Chimeric Cherry Tomato

I’ve been reading up a bit on grafting tomato plants.  This technique is widely used in the greenhouse industry and in fields where soil-borne diseases are a significant problem.

A variety which produces desirable fruit is used as the scion, while a vigorous variety (often an interspecific hybrid of two Lycopersicon species) with multiple disease tolerance is used as the rootstock.  Needless to say, the grafting procedure can be time-consuming and a bit expensive, since one would have to raise at least twice as many seedlings.  Obviously cost-benefit analyses favor grafting in many operations.

Well I’m not at that level – yet.  But some recent online discussion with others has rekindled an idea which I’ve been contemplating for some time:

Chimeric Cherry Tomato

You guessed it – start with a vigorous indeterminate variety (such as Behemoth King or Church) as the rootstock. Grow it for a month or so, then start several varieties of excellent-flavored cherry tomato. Hopefully the rootstock will have several branches on it by the time it’s six weeks old or so. Graft the younger scions onto those branches. Apparently superglue makes grafting tomatoes quick and easy – I haven’t tried it yet.

Once all the grafts have taken and are growing well, terminate the main stem. Wait a few weeks and you’ll have, theoretically, a healthy vine that produces 3 or more cherry tomato varieties.

This would be a pleasure to grow for those who love a variety of sweet little tomatoes but have room for only one plant.

What would be a fair asking price for such an interesting, tasty, unusual seedling?

Here are the varieties I’m considering for scions:

Chocolate Cherry
Snow White
Rose Quartz
Green Grape

I guess it’s about time to get this project started!

Chimeric Cherry Tomato plant (envisioned)

Seeds Embody Hope

It took almost 10 days, but 12 of 12 seeds for the giant tomato bed have germinated!  First was Big Zac (OP) (2.660 DT 2011) in 3.8 days, last two were Gold Medal (3.070 Kott 2011) and Delicious (6.51 Meisner 2011) in 9.8 days.

Likewise, at least one of each variety of super hot pepper seeds has germinated.  It took 4.7 days for the first Bhut Jolokia and 8 days for Naga Viper.

The compost pile is holding steady at 152-158°.  We turned it yesterday and, despite overnight lows in the mid-teens, the billions of thermophilic bacteria still managed boost the temperature back up to 150° within 16 hrs.

The soil test report for the tomato bed sample blend came back with one big surpise.  Here are some major numbers:

  • Texture                 Loam
  • pH                           6.2
  • Salinity – ECe        13.8
  • Phosphorus – P     126
  • Potassium – K      >900
  • N…                        23.5
  • Organic matter      17.5%

Plus a few trace minerals are in the adequate to high range.  There are several very high numbers here, but that salinity number is at lethal levels for tomatoes – about 7 times where they like it.  I’m guessing the SAR (sodium adsorption ratio) is quite low (I did not get that test done), so perhaps that 13.8 is not as bad as it would seem on the surface.

Anyhow, I’m adjusting the mix and doing some serious leaching before sending sample blend #2 to the lab for analysis.  I want to get the organic matter in the 25% range, the ECe <2.0, and the SAR <3.

Those 12 tomato seeds are not seeds anymore.  As they unfold and develop, the hope that was locked tight inside those seed coats is gradually manifesting itself, though full fruition will not be for another nine months or so.


Lengthening days

Here in the Northern Hemisphere we’ve just made it past winter solstice.  It’s a reminder, a signal, to start looking forward to the next growing season and letting go of the past.

At this moment, 7 of 12 giant tomato seedlings have emerged, the first one (2.660 DT 2011) at 90 hrs. after planting.

I’m looking forward to some fresh tomatoes in about 2 months from these:

Glacier is a super early variety which hails from Sweeden.  This is one of only a few parthenocarpic (able to set and bear fruit without fertilization) tomato varieties and has been claimed to be able to set fruit in 38° F weather.  Perhaps some day a high-tech plant breeder/genetic engineer will splice a kale gene for frost tolerance into a tomato genome?

Compost pile is holding steady again at 158-160°.  Should be good stuff in a few weeks!

