoes for eating are all gone now, except this one holdout:

There was this decent-sized slicer on December 1st:

And this one on December 8th, also sun ripened, which was much tastier than it looked!

There are several batches of peppers still to process:

Campanita is an interesting looking pepper variety – “little bell”, with moderate heat:

And cucumbers.  These Straight Eight cucumbers were harvested in mid-October and have hardly changed color or dried out, despite being “ripened” in the sunlight for over two months.

I know from experience (i.e. many mistakes) that it is very challenging to get cucumbers to mature fully on or off the vine.

The cucumber variety Muncher, for example, which I hand-pollinated and mollycoddled all year – including moving the 20-gallon pot in which they were growing down to the cellar under metal halide lights – looked like it finally ripened a couple of mature fruits.  But alas, very few seeds were mature, and most don’t appear to have even been pollinated.

I think an earlier start and a greenhouse is definitely the way to go with cucumbers, at least at this elevation.

Of course there are several squash still to be processed for seeds – I’ve been eating all the squash I can handle.

Zucchino Rampicante

And still several more on standby:

Last watermelon of the season was Cream of Saskatchewan, harvested rather immature in mid-October and consumed on December 18th.  It was very tasty and even moderately sweet — though it was a bit odd to eat a watermelon that wasn’t very juicy.

Many of the seeds appear to be viable!  I’m not an expert, but it seems that watermelons and tomatoes can be picked immature (though they need to be at least close to full size), ripened indoors and yield viable seeds.  But cucumbers, peppers, squash and many others will not perform this helpful trick.

It seems incredible that the earth is tilting back on its axis and the days are getting noticeably longer already.  Where did the time go?  It has been almost a year since I unloaded the moving van, and the living room is still utter chaos, with boxes upon boxes of stuff to be organized.

I’m just no sure when I will find two days “off” to organize this mess.  Which tasks do I not do?  Every morning I wake up to 100+ hours of work that “must” be completed before midnight.  Filling seed orders is obviously the #1 priority most days:

Seeds from Delectation of Tomatoes

Sharing seeds, seedlings and fresh produce are the most rewarding tasks of what Delectation of Tomatoes is all about.  And these are obviously essential to allowing me to continue doing everything else.

I’m not even going to start listing all the other support tasks that need to be done, many of them rather urgent.  “Overwhelmed” is a feeling that affects me only if I allow it to do so.  The work is pleasant and enjoyable for the most part.  I just don’t have enough energy or hours in the day.  Working fast and efficiently are mandatory and have become habitual.

On the bright side, how many people get to do what they love, make their own schedule, work from home, and do something that aligns well with their value system?  Not very many, I surmise; so complaining about hard work would be hypocritical and counterproductive!

On to 2021!

 

 

 

 

60 to Zero in 8 Days

The mighty Siberian Elm has fallen!!  Watch the slightly scary video, along with written commentary, at this YouTube video:

Click on the YouTube icon to read commentary.

Now that this enormous obstacle is down, the next big project is stump and root removal, at least down to 12″ or so.  Then leveling out the ground.  Then constructing a custom high tunnel.  Then – well, it just never ends!  It’s all good though – for a clear and positive purpose, which doesn’t involve making some corporate fat-cat even fatter off the labor of others.  Though someday I hope to be able to hire a helper, at least part time.

Still processing seeds, the last 150 or so batches.  Here is the last major batch, seeds extracted on November 29th:

The ladybugs on the 20 potted pepper plants in the cellar have pretty much gone dormant.  Too cool down there.  Plants are struggling but mostly surviving.  Aphids are doing fine – a species I’ve not seen before:

Maybe everyone else already knows about this; but I came across these at the local grocery store a couple of weeks ago:

Very oblong, black, seedless grapes, brand name Welch’s.  Very yummy – plenty good enough for that nearly insatiable sweet tooth… I hope to grow some grapes and other perennials here within the next year or two.

