Short Growing Season

Frost last night shortened the 2019 growing season to 113 days, which is 74 days shorter than what I was accustomed to a few years ago in West Valley City.

It has not been devastating frost yet, as there are still many tomato vines still alive and producing where weeds and corn stalks have protected them.  The prediction is for even colder temperatures tonight.

A number of the tomato vines have yet to produce their first ripe tomato.  And it’s been a very tough year for hot peppers, eggplant, okra and melons which prefer hot weather.  There were a few weeks of hot weather in July and August, but it has been unusually cool, overall, for the past five months.

So far, I have saved seeds from 20% of the tomato varieties planned for 2019, and I am an estimated 300 hours behind schedule with this massive project.  Here’s the first sizeable batch of tomatoes processing for seeds: dwarf varieties on August 31st.

The “missing” 300 hours has been more than taken up with participation in two local farmers markets every week:

Saturday the 28th was the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers’ annual weighoff event.  (Let’s not talk about the pumpkin I reluctantly submitted…)  The winner weighed 1,608 lbs.!

This one might be the most interesting of the lot:

The giant tomato contest was extremely close.  The winner was a 2.18 lb. Big Zac, still hard green.  My largest submission was a 2.16 lb. Domingo:

This was the first ripe tomato of the season on this vine.  At least it, and another Domingo off the same vine, topped 2 lbs. – something I didn’t manage to do in 2018!

 

 

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Cruel and Cold-hearted Mother Nature

Quite unusual Spring weather here along the Wasatch Front: cold and wet for nearly a month in May, including several late frost events which had me covering thousands of seedlings several and delaying planting for several weeks.

I thought I was being prudent and clever by waiting and waiting some more.

Then, just after I got nearly all of my tomato seedlings planted (about 2,000 of them), a freaky late frost came through one week ago (June 9th) and destroyed about 800 of the 1,100+ tomato seedlings which were already in the ground at the Carlisle Farm.  Brief video:

Late frost wipes out tomato seedlings

Replaced with “leftovers” from plug trays for tomato seed saving project:

Tomato seedlings leftovers plug trays_20190606_162015547

 

 

Here is what it looks like, with about 3,400′ of rows of tomato seedlings:

Carlisle farm background mountains snow_20190614_144835627_HDR

And snow-capped mountains in the background, including Lone Peak (11,260′ elevation).

This has lead to even more delays, as replacing those dead seedlings was no quick or easy task.  Although more than 2,000 tomato vines are in the ground and growing, seedlings for my giant tomato project and dwarf tomato project are still in 3-1/2″ pots and getting quite stressed.

But I did finally manage to get my (very stunted) giant pumpkin seedlings in the ground: 5 of them in about 500 square feet of space. Maybe I’ll find the time and motivation to kill squash bugs this year before they kill my pumpkin vines?

Pumpkin, Giant, Atlantic Dill_20190616_161445083 (2)

Lineages of these five pumpkin vines:

1060 Seamons 2015 (1421.5 Stelts X 1832.5 Midthun)
1039 Laub (1985 Miller X Self)
915 McRae 2017 (1386.5 Sadiq X 2261.5 Wallace)
1468 Strickler 2018 (2363 Holland 2017 X Self)
1073.5 Laub 2015 (1817 McConkie X 1526 Menting)

Early Painted Mountain Corn (Alpine Varietal) is tasseling now:

Corn, Painted Mountain_20190615_154955424_HDR

Corn, Painted Mountain_20190615_154941128

And predictably, I remain fascinated by the reproductive parts of a variety of plants:

 

Included above are: Larkspur, Rhubarb, Snapdragon, Feverfew, Comfrey, Mullein, Purple Orach, Rose, Calendula, Dianthus, Onion, Chives and Penstemon.  Then there was this suggestive Sugar Magnolia Snap Pea blossom:

Pea, Sugar Magnolia Snap_20190615_154501253 (2)

Really not so cruel and cold-hearted.  I just need to prepare better for contingencies.  It could be much worse: the severe flooding of many other parts of the country; drought; volcanic eruption blocking most sunlight; goats let loose to rampage like last year; curly top virus; and many other potential setbacks come to mind.  This is definitely not a cushy 9 to 5 job…

There remains much data entry and compilation to determine where we stand with tomato varieties which survived the frost.

