Inducing Tomato Vines to Produce Megablooms

I wish I had a complete answer to this major issue for all competitive growers of giant tomatoes!  There are a number of other resources which address this issue, with insights from very experienced, elite growers.  Perhaps the best resource on the Internet for ideas for growing giant tomatoes:

http://www.bigpumpkins.com/msgboard/ViewBoard.asp?b=33

With that introduction, here are some anecdotes from my experience.  The year 2014 was my best year, with a 4.670 lb. Big Zac still holding the Utah state record.  I’m trying to duplicate the conditions of that year, but I don’t have the very rich compost pile available to me, which was loaded with red wriggler worms.  Anyhow, here is what seems to be working

  • Start with seeds from proven lineages – parent fruit documented to produce megablooms and large fruit
  • Good soil prep – around here (dense, alkaline clay as native soil) this means peat moss, compost (including lots of spent mushroom compost this year), slow release fertilizer, kelp meal, trace minerals, mycorrhizal fungal spores
  • A high tunnel to warm soil and get seedlings off to a vigorous, rapid start
  • Fish emulsion (two doses so far) or some other formulation to jump start growth
  • Vibrating toothbrush or other means to fully pollinate flowers – megablooms can be a real challenge to get fully pollinated.

If you know of any useful additions to this list, especially details about brand names and dose rates of products, please do let me know:  dale@gianttomatoseeds.com

So we’ve had a few days of “tomato-like” weather, with highs in the 75-85° F range.  This is uncommon in this climate of the high desert.  Typically, high temperatures in late Spring around here skip the 80’s and go straight into the 90’s and 100’s.  It’s too early to tell if this spell of good weather will result in HUGE tomatoes in a couple of months, as none of these megablooms have set fruit yet.

Below is a video overview of the giant tomato project as of 6-20-2018, followed by closeup pictures of individual megablooms – well, “megabuds” anyhow, as most of have not even begun to open yet.

So here is a countdown of the “Top 10” megablooms as of June 20th. [Followed by updates on July 16th]

10.  Gold Medal – 3X (estimating that three ovaries are fused into one blossom – really hard to tell for sure without dissection under a microscope – and I ain’t doin’ dat!)

Update July 16th – fruit growing, but not fast:

9.  KY Cygni – 3X

Update July 16th – blossom aborted, as did most others, despite repeated efforts at pollinating with an electric toothbrush.  Either it got too hot, or the flower thrips are eating all the pollen before pollination can occur.

8.  Westerlund – 3X

Update July 16th – blossom aborted

7.  Bigzarro – 4X

Update July 16th – This one took!  And is looking very much like its parent, but is not growing very fast –

See extensive documentation of parent fruit at:

https://delectationoftomatoes.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/how-big-will-that-tomato-get/

6.  Megamutt (5.24 Borgers 2017) – 4X

Update July 16th – Fruit set, but growing very slowly:

5.  Tamara – 4X and the most hefty of all

Update July 16th – Growing, albeit slowly:

4.  Michael’s Portuguese Monster – 5X

Update July 16th – blossom aborted

3.  Big Zac (2.41 Ritchie 2016) – 5X

Update July 16th – This one also took, but apparently did not pollinate well:

2.  Nesravnennyi – 6X, 20+ sepals

Update July 16th – blossom aborted

And (drumroll), my number 1 most promising blossom, the one most likely to push me over that elusive 5-pound barrier – at least at this very early point in the season –

1.Domingo (3.420 DT 2017) – 6X, 22+ sepals

Update July 16th – blossom is still alive; if there was any pollination, it was minimal.  There is little hope of getting anything significant out of this:

It will be a real challenge to get these pollinated, as 98° is predicted just 4 days out – about the time most of these will be opening.  Time for the shade cloth again!

More to come…

Update 6-25

Honorable mention is a possible 10X on a variety from Russia simply labeled, “Ruttgers”.  This is clearly NOT the same as “Rutgers”, a common, little, old commercial variety.  It could be that it is named after someone with the surname Rüttgers? Research needed…

Anyhow, this very impressive megabloom is apparently splitting into at least three separate sections or lobes. Sewing the sections back together before or after fruit set maybe will not work. Um, maybe I won’t even try such a stitching trick, not yet…

Here is a picture of the parent fruit of this Ruttgers plant from 2015 – grown in the open field under poor, very weedy conditions with no pruning or special care, reaching 2.370 lb. – perhaps some potential here!?

