Only the bathroom does not have containers of tomatoes stacked in every nook and cranny, and that’s only because it’s a small room and opening doors takes up all floor space.
This space crunch is especially true after my effort to give away about 200 lbs. of unripe tomatoes failed and I had to bring in all containers out of the cold. It seems that virtually nobody wants to deal with green tomatoes, even when they are free – and I certainly don’t have the time to deal with so many more.
I have to sidle sideways, like a crab, to get from point A to point B in every other room. I’m not always successful in my efforts to not knock over or step on tomatoes. And whenever I can, I keep all windows open and fans blowing. Else there is that overwhelming vinegar-like smell, mold spores everywhere, along with abundant sneezing and sniffling.
I keep running out of empty plates, empty containers (even though I have hundreds), and especially lids.
It feels like I am working fast and efficiently, yet I seem to be almost unable to keep up with the ripening tomatoes. Predictably (I suppose), I timed myself. Working virtually non-stop, it took me 3 hours, 35 minutes to process 15 of the larger containers of fermenting tomatoes. That’s nearly 15 minutes per batch – yikes! On another day, counting time off for eating, processing seed orders, taking naps, etc., I calculated that I can extract seeds from about 67 batches per day (meaning a 24-hour period; with highly irregular sleep, I’m as likely to be processing tomatoes at 4 a.m. as I am at 4 p.m., or 7 a.m., or 11 p.m.).
Preparing tomatoes for fermenting (taking photos, weights, notes, tasting, cutting, crushing, etc.) is a little faster, about 82 batches per day. And packaging seeds after they have dried is even faster – about 30 batches per hour. So, estimating that I devote about 14 hours per day to this project, this all works out to around 25 minutes to process 1 batch of tomatoes. Of course this is all post-harvest and pre-database management and excludes processing photos, field notes, etc.
This works out to about 34 batches processed per 14-hour day. Since I will likely have at least 2,000 batches of tomatoes processed for seeds before this project is done, this works out to 59 days (14-hour days to be clear) devoted exclusively to processing for seeds. “Get a life” I say to myself…
Here are a few photos of the process in action
Extracting Seeds from Fermented Tomatoes
I have taken well over 10,000 photos of tomatoes, etc. so far this year, and I’m very far from finished taking photos, let alone naming and processing them. To be honest, I still have some huge batches of photos dating back to August, 2017 that I have not yet fully named!
Here’s a view of the original exclosure, established in 2020, after hard frost did it’s business a couple of weeks ago. And weeds did exceptionally well this year, such as this Russian Thistle (tumbleweed) – how many hundreds of millions of seeds were dropped onto the garden space this year as a result of adequate rainfall and far-from-adequate efforts to remove weeds before flowering?
The indoor microdwarf tomato project is faltering. The LED lights are not intense enough and there are not enough of them. Maximum temperature achieved is around 70°F with lights on for several hours. But with no heat in the house, temperatures can drop to the 50-55° range when the lights have been off for several hours. This too-cool-for-tomatoes phenomenon will just get worse as winter deepens.
Nevertheless, some tomato ripening is happening, 79 days from seed sowing. I’m also trying to give the two dwarf pomegranate fruits all the time that then need to produce viable seeds.
True Potato Seed (TPS), variety Blue Velvet update: Very low yield of seeds (about 35 total) and tubers. They need more time, more space, more compost, more pollen, and more commitment. Unfortunately, I will not have any seeds of this variety to offer this year, though I did try – see earlier posts this summer.
Another delectable fig consumed, with three more to go.
Still lots of seed extraction needed from melons, squash, cucumbers, beans, etc. Yes, I still have rotting squash from 2020 from which I have not extracted seeds. I should feel so much shame… Peppers were a near total bust this year.
Here’s a watermelon, given to me second-hand from a local farmer, from which I was hoping to extract seeds. Alas, it was a seedless variety! I’m tempted to launch into a tirade about multi-national corporations controlling food supplies and seed availability; but in the interest of time and fatigue, I’ll restrain – for now.
I’m also tempted to publish lists of tomato varieties from which I have saved seeds or am in the process of saving seeds for this year. But at this point, such lists would be partial and inaccurate. So that too will have to wait. I will get such lists published ASAP.
In the meantime, here is the most current list of more than 2,400 varieties of tomatoes for which seeds are available now – and thank you for your support for helping with the preservation and propagation of heirloom varieties from around the world!
The inevitable is arriving momentarily: season ending frost and the concomitant shifting of gears. There have been several light frosts over the past few nights:
But this is the AccuWeather I just did a screen capture of:
Actually, as of a few hours ago, the low was forecast to be 26°. But significant cloud cover has resulted in this revision upward. However, 25° and 26° are forecast for the next two nights. So, GROWING SEASON IS OVER. At least for tomatoes, etc.