 

= = =

 

Oops!  Above was written on June 16, 2019 but apparently I neglected to click on the “Publish” button.  So here it is, July 31st, and much of what I wrote is sort of obsolete.  But it may still be of interest.

Brief update here.

The Carlisle tomato patch on July 3rd after t-post installation –

But now (photo taken July 29th), this is looking much more like a corn patch – very likely tomato production will be greatly reduced.

The first ripe tomatoes in this patch were Gold Nugget on July 29th.  Perhaps 80 tomato vines have been destroyed by curly top virus.

In the backyard garden, Totushka ripened about a week earlier than Red Alert and Moscow, followed roughly a week later by Rose Quartz, Egg Yolk, Sasha’s Altai, Gregori’s Altai, Chocolate Cherry, Bursztyn, Bison, Orange Bourgoin, Rosalie’s Early Orange, Slava Moldovoy, Stupice, Lucinda, Sunsugar, Sweet Apertif, Maddeline’s Vine Candy, Peacevine, Indian Stripe, Alpine, Bellstar, Be My Baby, Auria, and a few others not coming to mind at the moment.

Here’s Gold Nugget – makes quite a tasty little morsel!

At my cousin’s tomato patch, where most of my seed saving plants are, weeds currently predominate and it’s looking like about 40% of the plants will not produce tomatoes due to a combination of factors:  poor soil (dense alkaline clay), problems with the drip hose (mostly fixed, but the system’s a mess…), late start, curly top virus (15-20% loss to date, with more succumbing almost every day), goats got out (7 of them, but I think I caught them in time and did repairs to their pen), and hot weather (6 days over 100° so far).

The goats’ escape hatch:

And this one’s a head-scratcher: old plastic bags to restrain goats?

Hopefully my repairs will hold through the growing season.

Giant tomato project started very late, in 20-gallon pots filled with decent but not great soil.  Here are the 27 plants on June 26th, right after transplanting completed:

And here they are 33 days later, about 15 of them with fruit set:

Here is this year’s dwarf tomato project, transplanting completed on June 26th.  These are 7-gallon grow bags – 100 of them, though a few are not dwarf varieties.

First giant pumpkin finally pollinated on July 21st:

And so far it looks like it’s taking.

I reneged on my promise never to participate in farmers markets again.  Among the tasks of harvesting, cleaning and packaging produce, travel to and from, setup and breakdown, time at market (4-5 hours), and cleanup afterwords, we’re looking at 8-9 hours of time.

After 4 weeks, I think I’ve finally earned enough to pay for the canopy.  Maybe next week I will start bringing in enough to begin paying for gas, and then vendor fees…

 

 

 

 

 

Delay from Cold, Wet May

Officially the second wettest Spring on record, with 11.18″ of precipitation from March-May, with precipitation on 18 days during May and many low temperatures in the 35-42° range.  Cold and wet is a recipe for disaster for young tomato seedlings, so I’ve kept most seedlings cozy warm in the low tunnel until the past couple of days.  Now it’s catching up time, transplanting directly from 128-cell plug trays into the gardens.

About 1/3 or the way planting out tomatoes seedlings of 802 varieties, assuming I got at least 1 seed to germinate of each variety.  Which is definitely not going to be the case.  Once the dust settles, I will likely have a little over 3,000 tomato seedlings in the ground at 3 locations.  I’ll likely update with the full list once all seedlings are in the ground and growing.

Seedlings in plug trays, destined for seed production.

Seedlings in 3-1/2″ pots, intended for other gardeners, with over 900 not sold, of around 150 varieties.

Seed saving already in progress for several types that survived the winter, such as Brussell’s Sprouts – covered with a mesh of tulle fabric to prevent cross pollination with Kale that is in bloom nearby.

More varieties of flowers blooming, such as this dianthus

Plenty of herbs growing well, such as feverfew:

It has been a great year so far for flowers, herbs, fruit trees and cool-season crops.

