No Squash Bugs, Curly Top Virus, Blight, Aphids, Grasshoppers, Slugs, Snails, Powdery Mildew, or Honeybees!

Well, this is not entirely true.  I do encounter the occasional grasshopper and aphid; but the damage they have caused this year is close to zero.  But the rest of the title is true!

In addition to a handful of grasshoppers of at least a dozen species, I’ve encountered tree crickets, katydids,

Walking sticks,

Countless thousands of thrips devouring tomato pollen (sorry about poor quality photos here, these tiny insect are only 1mm long and I don’t have the equipment for extreme closeups),

Just a speck on a small plastic spoon

 

And on the positive side, many robber flies, lacewings, preying mantises,

Piñon Jays, Bullock’s Orioles and Western Kingbirds are certainly helping to keep populations of larger insects in check.  Hummingbirds and a wide variety of native bees are helping with pollination, at least among the cucurbits.

Watering garden plants in this very dry, desert environment seems to be leading to gradually increasing local biodiversity!  I sure don’t miss the squash bugs, beet leafhoppers, aphids, gastropods, or fungal diseases.  And to be honest, I would much rather host a wide diversity of native bees (there are around 1,000 species found in Utah) than exotic European honeybees.

One species I definitely want to introduce to control thrips is the Minute Pirate Bug, Orius insidiosus.

Back to the plant side of life –

Autumn Beauty sunflower blooming the past few days – 57 days from seed to first bloom.

Eggplants have been coming on well,

Such as this Pandora Striped Rose

and Thai White Ribbed

Most pepper varieties are starting to produce well, such as Santa Fe Grande

and Bhut Jolokia (Ghost pepper)

 

Nearly all 14 watermelon varieties are producing, including Takii Gem

Siberian Sweet

and New Hampshire Midget.

Will they get enough heat in September for the seeds to fully mature?

Cucumbers are doing well, including Muncher

Suyo Long

and English Telegraph

Melons of several varieties are also producing, but fruit don’t seem to be ripening, at least not yet; Amish

Extra Early Hanover

Minnesota Midget

 

Tomatoes – so far I’ve harvested tomatoes for about 140 batches of seeds, which are at various stages of processing.

Here are some of the more interesting varieties harvested so far –

Dwarf Yantornyi (very productive and early)

Lucinda

Phil’s One (really bizarre, not yet tasted)

Thornburn’s Terracotta

Cherokee Tiger Large

Summer of Love

Unfortunately, many tomato varieties have yet to set fruit from a single blossom.  Every day I spend at least one hour trying to pollinate flowers with a vibrating toothbrush.

With rare exception, I have been getting ZERO pollen from flowers, day after day, week after week.

The most noteworthy exception has been Sara’s Galapagos, which seems to keep producing pollen even on the hottest days.

Tiny blossoms with exerted stigmas has meant a lot of delicate pollination by hand

It has been rather hot, well above average, for the past six weeks.  One factor in my choosing to move to this location, at 6,200’ elevation, was that historically, summertime high daily temperatures have been much cooler than where I have grown for the past decade.

Since 2009, the average high temperature in July has been 89.9° F.  This year it was 91.7.

During the same period, the average high temperature in August has been 86.6° – just right for tomatoes.  But this year, the average has been 95.2° – nearly 9° above average.  The following graph shows that every day in August has been above average, at least until today, including 4 days of 100-101° F.  Not horribly hot like Phoenix, but apparently too hot for pollen to form properly for most varieties.

It’s almost September and until yesterday, I was getting 99% tomato blossom drop, even with shade cloth, high temperatures mostly under 100°F, and zealously trying to hand pollinate thousands of blossoms every day. Now, after all these struggles, I think I’ve finally hit upon the primary problem: low humidity.

Although I’ve not yet delved into the scientific literature on this topic, from this website, https://www.thespruce.com/tomato-blossom-drop-1402964 I quote,

“The ideal humidity range is between 40% and 70%. If humidity is either too high or too low, it interferes with the release of pollen, as well as with pollen’s ability to stick to the stigma so that pollination does not occur. If humidity is too low, hose the foliage during the day to cool the plant and raise the humidity. However, this is not recommended in areas with high humidity or when fungus diseases are present.”

Over the past two months, afternoon humidity levels where I grow have mostly been in the 15-25% range. Here is a snip from AccuWeather taken three days ago, showing 10% humidity:

But the past couple of days, high temperatures have abated somewhat, and I am indeed getting some serious pollen from the occasional tomato blossom!

Here’s a brief tour through the tomato jungle:

If all these beautiful, fun, versatile and tasty varieties are not enough reason to include plenty of tomatoes in your diet, here is one more:

Eating tomatoes may reduce symptoms of depression!

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032712003965

“This study demonstrated that a tomato-rich diet is independently related to lower prevalence of depressive symptoms. These results suggest that a tomato-rich diet may have a beneficial effect on the prevention of depressive symptoms.”

Here’s a link to a possibly exaggerated discussion about how tomatoes can reduce depression:

https://www.supermarketguru.com/articles/risk-of-depression-reduced-by-52-with-tomatoes/

So, I ought to be really happy “playing” in my caged tomato patch – aesthetically pleasing, good smells, beautiful tomatoes, few bad bugs, little disease, deer excluded and I’m finally getting my lycopene fix!

And in case you have some interest in sharing in this abundance of nature through your own efforts to grow some of these amazing varieties, here’s the link to where I offer seeds:

DT Seeds

I am just starting to add varieties from the 2020 season, but it’s an ongoing process.  And I’m (obviously) well behind where I ought and want to be.

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