More Tomato Stragglers

From an unheated hight tunnel under some formerly huge, but now largely frozen back vines, I picked these tomatoes on 11-24-2012:

The best looking of these was an Italian Heart:

At 92 days along, the largest tomato has been shrinking slightly over the last five days.  The unadjusted estimated volume has shrunk 2.5% down to 2,262 cc’s.  It’s now about 25% ripe and taking a very long time to ripen.  I’ve applied some copper fungicide to hopefully stop the growth of mold.  It’s a race now to see if it will ripen before rotting.

Seed processing work is now mostly done, so I’ve washed containers for storage for next year.  It was no small task saving seeds from some 800 varieties.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t manage to squeeze in the time to bag blossoms and save seeds from about 130 cucurbit varieties.  I had some awesome melon and squash varieties from which I really wanted to save seeds.  Maybe next year.


Bean Harvest from High Tunnel

With the help of a couple of small space heaters, so far I’ve managed to keep the air temperature above freezing, except around the edges.  The beans pretty much quit growing and the pods dried on the vine in November.

Over the past few days, I’ve finished shelling and sorting a decent crop of beans, most of which are on the Ark of Taste list:

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Here are some of the varieties shown:

Christmas Lima
Dragon Tongue
Hidatsa Shield Figure
Hutterite Soup
Lima (large white, variety unknown)
Jacob’s Cattle
Scarlet Runner
Tiger Eye
True Red Cranberry
Turkey Craw
Yard Long

Seeds are available at:    DT Seeds

A few hours ago I also finished processing peppers for seeds.  The largest batch was Aji Limon (aka Aji Limo, Lemon Drop, Hot Lemon, Lemon Aji, Aji Lemondrop, Peru Yellow, one of my favorites – good flavor, medium hot and versatile.

I’ve processed about 150 batches of peppers by using a food processor or old blender and pulse mode – just enough to break apart the pods, strain, rinse thoroughly, spread out on plastic plates to dry, place plates on shelves under flourescent lights, then use a large fan for several days to dry out the seeds and pulp.  So far only one batch got moldy.  There will still be plenty of work to do, trying to separate the seeds from the dry pulp.

I also grew 6 plants of Trinidad Moruga Scoprion (aka Moruga Scorpion, Trinidad Scorpion Moruga) in the high tunnel.  Sadly, they have barely started to produce buds.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep them alive over the winter or not, but I’ll try, at least for a couple of them.

I’m also in the process of obtaining seeds for HP22B, aka Carolina Reaper.  This variety will likely be listed as the world’s hottest before too long.  For background info. on this one, see HP22B.

Winter Heat

This ought to help keep me warm during the winter:

Planted LOTS of Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Chili) plants this year, saved lots of seeds (DT Pepper Seeds) and still had lots of pods that didn’t sell.  So I bottled the extra with one added ingredient: lime juice.

2012 was my fourth year raising Bhut Jolokia.  Now I’m working on 4 morphs:

Chocolate Bhut Jolokia:

Jumbo sized (this one weighed 17 grams):

Tailed (the tail is also known as a “stinger”):

And of course the standard strain shown in the first pic.

And two more jars of outrageously hot pepper paste I canned today:

This is a mixture of pods after seed extraction of:

7 Pot Barrackapore, Trinidad Scorpion, Naga Viper, Naga Morich, Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, and Bhut Jolokia.

Needless to say, vinyl gloves, dust mask, and googles were required equipment for processing seeds! (I still lost a lot of mucous before the project was complete…).

With a couple of small space heaters, the backyard high tunnel is still putting out hot peppers, lettuce, chard, beans, herbs and even a few tomatoes.

Oh yeah, the BIG tomato:

At 85 days along, it’s finally showing some serious ripening.  Since it’s still at less than 50% ripe, I’ll continue using the Density Adjustment Factor of 0.90 in the standard formula, which yields an estimate of 4.60 lbs., a gain of 0.148 lb. in the past week.  Pretty darn s……l……o……w, but still something.  It’s got some mold growing on it as well, so hopefully it will ripen before spoiling.