I’m having to take a crash course in HTML and web site design.  Perhaps next year I’ll be able to flaunt the website without excuses or apologies.  For now, well, it’s a jumbled mess.  Regrettably.

Here’s a related project that’s fun and motivational:

                          THE BIG  TOMATO LIST

Study in extremes

Th 2007 Guinness Book of World Records listed Bhut Jolokia (aka Ghost Chili) as the hottest pepper in the world at 1,041,427 Scoville Heat Units (SHU’s).

As of October 16, 2010, the new world’s hottest pepper was Naga Viper at 1,349,000 SHU’s.  (Naga Viper, World’s Hottest Pepper).  I made several attempts to obtain Naga Viper seeds last Winter but could not find any for sell or trade.

Check out what I planted today:

A few weeks ago I learned that Trinidad Scorpion, “Butch T” strain is the new record holder at 1,463,700 SHU’s.  (Please don’t ask what I paid for these seeds…).  See the official record at Guinness.

Why start these so early?  My experience (going on my 4th year of growing Bhut Jolokia) is that these super hot varieties are difficult and slow to germinate, slow to grow and late to produce.  They do NOT like cool weather.

The thermostat is set at 84°F.  I expect germination to begin in 6 days.  I’ve been working on two variants of Bhut Jolokia –

1. Typical elongate, orange-red, crinkly pod.  I’ve been getting poor germination (<50%) with this variant and often very small, slow growing plants with low production.  Pods average 0.014 lb. (6 g).  Here’s a pic of the pods from which the seeds planted today were taken:

2. Wider, heavier, deeper red, smoother pod with a more acute tapering towards the distal tip.  With this variant, I’ve been getting better germination (up to 90%), larger plants, faster growth and much better production.  The pod from which these seeds were taken weighed 0.028 lb (13 g):

Next year I hope to be able to share Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” and Naga Viper (at a more reasonable price…) at: DT’s Pepper Seeds 

Update from previous post – turning and watering the compost pile reduced the temperate to 110° after one day, but it rose to 122° this morning.

Another Start

What’s an avid gardener to do during those short, cold days of winter?  Start a blog, for one activity.  Compost, for another.

What an enormous collection of leaves!  Enough to fill nearly two full-sized dump trucks loose, about 6 yd.^3 shredded, wetted and piled for composting.

On 11-30-2011, the temperature was 136°F, 160 on 12-02, 154 on 12-07, 154 on 12-13, 162 and turned & wetted down on 12-16.  The pile’s shrinking, but is still about 6′ high.

Not too bad, considering outdoor temperatures have been 115-145° cooler.  Will the compost mature by Spring?

Why?  To grow tomatoes.  BIG tomatoes.  I hope!

For the 2012 season, I plan to test the hypothesis that one needs to grow a HUGE plant before growing a HUGE tomato (and I’m talking an 8+ pounder).  Gordon Graham grew a huge plant and produced a 7 lb. 12 oz. tomato, a world record that has withstood a quarter century of challenge by expert tomato growers.

We have more knowledge about soil ecology, better nutrients to feed the plants, much better communication among growers, better sharing of tomato seeds, and, in theory, a much better genetic base to work from.

Why does this record resist breakage?

This little project will involve 12 pairs of tomato plants assigned equally to one of two experimental groups:

A:  Huge Plant

B: Heavy Prune

Obviously, to get a huge tomato plant where I live (cold hardiness zone 6B), an extra early start is needed, along with an effective way to protect plants from Spring frost.  Additionally, vines need to be exposed to 70-90° heat during the day for plants to grow well.  Both of these needs can be met with a heated high tunnel or something similar.  More on my plans for that structure in a future post.

So for experimental group A, I want to be ready to transplant large seedlings (especially with a large root mass) into a cozy, protected bed by around March 1st.  From experience, I’ve been able to grow 2-1/2′ tall tomato seedlings in 4-gallon pots indoors and, after hardening off, have them transplant very well.  This takes around 10 weeks.

So, you guessed it, I planted 12 tomato seeds today for experimental group A!  (No need to remind me I’m nuts – that’s already been proven many times…)

And here’s the line-up (many thanks to contributors!!!):


Visit Delectation of Tomatoes to see more context.