More updates once tomatoes are in the ground.  Long days, short nights…

Seedlings Available for 2019

New low tunnel is currently jam packed with pepper and tomato seedlings, most of them looking for a good home for local growers (Wasatch Front area, Utah).  Using three layers to regulate heat and prevent sunscald: greenhouse plastic, shade cloth, and heavy duty frost blanket.

Crazy weather of Spring – some warm and sunny days, and likely light frost tonight.  (update May 2nd: ground covered with frost the past two nights – would have been wiped out without frost blanket!)  Good thing I did not succumb to the temptation to transplant four weeks ahead of schedule!

List of tomato seedlings available:

Tomato Seedlings Growing in 2019

But of the 615 varieties planted for seed saving, I need to replant 88 of them!  A few because the seedlings were eaten by snails; but there were 36 varieties with ZERO germination!  Plus another 46 varieties with only 1 surviving seedling.   That’s a lot of extra time and effort from getting poor quality seeds!!

First ripe tomato of 2019 is again Totushka, discovered on April 24, from seeds planted on December 12, 2018.  That’s 133 days; but I really did not care for them well.  Metal Halide lights, which I did not use this past winter, are far superior for growing tomatoes indoors than are the weak T-12 fluorescent bulbs that I did use.

Other microdwarf varieties which produced ripe fruit at close to the same time include Gold Pearl and Regina:

Other signs of Spring –

A cracked robin egg found on the ground

 

Flowers in abundance:

 

Fruit trees heavily laden with blossoms this year:

Corn – I attempted to plant an extra early patch of Painted Mountain, Alpine Varietal, just to see how early I could get corn.  Seeds planted on April 17; 128 seeds in a plug tray and kept warm indoors.  Seeds began to emerge in less than 3 days, with most of them up within 5 days.  Transplanted outdoors after 8 days, and some seedlings already had taproots that were 8″ long!

This little patch is covered for the night, with 33° F for predicted low.

Several varieties of lettuce also planted today (April 30, 2019):

Amish Deer Tongue, Jericho, Tennis Ball, Buttercrunch, Summer Bibb, Prizehead, Dark Lollo Rosso, Speckled, Bronze Mignonette, North Pole and Tango – with several more I would like to plant when I can find the time and garden space.

Several varieties of peas are also emerging:

Wando, Super Sugar Snap, Sugar Magnolia, Alderman, Little Marvel, and Amish Snap

Also planted on April 25th: nine large pots with Atlantic Giant Pumpkin seeds.  After five days, no signs of life yet.  Later – after 8 days, 5 have germinated.

LOTS more to come…

Of Spring, Rain, Rainbows, Flowers – and Tomatoes

The clock, the calendar just keep ticking away the seconds and the months.  The first day of Spring has come and gone, still finding me mostly indoors working with seeds and databases.

But I did manage to notice some rain and a double rainbow en route to the post office.

 

The coming and passing of crocuses of promise:

The coming and passing of thought-provoking orchid irises:

The coming and near passing of daffodils of portense:

Fresh new stately hyacinths:

The flaming of forsythia flowers:

With tulips, apricot blossoms, and so much more just around the corner.  What is this fascination with the flamboyant display of the reproductive organs of flowers?  Maybe there is a butterfly or bee deep inside of me.  Reminders of the brevity of life, whether filled with beauty or other things; of connectedness, if we choose to see it.

This weekend I climbed out of my basement cave, out of hibernation, and started doing autumn garden cleanup – yes, the work a conscientious gardener would complete in November.  Oh, what a mess I left!

A short couple of breaths for noticing something else, and suddenly a new season of tomato growing is pressing, pressuring.

Already way out of space on my 4′ X 6′ stand with grow lights, a couple of weeks ago I constructed a makeshift cold frame by using lawn chairs, a double layer of thick row cover, and a small electric space heater.

Birdie Rouge, a microdwarf, putting out a few fruit:

Over the weekend I found this on the ground underneath the pots from the microdwarf tomato project of last year, which were left outside all winter.