Actual weight remains to be seen in perhaps another week or so.  The most optimistic, unadjusted measurements put it at 6.27 lbs., while the most conservative puts it at 3.91.  The final weight will likely be somewhere between 3.91 and 4.60.  Maybe next week I’ll revise my prediction (made 4 weeks ago) of 4.16 lb. up just a bit.

Temperature Control

So it’s becoming clear that both soil temperature and air temperature are critical for growing giant tomatoes.  Let’s briefly consider these in turn.


It’s my impression that the vast majority of the world’s elite giant tomato growers raise their tomatoes in a soil medium with a high proportion of organic material and using all, or at least mostly organic methods.  Perhaps the key to successful growing in soil is the presence of endomycorrhizal fungi.  These very delicate symbiotic microorganisms establish an intimate relationship with the tomato root system.  The tomato plant provides the fungi with carbohydrates, while the fungi greatly increase the nutrient and water uptake by the plant.  The fungi require a good supply of organic matter to thrive and probably can barely survive, if at all in soilless media.

These fungi, along with other beneficial fungi, bacteria and other tiny critters in the soil, have an ideal temperature range within which they grow, reproduce and metabolize while making nutrients available for plant roots.  At temperatures above or below this ideal range, this soil microfauna just cannot perform at optimal level.

So what is this optimal range?  Regrettably I have neither conducted the research myself nor reviewed the primary scientific literature on this point.  Based upon anecdotal evidence, some light reading and discussion with other growers, I’m estimating this ideal temperature to be in the range of 60-75° F.  Likewise I’m making assumptions when I suggest that soil temperatures at 4″ deep lag behind average air temperatures by 2-3 weeks.

Unfortunately, I’m not working under a research grant and have had neither the time nor the resources to keep track of soil or air temperatures on a consistent basis


Anyone who has raised tomatoes during the heat of Summer knows how stressed the plants can get: blossom drop, leaf curl, excessive transpiration, wilting, blossom end rot, sunscald on fruits and poor growth.  From the perspective of trying to grow giant tomatoes, this is what I have found after three years of attempting to grow ’em BIG during the heat of summer in the high desert of the Salt Lake Valley.

Given the right genetics, soil preparation, adequate water, proper pruning and a BIG megabloom, my tomatoes start to slow their growth after about 36 days from blossom set, start ripening by 40 days, and need to be picked by 45 days to achieve maximum density (at least 50% ripe) and weight.  That dreaded first pink blush in the middle of a hot summer is a too-oft-repeated sign that, once again, I’m VERY far from a record-sized tomato.

Yet there are a number of growers who consistently raise 4-5+ lb. tomatoes.  At the risk of ruffling feathers by presenting an incomplete list, I’ll refrain from naming any here – they know who they are and they are all an inspiration to those of us aspiring to also push the tomato-size envelope.  So what do many of these elite growers have in common?

• Dedication, hard work, perserverance, experience (many years in some cases) and knowledge

• Excellent soil resulting from their years of hard (and smart) work

• Proper growing techniques

and, I will suggest,

• Excellent growing conditions

This last point brings us back to air temperature.  I put in a concerted effort in 2012 to grow a giant tomato and did finally manage to break 3 lbs., even in the middle of a record hot summer.  But 3 lbs. is very far from the biggest documented tomato grown this year:

Big Zac (5.50 Johnston/Butler 2012)(5.58 Timm 2008)

Art and John have been teaming up for years and have produced many impressive tomatoes, pumpkins and other vegetables.  They live in southern Ontario.

So I got this wild idea:  let’s compare the summer 2012 air temperatures in their neighborhood to those in the Salt Lake Valley.  I’ve collected data from the National Weather Service for Salt Lake City, Utah (near where I live) and Buffalo, New York (about 115 miles due east of where Art and John live – presumably the weather should be very similar).  For the period of May 01 to October 31, 2012, here are a few graphs I prepared:

Temperature comparison, Buffalo vs. Salt Lake City

Note – this is a PowerPoint presentation with 4 graphs and takes a minute to download; please click on the “Slide Show” icon near the top left for the best view.

I’ll repeat the last graph here for discussion, though the quality is not nearly as good:

Now I understand why growers in more moderate climates are getting 70+ days to grow their big tomatoes!!  Basically, anytime between May 15th and October 5th, tomatoes should be able to grow at a decent pace without being forced to ripen quickly because of intense heat.  While in my area, from about June 25 to September 1st, a 68-day period, it was very difficult to get fruit to set and those that did set fruit ripened very quickly.