After dark work for the next several weeks:  processing thousands of photos and getting some 2,000 additional varieties profiled on the website for seed sharing.  While I’m working on getting that project up to date, here is the link I’ve created for requesting seeds of any of the 3,500 or so total varieties I have in inventory:

DT Seeds, Generic for all varieties

I just wish I had the time and energy to keep up with it all – always on the run!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020 Seeds Ready

The growing season is REALLY over now – check out this forecast from earlier this week:

Actual low temperatures for three nights in a row were 16°F, 9° and 14°.  I harvested everything remaining and now have approximately 230 batches of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, squashes, melons, etc. from which I am still working on extracting seeds.

For the most part, seeds are ready to go.  Following is a summary of my efforts at saving seeds from tomatoes in 2020.

With over 2,700 varieties of tomato seeds in inventory, I really need to be growing at least 800 varieties every year.  But the move last winter (fifth in five years) and the fact that there has never been a garden here and limited time and other resources have all conspired to make 2020 yet another challenging year.

In an effort to produce what I could manage, this was my selection process:

First cut: Ideally would grow if time & space & other resources: 1,600 tomato varieties
Second cut: “MUST GROW”: 588 (including 150 new)
Third Cut: 486
Fourth Cut: 179
Fifth Cut: 105
Final Cut for seed saving project: 97 varieties planted on May 25th

Additional plantings:
25 varieties for the Giant Tomato Project.
219 varieties for seedlings for other growers

Following is a table summarizing what actually resulted from my growing efforts in pots and growbags.

No. varieties planted from seed 312
Est. No. seedlings transplanted into gardens 470
Est. no. seedlings killed by late frost, disease or pests 55
No. unique varieties transplanted into gardens 288
No. varieties for which vines produced zero seeds 137
No. varieties for which too few seeds (<70) were produced to allow for listing 31
No. varieties which were off-type, but seeds saved anyhow 3
No. varieties that are now new on offer from Delectation of Tomatoes 37
No. of varieties from which seeds were saved to replenish those already in inventory 100
Tot. No. of varieties from which adequate seeds were harvested in 2020 for listing 140

 

So essentially, growing in 7-gallon growbags was only about 50% successful at producing enough tomatoes for seed saving.  Actually, other than tiny bites for flavor assessments, I “sacrificed” only 5 tomatoes this year for fresh eating; all the rest went for seed saving.  Well, I did cheat and snacked on a few cherry tomatoes here and there.

Here is the list of 37 NEW (to Delectation of Tomatoes) tomato varieties for which seeds are now available.  These will also be listed and profiled on the main website as soon as I can manage the time.

Anna Maria’s Heart
Cherokee Rose
Cherokee Tiger Large
Dirty Little Chicken
Dwarf Andy’s Forty
Dwarf Betalux
Dwarf Blackfire
Dwarf Fatima
Dwarf Melanie’s Ballet
Dwarf Moliagul Moon
Dwarf Yantornyi
Giant Hippo
Giant Valentine
Gigant Kuby
Indian Reservation
Indian Stripe Black
Indian Stripe, PL
Kozula #24
Kumato
Leh Red Egg
Make My Day
Mermaid
Napa Giant
Oranzhevyi Orangutang
Peppermint
Phil’s One
Phil’s Two
Pineapple Heart
Sergeant Marley
Siberian Black
Starburst Nebula
Starburst Nebula X Black Beauty
Summer of Love
Thornburn’s Terra Cotta
Xanadu Green Goddess
Zebra Giant
Zorica’s Croatian Bull Eye

Some of these were REALLY taste!  Others produce beautiful fruits or were notably productive.  More details to follow here or on the website linked above.  The additional 100 varieties from which seeds were saved for replenishment are already listed on the website under the Seeds tab.

Now for a summary of seed harvest from everything except tomatoes.

Basil: 6 varieties planted, fresh seeds now available for:
Cinnamon
Genovese
Italian Large Leaf
Lemon
Opal
Thai

Cucumber: 9 varieties planted, fresh seeds now available for:
English Telegraph
Lemon
Muncher
Muromskiy
Straight Eight
Suyo Long

Eggplant: 11 varieties planted, fresh seeds now available for:
Black Beauty
Casper
Diamond
Dusky
Ichiban
Mestisa
Orient Charm
Pandora Striped Rose
Snake of Mugla
Thai Green
Thai White Ribbed

Ground Cherry: 4 varieties planted, fresh seeds now available for:
Aunt Molly’s
Inca Berry
Pineapple
Yantar

Melon: 10 varieties planted, fresh seeds now available for:
Amish
Deosaki?? (Correct spelling TBD)
Extra Early Hanover
Green Nutmeg
Minnesota Midget
Northern Arizona
Sakata’s Sweet
Sweet Granite

Pepper: 41 varieties planted, fresh seeds now available for:
Aji Limon
Ancho/Poblano
Bhut Jolokia
Big Bertha
Campanita
Carmen
Fresno
Hatch
Italian Pepperoncini
Jalapeño
Jalapeño, Early
Jalapeño, Traveler’s Strain
Le Rouge Royal
Lesya Necsi
Masca Sarga
Mini Chimes Orange
Paper Lantern
Santa Fe Grande
Satsuma
Unknown large orange bell from store
Unknown large red bell from store
Unknown large yellow bell from store
Yolo Wonder

Squash: 18 varieties planted, fresh seeds now available for:
Algonquian
Beloplodnyi
Golden Zucchini
Mandan
Rampicante
Sweet Meat
Zebra

Watermelon: 15 varieties planted, fresh seeds now available for:
Cream of Saskachewan
Jeremiah the Bullfrog
Kaho
Moon and Stars Yellow Flesh
Navajo
New Hampshire Midget
Siberian Sweet
Sverkhranniy Dyutina
Takii Gem
Thai Chatchai
Ultra Skorospelyi
Waterloupe
Zolotistyi


Peas, beans, flowers: 17 varieties planted, planted in front of the front fence by the street; essentially total failure (thanks to deer…) except a few dozen seeds of –

Autumn Beauty Sunflower:

Above photo taken on October 24th, just ahead of the hard freeze.

Non-edible, seeds collected wild or ornamental plants – just a partial list

Curlycup gumweed
Wild radish
Golden Raintree
Rubber Rabbitbrush
Hollyhock

Umm, yup, pretty obvious I have a seed obsession…

Also planted in early October: 27 varieties of garlic, about 450 total cloves!  Here is the completed bed, 3′ wide X 40′ long, with 2″ of compost and other organic fertilizers mixed in, covered with chicken wire to reduce damage from deer.

Here is a photo of a bulb (which consisted of 6 cloves) of one of the larger varieties planted, Estonia Red:

Hopefully by late September, 2021, I will have some garlic bulbs on offer for the first time ever!

I still have plants growing!  Before the light frost in early September, I moved about 20 potted pepper, melon and cucumber plants into the basement.  I set up a 400-watt metal halide light over them.

For the most part, the plants continue to do well.  But the aphid population absolutely exploded.  I released about 100 Minute Pirate Bugs in late September, but they seemed to have zero effect.  They are far smaller than aphids.

In early October, I released 150 adult ladybugs.  They are still doing well and seem healthy and happy:

However, they seem to be gradually dying off (spiders?) or leaving.  So far, I have not observed any eggs or larvae.  The adults seem to stay directly under the source of light and heat, never venturing to the foliage and super-abundant source of aphids in the periphery.

Several of other interesting events, such as rescuing a Dark-eyed Junco that was trapped inside an old chicken house.  Here it’s briefly suspended in a spiders web:

And this series of photos of a giant sunflower opening.  I thought it would be interesting to take a photo every day, showing the progress.  Here are three photos in the series:

Oops, deer.  Devastating.  Herds of them have descended from the nearby mountains and just roam the streets and gardens, eating everything they can reach.

They even broke into my “deer exclusion cage”, bending the chicken wire and breaking strands of wire that held the chicken wire to t-posts.

Plenty of evidence of their presence and damage.

I pretty much caught them in the act a few days later.

Covering immature melons helped.

Estimated cost to install an 8′ tall chain-link fence around the perimeter of the entire backyard where I want to put in a garden and high tunnel:  $4,000.

Ya right…

Some flowers just started to open ahead of the hard freeze.