This is possibly Florida Petite, but hard to say for sure.  No, I didn’t taste it!  But you guessed it, I’m doing a seed germination test: how well do tomato seeds survive overwintering?

This coming week I will start potting up my first batch of tomato seedlings:

This is about 450 seedlings of extra early tomatoes, mostly for other gardeners and farmers who, like me, hope for fresh ripe tomatoes by early July.  Varieties shown here include these 37:

Amazon Chocolate
Andy Buckflat’s Wonder
Bison
Black Sea Man
Bloody Butcher
Bursztyn
Chocolate Cherry
Dwarf Arctic Rose
Forest Fire
Fourth of July (OP)
Gregori’s Altai
Iditarod
June Pink
Katja
Koralik
Maddeline’s Vine Candy
Marshal Pobeda
Mormon World’s Earliest
Moscow
Orange Bourgoin
Orange Paruche
Red Alert
Rosalie’s Early Orange
Rose
Rose Quartz
Santiam Sunrise
Sasha’s Altai
Siberian
Slava Moldovoy
Sophie’s Choice
Spudakee
Stupice
Sunset’s Red Horizon
Sweet Scarlet Dwarf
Totuska
Tsindao
Utyonok

But where will they go when potted up?

A brand new low tunnel, 6’X36′, large enough to cram in 108 of the 1020 trays if needed.  Temperature regulation is going to be tricky!

About 52 varieties of peppers, plus ground cherries and a number of other types also up and growing.

Seeds of 128 additional varieties have also been planted for other growers.  Send me an email if you would like a copy of the list: dale@gianttomatoseeds.com.  These should be ready by early to mid-May.

Now the BIG task – planting tomato seeds for seed saving this year.  The count currently stands at 872 varieties MUST GROW varieties, with at least 300 additional SHOULD GROW varieties.  Time, space, energy, other resources are so limiting.  But ambition is not!! What to do, what to do…

 

 

Tomato Varieties with Outstanding (or Fabulous or Wonderful) Flavor

With hesitations and reservations, I post the following list of 151 tomato varieties which I consider among the best for flavor among the 2,000+ varieties which I have sampled over the past few years.

Hesitation for the following reasons:

  1. There remain more than 500 varieties for which I have not transcribed field notes or prepared pictures or descriptions.  Doubtless many of these belong on this list.  I am working on this project, but it’s not easy to finagle the necessary time.
  2. This post is essentially an addendum to my post of December 19, 2018, Best Tasting and Biggest Tomatoes of 2018 – but there are discrepancies which might present a challenge to resolve.
  3. As mentioned in that previous post, mine are just one set of taste buds; there are micro-environmental differences; my criteria for “super tasty” might very well not match yours. etc. – multiple opinions are recommended.
  4. Short-changed especially are many outstanding varieties that I received from Russia which have been sitting on the back burner for up to three years – varieties which I have shared in list form only so far.
  5. I have concern that other growers might restrict their options to just this list, when there are hundreds and hundreds of other varieties that I would strongly recommend, depending upon what you are looking for in a tomato.

That being said, I have taken a few hours to go through my databases, descriptions, online publications, and those faulty memory banks between my ears, and come up with this “short” list of varieties which have especially tickled my taste buds.  Although I make a concerted effort to not exaggerate, to not use superlatives, to be forthright with my descriptions, somehow I still managed to come up with 151 varieties for which I have used descriptors for flavor such as: Fabulous, Outstanding or Wonderful.

In alphabetical order:

Absinthe
Alex Popovich Yugoslavian
Alice’s Dream
Altaiskiy Oranzhevyi
Amazon Chocolate
Ambrosia Gold
Amish Paste
Amish Potato Leaf
Arad’s Pink Heart
Arbuznyi
Ashleigh
Aunt Ruby’s German Green
Barlow Jap
Belarusian Heart
Berkeley Tie-dye Heart
Big Cheef Pink Potato Leaf
Big Zac
Biyskiy Rozan
Black
Black and Brown Boar
Black Bear
Black Cherry
Black Crimson
Black Krim
Black Mountain Pink
Blue Ridge Mountain
Boloto
Bosanski Stari
Brandywine from Croatia
Brandywine, Cowlick’s
Brandywine, OTV
Brandywine, Pink
Brandywine, Sudduth’s
Bulgarian Rose
Bulgarian Triumph
Bych’ye Serdtse Vystavochnoye
Carbon
Catwell
Chang Li
Chapman
Cherokee Purple
Chocolate Cherry
Crnkovic Yugoslavian
Da Chilo Orange
De Barao Rozoviy
Dester
Domaca Pfarrgarten
Donskoi
Dr. Lyle
Dr. Wyche’s Yellow
Dwarf Mr. Snow
Dyvo
Earl’s Faux
Eastman Pink Heirloom
Everett’s Rusty Oxheart
Gajo De Melon
Gold Medal
Goose Creek
Grandfather Ashlock
Grub’s Mystery Green
Guernsey Island Pink Blush
Hamilton
Hanging from Vesuvius
Hawaiian Pineapple
Hillbilly
Indian Stripe
Ispanskaya Roza
Iva’s Red Berry
Japanese Oxheart
Jewish
Kayleigh’s Large Pink
KBX
Kellogg’s Breakfast
King Pineapple
Kiyevlyanka
Korol Gigantov
Korol’ Londona
Kozula 161
Large Black and Red Boar
Leadbeatter’s Lunker
Lemon Drop
Levino
Little Lucky
Loxton Lad Dwarf
Lyagushka Tsarevna
Maddeline’s Vine Candy
Maiden’s Gold
Mallee Rose
Mammoth Cretan
Manyel
Marianna’s Peace
Marizol Gold
Mary Reynolds
Mawlenowe
Milka’s Red Bulgarian
Momotoaro (OP, offtype)
Mr. Underwood’s Pink German Giant
Noire de Crimee
Orange Minsk
Orange Paruche
Orlov Yellow
Osburn Oxheart
Peacevine
Persimmon
Pierce’s Pride
Pink Berkeley Tie-dye
Pink Sweet
Polish Pink
Portuguese
Prue
Purple Not Strawberry
Purple Passion
Rebel Yell
Red Butter Heart
Reinhart’s Chocolate Heart
Rhoades Heirloom
Rosalie’s Big Rosy
Rose
Rose Quartz
Rozovaya Krupnaya
Rozoviy Syrayeva
Rozovyi Shlem
Russian 117
Russian Rose
Seek No Further Love Apple
Sinister Minister
Slankard’s
Star
Sugar Plum Fairy
Sugary
Sungold
Sunsugar
Sweet Apertif
Tadzhikskiye
Tennessee Suited
Terhune
Tsar-Kolokol
Tsindao
Tzi Bi U (aka Violet Jasper)
Uluru Ochre
Veras Paradeiser
Vinson Watts
Virginia Sweets
Waltingers Fleisch aus Indien
Weisnicht’s Ukrainian
West Virginia Sweetmeat
Wild Thyme Purple
Yasha Yugoslavian
Yoder’s German Pink
Yusupovskyi S Fergany
Zorica’s Sebastian’s Bull’s Eye

Following is some mid-winter “eye candy” of some of these varieties; seeds available at:

Delectation of Tomatoes Seeds on Offer

Or drop me an email with your list of seeds wanted – it’s easy enough for me to just send you an electronic invoice.

A brief update about micro-dwarf indoor tomatoes – Micro Tom was the first to bloom, 55 days from seed sowing:

In an effort to support and encourage those who grow food and sell to people in their local community, Delectation of Tomatoes is now a member of Utah’s Own !

Fresh food that is grown and consumed locally and organically typically tastes better, is more nutritious, has fewer potentially harmful chemicals, leaves a smaller carbon footprint (on average,  vegetables consumed in the USA travel more than 1,400 miles from farm to table!), supports small local farmers (rather than mega-monocultures and international corporate farming practices), keeps more of a community’s hard-earned money at the local level, helps create jobs for the community, and helps support the tax base of local and state governments.

That’s a big part of what Delectation of Tomatoes is all about: encouraging and facilitating gardeners and farmers working small farms to provide the freshest, most nutritious, most flavorful and most interesting fruits and vegetables for their families and communities.

