Calendar tells me it’s 2022 already – how is that possible? It seems the clock is not only whizzing by, but doing so with an insatiable appetite, consuming, devouring everything in its path — like the Langoliers…
Say what? Time to start thinking seriously about the next growing season? Well at least I’ve mostly completed tasks from the last one.
On December 12th, I finally finished, essentially, STAGE 2 (see November 2021 blog post for descriptions of stages) of processing tomatoes for seed saving, with only 34 batches left, and most of these were microdwarf varieties, grown indoors under artificial lights.
On December 25th, STAGE 3 was completed, and on December 31st, STAGE 4 completed and a good start on STAGE 5. STAGE 6 is the most time-consuming of all. But I have some ideas for batch processing, for making the first significant, large-scale update to the website since 2016.
Indoor microdwarf tomato project pretty much ended because of low temperatures (tomatoes are subtropical plants, after all), fungus gnats, benign neglect, and the reality that they are determinate varieties. The electric toothbrush got many good workouts. But when the temperatures are in the 45-55° range, good blossom formation and fruit set might be a little much to hope for. Here are just a few of the microdwarf plants before final harvesting:
There have been several significant snowstorms in the past few weeks – a very good thing! Will it be enough to get the region out of severe drought conditions?
For some reason, the local deer seem to have a particular affinity for the compost pile.
A very white JWST Launch Day (25 December) – another reminder of Sagan’s powerful Pale Blue Dot speech.
Several critters have been taking refuge inside, where it’s relatively warm, such as this hobo spider, Eratigena agrestis (Not at all certain of identity, as I am not an arachnologist and did not take the time…)[maybe the belief that I sleep alone is just a comforting delusion]:
On December 30th, I started in earnest processing cucurbits for seed extraction. So many distractions since these were harvested on October 9th! The saddest part is that most of these are too ripe (or rotting) for tasting, though the seeds should be just fine. It’s cool enough indoors that there is little chance the seeds have even “considered” trying to germinate.
There remain a few batches of tomatoes leftover into 2022, including a few microdwarf and long-keeper varieties, specifically Purple Smudge Orange Flesh and Yunnat.
Following is a list of the most delectable tomato varieties harvested in 2021, at least according to one set of taste buds (this is a big part of my quest: discover wonderful varieties from around the world and help make them available to other gardeners…). These all scored 8.5 out of 10 or higher on my taste scale, so these would all come “highly recommended” by me:
Absinthe Alice’s Dream Altaiskiy Oranzhevyi Ambrosia Gold Ananas Noire Apricot Zebra Artisan Blush Tiger Beaverlodge Plum Big Braggart Bigzarro Black Fire Brandywine, Apricot Buckman’s Beauty Bunte Pflaume Canestrino di Lucca Champagne Bubbles Chapman Cherokee Chocolate Cherokee Lime Stripes Chocolate Cherry Coastal Yellow Egg Coeur de Strie de Pessac Coeur de Surpriz Copper River Criollo Argentino Dagma’s Perfection Ded Ivan Dr. Wyche’s Yellow Earl’s Faux Elgin Pink Fourth of July (PL, OP) Gary’O Sena German Pink Ghost Cherry Gorets Great White Hazel Mae Imur Prior Beta Italian Heirloom Italian Sweet Ivory Pear Jabuchar Velika Plana Kapidag Red Kavkazets Kootenai Kosovo Kozula #156 Kvadratnyi iz Irana Loxton Lad Lucky Cross Lyagushka Tsarevna Maddeline’s Vine Candy Mayo’s Delight Meri’s Croatian Midnight In Moscow Nahuelbuta Pink Neves Azorean Red Oaxacan Jewel Orange Paruche Orangevyi Orangutang Oud Holland Pederson’s Beefsteak Pink Berkeley Tie-dye Pink Jazz Purple Reign Reinhart’s Chocolate Heart Rosalie’s Big Rosy Rose Beauty Rosella Purple RW Cephei Schlicht’s Orange Cherry Serdtse Tibeta Sergant Peppers X Libanaise des Montagnes Staroobryadcheskyi Summer Cider Apricot Sunchocola Sweet Sue Tadzhikskyie Tanager Tel-Aviv Train The Musketeers Tobolsk Trokhtsvetnyi Tsindao Uluru Ochre U-Pick Vater Rhein na Sinyuke Virginia Sweets Vorlon Wagonwheel Waltingers Fleisch aus Indien Wes West Virginia Straw White Cherry Yablochniy Dugosel’skiy Yakut Yasha Yugoslavian Yoder’s German Pink Zolotyie Gory Medeo Zurcher Original
Note that about half of these are offered for the first time by Delectation of Tomatoes. Please navigate here for requesting seeds (and thereby contributing significantly to the preservation of heirloom seeds from around the world):
“Adventures in Ultramarathoning” began to accelerate on October 5th, when I reluctantly began to accept the almost certainty that meteorologist were not joking about the big, season-ending cold front that was moving in. Such acceptance dictated that I could no longer harvest at a “leisurely” pace, waiting for tomatoes to ripen, and processing them for seed extraction promptly. I had to start sprinting, every waking hour, to harvest ahead of the looming deep freeze.
As related in October 2021 blog posts, my “sprinting” was not nearly fast enough, and I had to cover about 300 tomato vines and “procrastinate” the harvest until the temperatures rose a few degrees. That, or completely throw away all the effort put into raising those vines.
Many times over the past two months, distressing thoughts of the “Sunk Cost Fallacy” kept gnawing at my mind, often contributing to my sense of falling into the maelstrom of insanity.
This year, this seed saving project has indeed felt like persevering through an ultramarathon every day, day after day, for nigh on 60 days straight.
My lack of foresight, imagination, optimism, etc. resulted in a reality that, with better planning (such as purchasing and using several more large frost blankets), I could have extended the growing and harvest season well into November:
As it turns out, the hard freeze of October 15th and 16th were the last really cold nights until November 17th! There were many nice days, essentially an “Indian Summer”, during which I longed to be working outdoors. With close attention to forecasts and careful management of frost blankets and space heaters, I could have, in theory, squeezed another 33 days out of the growing season! But there is the time and effort, the worrying and distractions from other tasks. And how was I to know?
Far better, of course, would have been to have that 40’ X 100’ high tunnel already in place and operational – with propane heaters turned on at night as needed.
On the other hand, as any experienced gardener knows, there is very little growth and maturation of tomato fruits when the temperatures are below 60° F. As can be seen from the weather records, after October 15th, there were only five days when the high temperature reached 61° or higher, with the highest being only 63°.
On the other hand (running out of hands – now counting feet and digits…), as gardeners know who use high tunnels (polytunnels, greenhouses, glasshouses, walipinis, etc.), on sunny days, with proper management, temperatures can easily rise to 90° or more, even in late Fall or early Spring.
All this second-guessing is making my head spin. The fact is, I don’t have a high tunnel or a greenhouse – not yet anyhow. And at 6,200’ elevation, I just need to accept the reality that night temperatures can get cold almost any time of the year.
Somehow, a few marigold plants survived the hard freeze of October 15th, and a month later, when I harvested seeds, there were still a few open blossoms! Of course they did not survive the much colder weather of late November.
Started harvesting Stokes Purple sweet potatoes – still have an hour or two of digging.
Final Fig of the season (variety Black Manzanita) was thoroughly relished – and not mixed with tasting tomatoes. The plant has dropped most of its leaves. Likewise with the dwarf pomegranate.
This time of year, temperatures in this unheated house typically range between 45° and 60°, maybe up to 65° directly under the LED lights. This is not warm enough for subtropical plants, including micro-dwarf tomato plants:
Fruits are ripening well, though slowly. But vines are now stunted and sickly. Good chance they will not survive the winter, as temperatures will continue to decline for a couple more months, and I just cannot justify the added expense of electricity for lights and space heaters.
STAGES of Tomato Seed Saving
STAGE 1 – Harvesting tomatoes
Completed on October 21st, as documented in earlier blog post.
STAGE 2 – Preparing for fermentation
This involves: weighing tomatoes, taking photos, tasting fruits at the peak of ripeness (as far as possible), writing “field notes”, cutting and crushing fruits into containers, adding enough water to make a slurry, and setting aside for fermentation.
As of this 3:00 a.m. this morning (November 30th), there were only 91 batches of intact ripe, rotting, or ripening tomatoes left in containers, waiting for me to get back to work and complete Stage 2.