 

Update July 16th –

Recent pictures loaded and commented on above.  Pollination has been very disappointing.  I’ve attempted pollinating with a battery-powered vibrating toothbrush as many as 20 times on these blossoms, to no or little avail.  It has just been too hot.  I’ve scarcely observed even a grain of pollen.

Following are pictures of a couple of random megablooms out in the main tomato patch.

Giant Monster –

Alice’s Dream –

In the high tunnel, a 2X megabloom from Sibirskiy Velikan Rozovyi, which did not make the original “Top 10” list above, has set fruit:

Among the 25 vines in the later planting in the high tunnel, only one has developed a promising looking megabloom so far, Big Zac (3.29 Borgers 2017); but unfortunately, this one too seems to be aborting:

 

 

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Planting Completed for 2018 Growing Season

As of June 15th, planting is completed for the 2018 growing season.  This includes a late-late planting of 40 tomato varieties for those that did not germinate or that were destroyed by goats.

Oh yes, let’s not forget those goats::

Goats and gardens really don’t mix.  Why were the goats getting out, again and again?  “You give power to what you blame”.  Moving along…

Anyhow, here is what the main tomato patch looks like after installation of T-posts and drip irrigation:

 

Final Tally for tomatoes:  591 varieties from which I plan and hope to be able to save seeds this year for sharing with other growers.  I hope they start ripening extra early this year, as this is a massive undertaking and it would be really good if I could finish the task before Thanksgiving.

Here are a few varieties with earliest blossoms and fruit set:

Bison
Stupice
Ditmarsher
Dwarf Arctic Rose
Maralinga
Dwarf Franklin County
Dwarf Shadow Boxing
Totuska ( Тётушка )
Utyonok
Fourth of July (OP)
Red Alert

Bison, first blossoms on about May 12th, 58 days from sowing; fruit golf ball sized by June 15th:

Dwarf Arctic Rose, first blossoms open on June 3rd, 63 days from sowing; fruit as of June 17th:

At least 40 other varieties have set fruit – hoping temps will stay under 95 for a couple more weeks at least so that blossoms will set fruit and I can start saving seeds before September!

Giant Tomato Project Update:

The three most impressive megablooms (still in development as of June 17th) are on these varieties:

Tamara

Michael’s Portuguese Monster

Pumpkin

And Gold Medal.  Plus there are megablooms forming on at least 20 varieties in the main tomato patch.  Here is a reminder of what the parent of Tamara produced in 2017, forming from perhaps the most impressive megabloom (8X) of that season, out in the open tomato patch with no special care, yet growing to 1.964 lb.:

And some other interesting items –

North Pole Lettuce, three plants survived the winter:

Even after severe damage from goats I may be overly optimistic about this growing season.  Here is the first plant to bite the dust from Curly Top Virus, Polesskiy Gigant Tarasenko:

Should have a good crop of fresh chive seeds this year:

An attractive and tasty variety of lettuce, Flashy Speckled Trout:

Kale is producing well, Red Russian:

An interesting variety of cushaw squash, named Moapa Squash, seeds obtained in person at the 2018 Utah Farm Conference from Quail Hollow Farm:

Microdwarf tomato seedlings are growing very slowly, but at least they are alive and look healthy:

Grzduja plants are getting stressed in this shallow pot.  I ought to transplant them out into the main garden, now that they are likely mature enough to survive attacks from snails and grasshoppers:

Very tasty Amish Snap peas produced the first ripe peas 68 days from seed, nearly two weeks earlier than five other varieties:

Chickens have done their share of damage as well, even in the high tunnel.  At least this one seedling in the giant tomato project may not survive:

And some aesthetically pleasing sex organs of plants – flowers that is –

Dianthus:

Larkspur, some of these well over 6′ tall: