Adventures in Ultramarathoning

“Adventures in Ultramarathoning” began to accelerate on October 5th, when I reluctantly began to accept the almost certainty that meteorologist were not joking about the big, season-ending cold front that was moving in.  Such acceptance dictated that I could no longer harvest at a “leisurely” pace, waiting for tomatoes to ripen, and processing them for seed extraction promptly.  I had to start sprinting, every waking hour, to harvest ahead of the looming deep freeze.

As related in October 2021 blog posts, my “sprinting” was not nearly fast enough, and I had to cover about 300 tomato vines and “procrastinate” the harvest until the temperatures rose a few degrees.  That, or completely throw away all the effort put into raising those vines.

Many times over the past two months, distressing thoughts of the “Sunk Cost Fallacy” kept gnawing at my mind, often contributing to my sense of falling into the maelstrom of insanity.

This year, this seed saving project has indeed felt like persevering through an ultramarathon every day, day after day, for nigh on 60 days straight.

My lack of foresight, imagination, optimism, etc. resulted in a reality that, with better planning (such as purchasing and using several more large frost blankets), I could have extended the growing and harvest season well into November:

As it turns out, the hard freeze of October 15th and 16th were the last really cold nights until November 17th!  There were many nice days, essentially an “Indian Summer”, during which I longed to be working outdoors.  With close attention to forecasts and careful management of frost blankets and space heaters, I could have, in theory, squeezed another 33 days out of the growing season!  But there is the time and effort, the worrying and distractions from other tasks.  And how was I to know?

Far better, of course, would have been to have that 40’ X 100’ high tunnel already in place and operational – with propane heaters turned on at night as needed.

On the other hand, as any experienced gardener knows, there is very little growth and maturation of tomato fruits when the temperatures are below 60° F.  As can be seen from the weather records, after October 15th, there were only five days when the high temperature reached 61° or higher, with the highest being only 63°.

On the other hand (running out of hands – now counting feet and digits…), as gardeners know who use high tunnels (polytunnels, greenhouses, glasshouses, walipinis, etc.), on sunny days, with proper management, temperatures can easily rise to 90° or more, even in late Fall or early Spring.

All this second-guessing is making my head spin.  The fact is, I don’t have a high tunnel or a greenhouse – not yet anyhow.  And at 6,200’ elevation, I just need to accept the reality that night temperatures can get cold almost any time of the year.

Somehow, a few marigold plants survived the hard freeze of October 15th, and a month later, when I harvested seeds, there were still a few open blossoms! Of course they did not survive the much colder weather of late November.

Started harvesting Stokes Purple sweet potatoes – still have an hour or two of digging.

Final Fig of the season (variety Black Manzanita) was thoroughly relished – and not mixed with tasting tomatoes.  The plant has dropped most of its leaves.  Likewise with the dwarf pomegranate.

This time of year, temperatures in this unheated house typically range between 45° and 60°, maybe up to 65° directly under the LED lights.  This is not warm enough for subtropical plants, including micro-dwarf tomato plants:

Fruits are ripening well, though slowly.  But vines are now stunted and sickly.  Good chance they will not survive the winter, as temperatures will continue to decline for a couple more months, and I just cannot justify the added expense of electricity for lights and space heaters.

STAGES of Tomato Seed Saving

STAGE 1 – Harvesting tomatoes

Completed on October 21st, as documented in earlier blog post.

STAGE 2 – Preparing for fermentation

This involves:  weighing tomatoes, taking photos, tasting fruits at the peak of ripeness (as far as possible), writing “field notes”, cutting and crushing fruits into containers, adding enough water to make a slurry, and setting aside for fermentation. 

As of this 3:00 a.m. this morning (November 30th), there were only 91 batches of intact ripe, rotting, or ripening tomatoes left in containers, waiting for me to get back to work and complete Stage 2.

Fermentation is necessary to remove the gel coat that surrounds each tomato seed, thus greatly enhancing germination.  And, very importantly, seeds with gel coats typically float in water, along with most of the tomato pulp, thus making seed separation a nearly impossible task.  Seeds from which gel coats have been digested (by fungi) or chemically removed (chemicals not used here…) sink in water, thus greatly facilitating the separation of seeds from everything else.

Fermentation in the warmer days of summer and early Fall typically takes 3-4 days – at times just 2 days when it’s really hot.  But with this cooler weather, 5-7 days are needed.  Even 8 days, but that 8th is never the plan – I just get exhausted at times and cannot help but sleeping for a couple of hours, here and there.  Sometimes, the friendly fungi form impressive mats on surfaces of fermenting tomatoes.

STAGE 3 – Seed separation

This is the most time-consuming (see previous post), most stinky, and most frustrating of all stages.  Even using heavy-duty rubber gloves, my hands have been soggy and wrinkled many days for hours on end.  Use of fans and a small HEPA air filter have been essential to allow me to breath comfortably.  In previous years and locations, this has been mostly an outdoor project.  But it is faster, more efficient, and more comfortable to have a kitchen sink, a table, and shelving very handy.

I am not afraid to throw away seeds that float.  That’s a very good indication that they are immature and thus worthless, except as compost!  Because I harvested tomatoes from about 300 vines after frost (though under some protection), about 20% of those tomatoes had some frost damage.  Many of those partially or fully rotted before complete ripening and seed maturation.  This was, thankfully, a very small portion of the overall harvest for 2021.

After seeds are separated and thoroughly rinsed, they are spread out into single layers onto plastic plates and placed on shelves or tables for drying.

As of this morning, there were 93 batches of fermenting tomatoes – all of which need to be processed by the end of the week.  This is in addition to the 91 other batches at Stage 2.