Fermentation is necessary to remove the gel coat that surrounds each tomato seed, thus greatly enhancing germination. And, very importantly, seeds with gel coats typically float in water, along with most of the tomato pulp, thus making seed separation a nearly impossible task. Seeds from which gel coats have been digested (by fungi) or chemically removed (chemicals not used here…) sink in water, thus greatly facilitating the separation of seeds from everything else.
Fermentation in the warmer days of summer and early Fall typically takes 3-4 days – at times just 2 days when it’s really hot. But with this cooler weather, 5-7 days are needed. Even 8 days, but that 8th is never the plan – I just get exhausted at times and cannot help but sleeping for a couple of hours, here and there. Sometimes, the friendly fungi form impressive mats on surfaces of fermenting tomatoes.
STAGE 3 – Seed separation
This is the most time-consuming (see previous post), most stinky, and most frustrating of all stages. Even using heavy-duty rubber gloves, my hands have been soggy and wrinkled many days for hours on end. Use of fans and a small HEPA air filter have been essential to allow me to breath comfortably. In previous years and locations, this has been mostly an outdoor project. But it is faster, more efficient, and more comfortable to have a kitchen sink, a table, and shelving very handy.
I am not afraid to throw away seeds that float. That’s a very good indication that they are immature and thus worthless, except as compost! Because I harvested tomatoes from about 300 vines after frost (though under some protection), about 20% of those tomatoes had some frost damage. Many of those partially or fully rotted before complete ripening and seed maturation. This was, thankfully, a very small portion of the overall harvest for 2021.
After seeds are separated and thoroughly rinsed, they are spread out into single layers onto plastic plates and placed on shelves or tables for drying.
As of this morning, there were 93 batches of fermenting tomatoes – all of which need to be processed by the end of the week. This is in addition to the 91 other batches at Stage 2.
STAGE 4 – Seed packaging
Even with the ceiling fan going (which is 24-7 this time of year), it takes 3-4 days for seeds to dry sufficiently to eliminate the risk of molding. When packaging seeds, I do a rough count (estimating by tens) for inventory purposes, place seeds in small glassine envelopes, then place those envelopes inside the coin envelopes which followed each batch since harvesting.
As of this morning, there were 95 batches of tomato seeds drying on plates.
STAGE 5 – Organizing
This involves organizing, alphabetizing, and placing inventoried seed envelopes into boxes. Then comes transcribing field notes and seed counts into computer databases.
This phase has barely begun for 2021 tomato seeds, with about 1,500 batches only partially advertised.
STAGE 6 – Communicating
In reality, this is the most time-consuming of all, and I am YEARS behind “schedule”! This involves naming photographs (I’m closing in on 100,000 photos taken for Delectation of Tomatoes), editing photos to fit on the website or seed packets, writing descriptions for each variety, including weights, dates and photos for each batch, and publishing these on the website.
This stage is the real “log jam” on this assembly line, as is obvious to anybody who has visited the online store of Delectation of Tomatoes. Very embarrassing, even shameful that I’m not keeping up. Fortunately, thankfully, there are many gardeners who are willing to overlook these unprofessional shortcomings on the website, and, gratefully support this effort by purchasing seeds.
Within the past few days, I’m even getting some great help from a volunteer who has started naming the 30,000 or so photos that are still unnamed in my photo library! What an incredible time saver this will be when it comes to preparing photos for uploading to the website and preparing descriptions for seed packet labels!
Obviously, skipping Stage 6 means I’m just spinning my wheels, just “having fun”, just engaged in a glorified, grandiose hobby with no real purpose other than to keep myself perpetually exhausted, bankrupt, hungry, and homeless. “Man cannot live on tomatoes alone”.
So those are the six stages of seed saving, summarized, with a few relevant photos following.
Actually, there are about 100 additional batches of overripe to rotting cucumbers, melons, eggplants etc. that are impatiently waiting for me to finish this massive tomato seed-saving project. But let’s talk about those later, shall we?
All those green tomatoes that went to waste? Well, most of them eventually ripened, and the local deer appreciated the free feast. They are obviously related to goats! Speaking of deer, I counted 54 of them on my way home from market the other day.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Thursday, November 25th Went to bed the night before at 10:30 p.m., thoroughly exhausted, hoping to get a full night of restful sleep.
4:20 a.m. — breakfast of tomatoes, oatmeal, tomatoes Then worked on seed orders, email.
5:45 a.m. — low on energy for processing tomatoes, so packaged seeds instead.
8:45 a.m. — overcome by sleepiness, nap time
12:55 p.m. — awoke in pain and almost panic, so far behind; very unusual to sleep for more than 4 hours at a stretch, directly back to tomato processing
4:10 p.m. — lunch of tomatoes, Crockpot black beans on bread, tomatoes
5:20 p.m. — sundown, brief email processing, then another nap
6:15 p.m. — back at tomato processing, hard
9:30 p.m. — dinner of tomatoes, microwave-baked potatoes, tomatoes
9:40 p.m. — more packaging tomato seeds
1:15 a.m. — midnight snack, Ramen noodles, then worked on photo processing
2:45 a.m. — back to bed, hopefully for the night
For years I have fought against sleep – just way too much to do to blink out for 8 hours a night. Now, with the lingering ill effects of the COVID vaccine (see June, July blog posts), I really have a love-hate relationship with sleep. Can’t sleep when I want to, can’t stay awake when I need to. Sleep pattern is not just irregular, but chaotic. Too bad it’s not as simple as a light switch! Obviously, health suffers… Now 80 lbs. heavier than when I started Delectation of Tomatoes. Long story there…
And now, for a few tantalizing tomato photos — descriptions to follow
Following is an excerpt from the latest update to the associated website, specifically an update to the tomato seeds saved in 2021:
Seeds were (or are being) saved from about 2,000 batches representing 600 or so tomato varieties in 2021. This project is about 95% complete.
Following is a draft interim list – interim because it will still take some more time to dry, package, inventory, error check, etc. “Probably” and “Maybe” reflect the reality that there is much work still to do and I cannot justify relying just upon my memory for all of these.
In 2021 I raised 668 varieties of tomatoes and attempted to save seeds from most of these. This project includes:
276 new (to DT) varieties grown in 2021, indicated below by, “New variety in 2021, have seeds”.
19 new varieties grown in 2021 from which I probably have seeds, indicated below by, “New in 2021, probably have seeds”
321 varieties grown in 2021 to refresh or replenish seeds, indicated below by: “Fresh seeds in 2021” – seeds are available now.
28 varieties grown in 2021 to refresh or replenish seeds, but for which I am unsure at this point whether I was able to save seeds or not this year, indicated by, “Maybe fresh seeds in 2021” – but definitely seeds from prior years are available now.
The list also includes 1,960 varieties not grown in 2021, but for which seeds from prior years are currently available
This comes to a total of 2,604 varieties. These are listed alphabetically below. I recognize that many of these are hybrids and are not indicated as such. I have a good deal of research and growing out to do to determine whether these are at the F1, F2, etc. stage, or whether they are stabilized hybrids and should be considered as open-pollenated (OP) varieties. Big seed companies often (apparently) tack on or leave on “hybrid” to a variety name to increase sales, even when the variety is stable.
There are another 250 or so varieties not listed here: off-types, mix-ups, de-hybridization projects, too few seeds to offer, crop failures, etc. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want more information about those.
Only the bathroom does not have containers of tomatoes stacked in every nook and cranny, and that’s only because it’s a small room and opening doors takes up all floor space.
This space crunch is especially true after my effort to give away about 200 lbs. of unripe tomatoes failed and I had to bring in all containers out of the cold. It seems that virtually nobody wants to deal with green tomatoes, even when they are free – and I certainly don’t have the time to deal with so many more.
I have to sidle sideways, like a crab, to get from point A to point B in every other room. I’m not always successful in my efforts to not knock over or step on tomatoes. And whenever I can, I keep all windows open and fans blowing. Else there is that overwhelming vinegar-like smell, mold spores everywhere, along with abundant sneezing and sniffling.
I keep running out of empty plates, empty containers (even though I have hundreds), and especially lids.
It feels like I am working fast and efficiently, yet I seem to be almost unable to keep up with the ripening tomatoes. Predictably (I suppose), I timed myself. Working virtually non-stop, it took me 3 hours, 35 minutes to process 15 of the larger containers of fermenting tomatoes. That’s nearly 15 minutes per batch – yikes! On another day, counting time off for eating, processing seed orders, taking naps, etc., I calculated that I can extract seeds from about 67 batches per day (meaning a 24-hour period; with highly irregular sleep, I’m as likely to be processing tomatoes at 4 a.m. as I am at 4 p.m., or 7 a.m., or 11 p.m.).