I have been harvesting like a maniac for the past four days:
Containers of tomatoes stacked from floor to ceiling, spilling over even into the seed room – something I never anticipated, especially with those four shelves of wire racks available!
Yet, after four days, I am only halfway finished with harvesting tomatoes. About 20 wagonloads so far, with that many more to go. I’ve invited many people over to come and help. A few have come to glean the smaller green and extras of ripe tomatoes (about 300 lbs. worth taken so far). But I just have not been able to bring myself to insist that they help me harvest for seed saving in exchange for all of those free tomatoes. I need a crew of 10 people this time of year. I’m just not that well connected, or persuasive!
So I covered the third tomato patch (exclosure) with a large tarp, hoping to get back to it once the sun rises. And I planned on harvesting all night to finish up the second patch. But the little electric light and cell phone light just were not cutting it. After about 50 of those sickening crunching sounds of stepping on tomatoes, and having a hard time finding and reading tags, I gave up for the night and covered the rest of the vines in the second patch with thick row cover fabric. And perhaps, just maybe, fatigue had something to do with giving up on the harvesting project for the night.
I estimate another 35 hours are needed to harvest the rest of the tomatoes, with only a 10-hour window for getting the job done before the real hard freeze sets in – too cold for tarps and frost covering. It appears that I will have to focus on only the ripe and ripening tomatoes, and simply allow thousands of perfectly good green tomatoes to freeze, then rot in place. That’s hard for me to do! I’m the kind of person who won’t discard even a grain of rice from my plate. [Is it that Depression-era mentality learned from my grandparents, or a genuine ethic of abhorring waste and excessive consumption?]
I have moved a number of grow bags with peppers and other plants into the cellar, as well as a few into the house.
From what I’ve read, Wasabi needs temperatures between 40-70°. There was only about a 10-day window in late September when the outdoor temperatures stayed within this range. So they did get a little bit of natural sunlight before I had to bring them back to the cellar. Living at elevation (6,200′) results in much more diurnal temperature fluctuations than occur in most coastal areas. Thus my desire (and need) for a greenhouse, or at least a high tunnel.
And this is a “fun” notice posted a week ago. Note the letterhead – authoritarian, don’t even get me started…
So many wonderful new (to me) tomato varieties discovered this season! But I do need to get some sleep before getting back to harvesting. So photos and descriptions will have to wait. Oh, ok, I’ll do this one:
Plus – I did not encounter a single tomato hornworm this season until October 5th!
Soon thereafter, I discovered this:
Even after so many years of growing tomatoes, I had never seen or even heard of this darker version! I’ve since encountered three more and am currently feeding them inside in a 5-gallon bucket with unneeded tomato leaves. I have many large piles of unneeded tomato leaves at the moment…
Estimate is 300 more hours of tomato processing work for this season for seed production. Somehow, it’s seeming unlikely that I will be able to complete this task by November 1st as I had hoped and planned. What is wrong with me!?! 😵
Back at it!!
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Update October 14,2021
Cloudy skies for that past several nights has resulted in minimal frost damage, limited mostly to surface tomato leaves, as plants were covered most nights.
Even marigolds (variety Aztek) have been untouched by frost; and squash plants, despite some frost-damaged leaves, are still producing blossoms!
However, late this afternoon, a strong wind from the NNW started blowing and light snow flurries gave way to a clear sky and plunging temperature. Here is the forecast for tonight:
As of 11:47 p.m., one outdoor digital thermometer is reading 22.8° F – not a good sign.
One full week of intensive harvesting and I have managed to remove all useful tomatoes from about 700 vines; that is, all of the vines in the first and second deer exclosures. So careful harvesting (untangling vines, writing field notes, etc.) for seed production means I can manage to harvest from only about 100 vines per day. I found it to be more effective to completely remove vines, one branch at a time, to make certain that there was no question about which variety each tomato was. With some vines sprawling 10′ or more, and becoming interwoven with several other vines, this was not a simple task.
This intense outdoor work has meant almost total neglect of seed requests and of processing tomatoes already harvested. Here’s the progress of the second exclosure – A job which took almost four full days:
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I just wasn’t fast enough, and the third exclosure still has about 300 tomato vines with thousands of fruits needing to be harvested. I have harvested ripe tomatoes several times from this exclosure; but the final harvest will have to wait until the weather warms up a bit. It’s unknown whether this protection will be adequate to protect the fruits – my guess is probably not.
In the second exclosure, tomato seedlings were transplanted between 89-110 days from seed, plus 88-94 days to final harvest. This comes to a range of 177-204 days from seed to final harvest. Hundreds of tomatoes harvested during this final harvest were full sized or ripening. But with the much cooler outdoor temperatures of the past few weeks, the ripening process was slowed almost to a halt. Most of those saved for seed extraction should ripen fully indoors and produce viable seeds. Many thousands of immature and smaller tomatoes were saved or given away for consumption.