Marigold –

Morning Glory – 

Also, it took two full, long days, but I finally managed to get my non-tomato seeds semi-organized, and actually have space to move around in the seed room.

Many hours still needed to fully process seeds, alphabetize, enter data, process photos, write up descriptions, put everything on the website.  Many hundreds of hours.  Not sure where those will come from!?

Harvest Moon and Harvesting

Harvest moon rising over Patmos Ridge, located about 5 miles east of here:

 

A still shot.

I just don’t have the right equipment (or talent, training, etc.), but I’ve tried taking photos of the moon, including this Harvest Moon and a shot from a few days ago.

And Mars:

Jupiter:

and Saturn:

Distracted a bit?  There are some perks to not living in a densely populated area anymore.  Especially during a pandemic…

Speaking of harvest and moon and stars – some deer damage to Moon and Stars, Yellow Flesh watermelon:

Deer jumped the fence for this one, and a few days later ate most of the second one as well:

It’s only a 3′ tall fence, so not exactly an effective barrier.  I’ve started bagging melons that are close to maturity now.

I harvested 80% of the squash, melons and cucumbers ahead of that intense windstorm and frost of 3+ weeks ago.  But I did leave 20 or so fruits on the vine, just in case that 30° F hard freeze didn’t materialize.

Well, it didn’t, or sort of did.  There was cloud cover on those cold nights, so the official low temperatures for three nights were in the 37-40° range.  There was definitely some moderate frost.

Cucumbers were hit the worst.

Lemon Cucumber –

English Telegraph Cucumber, showing some new growth.  The weather over the past several weeks has been very comfortable, other than a couple more close calls with low temperatures in the upper 30’s.

Melons and watermelons fared somewhat better, with Sweet Delight Honeydew vines coming out of the light frost in fair shape.  This variety has been very slow to produce fruit – this is the first of the season:

Among the squash vines, some were almost completely wiped out, but most have produced new growth, such as this Rampicante:

Easily the healthiest, earliest and most productive squash variety all season has been Golden Zucchini.  The vines were virtually untouched by the wind or the frost and have continued to produce fresh blossoms nearly every day –

Deer also managed to get into the tomato patch a few nights ago.  The “gate” was rather flimsy, but is secured better now.  Damage was moderate outside the cage but light inside.  It’s such a jungle of vines that the deer didn’t penetrate far.

Following the complete harvest of all ripe tomatoes ahead of the storm on September 9th, it took me until the 19th to complete processing those batches for seed saving.  Then I harvested a “few” more batches:

These in turn took me another 10 days to process.  Then today I picked a few more:

The weather has been very favorable for tomatoes the past three weeks!  Unfortunately, most of these are very small batches, many with just a single tomato.  Not exactly the most efficient way to save seeds, but far better than nothing!

By some miracle of physics, I’ve managed to fall behind with the task naming and processing photos by 2,762 — and that’s just for 2020!  Still 18,000 or so left to process between 2017-2019.  Some really beautiful tomatoes, etc.  Tasty and nutritious as well, of course.

Here’s a sample of a variety I picked today –

This is now at an F3 stage of a cross made between Sergeant Peppers and Libanaise des Montagnes by Natalia Khilenko of Armavir, Russia.  This variety under development is hers to name.  It has been a real standout for me during this challenging year.  Unlike nearly all of the other varieties in the giant tomato project, this one set fruit early and continued with abundant production all year, far outproducing all other varieties, at least in terms of mass of tomatoes harvested.  Obviously a few cherry tomatoes outproduced this one just in terms of numbers of tomatoes.  Flavor is very good as well.  Here’s a photo of the parent tomato from 2019:

This cross has the potential to be one of the largest-fruited tomato varieties with a significant amount of anthocyanin.

One more fun little tomato, Phil’s One:

Also Thornburn’s Terra Cotta, a variety with unique pigmenting and an interesting history –

So many more to come – having too much fun?

Keep tabs on availability of seeds of all varieties, including dozens of new additions from 2020, at:  DT Seeds

Perhaps in 2-3 weeks I will at least have the list of available varieties ready from this season.

 

 

Skip Fall, Straight to Winter

For the past week I’ve been keeping an eye on the forecast for this predicted early winter storm, due to start entering the area like a freight train in about two hours.  Here are some recent screenshots:

 

In my experience, the “Feels Like” temperature of 19°F is what my plants will be responding to.  High winds, cold and wet – sounds like end of season to me!  About a month early.  And resulting in a 91-day growing season.  Not what I had hope for with the recent move and a very late start.

So I harvested every tomato I could find that looked like it had any chance of ripening enough indoors to produce viable seeds.

 

I set aside 19 potted plants to move to the dirt cellar under a metal halide light.  These are mostly long season hot peppers like Carolina Reaper and Bhut Jolokia.  But a cucumber plant (variety Muncher) and a watermelon plant (Jeremiah the Bullfrog) are also included.  I really would like to harvest seeds from these varieties, but the fruits are not close to mature and I want to make sure they don’t freeze.

For the moment they are well covered but not in the cellar.

I covered all plants inside the “garden cage” with heavy duty frost blanket, under which I put heaters and fans.  This meant cutting down all the support strings that held up the vines.  It will be an almost impenetrable jungle now. However, I doubt the frost blanket will stay in place, not with 50+ mph winds!

I also harvested about 70% of the cucurbits – basically all of them that I think might have a chance of producing viable seeds.

Then I covered the entire front yard with a large tarp.  I think the chances are small, but not insignificant, that some of the vines will survive this cold snap with protection.

All that effort over the past couple of months to control pollination and hand pollinate – just hate to throw in the towel so early in the growing season.  Yet I recognize a strong tendency to succumb to the Sunk Cost Fallacy.  Not sure if I’ll ever learn…

Anyhow, this is a short, interim post, motivated by anxiety about the apparent sudden end to the growing season, many weeks before I’m ready.  I’ll try to update this post later this week to report on whether this upcoming storm is as bad as the forecasters are predicting.  Snow by this time tomorrow??

 

= = = = =

Interim update, Tuesday evening, after the high winds, before the hard frost.

Official high on Sunday was 99° F.  There were wildfires in the area, resulting in smoke all day yesterday and causing a red sun at sunset:

Winds this morning were insane, at times with sustained winds of over 40 mph and gusts of maybe 80 or 90.  I’ve been through tropical storms and hurricanes, and this was definitely not your average breeze coming out of the canyon!

 

The 960 sq. ft. tarp, which had been secured with about 16 two-foot lengths of rebar threaded through the grommets and driven solidly into the ground, was completely blown off the cucurbits, held in place at one corner and by the sharp wires along the top of the chainlink fence.  Grommets ripped through, tarp shredded in places.  I did not get video footage, but I imagine it behaved something like a giant kite.

Giant sunflower, planted on June 23rd, was just starting to form a head.

Flowers mostly destroyed.  It’s been too hot for most beans to even form viable blossoms, and now suddenly it’s too cold for them.

Of course the cucurbit vines where tossed and thrashed.

With the tarp destroyed, high winds forecast well into the night, and freezing temperatures predicted, I gave up on the idea of saving any melons, squash or cucumbers, so I picked the rest of them, green and immature, for eating rather than seed saving.  Sad to see at least a dozen varieties with no chance of producing viable seeds this year.

The wind pretty well tattered the shade cloth and blew many small branches off the Siberian Elm tree, including one that landed on the tomato vines 85′ from the base of the tree!

During the most intense moments of high winds, it was a veritable dust storm, with horizontal sheets of dust making seeing and breathing difficult.  One thing I had not expected was to find a layer of dust and shredded leaves on the seat of the vehicle (I had left the winds down a crack to prevent overheating the interior),

On the floor in the house (there is a 1/2″ gap between the bottom of the door and the floor),

And a layer of dust on all the tomato leaves that were more sheltered.

The frost blanket was completely blown off from the tomato plants and was torn or shredded at every location where it was attached.

I attempted to reattach the fabric after the wind had abated somewhat, but it continued to blow off.  So I threaded about 20 ten-foot long lengths of PVC pipe through the chicken wire on one side and the chain link fence on the other.

Snow has started, off and on, with up to 6″ forecast overnight.  But so far, the soil had been too warm to allow any accumulation.

And on the bright side, the latest forecast is calling for a more survivable 34°F for the low, with a “Real Feel” of 18°; the 19 most critical plants in pots are cozy in the cellar under a metal halide light;

and while covering the tomato vines again, I stumbled upon this beauty that I had somehow missed yesterday:

Variety is “Make My Day” with a weight of 1.538 lbs. – that’s just 105 days from seed to what will likely be the heaviest tomato of the season!  First time growing this variety, so no comment yet about its flavor.

I’m hoping for some survival of tomato vines, but they are really a mess after this windstorm and cutting down all the supporting twine.  We’ll see how they manage over the next 12 hours – then there is no more frost in the forecast until October 6th!

I watched brief clip on the Accuweather website which explains the link between the two typhoons which hit the Japan area over past several days and this bizarre dip in the jetstream which led to this crazy early winter weather even in the mountain states:

www.accuweather.com/en/videos/two-typhoons-tied-to-extreme-weather-in-america/rVuE6Uhf

= = = = =

 

 

 

No Squash Bugs, Curly Top Virus, Blight, Aphids, Grasshoppers, Slugs, Snails, Powdery Mildew, or Honeybees!

Well, this is not entirely true.  I do encounter the occasional grasshopper and aphid; but the damage they have caused this year is close to zero.  But the rest of the title is true!

In addition to a handful of grasshoppers of at least a dozen species, I’ve encountered tree crickets, katydids,

Walking sticks,

Countless thousands of thrips devouring tomato pollen (sorry about poor quality photos here, these tiny insect are only 1mm long and I don’t have the equipment for extreme closeups),

Just a speck on a small plastic spoon

 

And on the positive side, many robber flies, lacewings, preying mantises,

Piñon Jays, Bullock’s Orioles and Western Kingbirds are certainly helping to keep populations of larger insects in check.  Hummingbirds and a wide variety of native bees are helping with pollination, at least among the cucurbits.

Watering garden plants in this very dry, desert environment seems to be leading to gradually increasing local biodiversity!  I sure don’t miss the squash bugs, beet leafhoppers, aphids, gastropods, or fungal diseases.  And to be honest, I would much rather host a wide diversity of native bees (there are around 1,000 species found in Utah) than exotic European honeybees.

One species I definitely want to introduce to control thrips is the Minute Pirate Bug, Orius insidiosus.

Back to the plant side of life –

Autumn Beauty sunflower blooming the past few days – 57 days from seed to first bloom.

Eggplants have been coming on well,

Such as this Pandora Striped Rose

and Thai White Ribbed

Most pepper varieties are starting to produce well, such as Santa Fe Grande

and Bhut Jolokia (Ghost pepper)

 

Nearly all 14 watermelon varieties are producing, including Takii Gem

Siberian Sweet

and New Hampshire Midget.

Will they get enough heat in September for the seeds to fully mature?

Cucumbers are doing well, including Muncher

Suyo Long

and English Telegraph

Melons of several varieties are also producing, but fruit don’t seem to be ripening, at least not yet; Amish

Extra Early Hanover

Minnesota Midget

 

Tomatoes – so far I’ve harvested tomatoes for about 140 batches of seeds, which are at various stages of processing.

Here are some of the more interesting varieties harvested so far –

Dwarf Yantornyi (very productive and early)

Lucinda

Phil’s One (really bizarre, not yet tasted)

Thornburn’s Terracotta

Cherokee Tiger Large

Summer of Love

Unfortunately, many tomato varieties have yet to set fruit from a single blossom.  Every day I spend at least one hour trying to pollinate flowers with a vibrating toothbrush.

With rare exception, I have been getting ZERO pollen from flowers, day after day, week after week.

The most noteworthy exception has been Sara’s Galapagos, which seems to keep producing pollen even on the hottest days.

Tiny blossoms with exerted stigmas has meant a lot of delicate pollination by hand

It has been rather hot, well above average, for the past six weeks.  One factor in my choosing to move to this location, at 6,200’ elevation, was that historically, summertime high daily temperatures have been much cooler than where I have grown for the past decade.