Preparing tomatoes for fermenting (taking photos, weights, notes, tasting, cutting, crushing, etc.) is a little faster, about 82 batches per day. And packaging seeds after they have dried is even faster – about 30 batches per hour. So, estimating that I devote about 14 hours per day to this project, this all works out to around 25 minutes to process 1 batch of tomatoes. Of course this is all post-harvest and pre-database management and excludes processing photos, field notes, etc.
This works out to about 34 batches processed per 14-hour day. Since I will likely have at least 2,000 batches of tomatoes processed for seeds before this project is done, this works out to 59 days (14-hour days to be clear) devoted exclusively to processing for seeds. “Get a life” I say to myself…
Here are a few photos of the process in action
Extracting Seeds from Fermented Tomatoes
I have taken well over 10,000 photos of tomatoes, etc. so far this year, and I’m very far from finished taking photos, let alone naming and processing them. To be honest, I still have some huge batches of photos dating back to August, 2017 that I have not yet fully named!
Here’s a view of the original exclosure, established in 2020, after hard frost did it’s business a couple of weeks ago. And weeds did exceptionally well this year, such as this Russian Thistle (tumbleweed) – how many hundreds of millions of seeds were dropped onto the garden space this year as a result of adequate rainfall and far-from-adequate efforts to remove weeds before flowering?
The indoor microdwarf tomato project is faltering. The LED lights are not intense enough and there are not enough of them. Maximum temperature achieved is around 70°F with lights on for several hours. But with no heat in the house, temperatures can drop to the 50-55° range when the lights have been off for several hours. This too-cool-for-tomatoes phenomenon will just get worse as winter deepens.
Nevertheless, some tomato ripening is happening, 79 days from seed sowing. I’m also trying to give the two dwarf pomegranate fruits all the time that then need to produce viable seeds.
True Potato Seed (TPS), variety Blue Velvet update: Very low yield of seeds (about 35 total) and tubers. They need more time, more space, more compost, more pollen, and more commitment. Unfortunately, I will not have any seeds of this variety to offer this year, though I did try – see earlier posts this summer.
Another delectable fig consumed, with three more to go.
Still lots of seed extraction needed from melons, squash, cucumbers, beans, etc. Yes, I still have rotting squash from 2020 from which I have not extracted seeds. I should feel so much shame… Peppers were a near total bust this year.
Here’s a watermelon, given to me second-hand from a local farmer, from which I was hoping to extract seeds. Alas, it was a seedless variety! I’m tempted to launch into a tirade about multi-national corporations controlling food supplies and seed availability; but in the interest of time and fatigue, I’ll restrain – for now.
I’m also tempted to publish lists of tomato varieties from which I have saved seeds or am in the process of saving seeds for this year. But at this point, such lists would be partial and inaccurate. So that too will have to wait. I will get such lists published ASAP.
In the meantime, here is the most current list of more than 2,400 varieties of tomatoes for which seeds are available now – and thank you for your support for helping with the preservation and propagation of heirloom varieties from around the world!
The inevitable is arriving momentarily: season ending frost and the concomitant shifting of gears. There have been several light frosts over the past few nights:
But this is the AccuWeather I just did a screen capture of:
Actually, as of a few hours ago, the low was forecast to be 26°. But significant cloud cover has resulted in this revision upward. However, 25° and 26° are forecast for the next two nights. So, GROWING SEASON IS OVER. At least for tomatoes, etc.
I have been harvesting like a maniac for the past four days:
Containers of tomatoes stacked from floor to ceiling, spilling over even into the seed room – something I never anticipated, especially with those four shelves of wire racks available!
Yet, after four days, I am only halfway finished with harvesting tomatoes. About 20 wagonloads so far, with that many more to go. I’ve invited many people over to come and help. A few have come to glean the smaller green and extras of ripe tomatoes (about 300 lbs. worth taken so far). But I just have not been able to bring myself to insist that they help me harvest for seed saving in exchange for all of those free tomatoes. I need a crew of 10 people this time of year. I’m just not that well connected, or persuasive!
So I covered the third tomato patch (exclosure) with a large tarp, hoping to get back to it once the sun rises. And I planned on harvesting all night to finish up the second patch. But the little electric light and cell phone light just were not cutting it. After about 50 of those sickening crunching sounds of stepping on tomatoes, and having a hard time finding and reading tags, I gave up for the night and covered the rest of the vines in the second patch with thick row cover fabric. And perhaps, just maybe, fatigue had something to do with giving up on the harvesting project for the night.
I estimate another 35 hours are needed to harvest the rest of the tomatoes, with only a 10-hour window for getting the job done before the real hard freeze sets in – too cold for tarps and frost covering. It appears that I will have to focus on only the ripe and ripening tomatoes, and simply allow thousands of perfectly good green tomatoes to freeze, then rot in place. That’s hard for me to do! I’m the kind of person who won’t discard even a grain of rice from my plate. [Is it that Depression-era mentality learned from my grandparents, or a genuine ethic of abhorring waste and excessive consumption?]
I have moved a number of grow bags with peppers and other plants into the cellar, as well as a few into the house.
From what I’ve read, Wasabi needs temperatures between 40-70°. There was only about a 10-day window in late September when the outdoor temperatures stayed within this range. So they did get a little bit of natural sunlight before I had to bring them back to the cellar. Living at elevation (6,200′) results in much more diurnal temperature fluctuations than occur in most coastal areas. Thus my desire (and need) for a greenhouse, or at least a high tunnel.
And this is a “fun” notice posted a week ago. Note the letterhead – authoritarian, don’t even get me started…
So many wonderful new (to me) tomato varieties discovered this season! But I do need to get some sleep before getting back to harvesting. So photos and descriptions will have to wait. Oh, ok, I’ll do this one:
Plus – I did not encounter a single tomato hornworm this season until October 5th!
Soon thereafter, I discovered this:
Even after so many years of growing tomatoes, I had never seen or even heard of this darker version! I’ve since encountered three more and am currently feeding them inside in a 5-gallon bucket with unneeded tomato leaves. I have many large piles of unneeded tomato leaves at the moment…
Estimate is 300 more hours of tomato processing work for this season for seed production. Somehow, it’s seeming unlikely that I will be able to complete this task by November 1st as I had hoped and planned. What is wrong with me!?! 😵
Back at it!!
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Update October 14,2021
Cloudy skies for that past several nights has resulted in minimal frost damage, limited mostly to surface tomato leaves, as plants were covered most nights.
Even marigolds (variety Aztek) have been untouched by frost; and squash plants, despite some frost-damaged leaves, are still producing blossoms!
However, late this afternoon, a strong wind from the NNW started blowing and light snow flurries gave way to a clear sky and plunging temperature. Here is the forecast for tonight:
As of 11:47 p.m., one outdoor digital thermometer is reading 22.8° F – not a good sign.
One full week of intensive harvesting and I have managed to remove all useful tomatoes from about 700 vines; that is, all of the vines in the first and second deer exclosures. So careful harvesting (untangling vines, writing field notes, etc.) for seed production means I can manage to harvest from only about 100 vines per day. I found it to be more effective to completely remove vines, one branch at a time, to make certain that there was no question about which variety each tomato was. With some vines sprawling 10′ or more, and becoming interwoven with several other vines, this was not a simple task.
This intense outdoor work has meant almost total neglect of seed requests and of processing tomatoes already harvested. Here’s the progress of the second exclosure – A job which took almost four full days:
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I just wasn’t fast enough, and the third exclosure still has about 300 tomato vines with thousands of fruits needing to be harvested. I have harvested ripe tomatoes several times from this exclosure; but the final harvest will have to wait until the weather warms up a bit. It’s unknown whether this protection will be adequate to protect the fruits – my guess is probably not.
In the second exclosure, tomato seedlings were transplanted between 89-110 days from seed, plus 88-94 days to final harvest. This comes to a range of 177-204 days from seed to final harvest. Hundreds of tomatoes harvested during this final harvest were full sized or ripening. But with the much cooler outdoor temperatures of the past few weeks, the ripening process was slowed almost to a halt. Most of those saved for seed extraction should ripen fully indoors and produce viable seeds. Many thousands of immature and smaller tomatoes were saved or given away for consumption.
In the third exclosure, tomato seedlings were transplanted between 46-78 days from seed, plus 88-94 days to final harvest. This comes to an expected range of 134-172 days from seed to final harvest. It appears that this 134 day range will likely not be adequate for some of the larger-fruited, late-season varieties. But time will tell.