In the third exclosure, tomato seedlings were transplanted between 46-78 days from seed, plus 88-94 days to final harvest. This comes to an expected range of 134-172 days from seed to final harvest. It appears that this 134 day range will likely not be adequate for some of the larger-fruited, late-season varieties. But time will tell.
The real issue now is not getting tomatoes to ripen indoors; but rather, getting tomatoes processed for seed before they rot too badly. This amounts to some 500 batches, many of them rather large batches. One batch with several large tomatoes can take up to an hour to process. Especially if I dig out the seeds and make tomato sauce from the rest of the fruits, as I did with this batch of Buckman’s Beauty (a fabulous tasting, very sweet variety):
I am hopeful that within 3-4 weeks, I will be able to publish photos and lists of some of the most delicious, earliest, most productive and most interesting varieties grown this year. Once the dust settles, I am expecting to have seeds available for somewhere in the range of 2,500 to 2,600 tomato varieties – which of course will mean many of the best-tasting or most productive varieties in the world!
Seeds, including many (300+ varieties) from 2021, are available now from:
It’s looking like mid-November before I will be able to process all of these tomatoes for seeds – plus get seeds dried, packaged, organized and inventories. A full-time crew of 10 people would be really nice right about now…
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Update October 19, 2021
After a 2-day trip, yesterday was another long day of harvesting in the third exclosure. Remarkably, surprisingly, the tarp and heavy row cover fabric were quite effective at protecting tomato fruits themselves from 20.3° temperature on October 15th! That’s according to my own digital thermometer – official low was 27.
All vines touching the tarp were frozen and black a couple of days later. Parts of many vines closer to the ground were in fine shape, and most tomatoes (estimating 70%) had no frost damage at all! Tomatoes on branches of vines near the edges that were not covered did not fare well at all. Here are two groups of tomatoes (variety Yellow Pear) from the same vine, one group from a branch under the tarp, the other from a branch outside:
Many batches of tomatoes were almost untouched by frost, such as this one, variety Yunnat ( Юннат ):
The final harvesting task is about 85% complete, with only 150 vines left to harvest from.
But it snowed! Starting early this morning, and continuing into the early afternoon:
Remaining 150 tomato vines were covered again, but it remains to be seen whether the fruits will be worth saving, with 30° in the forecast in a few hours.
Processing many hundreds of batches of tomatoes continues at a frantic pace. Space, containers, and time are all at a premium – trying my best to get them processed before they rot. Hundreds of tomatoes that were picked green, but full-sized, are ripening up nicely indoors, where it is significantly warmer than it has been outdoors for the past few weeks.
“Pet” dark-phase hornworm larvae are fattening up impressively. Placed in bucket with 6″ of soil in preparation for pupation. The curiosity of that inner biologist in does not want to die…
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October 21, 2021
TOMATO HARVEST FINALLY COMPLETED! This afternoon, I finally cut down the last tomato vine from the third exclosure, saving whatever tomatoes looked like they had some chance of producing viable seeds, tossing small and immature tomatoes into a bin for giveaway to others, and leaving the frost-damaged tomatoes for the deer or other critters.
Here is the progress through the third exclosure:
Other than two days of helping others and filling seed orders, and one snow day (spend processing tomatoes) it has been 12 days straight of harvesting. So basically 9 days to harvest from 1,000 plants of over 500 varieties for seeds.
Resulting in an ENORMOUS processing backlog and a very crowded little house. Other than narrow walkways, floor space and shelf space in every room is taken up by tomatoes at some stage of processing.
Talk about tomatoes taking over my life! The setup here is so much better than in previous years and locations, however. All tomatoes are indoors, safe from freezing temperatures and hungry critters. I can process in the middle of the night (and I often do) without disturbing others. Sink, running water, shelf space are available 24-7. Nobody around to complain about the stench, the flies, the absence of anyplace to sit, the madness of it all…
Just some estimates at this point: 50% of tomatoes produced this year were saved for seed production. 40% were picked too immature or green and went to gleaners or other giveaway 10% were thrown out due to frost damage
Among approximately 1,000 plants, representing 550 or so varieties, tomatoes were produced of 540 varieties. However, likely only 470 or so will produce viable seeds. There were dozens of varieties that only had one, or a few tiny tomatoes that have little chance of producing mature and viable seeds. These are mostly the very late, large-fruited heirloom varieties that didn’t even start setting fruit until early October, and there just has not been enough time or heat. Better luck next year for these!
First fresh, ripe fig I’ve ever tasted! Variety Black Manzanita.
I could have easily, happily, eaten a dozen of them! Quite tasty, though not nearly as sweet as I expected.
Largest fruit of Guatemalan Green-Fleshed Ayote is still on the vine, not close to mature, being covered every night by wood chips. Probably wishful thinking to hope it will produce viable seeds, but at this point, I gotta try!
Enough of self-expression, now back serious nose abrasions (grindstone)…