Hard Freeze – then what?

We’ve managed to limp through several light frosts, starting on October 4th.  But October 24-25 brought the first snow of the season along with a hard freeze of 25°F.  Here are a few related pics –

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The protective tarp largely blew off during the night, but the two largest tomatoes managed to survive in fair condition.  They are both Big Zac’s and measure to 3.1 and 4.1 lbs.  To reach their full potential in terms of weight, they need to ripen.  Perhaps the warmer weather over the next few days will encourage that.

So after the hard freeze?  I’ve still got seed processing of about 120 varieties of peppers, 20 beans, 12 lettuce, 140 tomatoes, and a bunch of others to do, preferably by Saturday the 20th.  Not to mention cleaning up the fields, adding organic matter, tilling, website development…all good stuff!

A small sample:

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Prediction-Big Zac (4.16 DT 2012)

Three days ago my largest tomato (growing from a Big Zac (3.94 Pennington 2010)(7.18 Harp 2009)) started to exhibit a distinctive deceleration of growth – from about 0.1 lbs./day to about 0.03 lbs./day.  At 57 days since fruit set – along with cooling temperatures and shortening days – this slow-down is not surprising.

Out of curiosity, I got the crazy idea that it might be interesting to see if I could predict the final weight of this tomato, probably at least ten days before harvest.  This is new territory, as I really don’t have much data upon which to base such a prediction.  So this barely qualifies as an educated guess.

Here are some factors:

1.  Using taped circumferences and the formula I’ve been working on (see previous posts), this one now measures to 4.35 lb. if it were ripe.

2.  Based upon extrapolation from graphs, I predict growth will stop completely in about 6 days, at which time measurements should put it at around 4.52 lb.  It will take another week or so to ripen up after that, thus increasing in density without measurable increase in girth.

3.  Perhaps the wildest of all guessing, I’ll take off 8% for quite pronounced lobing.  This puts the predicted final weight at:

4.16 lbs.

To be honest, it doesn’t look like it will be even close to 4 lbs.; 3.5 maybe.  We’ll see in a couple of weeks.  I may have to harvest it earlier if we get hard frost.  Here’s the latest pic:

Not having the heart two remove fast-growing tomatoes, I’ve left two much younger tomatoes growing on this vine also.  They both weigh close to 1.5 lb. and are gaining about 0.3 lb. per day.  This plant was pruned to two main stems and these two are growing on separate stems.  Latest pics:

Interestingly, the 4-pounder is growing on a sucker – one of those that got away from me and I didn’t have the discipline to cut it off after discovering a nice-looking megabloom developing back in early August.

Additionally, I harvested a 2.482 lb. tomato off this vine on 9-10-2012 :

I picked this one while it was still growing at a decent rate in an attempt to divert plant resources to the then 2-week-old fruit that looked and was growing as if it had real potential to get big.  For comparison, at 26 days after fruit set, the larger tomato (first one pictured in this post) measured to 1.36 lb., while this smaller one (last one pictured) measured to 0.94 lb.

Megabloom, Michael’s Portuguese Monster

2010 is the first year I got serious about trying to grow giant tomatoes.  One promising variety was Michael’s Portuguese Monster.  On 10-06-2010 I noticed an impressive 4X megabloom starting to open and decided to take daily pictures.  Of course that’s too late in the season to hope for a big tomato to grow and mature.  But just as a homage to megablooms, here’s a series of pics from 10-06 to 11-10-2010.  After that, hard frost made growing tomatoes outdoors impossible.

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Mazarini Surprise

On the very next row, just a few feet from the Portuguese Monster plant I discovered this today –

Mazarini (2.246 DT 2012):

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Flavor was good (not mild, but not intense – a bit on the tart side), but not as good as others have described.  Frost damage very likely had a negative effect on flavor assessment.