The real issue now is not getting tomatoes to ripen indoors; but rather, getting tomatoes processed for seed before they rot too badly. This amounts to some 500 batches, many of them rather large batches. One batch with several large tomatoes can take up to an hour to process. Especially if I dig out the seeds and make tomato sauce from the rest of the fruits, as I did with this batch of Buckman’s Beauty (a fabulous tasting, very sweet variety):
I am hopeful that within 3-4 weeks, I will be able to publish photos and lists of some of the most delicious, earliest, most productive and most interesting varieties grown this year. Once the dust settles, I am expecting to have seeds available for somewhere in the range of 2,500 to 2,600 tomato varieties – which of course will mean many of the best-tasting or most productive varieties in the world!
Seeds, including many (300+ varieties) from 2021, are available now from:
It’s looking like mid-November before I will be able to process all of these tomatoes for seeds – plus get seeds dried, packaged, organized and inventories. A full-time crew of 10 people would be really nice right about now…
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Update October 19, 2021
After a 2-day trip, yesterday was another long day of harvesting in the third exclosure. Remarkably, surprisingly, the tarp and heavy row cover fabric were quite effective at protecting tomato fruits themselves from 20.3° temperature on October 15th! That’s according to my own digital thermometer – official low was 27.
All vines touching the tarp were frozen and black a couple of days later. Parts of many vines closer to the ground were in fine shape, and most tomatoes (estimating 70%) had no frost damage at all! Tomatoes on branches of vines near the edges that were not covered did not fare well at all. Here are two groups of tomatoes (variety Yellow Pear) from the same vine, one group from a branch under the tarp, the other from a branch outside:
Many batches of tomatoes were almost untouched by frost, such as this one, variety Yunnat ( Юннат ):
The final harvesting task is about 85% complete, with only 150 vines left to harvest from.
But it snowed! Starting early this morning, and continuing into the early afternoon:
Remaining 150 tomato vines were covered again, but it remains to be seen whether the fruits will be worth saving, with 30° in the forecast in a few hours.
Processing many hundreds of batches of tomatoes continues at a frantic pace. Space, containers, and time are all at a premium – trying my best to get them processed before they rot. Hundreds of tomatoes that were picked green, but full-sized, are ripening up nicely indoors, where it is significantly warmer than it has been outdoors for the past few weeks.
“Pet” dark-phase hornworm larvae are fattening up impressively. Placed in bucket with 6″ of soil in preparation for pupation. The curiosity of that inner biologist in does not want to die…
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October 21, 2021
TOMATO HARVEST FINALLY COMPLETED! This afternoon, I finally cut down the last tomato vine from the third exclosure, saving whatever tomatoes looked like they had some chance of producing viable seeds, tossing small and immature tomatoes into a bin for giveaway to others, and leaving the frost-damaged tomatoes for the deer or other critters.
Here is the progress through the third exclosure:
Other than two days of helping others and filling seed orders, and one snow day (spend processing tomatoes) it has been 12 days straight of harvesting. So basically 9 days to harvest from 1,000 plants of over 500 varieties for seeds.
Resulting in an ENORMOUS processing backlog and a very crowded little house. Other than narrow walkways, floor space and shelf space in every room is taken up by tomatoes at some stage of processing.
Talk about tomatoes taking over my life! The setup here is so much better than in previous years and locations, however. All tomatoes are indoors, safe from freezing temperatures and hungry critters. I can process in the middle of the night (and I often do) without disturbing others. Sink, running water, shelf space are available 24-7. Nobody around to complain about the stench, the flies, the absence of anyplace to sit, the madness of it all…
Just some estimates at this point: 50% of tomatoes produced this year were saved for seed production. 40% were picked too immature or green and went to gleaners or other giveaway 10% were thrown out due to frost damage
Among approximately 1,000 plants, representing 550 or so varieties, tomatoes were produced of 540 varieties. However, likely only 470 or so will produce viable seeds. There were dozens of varieties that only had one, or a few tiny tomatoes that have little chance of producing mature and viable seeds. These are mostly the very late, large-fruited heirloom varieties that didn’t even start setting fruit until early October, and there just has not been enough time or heat. Better luck next year for these!
First fresh, ripe fig I’ve ever tasted! Variety Black Manzanita.
I could have easily, happily, eaten a dozen of them! Quite tasty, though not nearly as sweet as I expected.
Largest fruit of Guatemalan Green-Fleshed Ayote is still on the vine, not close to mature, being covered every night by wood chips. Probably wishful thinking to hope it will produce viable seeds, but at this point, I gotta try!
Enough of self-expression, now back serious nose abrasions (grindstone)…
Water restrictions and consequences – welcome to the arid high desert climate of the Intermountain West
During the summer months, I probably use more water than most residents in this town. This happens with restrictions, though I do store water in barrels and buckets and so have not lost any plants due to lack of water. But it is rather a pain to water in the dark.
Shortly after this notice of restriction, the water started to smell and taste bad, really bad, like the exudates of anaerobic bacteria – you know, H2S! I purchased a water filter, then a good stainless steel kettle, and I’m boiling all of my drinking water now.
On September 20th, I attempted to capture video and photos of the rising harvest moon as it rose over the mountains about 4 miles away; but I just don’t have the right equipment or experience…
I have been dodging frost, off and on for the past two weeks, with a recorded local low temperature of 34.2° F. Not that forecasts mean much beyond a week or so, but October 15th is the next date with predicted temperatures flirting with frost at 36°. This would be very fortunate and might allow dozens of tomatoes to ripen of very late-planted varieties. Late as in 155 varieties were planted from seed on May 27th and 28th! With the cooler weather of September, most of these varieties are finally setting fruit. But will those fruits have a chance to ripen enough to produce viable seeds before hard frost?
September is serious harvest season for tomatoes, especially since I got such a very late start. It seems that I’m several hundred hours behind on the work, despite putting in as much time as I can on this massive project.
Let’s start with the two biggest tomatoes harvested this year, on September 6th:
Big Zac (OP) 2.108 lb.
Bigzarro, 1.956 lb., harvested September 24th.
Several other relatively large Bigzarro specimens were harvested, including this one, which looks like it could have (should have) topped 5 lbs. if grown under ideal conditions. Instead, it did not even hit 1 lb. and contained only 1 seed:
Speaking of seed-stingy tomatoes, here is a Domingo that “should” have gone big, but only reached 0.714 lb. and had only 15 seeds. One batch of 5 Domingo tomatoes contained a total of only 9 seeds. And some other varieties of big tomatoes (1884, Church, others) have produced zero seeds so far this season.
But I did get to witness some BIG tomatoes this year, along with many other impressive vegetables and some truly enormous pumpkins at the annual Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers (UGPG) weigh-off on September 26th.
Here’s a line up of the tomato entries:
Nearly all of these were of the variety Domingo, and the heaviest was hard green (meaning it could have grown significantly larger) specimen weighing in at 3.736 lb.!
All the other big ones were of the variety Domingo as well. I submitted my two heaviest, and the got 9th and 10th place. A bit embarrassing, since I used to be known as the grower of giant tomatoes in Utah. Somehow, someday I need to get a garden installed and get that soil right!
Other vegetable entries included a very tall (nearly 18′ I think) sunflower, and a sunflower with a 25″ head, a 17.36 lb. swede (rutabaga), a world record butternut squash, and much more.
And last and largest, an amazingly huge state record pumpkin tipped the scales at 2,142 lbs.! More results and photos will be posted at the UGPG website
Ok, onto the major tomato harvest project of 2021. At this point I can only guess that I’ve harvest about 1,000 batches of tomatoes. I feel like I’m at least 300 hours behind in the workload; and I estimate that 1 hour of harvesting tomatoes results in 25 hours of additional work processing: photos, note-taking, preparing for fermentation, seed extraction, drying seeds on plates, counting, inventory, sorting, data entry, etc.
Although the weather has been cooler in September, with much better fruit set, there are still many blossoms dropping, such as on this Green Doctors Frosted vine.
No surprise that my most prolific producer this years has again been a cherry tomato, Champagne Bubbles in this case.
Coeur de Surpriz – unique combination of colors in a heart shape, and truly delicious flavor
Banana Legs – quite delicious when fully ripe!
Ananas Noire – an old standby with a great combination of beautiful fruits with outstanding flavor and high yield
Sergeant Peppers X Libanaise des Montagnes – again very productive as last year.
Charlie Chaplin – tasty, very productive, paste style, great for salsa, etc.
Ambrosia Gold – even better tasting than Sungold according to many!