Since 2009, the average high temperature in July has been 89.9° F.  This year it was 91.7.

During the same period, the average high temperature in August has been 86.6° – just right for tomatoes.  But this year, the average has been 95.2° – nearly 9° above average.  The following graph shows that every day in August has been above average, at least until today, including 4 days of 100-101° F.  Not horribly hot like Phoenix, but apparently too hot for pollen to form properly for most varieties.

It’s almost September and until yesterday, I was getting 99% tomato blossom drop, even with shade cloth, high temperatures mostly under 100°F, and zealously trying to hand pollinate thousands of blossoms every day. Now, after all these struggles, I think I’ve finally hit upon the primary problem: low humidity.

Although I’ve not yet delved into the scientific literature on this topic, from this website, https://www.thespruce.com/tomato-blossom-drop-1402964 I quote,

“The ideal humidity range is between 40% and 70%. If humidity is either too high or too low, it interferes with the release of pollen, as well as with pollen’s ability to stick to the stigma so that pollination does not occur. If humidity is too low, hose the foliage during the day to cool the plant and raise the humidity. However, this is not recommended in areas with high humidity or when fungus diseases are present.”

Over the past two months, afternoon humidity levels where I grow have mostly been in the 15-25% range. Here is a snip from AccuWeather taken three days ago, showing 10% humidity:

But the past couple of days, high temperatures have abated somewhat, and I am indeed getting some serious pollen from the occasional tomato blossom!

Here’s a brief tour through the tomato jungle:

If all these beautiful, fun, versatile and tasty varieties are not enough reason to include plenty of tomatoes in your diet, here is one more:

Eating tomatoes may reduce symptoms of depression!

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032712003965

“This study demonstrated that a tomato-rich diet is independently related to lower prevalence of depressive symptoms. These results suggest that a tomato-rich diet may have a beneficial effect on the prevention of depressive symptoms.”

Here’s a link to a possibly exaggerated discussion about how tomatoes can reduce depression:

https://www.supermarketguru.com/articles/risk-of-depression-reduced-by-52-with-tomatoes/

So, I ought to be really happy “playing” in my caged tomato patch – aesthetically pleasing, good smells, beautiful tomatoes, few bad bugs, little disease, deer excluded and I’m finally getting my lycopene fix!

And in case you have some interest in sharing in this abundance of nature through your own efforts to grow some of these amazing varieties, here’s the link to where I offer seeds:

DT Seeds

I am just starting to add varieties from the 2020 season, but it’s an ongoing process.  And I’m (obviously) well behind where I ought and want to be.

Battling Nature: Heat, Deer, Hornworms and Ignorance

After much pick-ax, shovel, and screening work, about 450 plants are finally in grow bags or large pots.

There are another 120 or so plants that I would really like to get in grow bags, but I’m afraid I’ve pretty well run out of time (and perhaps patience and energy?)

 

Here is an example of the stark contrast of two plants of the same variety that were the same size 15 days earlier:

The fortunate one I potted up into the 7-gallon grow bag at just the right time, the other is stuck in the confined space of a 6″ pot, about 0.8 gallon.

There as been almost zero fruit set over the past few weeks, particularly among the giant tomatoes in the 20-gallon pots. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of blossoms have formed, opened, produced no pollen, then withered and died. It’s been rare to observe any pollinators at all. For the past several weeks, I’ve been spending about an hour every morning with an electric toothbrush and black plastic spoon, attempting to assess whether the the tomatoes are even producing pollen and pollinate blossoms whenever pollen does appear.

On most mornings, maybe 1 in 100 blossoms produces any pollen. The plants are covered with dead and dying blossoms.  Here is the remnant of the promising megabloom on Epstein’s Potato Leaf which was profiled in the June, 2020 blog post:

For the most part, only the tiny-fruited varieties have been setting fruit. Most disappointing of all is the variety Domingo. I have 8 healthy vines growing, including one from a seed from the 9.65 lb. world record. Among these 8 vines, only one blossom has set fruit, and that wasn’t even a megabloom.