In their favor, BIG corporate farms have the economy of scale, millions of dollars to spend on marketing, expensive machinery, big subsidies from governments, and the power of habit of 100+ million shoppers who frequent big box stores.  Yet in the midst of this gigantic agro-industrial complex, there should still a place for the artisan seed saver and grower, especially as more people become aware of viable and sensible alternatives to the status quo and as they take advantage of these alternatives.

 

Seed Germination Tests and Rates

If you’ve read a few of my blogs, you may have come away with the impression that I am trying to do too much and infer that I’m overwhelmed.  Right on both counts – but I believe that what I’m trying to do can benefit many people, so I keep at it, glad for the opportunity to share seeds, seedlings and fresh produce with others!

So how in the world do I have time to conduct seed germination tests?  Of course the scientist in me and commitment to quality urge me to do a germination test on every batch every year.  But I simply do not have the resources to do that.  I’ll leave it at that – you can email me at dale@gianttomatoseeds.com if you want more details.

This blog post is in part a response to a YouTube video, published on January 2, 2018, in which two things were suggested.

  1.  The date on my seed packets is the date which I package seeds.  This is not the case.  I rarely package seeds in advance – I have way too many varieties to make that feasible.  When you order seeds from Delectation of Tomatoes, your order is a custom order.  Often I prepare pictures, conduct research, transcribe field notes, write up descriptions and prepare labels only after you have ordered seeds.  This can take up to an hour per variety – unless it is a variety which someone else has ordered previously, in which case it goes much faster.  The seed packaging itself is only a fraction of the time – just locating seed packages in my inventory and putting them back in place takes more time than the actual packaging.  So the date indicated on a packet is the date that I actually harvested the tomato or tomatoes from which the seeds were extracted that are in the packet.  Likewise, the weight shown is the actual weight or average weight of the tomatoes from which your seeds were extracted, and the photograph is, in the vast majority of cases, the actual tomato(es) from which the seeds came.  These are not stock photos – they are original with Delectation of Tomatoes, and I have over 65,000 photos I have taken for this purpose.  Essentially, the date of harvest and weight constitute the batch number for all tracking purposes.

Here is an example of a label for a variety that I named, in honor of the family who developed this over several generations.  Note that this is an older label, and the current world record (9.435 lb.) was grown from this variety.

Please recognize that the big seed companies (who have many employees and lots of equipment I cannot afford…) typically stamp something like, “Packaged for 2019” on the envelope.  This does NOT mean that their seeds were grown in 2018!!  They could have been grown in 2013 or 2008 or even earlier, as long as the batch (which for them includes millions or tens of millions of seeds) still passes that 80% threshold for seed germination tests.  The dates on my batches are completely transparent – you know to the day when the tomatoes were harvested.  And tomatoes are usually processed for seed extraction that same day or at least within a few days after harvest.

2. Seeds I harvested in 2013 or 2015 are “old” and therefore less likely to germinate.  NOT TRUE!!  Despite conventional wisdom, or rather hearsay, or perhaps propaganda, tomato seeds can retain their viability for years, even decades, if kept from extreme heat or humidity.  Fortunately, I live in a dry climate and store my seeds in a cool basement, and have had no issue with reduced viability of seeds, even from a decade ago.  Below you’ll see results of a seed germination test which I think presents clear evidence that my 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, or 2015 seeds are not “old” and do not have reduced germination rates.  I have been growing lots of tomatoes for a lot of years.  What I notice is that “fresher” seeds, that is seeds less than five years old, will typically germinate in 5-8 days, with a few stragglers over the next week or so.  Older seeds, that is ten plus years old, may take 10-15 days to germinate, with some taking up to 20 days.  But germination rates have still been 90% or higher on some of these older seeds – one just needs a little more patience and persistence.

The majority of germination tests I conduct are during the 3-4 weeks in early spring when I plant for my own gardens and for other growers.  This typically involves between 4 to 48 seeds of 500-600 varieties.  With over 2,100 varieties in inventory, you can guess correctly that I have to keep meticulous records.