Zailiyskiy Alatau Zholtiy
Coeur de Strie de Pessac
Domaine de Saint Jean de Beauregard
Apricot Zebra – one of the tastiest and most productive of the season
Auria Dwarf, very productive. After seeds removed, made a wonderful spaghetti sauce! Many unique shapes, some a bit provocative?
Striped Stuffer – indeed mostly hollow
Mortgage Lifter, Bicolor – super tasty as well as large, this specimen 0.982 lb. with a couple of larger ones still green.
Black Pear – this line is smaller than standard and is very tasty
And hundreds more… After harvesting and photos comes cutting, squishing, and putting aside to ferment for 3-4 days.
The smells, oh, those old familiar, penetrating, malodorous fumes of rotting tomatoes! My little seed business and I have become synonymous. It is I that has become a fly magnet, distinctly not a Ch*** magnet! I live alone, and it’s highly unlikely than another person on earth could tolerate all of this. There is plenty of unwelcome company though – house flies and fruit flies by the hundreds!
The odors dissipate rapidly once seeds are placed on plates to dry. But it will be a while before I am rid of all rotting or fermenting tomatoes! Each stack of plates takes 1-2 hours to inventory, package and put in place.
A very ambitious goal is to have all tomatoes harvested and processed, seeds packaged and inventories, and databases updated and uploaded with all the new varieties for this year – all by November 1st. If only I didn’t need to eat or sleep…
There is the indoor microdwarf tomato project, with dozens of little tomatoes coming on, such as this Chibbiko.
Other veggies, briefly.
Most squash vines have been producing well, especially male squash blossoms, which I’ve been eating for breakfast. Even on September 30th squash blossoms were opening. Lots of pollination by hand, often on cool mornings, has resulted in low pollination rates, with likely few viable seeds. But we shall see. Squash harvest has barely begun.
One squash variety I’m anxious to try is Guatemalan Green-Fleshed Ayote. Enormous, healthy vines, very late to put out blossoms, just hoping there will be time for at least one fruit to mature.
Bottle Gourd – very late to set fruit, not sure if there is still time to produce viable seeds.
Beginning of Melon harvesting as well. Hithadhoo Maldives – a very odd variety in terms of shape, color, texture and flavor. Flesh was white, pithy, dry and flavorless, sort of like eating Styrofoam. Turns out it was bred for consuming the seeds and gel around them! Hoping for another try.
Melon, Farthest North – quite small (softball sized) with delicious flavor – not overly sweet.
Watermelon, Early Moonbeam, stepped on while watering at night. Flavor is very good.
Watermelon, Truck Buster – munched on by deer, excellent flavor
There has also been some damage by deer in one of the tomato patches, as I got lazy and have not closed up the deer fencing securely every night.
Of course there are other pests, especially insects, such as grasshoppers. This species is still to be identified. Similar to Schistocerca obscura (Obscure Bird Grasshopper), but is very likely a different species.
I was surprised to discover pests in my hollyhock seeds! Apparently these little weevils hatched out from eggs. I put all the seeds in and out of the freezer several times. We’ll see if that works. This is a male of the Hollyhock Weevil, Rhopalapion longirostre.
Despite 50+ attempts at hand pollination with a battery-operated vibrating toothbrush, only two potato berries were produced, both of the variety Blue Velvet. One fell off, the other is bagged, waiting to mature fully. It’s my understanding that these fruits are usually green when ripe, so seed extraction will be happening soon.
Okra has done very poorly this year: started very late, crowded out by beans and marigolds, does not like the chilly nights at this altitude (6,200′). But it looks like one variety, Texas Hill Country will produce a couple of small pods. Very attractive flowers!
The Dwarf Pomegranate plant is done flowering for the season and is trying to get two fruits to mature before frost:
A bit on the philosophical side. A few years ago I stumbled upon this YouTube Video geared towards entrepreneurs:
15 Sacrifices You Need to Make If You Want to be Rich
In my circumstances, I would change the title to:
“15 Sacrifices You Must Make to avoid bankruptcy, eviction and starvation”
Here’s the list of those 15 sacrifices:
8. Who you are
13. The need to be liked
15. Immediate Desires
It rather feels like some demon read my mind and my life and made up this list, just for me! To these, at least in my circumstances, I would add:
16. Weekends and any week, ever with less than 100 hours of work
17. Holidays – For example, I look forward to Christmas every year because it is the one day I can justify not replying to emails, ignoring seed orders, and focusing just on database management, naming photos, or website work
18. Exercise – At least any time deliberately set aside for exercise (I can scarcely imagine how anybody has time to go to the gym, go jogging, or the like), though some days during the growing season I get many hours of moderate exercise
19. Conversation – Whether by phone or text messaging, I feel compelled to keep all focused conversation to a minimum. Personalized emails I can usually get to within 3-4 days, as this is a middle-of-the-night activity when I’m just too wiped out to work on seed orders or such
On the bright side, because about 80% of my work is almost pure manual labor, requiring minimal metal bandwidth, I have the luxury and pleasure of listening to and learning from audio recordings for 50-60 hours every week: Lectures (The Great Courses, now Wondrium, at least 215 courses to date), debates, podcasts, audiobooks (many hundreds), and the soundtrack of educational videos. So interactions with other humans involves about 98% listening and learning, and about 2% speaking and writing.
This “imbalance” gives some perspective: There are literally tens of thousands of great philosophers, professors, thinkers, scientists, debaters, and others that are worth listening to; while I am just one very little person – a failed scientist, failed college professor, failed husband, failed father, failed athlete, failed musician, etc. With plenty I want to say and write and share. But why even try much, when there are so many incredible people worth learning from?
So this ratio of learning to expressing, rather than being 49:1, logically ought to be 99,999:1.
Except for: That immense obstacle called “the ego”, and human emotional needs that I still have not been able to fully shed.
So, with so very much work left to do, should I get back to work or try to sleep?
Several significant rainstorms in August, maybe 4″ total, with remnants of hurricane Nora on the way. Extra rain means better, faster grown and productivity. As well as higher humidity, more blossom set, and more bugs. Still, the local city council just passed an ordinance that severely restricts water use for gardens, enforceable with a $1,500 fine and up to six months in jail. You don’t want me to articulate the tirade in my brain…
Most pepper seedlings were finally transplanted between August 2nd and August 18th – super late… Most went in to the garlic bed shortly after the garlic was harvested.
Some went into growbags and were placed in the aborted greenhouse.
They are all growing and producing SO much better than they did in the 3-1/2″ pots!
There were so many delays, and I moved seedlings at least six times before finally getting them transplanted. About 100 pepper seedlings were set aside as “extras” and are still in 3.5″ pots.
I’ve now saved seeds from about 220 varieties of tomatoes. Unfortunately, for the most part, I’m getting only 1 to 3 tomatoes per vine so far.
Obstacles during the past four months (see earlier blog posts) have contributed to delays and low production. For now (since I have a couple of thousand photos still to name from this season’s tomato harvest), I’ll just highlight a couple of interesting varieties.
Phuket Egg – quite a unique variety, with young tomatoes ripening from Ivory to Pink, then finally to red. About the size of a robin’s egg. Nice flavor, one of the more productive varieties so far.
Galapagos Wild: 93 days from seed sowing to first ripe fruits.
Vernisazh Chernyi: Artistic and very tasty
Bosque Blue Bumblebee
This Bigzarro specimen appears to have developed from a megabloom composed of at least 8 fused ovaries. I’ve had my eye on it for weeks.
Alas, because of my benign neglect, it reached only 0.710 lbs. I will have a few tomatoes bigger than this, but likely nothing over 2 lbs. this year.
One of my tomato plants appears to have a remarkable mutation – beautiful purple flowers!
Just kidding. This is the fairly common weed, Solanum dulcamara (Bittersweet Nightshade), which produces tiny red berries that are mildly toxic.
Tomato exclosures have turned into a veritable jungle, and harvesting is, well, challenging. Especially with my sore shoulders.
Swimming in tomato vines is about as close as I get to swimming in water. It’s almost as much fun, but a solo activity that often knocks off my headphones, leading to some frustration (I would just die of bordom and anxiety if I could not constantly engage my mind by listening to podcasts, audiobooks, and lectures while engaged in mostly mindless manual labor).
August has meant lots of covering blossoms and hand pollinating squash and some melons.
One of the more interesting varieties of squash I’m growing this year is Guatemalan Green-Fleshed Ayote, a butternut relative (Cucurbita moschata). The plant is very healthy, but only this morning (8-31-2021) did the first female blossom open.
I’ve been saving and refrigerating male blossoms for months in anticipation of this event. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that there is time for full maturation of seeds before hard frost.