I would imagine this phenomenon is even more pronounced in the deep south.  However, in some of those areas, ideal growing conditions might prevail for several weeks in Spring and/or Fall.

This was a record hot summer in the Salt Lake City area, so perhaps that very wide band of red will be less pronounced next year.

Bringing all this back to the tomato I’m still mollycoddling, it set fruit on August 26th, very near the end of this long hot spell.  Obviously, it’s way too cold now for it to grow fast like it was doing back several weeks ago.  During the 37-day period from September 15th to October 22nd, this tomato gained approximately 3 lbs.  If it were still growing at that rate, it would be about 5.8 lbs. by now.  Wishful thinking, of course, but this brings me to the main point of this whole discussion –

If tomato growers are serious about trying to break the 26-year-old record, they might want to consider taking measures to control the temperature in the environment immediately surrounding their prize tomato plants:

• When too hot: shade cloth, misters, fans, pipes in the soil with cool water, frequent overhead watering, buckets of ice set around the growing fruit

• When too cold: plastic cover to create a greenhouse effect, electric or gas heaters, pipes in the soil with warm water, heating cables

Many successful giant pumpkin growers employ some of these techniques to control temperature in their pumpkin patches during less-than-ideal weather conditions.  I’ll venture to guess the same will be true of the grower of the first



Transition Time

This storm is clearing out, leaving a lot of snow and cold temperatures.  Some local ski resorts have received 45-46″ of new snow.  In the backyard I measured 11″ today, though that doesn’t count the rain and wet snow that melted early on.  Total local precipitation with this storm has been 1.60 in., with most of that falling as snow; 15.2″ total.  We’re at around 20° below normal temperatures with a predicted low tonight of 16°F.

Contrast this to the hottest and one of the driest summers on record.  For the 145 day period from May 19th to Oct. 11th, we received a total of 2.29″ of precipitation.  For the three months of June – August, only 1.57″ of rain fell – less precipitation than fell in just the past three days!

In the midst of this significant storm, the biggest tomato is still alive and continuing to put on just a bit of weight – about 0.18 lb. in the past week.  The pink blush is now obvious and spreading; hopefully it will ripen before freezing or rotting.  The most optimistic, unadjusted estimate is 6.07 lb., while the most conservative is 3.78 lb.  Standard method (calipers) puts it at 4.46 lb. (4.70 if it were at least 50% ripe), so I’m gaining more confident that it will at least break 4 lbs.

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Although there are still hundreds of vines to pull up and fall soil prep. work, I’m transitioning to more indoor and computer-based work:  seed processing, inventory, website, planning, etc.

Looks Like Winter

By the time this snowstorm is over, we could have 15″ of snow with >24″ in some mountain areas.  This one storm will likely produce more precipitation than we had all Summer long.

The high today was 33°, with a low of 19° predicted tomorrow night.  For now, peppers, lettuce and other plants are fairing ok in the high tunnel in the backyard.  I’ve started harvesting beans, with Calypso and Christmas Lima profiled in this slide show:

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Dozens of batches of tomato seeds are still drying; this phase should be done within a week or so, except a few leftover tomatoes that are still ripening.

The biggest tomato (under the blue tarp) probably won’t survive 19°, even with the metal halide light providing some heat as well.  Unadjusted for ripeness and geometry, this one measures to 5.23 lbs.  That’s absurdly optimistic!  The pink blush is starting to spread a bit.  I’m sticking with my prediction of 3 weeks ago of 4.16 lbs.  Honestly, it still doesn’t look that big.  It’s widest diameter just broke through the 20 cm barrier, but the widest circumference probably won’t even make it to 23″.  We’ll see in a couple of days if there will be any chance of it ripening on the vine.

Last Tomato Standing

Today was near record high of 72° F, with strong winds blowing in a cold front.  Tommorow’s predicted high is 45° with snow.  Hard freeze for several nights, nothing above 50° for several days.  Typical November weather – not good tomato weather.

So I picked the rest of the tomatoes from the giant tomato project, 75 lbs. total.