So in Spring 2017, I planted 1,589 seeds from tomatoes that I had personally raised.  Many of these I planted specifically because of some concern over seed quality (seeds were dark, smaller than expected, etc.), though most were for replenishing seed supply and doing what I can to keep seeds relatively fresh.  Of these 1,589 seeds of 258 batches, 1,326 germinated.  That’s 83.4%.  Not nearly as high as I had hoped, but acceptable by industry standards.  I always try to include extra seeds, or seeds from multiple batches, if I have any reason to suspect a batch might produce less than 90% germination rates.  But yes, I still occasionally get reports of low germination rates.  In those cases, as stated in the About section of the website, I will gladly and promptly replace the seeds or issue a refund.  I do my best to maintain high quality seeds.  But I just do not have the resources or manpower or hours in a day to grow 1,000 varieties per year for seed saving.  I am working hard to keep my seeds replenished at least every five years.

On December 28th, I updated my previous post (Best Tasting and Biggest Tomatoes) with results of a germination test of seeds from several microdwarf tomato varieties that I raised in 2018.  As noted there, germination was 63 of 64 seeds, or 98%.

On December 31st, I started a seed germination test involving 800 seeds of the variety Big Zac (I have saved lots of those over the years…), 100 seeds each from these 8  batches:

2011, 1.688 lb.
2012, 1.870 lb.
2013, 1.682 lb.
2014, 2.370 lb.
2015, 0.906 lb.
2016, 1.172 lb.
2017, 0.998 lb.
2018, 1.202 lb.

My hypothesis was that 2018 seeds would have the quickest germination and the highest germination rate.  Since I controlled for variety (all the same), 100 seeds is a decent sample size.  Though obviously it would have been better to do at least 5 separate batches from each year.  I don’t have that many extra seeds for some of these years!  The following pictures show the process – click for closeup view.

I placed this pan on a heat mat, with a towel between, as a bare heat mat is a little too warm for tomato seed germination.  Then I covered the entire setup with a towel.  After just 3-1/2 days, some seeds had just started to germinate from each of the eight batches.  I attended a Farm Conference and was not able to check again until January 6th.  So after 6 days plus 8 hours, here are the germination results:

2011: 97%  (3 of 100 seeds did not germinate) [Update, 17 days after test started: 97%]
2012: 96% [ Update, 17 days after test started: 100% ]
2013: 93%  [ Update, 17 days after test started: 97% ]
2014: 99%  [ Update, 17 days after test started: 99% ]
2015: 86%  [ Update, 8 days after test started: 96%; 97% after 17 days ]
2016: 97%  [ Update, 17 days after test started: 99% ]
2017: 98%  [ Update, 17 days after test started: 98% ]
2018: 93%  [ Update, 17 days after test started: 96% ]

This is much higher germination than I would have expected so soon.  I may check again in several days to see if more germinate, though they are all off the heat mat now.  I usually give my tomato seeds at least 14 days before I consider giving up hope.

Clearly there is no hint that the older seeds germinate more slowly or at a lower rate – no need to even conduct a statistical analysis on these results.  Hypotheses rejected!  If anything, the 2018 seeds look like they are slower germinating, as many of them are still quite small.

I use a magnifying glass and a pencil tip to poke each seed or seed hull to see if has germinated or not.  If it was firm and intact, with no sign of a root forming, I counted it as “not yet germinated”.  Following are some pictures documenting these germination tests.

[ Update, 8 days after germination test started, now only 4 of 100 seeds have not germinated.  Photo below is a close-up of those 4 seeds in the 2015 batch. ]

[ Update, germination test terminated after 17 days – see data table above and final photos below ]

While at the Utah Farm Conference, I listened to several encouraging and motivational presentations.  Among these was a workshop presented by the amazing farmers at Quail Hollow Farms, who brought an Ancient Cave watermelon – with a handle on it!! – from which I extracted several RED seeds I hope to be able to grow out in 2019, contributing to restoring this unusual trait.  I tasted the melon as well, and it was still quite sweet and tasty, despite being off the vine for many weeks.