Last year I saw not a single squash bug. This year – dozens, including several egg masses, and this cluster of nymphs:
Squash bugs have killed three vines and are working hard on four more. I’m just not keeping up…
One interesting melon variety that’s doing well is Hithadhoo Maldives.
Fruits are not ripe yet, but I’m salivating… My seriously sweet tooth just cannot get enough of melons, sweet tomatoes, and other sugar-rush types of fruits.
This is also my first time growing Natsu Suzumi cucumber:
Really tasty when young; but as with all cucumbers, fruits must ripen fully and stay on the vine until frost to have any hope of producing mature, viable seeds. Translates to something like, “Cool Summer”.
Lemon cucumber has become a mainstay, in part because it produces enough that I can eat a few of them, as well as saving several for seed production.
A few varieties of watermelon have fruits growing on them, such as this Carolina Cross from a championship line (327 Kent 2018):
This is one time I would bet money (if I were the betting sort) that the offspring will be far smaller than the parent. Regrettably, I really, seriously do not have the time (or $) to pamper and mollycoddle watermelons, pumpkins, squash, or even tomatoes to produce the really huge, competitive specimens. Someday, hopefully…
Bottle Gourd vines have producing male blossoms for at least three weeks. Now (today, August 31st), finally two female blossoms have opened, with three males available for pollen. I sacrified one of those to try my luck with hand-pollinating. But there were several moths flying around, so there is a good chance that both will pollinate. Female flower is the third one here.
Some intriguing bean blossoms –
Cherokee Wax is the only bean variety producing much yet. Someday I hope to be able to grow and save seeds from 100+ bean varieties every year. Packed with nutrition…
Figs (variety Black Manzanita) are starting to ripen, but will there be enough heat left this season to get them to fully ripen?
Small Dwarf Pomegranate (only 10″ tall) has put out 20 or so blossoms. It looks like two of them have actually set fruit!
Perhaps I will have a few mint seeds by October –
I’ve been keeping an eye on a volunteer morning glory vine, and it has finally started to put out a few blossoms –
Gooseberry Leaf Globemallow (Sphaeralcea grossulariifolia) have done well this year – quite distinctive color.
I found a few patches of Hollyhocks alongside the road with a variety of colors, including a striking, deep burgundy color:
Predictions? Yup: I’m obviously an addict, so of course I saved hundreds of hollyhock seeds! (I can think of worse addictions, but let’s not go there just now…)
Then there is the Golden Raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata), a tree species that has fascinated me since I first encountered one at about the age of 11. Yes, again, seeds saved last fall!
Could it be that very low pollination rates are a result of predators on bees, such as this robber fly?
This one apparantly hangs out around the squash blossoms. I see robber flies every day, but it’s not likely that they have a major impact on the pollinators – just an educated guess based upon some training in ecology and predator-prey interactions.
Maybe this explains how these bees met their demise –
Another interesting predator that I captured and kept as a pet for a few days was a Common Desert Centipede, Scolopendra polymorpha. These nocturnal, slightly venomous predators feed primarily upon insects, but have been known to eat lizards, frogs, and even small rodents.
This critter was so interesting that I kept it as a pet for a few days, feeding it grasshoppers, flies and moths. But I don’t have time for a pet (or human relationships…), so I released it back to where I captured it after a few days.
If it’s not obvious, I have been fascinated by the natural world for as long as I can recall. No surprise then, that I was an endangered species biologist for 25 years and taught college courses, part-time, in the biological sciences for many of those years.
Please note: I have seeds of over 2,300 varieties of tomatoes (plus seeds of >1,000 varieties of other types) available now at:
But it takes me several hundred hours of work to harvest tomatoes of well over 500 varieties, take photographs, record field notes, extract and ferment seeds, separate and dry seeds, package and inventory seeds, enter what I have available into databases, then publish the new stock on the website. This is a process that will take me at least until Thanksgiving, more likely Christmas. Regrettably, this process means that I am always several months behind expectations (mostly those that I impose upon myself).
I am very grateful for all of those who support this massive project, despite the patience that is imposed upon us all because of the frustrating combination of my excessive ambition and very limited abilities and resources.
Plus a quick follow-up on health status — Virtually all pain is now focused in shoulders. It’s manageable, and mobility is up to about 70% compared to 15% or so a couple of months ago. Chronic, almost debilitating fatigue is a major issue I’m still working on. Still waiting on results of detailed blood work to get an official diagnosis. Thanks to the many people who have expressed concern and well wishes!
Surprisingly, July has produced mostly cooler weather than June, including several days of light showers and one evening (July 29th) with a significant thunderstorm, dumping perhaps 0.7″ of rain. I need to get a more accurate rain gauge than this:
This area of Utah is in severe drought, so every bit of rain is helpful.
Despite several weeks of high temperatures remaining in the upper 80’s to low 90’s and mostly higher humidity than last year, many thousands of tomato blossoms are still aborting. Pollinators are almost non-existent in the tomato patch, though some small, native bees are visiting the many tomatillo blossoms.
I’ve not had/taken the time to hand pollinate as much as is needed. But those mornings when I do give my electric toothbrush a workout, I’m getting pollen from maybe 1 in 4 blossoms. Plus an abundance of Western Flower Thrips, as last year.
To date, the most prolific tomato plant in terms of blossom production is Sweet Cherriette. This variety produces very tiny, red, tasty tomatoes. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of these blossoms are setting fruit, despite much hand pollinating.
At the other end of the spectrum, I have two promising tomatoes that have developed from megablooms and look like they have potential to grow to 3 lbs. or more. Unfortunately, I could get very little pollen several weeks ago when the megablooms were open, and these green fruits are growing rather slowly
I’ve harvested tomatoes from about 50 varieties to date. The largest specimen harvested so far was Opal’s Homestead at 0.304 lbs. and plenty delicious, especially for early in the season.
The most attractive so far has been Apricot Zebra, a golf-ball sized tomato with orange on lighter orange stripes.
Back in March I planted seeds of a couple of varieties of True Potato Seeds (TPS’s), and they are starting to put out flowers! These Blue Velvet potato flowers are attractive; but, despite several attempts at pollination, there has been very little pollen production and so far, blossoms are just falling off a few of days after opening.
I (or rather we – see below) harvested all the garlic by July 28th. Weed volume was about 200 times the volume of garlic. Needless to say, it’s been a mostly poor harvest. Of 27 varieties, only 5 produced bulbs worth saving and growing again. Besides not keeping up with weeding (not even close), other likely problems include: insufficient organic matter; late planting; not enough water (native soil drains very quickly here); deer browsing. Better luck next time…
After harvesting the garlic and amending the soil, we finally got the Stokes Purple sweet potatoes transplanted – see blog entry from December, 2020 for the start of these slips.
Also going in the tomato bed: hundreds of pepper seedlings that have way outgrown their 3-1/2″ pots. Only about 1/3 done with this project. Giving these peppers lots of good nutrients, but it’s so late in the season that I’m not gambling on getting a substantial harvest.
So, as mentioned in my last blog entry, health issues have presented major interference for physical labor. Still no diagnosis. Pain, in shoulders, is getting worse. My tentative self-diagnosis is: reactive autoimmune arthritis, concentrated primarily in shoulder joints, as an adverse response to COVID vaccine (Moderna). That’s enough details, but for more info., you’re welcome to read the VAERS report I submitted, VAERS id is 1461734.
With my back against the wall, on the verge of giving up on this growing season, I finally caved in and published an ad for a summer internship. So, after 3 weeks, we’ve actually got quite a lot of work done!
Here’s the second deer exclosure with 608 tomato vines, transplanting completed on July 15th:
And the third deer exclosure, transplanting of 288 tomato plants completed on July 19th,
So, so many weeds to pull, especially after the recent rain!
The first exclosure is SERIOUSLY overgrown, with literally hundreds of hours of work needed to prune and tie up.
Fig is starting to put out fruits – a pleasant surprise!
Those who have been following the weather in the western United States during this past month (June, 2021) will be aware of many record high temperatures, long lasting high pressure systems, and dangerous wildfire conditions.
Here locally, there were several record highs in the 98-101°F range. Those were official. But my thermometers, one of which was place in direct sun (not shade as official thermometers must be) recorded these extremes:
Note that, for some reason, this system does not record humidity levels below 20%, though for many days, humidity was actually in the 5-10% range. Lower left temperatures were indoor recordings (no A/C here). This heat was accompanied by two large wildfires in the area: Bear (12,174+ acres), Bennion Creek; plus two smaller: Horsecone, Sego.