Plus the biggest pick of the day, Big Zac (2.962 DT 2012)(2.660 DT 2011).  Here’s a photo history of it:

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Here’s the geneology of this tomato as far back as I can trace it:

Big Zac (2.962 DT 2012) – My third largest of the year – the largest is still on the vine and still growing very slowly!

2.660 DT 2011 –  My largest of the year

2.762 DT 2010 – My largest of the year and a Utah state record

4.83 Perry 2009 – An Ohio state record, at least for a while

5.58 Timm 2008 – Also produced the famous 7.18 Harp 2009 and many other giant tomatoes

3.9 Catapano 2007

4.59 Lyons 2006 – The one that seems to be the source of most of the giant Big Zac tomatoes since then.  This one apparently came from a commercial Big Zac (F1).

This 2.962 pounder measured to 3.043 lb. using calipers and 2.986 lb. using taped circumferences.  This latter measurement was surprising close (within 1%), considering the heavy lobing.  Note that the formula used for ripe or ripening tomatoes will very likely produce a large OVERESTIMATE for green or only slightly ripe tomatoes.  I’ve used a cut off of 25% ripe, but, based on feedback from other growers, I’m leaning now more towards a cutoff of 50% ripe.  That is, for tomatoes which are <50% ripe (as this one obviously is), the weight prediction formula should be:


Where the three circumferences are measured in centimeters and the weight is given in pounds.  Again these formulas are based on my 2010 research findings that ripe (let’s say 50% or more) tomatoes average about 95% the density of water, while green (or slightly ripe) tomatoes average about 90% the density of water.

This tomato was growing like a maniac for several weeks, then slowed dramatically on October 25th, 48 days after fruit set.  What happened?  Well, that was the night of the only hard freeze we’ve had up to this point, 25° F.  I had loosely covered the 22 plants in the giant tomato project with various tarps, but the snow load and wind made the tarps largely ineffective.

The plant this 2.962 grew on was at the far end of the bed and was most exposed to the elements.  As can be seen in the slideshow, there have been essentially no living leaves to carry out photosynthesis for the past two weeks.  It was picked at 62 days after set


For a 38-day time span, the daily growth rate (measurements were taken every day) was remarkably steady with this one – about 0.07 lb. weight gain per day.  This despite air temperatures ranging from 30 to 89°; soil temperatures are another matter.  I had hoped this one would ripen on the vine, but it did not.  There is a just a hint of a blush.  This one was on track to hit 4 lbs. and may have if cared for better and allowed to ripen.

There is one more still standing that just might hit 4 lbs.!

= = =

One day later – heavy, lake-effect snow, >4″ so far.  Here’s my biggest, under cover:

Two BIG tomatoes still (sort of) growing

Two BIG tomatoes still on the vine are still hard green and growing – barely.

We had several reasonably warm days this past week, including a record high 76°F on 10-31-2012.  I also fed both plants one last dose of warm, actively aerated compost tea, hoping to jump-start them back into growing.  Nothing seems to be helping, at least not much.  All there is left to do is hope they will ripen on the vine as many smaller ones continue to do.  Ripe tomatoes are, on average, about 5% more dense than green tomatoes (based on my research in 2010).  That 5% can be significant when you’re talking about a 4-5 lb. tomato.

So here’s what’s left:

Big Zac (2.660 DT 2011)(2.762 DT 2010) B-003, 58 days after set, measures to 3.26 lb. (but deeply lobed – enough to take off at least 10%), gained about 0.07 lb. in the past week, no sign of ripening:

Big Zac (3.94 Pennington 2010)(7.18 Harp 2009) B-002, 71 days after set, measures to 4.27 lb. (but deeply lobed – enough to take off at least 10% – note that a pencil can still pass between lobes), gained about 0.12 lb. in the past week, perhaps showing a slight blush:

I’m still hoping it will weigh in at > 4 lbs., but that seems a bit optimistic.

Still processing tomatoes for seeds – about 45 hrs. of work before they are all fermented, cleaned, dried and packaged.  At least this much more to process peppers and other seeds.  Then there’s inventory and data entry and website work – all good stuff, but just not enough hrs. in a day or days in a week.