What’s going on? Some possibilities –

1. Temperature – Some growers suggest that daytime temperatures above 86° will result in poor pollen production. The high temperature for 37 of the past 45 days has been between 86-100°. Nighttime temperatures have all been well below that 75° threshhold. During this same 45 day period, nighttime lows have been between 30 and 68°

2. Humidity – Tomatoes do best with moderate humidity. It has been extremely dry during this time period, with only one significant rainshower (<0.1″) and a couple of light sprinkles.

3. No pollinators – zero honeybees seen, a rare bumblebee, an occasional mason bee or fly or other native pollintor. Maybe the Western Kingbirds are eating the pollinators? There are dozens of House Sparrows and House Finches in the area, but they are only insectivorous secondarily.

4. Ultraviolet radiation – I’ve not read about this, just a hypothesis. Maybe the increase of UV-B (280-315 nm) rays at this higher elevation negatively affects pollen production? At 6,200′ elevation, UV-B radiation is about 25% higher than at sea level.

5. West Flower Thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis) – When attempting to find pollen, I almost invariably dislodge at least one and up to 20 thrips per blossom. Perhaps they are eating the pollen before the flowers even open?

6. Nutrition – Perhaps not enough phosphorous? I’ve collected soil samples but have not yet submitted them for analysis. Is a big bag of bone meal in order?

Perhaps patience is what’s needed – in a couple of weeks, high temperatures will gradually start to decline. Problem is, after fruit set, tomatoes need 50-60 days to ripen. That puts us well into October and well into real danger of fall frost.

No sign of Curly Top Virus this season – a very good thing! But tomato hornworms have been wrecking havoc. I’ve removed at least 40 over the past two weeks and am now finding them them rarely.

Mule deer have been a significant problem, especially with pepper plants.  I’m starting to view these deer as feral goats – running wild and eating almost indiscriminately.  Check blog posts in prior years for my battle and opinion about goats and gardens!

I’ve seen several robber flies in the area, and now I have confirmation that they are doing some good – devouring a destructive cabbage white butterfly!

I’ve put in some extra time and $ to put a taller structure around the grow bags, with two tiers of poultry netting. I’m planning to cover the top also, since birds are still coming in and damaging or destroying small fruits, including a small watermelon of the rare variety Jeremiah the Bullfrog.  I ran out of space inside the structure (about 80′ X 10′) so put a row of tomato plants outside.

Here’s a recent video (July 28th):

First fruit of the season: a very delicious Pineapple ground cherry on July 13th.

Plus a few tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. First up, on July 17th, the first ripe Totuska fruits. That’s 122 days from seed sowing – at least a month longer than I would have expected. Unfortunately, two Totuska fruits produced only one seed between them.

Other early tomato varieties have also started ripening over the past week:

Uralskiy Ranniy – 131 days from seed
Lime Green Salad – 133 days


1884 – 111 days, but both fruits with bad blossom end rot
Domingo X Libanaise des Montagnes – 111 days, also with BER
Stupice – 137 days
Sub-Arctic Maxi – 138 days
Bursztyn – 139 days, set fruit that ripened in 3-1/2″ pot!

Still far from starting construction on the planned high tunnel.  Taking down this Siberian Elm tree is a daunting task: 10’8″ dbh and surround by wires, the house, a shed and a fence.

A one-day rental for a lift is about $650 – needs to go to around 70′ high.  What else could I purchase with $650…

The front yard is cucurbits, gradually displacing the weeds:

Tons of male blossoms, very few female blossoms, and almost zero fruit set among the melons and squash either.  At least I’m getting some squash blossoms to supplement breakfast:

I was planning to participate in the local farmers market this year.  But with no fruit set, what will I have to offer?  Two summer squash plants have set fruit at least.

What is abundantly clear is that I need about $10,000 worth of good, rich, deep topsoil with lots of organic matter, earthworms, etc.  And lots of plants to attract and retain pollinators. Getting the garden from what it is to a beautiful, ecologically diverse, resilient, productive mini-farm is just going to take some time and a lot of investment of energy and organic materials.  A few hundred bags of leaves this fall should be a good start!