Smoke was heavy for several days, to the point of almost shrouding the nearby mountains, which are part of the Roan Cliffs.
Fortunately, the heat subsided and has been followed by several days of intermittent rain – the first significant moisture in about three months.
Temperatures have been 15-20° cooler, with some rain every couple of days. Wouldn’t it be nice if this weather pattern could stay through the end of August! This part of Utah is under severe drought conditions. The rain has actually soaked down into the top 2″ of soil! Still bone dry below that.
Once again, I’m off to a very late start with getting my plants in the ground. Or, rather, plants into pots and growbags – I just don’t have the time, resources, or energy (see “Interference” below” to do it right. “Right” meaning removal of the giant tree stump and other garbage; leveling and plowing the ground; removal of thousands of rocks and boulders; turning dirt into soil; installing a 40′ X 100′ high tunnel; setting up a drip irrigation system; installing a deer-proof fence around the perimeter; etc.
First, we start with fall cleanup on June 4-10th:
Next, transplanting the first few more critical tomato varieties (Domingo, a few giants, those for which I’m running out of seeds) into the larger pots, adding Sustane 4-6-4 organic slow-release fertilizer and Azomite in the planting holes; then applying 2″ of compost (Nutri-Mulch) to the surface after transplanting.
Then the second round of transplanting, much delayed because of interference (see below), with some great help from my cousin who drove 8 hours 1-way from Arizona, and some good help from neighbors. This batch was transplanted into the rest of the growbags set up last year inside the deer exclosure.
As of June 14, many of these seedlings were quite overgrown in their 3-1/2″ pots, but roots have grown through the bottoms of the pots, where extra watering has allowed them to grow to 2′ tall or more.
Unfortunately, at this point I’ve only transplanted, alphabetically, through the letter D for new varieties; and very few of the varieties for seed replenishment. In other words, at least 650 more tomato seedlings “must” me transplanted a month ago. Plus peppers, cucurbits, etc.
The very late planting of tomato seeds on May 27-28 has been very successful for the most part. They were kept indoors until germination, taken outdoors when temperatures were in the 75-90° range, brought back indoors at night and on very hot days, potted up on June 16th (20-21 days from sowing), kept on wire racks under artificial lighting for four days, then move outdoors for good after some letup from the 100° heat.
Late planted (June 6th) cucurbits had excellent germination rates on heat mats set to 98° for 3 days, then reduced to 90°. Even watermelon seeds germinate as fast as tomato seeds (4-8 days) with this method. First cucurbits were ready to be transplanted by June 18th, but first few not transplanted until June 30th (interference…). Some of these were planted by seed indoors on April 27th, so they are looking rather haggard.
Other plants of interest include: Dwarf Pomegranate ready to bloom 143 days from seed sowing TPS (True Potato Seed), variety Blue Velvet growing well Ground cherries and tomatillos producing fruit Cauliflower (variety Pusa Gulabi) putting out flowering heads while still in small pots Garlic producing many delicious scapes; though garlic project as a whole looks like a 70% bust — not watered enough, deer browsing, not enough compost, too many weeds, interference…
Hundreds of pepper seedlings need to find a place in the garden (such as it is…) as well. They have done well under shade cloth, despite being potted up from plug trays 3-4 weeks behind schedule.
First ripe (or mostly ripe) tomatoes harvested on June 21st, 98 days from seed sowing. Tomato varieties that have produced ripe tomatoes by the end of June (98-103 days from seed sowing) include:
Pinocchio Sweet Cheriette Sungold Totushka Minsk Early Sandpoint Moravsky Div
It looks like Carbon will be the first variety to produce a medium-sized fruit.
MEGABLOOMS! At least a few: Domingo Bigzarro Letnyi Sidr With some luck (from the weather and pests) and TLC, this Domingo looks like it could go 3 lbs. plus!
Ok, has there been enough foreshadowing: INTERFERENCE !?!
This could get long but I’ll keep it brief, since it’s very personal and only relevant to a blog like this because I need a functioning body to do physical labor. This body feels like it has aged 30 years since mid-May.
Massive inflammation of major joints (shoulders, knees, hips), along with extreme muscle fatigue, has lead to very poor sleep (can’t sleep more than 2 hours at a time because of pain buildup), near paralysis of major joints (mobility reduced by 90% or more). At times even picking up a shovel has been an impossible task, let alone using it. You really don’t want to know the gruesome details…
NSAID pain killers, doctor visit (first time in 21 years), blood tests, started some physical therapy, and some hypothesizing. Monocyte and other white blood cell counts high, indicative of a large immune response. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone levels very high, indicating possible hypothyroidism.
Guessing: I’m one of those people with an adverse response to COVID-19 vaccine (Moderna). The pain started in my left shoulder and spread from there over the course of several weeks following second dose. Symptoms are just starting to decline after 6 weeks of misery.
At this point, I cannot rule out an autoimmune disease, rapid-onset arthritis, or even cancer. Hopefully I’ll get some strength and energy back soon, because I’m hundreds of hours behind with outdoor work.
I just don’t have the ability to pound in t-posts for constructing another deer exclosure. So I’ve had to close the low tunnel every evening and open it again every morning – just waiting for flexibility, strength, and energy to return.
May was the month of potting up seedlings, hardening them against the elements, protecting them from weather extremes, organizing and delivering seedlings, and continuing to fill seed requests. Ideally, much more would have happened!
I made four trips to several locations throughout Utah, delivering about 3,300 seedlings, traveling 2,009 miles. Unfortunately, I had to replace all four tires and have major brake repairs done during these trips, resulting in unplanned expenses amounting to four months of living expenses! Ugh…
I installed a second deck in the back of the vehicle, allowing me to transport nearly twice as many seedlings per trip as in previous years. One of these years, a covered trailer might be part of the process.
Three of those trips required staying overnight, which meant leaving the low tunnel open and exposed to the elements as well as deer. Fortunately, the deer only destroyed about 40 seedlings. Here are just a few among the scores that roam this town, these across the street from the post office in broad daylight.
Plenty of other critters that can do damage, such as squirrels and leafhoppers.
There were thousands of these leafhoppers trapped in the low tunnel when I opened the top the other morning – sure hope they are not beet leafhoppers that carry Curly Top Virus!. You would think by now I would have learned how to take better photos. It’s a combination of equipment and impatience.
But I killed far more of my seedlings than the critters did. I really mollycoddled my seedlings from batch 5 (see below). Excellent germination rates, potted up with TLC, given several days to adjust to indoor conditions (top two shelves on left in the following photo), then moved outdoors with careful attention to the remote thermometer.
It was a relatively cool morning when I moved them to the low tunnel, so I kept the plastic down, checking often to not let it get above 90°F. I was plenty busy indoors, but when it hit 91 in the afternoon, I went out to open up the plastic. A gush of very hot air – hot enough to kill about 30% of the tender new seedlings. Turns out the the sensor had slipped down and was lying on the moist ground between trays. So temperature on the ground was likely 20° cooler than up on the little rise where the seedlings were. I had to replant 22 varieties.
Multi-tasking, vigilance, switching frequently from one task to another – these are challenges for me. My native personality is to focus intensely on a single task until it is done, completely shutting out everything, including eating, while working maniacally. I’ve had plenty of time and practice, but at this point, I’m not sure if I will ever learn to effectively multi-task.
In May, I harvested pods from a couple of varieties of peppers dead plants in the cellar. There are still about 80 pods to harvest from those plants.
For most pepper seedlings, I was 2-3 weeks behind getting them potted up. But they are under shade cloth in the low tunnel now and adjusting well. Problem is, there are about 600 more pepper seedlings than I have space for, and this late in the season, it’s very unlikely that I can sell them.
Wire racks were essentially empty for a few days, so electric bill should drop dramatically! But my final round of tomato seedlings (5 trays) were not started until May 27th and they are now under lights, with first emergence this morning.
Cleaning up from weeks of planting and potting up seedlings – seriously dirty, many hours to clean up – task over half completed, but there are other time demands. Inventory seeds in a state of quasi-chaos from weeks of planting and filling seed orders, with no time to re-organize after bouts of planting. Chaos reduction will take a couple more days.
SEED GERMINATION TESTS
For the past six months I’ve had grand ambitions of conducting 10,000 or more seed germination tests. I fell far short of that, but managed a few.
