Impending Hard Freeze; Interim Report for October

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:

Hard Freeze Warning, East Carbon, 10-13-2021

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…

No Public Comment…

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:

Accordion Orange

Plus – I did not encounter a single tomato hornworm this season until October 5th!

Soon thereafter, I discovered this:

Dark Phase of Manduca quinquemaculatus (Tomato Hornworm)

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…

Dark Phase of Manduca quinquemaculatus Raising Indoors

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:

No Escaping a Hard Frost 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.

Row Cover Fabric and 40’X40′ Tarp for Frost Protection

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:

Delectation of Tomatoes, Seeds

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:

Yellow Pear, Frozen and Not

Many batches of tomatoes were almost untouched by frost, such as this one, variety Yunnat ( Юннат ):

Yunnat, Harvested from under Tarp after Hard Freeze

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…

Tomato Hornworm, Dark Phase

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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!

Guatemalan Green-Fleshed Ayote

Enough of self-expression, now back serious nose abrasions (grindstone)…

2 thoughts on “Impending Hard Freeze; Interim Report for October

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