This plant received the same treatment (mostly neglect…) as the Portuguese Monster plant listed in the previous post.  It’s always a surprise to get a BIG tomato with relatively little effort.  For potential to produce GIANT tomatoes, I’m not quite as impressed with Mazarini as I am with Portuguese Monster for this reason:  Ten other Portuguese Monster fruits averaged 1.265 lb., with the largest (after the 2.610) weighing in at 1.612 lb.; in contrast, seven other Mazarini fruits averaged 0.474 lb., with the largest (after this 2.246) weighing 0.668 lb.

So how is it that a neglected tomato patch can just about out-perform my intensive-effort giant tomato bed for producing big tomatoes?

Briefly, this tomato patch included 820 plants in 8 long rows, arranged in 4 double rows.  Plant spacing was 2′ apart to accomodate drip hose having 2′ spacing of emitters.  Watering rate was 0.6 gallons per hour for 1.5 hours per day through most of the growing season.

On the east end of the tomato patch, however, were several beds of peppers, etc. which were watered with overhead oscillating sprinklers.  This water overreached those beds and also sprayed the first five or so tomato plants on each row.  Without exception, these 40 or so tomato plants grew much larger, were much healthier and produced more and larger fruits than the other 780 plants grown under drier conditions.

This has convinced me that use of drip hose, at least on 2′ spacing, is not optimal for raising tomatoes, at least not in the heavy clay soil conditions in this patch. Nearly 1 gallon of water per day should have been plenty, even with the record hot summer.  My thinking is that water needs to be distributed on the surface all around each tomato plant.  Unless soil texture allows for extremely good lateral conduction of water, the fine feeder roots near the surface will suffer from lack of water when single point drip hoses are used.  A good mulch might help alleviate this problem to some degree.

Tomato experts everywhere strongly recommend not spraying tomato plants with water.  I no longer agree with that recommendation.  I live in a high desert climate with usually very low humidity.  If tomato plants are sprayed or sprinkled from above during the heat of the day, there will be plenty of time for water to evaporate from foliage without increasing the risk of fungal disease.

An even better approach, I think, is to set up a sprinkling system on a grid with pipes/tubing raised about 12″ above the ground and sprinkler heads/emitters arranged to spray DOWN and OUT instead of up.  The idea is to keep the entire soil surface moist all season while minimizing water staying on leaf surfaces.

Portuguese Monster Surprise

Frost, four nights in a row, caught with thousands of tomatoes on the vine, most ruined for fresh eating, some ok for seeds.  Turns out the county-leased property is in a low lying area near a river, and a 40° F predicted low yielded heavy frost.  I would not have had time or manpower to harvest tomatoes from 820 loaded plants anyhow.  Discouraging.

On the positive side, with the foliage frozen back, numerous tomatoes were revealed, including this monster,

Portuguese Monster (2.610 DT 2012):

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Some observations about this one:

• This plant received minimal care – no pruning or thinning

• Vine tied up only once back in July – sprawling all over the ground and rooting in places

• At least 15 other tomatoes on the vine weighing > 1 lb. plus many more younger fruits

• Received double dose of water, from drip hose and overhead sprinklers

• Minimal soil amendments at transplanting, then compost tea added once on 7-23-2012 – no other fertilizing

• Despite diligent efforts in 2010 and 2011, I managed to grow only one tomato each year larger than this one, and those were from top-of-the-line giant tomato genetics.

Needless to say, this one will have a prime spot in 2013!

Another Giant Big Zac

It looks like another tomato will come in at over 3 lbs. this year!

From a Big Zac (3.94 Pennington 2010)(7.18 Harp 2010), on about 8-26-2012, a 4X+ blossom set fruit.  Here’s what it looked like as a megabloom on 8-19:

Here it is on 8-31, about a week along:

And here it is on 10-07, at about 43 days along:

This one measures to 3.02 lbs., which is probably a bit of an overestimate because of the pronounced lobing.  Despite cooler weather (including light frost the last 3 nights), this one continues to gain weight at about 3% per day.  Admittedly a very optimistic projection, but 5 more days at this rate could put it at 3.5 lbs., 10 more days at 4 lbs.!  It’s past due for ripening, but I’ve noticed that many younger tomatoes still on the vine in October tend to just keep growing at a slow pace without ripening.  Warmer weather is in the 10-day forecast so maybe…