Germination test of 48 varieties of lettuce conducted. Seeds of 30 of those batches were harvested between 2008-2014 Only 4 of these 30 had over 50% germination; most had zero germination. Seeds of 18 varieties were harvested between 2015-2020; All but 2 of these had over 50% germination. So I conclude that, at least the way I harvest and store lettuce seeds, seeds more than 6 years old are mostly inviable, while those 5 years old or less should still have good germination rates. I’ve not yet had a chance to plant them into the (non-existent) garden, but I’ve been munching on the leaves on occasion!
I conducted seed germination tests on 73 varieties of brassicas, but have yet to record germination rates. Many have gone to seed in their very squished little pots. Anecdotally, some 10-year-old seeds were still viable, but seeds less than 8 years old germinated better than older seeds.
I tested 29 varieties of onions and relatives but have not yet recorded germination rates. But it’s very clear that onion seeds more than four years old just will not germinate.
I intended to conduct seed germination tests of over 350 cucurbit and 120 legume varieties as well, but ran out of time. And many, many more…
I did manage a modest seed germination test of pepper seeds. But with around 470 varieties in inventory, I ran out of time, space and other resources. Here is a summary of the results with peppers:
I tested pepper seeds of 176 batches, representing 136 varieties. Here are the results in tabular form, by year:
Pepper Seed Germination Tests, April 2021
Germination Rate, %
Results comport with what others have found: germination rates for pepper seeds older than 5 years will likely not be very high. So this means I need to grow out at least 100 varieties of peppers every year to maintain a viable seed stock. Happy to do it – but resources, especially time, are limiting.
*An interesting note about the 2011 seeds: On March 26th, I extracted 16 seeds from a dried pod of the variety Cabuchile which was given to me in May, 2011 by a neighbor by the name of Louis, who in turn received the pod from his mother in Mexico. All 16 seeds germinated! There was zero germination of the other variety (Merlot) from 2011.
Seed germination tests are not yet complete for tomatoes. I planted tomato seeds in six large batches this year.
First round, early varieties to share, March 13-15: 60 varieties
Second round, advance requests, March 25-27 and April 11th: 59 varieties
Third round, main crop to share with other growers, March 28th: 104 varieties
Fourth round, new (to DT) to trial, or total failure in previous years; save seeds, April 3-11: 236 varieties
Fifth round, first part of replenish depleted seed stock and oldest seeds, 25-29 April: 81 varieties
Sixth round, second part of replenish depleted seed stock and oldest seeds, 27-28 May: 154 varieties
This comes to a total of 694 varieties planted, of which I hope to be able to save seeds from at least 530 varieties. Interim germination results follow.
Total number of tomato seeds planted: 4,158
Number of tomato seeds for which germination rates can be calculated today (May 31st – obviously those planted after May 26th are just now starting to germinate): 3,490
Number of tomato seeds actually germinated from first five rounds: 2,799
Raw germination rate of tomato seeds from first five rounds: 80.2%
Number of tomato batches with ZERO germination: 42
Of those 42 batches, number from other growers: 36
Of those 36 batches, 27 were from a single grower who generously donated second-hand older seeds (most of them from 2006-2009) of 117 varieties
Germination rate among those 117 batches of older, second-hand seeds: 36.1%
Adjusted germination rate among the other 577 varieties: 83.5%
Germination rates by year are to be determined in a couple of weeks once all planted seeds have been given adequate time to germinate.
BIG MAJOR tasks with zero progress this month:
Removal of the huge stump from the massive Siberian Elm tree.
Designing and submitting plans for the greenhouse to the government regulators/intruders; thus zero work on the greenhouse.
Tractor work, etc. to prepare 4,000 square feet of garden space for planting a garden.
Construction of high tunnels over the garden space to keep deer out, humidity up, and temperatures regulated
Transplanting of even a single seedling from 3-1/2″ pots into the larger pots and growbags that I used last year.
Yup, it’s getting to the breaking point: I need to hire an assistent, or at least a part-time intern. But there is no way in the world that the budget could handle hiring an assistant, even at $7.25 per hour, which is the current minimum wage in Utah
If I lived in and operated this business from Vietnam, the calculations would be very different. Check out this link:
“Nursery Worker” is a reasonably close job description to what I need. 22,140 VND (Vietnamese Dong) currently converts to $0.96 per hour. That is a salary I could probably afford to pay, even for a full-time, year-round employee. As long as that assistant worked at least half as fast as I do.
Alas, I don’t live in Vietnam. Here is the dilemma, in a nutshell:
If you want to make money as an entrepreneur, chose one doodad that you can manufacture on a machine that requires only one operator (you), zero employees, and a warehouse. Make sure the profit margin on your doodads is very high, that they have a very long shelf life, that you never have to re-tool your manufacturing process to accommodate more than one style, that you have an automated way to package and ship them, that you have computerized inventory, that you take full advantage of mass production, etc. Then advertise like crazy and market the hell out or your doodads on social media: try your best to convince every person on the planet that they must buy one of your doodads. Then watch the money pour into your bank account, and eventually have an article written about you in Forbes magazine, “Fabulously successful, rags-to-riches entrepreneur’s story”.
In almost every conceivable way, what I’m trying to do with heirloom seeds is the exact opposite of this model. Other than my computer and printer, almost everything I’m doing pits me, as an artisan, against the enormous, multi-national seed corporations.
Me: pre-Industrial Revolution, all hand tools, no machines (my tiller has been busted for years), no helpers, no mass marketing, no catalogs mailed out, no seed co-ops (when I’m out of a variety, I’m just out), no purchasing seeds by the gunny sack from distributors who in turn purchase them from Third World countries (I’ve seen the inner workings of BIG seed companies firsthand), etc. You see, years ago I made the fateful decision to live my life based upon principles, not profits or power.
BIG seed companies: Economy of scale, mass production (seeds processed in batches of millions), mass marketing, worldwide network of seed producers and distributors, mostly pay extremely low (slave?) wages to farm workers in Third World countries, etc. Profit-driven.
Enough of that Jeremiad!! I must get back to work. REALLY hoping to get at least my most critical tomato vines into pots or grow-bags this week. And I’m really hoping to have more than a 92-day growing season this year, because I’m way behind!!
Shut down in early April (Cease and Desist) with threat of hefty fines. Government trespasser/intruder wants engineered plans, a greenhouse built fully to building codes for snow-load, plumbing, electricity, etc., with state licensed contractors and the works. They demand money (extortion), power and control.
A greenhouse for protecting tender young seedlings from deer and cold weather during the spring, not a living area for humans! But because I decided to attach it to the house, to allow air circulation with the house and cellar, they demand that it be “built to code”.
Better if I now stop this tirade about politics, government, control, extortion and oppressive power. I fear the government. Welcome to the USA, home of the free – if you’re rich enough…
Anyhow, I scrambled to put up this low tunnel for hardening off seedlings:
This low tunnel is 84′ long X 7′ wide and can hold 252 trays – just over half of what I’m producing this year. So far behind – the tunnel is only half full. Five days straight of cold, wet, near freezing temperatures last week. And high winds, with gusts of 50+ mph. But the tunnel held up will, with no frost damage.
Putting up about 6,000 seedlings of 800 or so varieties does not happen quickly with 1 person. Half the time is spent writing on the pot stakes. A good thermal transfer printer runs about $1K, something like this. It’s about time for another “splurge”, in the interest of saving time doing repetitive tasks that can easily be done by machine.
Still to come:
I have four wire racks going, set up with LED lights. In total, they can hold 80 trays. Monthly electric bill is predictable nearly five times what it was last summer.
It takes two days of potting up to fill up all these shelves, including some really late nights (4 a.m., 5 a.m…), and most of a full day to remove them all, get them thoroughly watered, and organized into the low tunnel.
High winds (imagine dealing with perlite in windy conditions), cold wet weather, urgent potting up to do, so I moved the entire operation indoors. It’s highly unlikely that anybody else could tolerate my seedlings and messes taking over the kitchen, bathroom, office, and now even the living room. My seeds have a room of their own. I’m alone for more than one reason…
Seed Germination Tests – lots of useful and interesting numbers to report once data collection is complete; i.e., after all potting up is completed.
Now who was it that told me deer don’t eat garlic leaves?
Wasabi plants are growing well in the cool cellar under a metal halide light; but I don’t expect any return on investment for a few years. None of the turmeric or ginger has germinated. I don’t have a warm place to keep these tropical plants – something like a greenhouse, perhaps??).
Horseradish is growing just fine – seems to like this cool weather.
Wild Radish has been growing like crazy, but only in protected areas or where I’ve watered. It’s been too dry on most spots of the property. The leaves are quite tasty – not as strong as arugula, tender leaves, only slightly pungent, roots are very thin and fibrous – not edible. Maybe I’ll save some more seeds this year.