STAGE 4 – Seed packaging

Even with the ceiling fan going (which is 24-7 this time of year), it takes 3-4 days for seeds to dry sufficiently to eliminate the risk of molding.  When packaging seeds, I do a rough count (estimating by tens) for inventory purposes, place seeds in small glassine envelopes, then place those envelopes inside the coin envelopes which followed each batch since harvesting.

As of this morning, there were 95 batches of tomato seeds drying on plates.

STAGE 5 – Organizing

This involves organizing, alphabetizing, and placing inventoried seed envelopes into boxes.  Then comes transcribing field notes and seed counts into computer databases.

This phase has barely begun for 2021 tomato seeds, with about 1,500 batches only partially advertised.

STAGE 6 – Communicating

In reality, this is the most time-consuming of all, and I am YEARS behind “schedule”!  This involves naming photographs (I’m closing in on 100,000 photos taken for Delectation of Tomatoes), editing photos to fit on the website or seed packets, writing descriptions for each variety, including weights, dates and photos for each batch, and publishing these on the website.

This stage is the real “log jam” on this assembly line, as is obvious to anybody who has visited the online store of Delectation of Tomatoes.  Very embarrassing, even shameful that I’m not keeping up.  Fortunately, thankfully, there are many gardeners who are willing to overlook these unprofessional shortcomings on the website, and, gratefully support this effort by purchasing seeds.

Within the past few days, I’m even getting some great help from a volunteer who has started naming the 30,000 or so photos that are still unnamed in my photo library!  What an incredible time saver this will be when it comes to preparing photos for uploading to the website and preparing descriptions for seed packet labels!

Obviously, skipping Stage 6 means I’m just spinning my wheels, just “having fun”, just engaged in a glorified, grandiose hobby with no real purpose other than to keep myself perpetually exhausted, bankrupt, hungry, and homeless.  “Man cannot live on tomatoes alone”.

So those are the six stages of seed saving, summarized, with a few relevant photos following.

Actually, there are about 100 additional batches of overripe to rotting cucumbers, melons, eggplants etc. that are impatiently waiting for me to finish this massive tomato seed-saving project.  But let’s talk about those later, shall we?

All those green tomatoes that went to waste? Well, most of them eventually ripened, and the local deer appreciated the free feast. They are obviously related to goats! Speaking of deer, I counted 54 of them on my way home from market the other day.

A DAY IN THE LIFE

Thursday, November 25th
Went to bed the night before at 10:30 p.m., thoroughly exhausted, hoping to get a full night of restful sleep.

2:25 a.m. — awoke with a start, a combination of shoulder pain and mind racing about all the urgent tomato processing work, got right at it. Listened to Ancient Greek Philosophers-Scientists on Librivox, along with several podcasts.

4:20 a.m. — breakfast of tomatoes, oatmeal, tomatoes
Then worked on seed orders, email.

5:45 a.m. — low on energy for processing tomatoes, so packaged seeds instead.

8:45 a.m. — overcome by sleepiness, nap time

12:55 p.m. — awoke in pain and almost panic, so far behind; very unusual to sleep for more than 4 hours at a stretch, directly back to tomato processing

4:10 p.m. — lunch of tomatoes, Crockpot black beans on bread, tomatoes

5:20 p.m. — sundown, brief email processing, then another nap

6:15 p.m. — back at tomato processing, hard

9:30 p.m. — dinner of tomatoes, microwave-baked potatoes, tomatoes

9:40 p.m. — more packaging tomato seeds

1:15 a.m. — midnight snack, Ramen noodles, then worked on photo processing

2:45 a.m. — back to bed, hopefully for the night

For years I have fought against sleep – just way too much to do to blink out for 8 hours a night. Now, with the lingering ill effects of the COVID vaccine (see June, July blog posts), I really have a love-hate relationship with sleep. Can’t sleep when I want to, can’t stay awake when I need to. Sleep pattern is not just irregular, but chaotic. Too bad it’s not as simple as a light switch! Obviously, health suffers… Now 80 lbs. heavier than when I started Delectation of Tomatoes. Long story there…

And now, for a few tantalizing tomato photos — descriptions to follow

Following is an excerpt from the latest update to the associated website, specifically an update to the tomato seeds saved in 2021:

DT TOMATO SEEDS LIST

Update November 30, 2021

Seeds were (or are being) saved from about 2,000 batches representing 600 or so tomato varieties in 2021. This project is about 95% complete.

Following is a draft interim list – interim because it will still take some more time to dry, package, inventory, error check, etc. “Probably” and “Maybe” reflect the reality that there is much work still to do and I cannot justify relying just upon my memory for all of these.

In 2021 I raised 668 varieties of tomatoes and attempted to save seeds from most of these. This project includes:

276 new (to DT) varieties grown in 2021, indicated below by, “New variety in 2021, have seeds”.

19 new varieties grown in 2021 from which I probably have seeds, indicated below by, “New in 2021, probably have seeds”

321 varieties grown in 2021 to refresh or replenish seeds, indicated below by: “Fresh seeds in 2021” – seeds are available now.

28 varieties grown in 2021 to refresh or replenish seeds, but for which I am unsure at this point whether I was able to save seeds or not this year, indicated by, “Maybe fresh seeds in 2021” – but definitely seeds from prior years are available now.

The list also includes 1,960 varieties not grown in 2021, but for which seeds from prior years are currently available

This comes to a total of 2,604 varieties. These are listed alphabetically below. I recognize that many of these are hybrids and are not indicated as such. I have a good deal of research and growing out to do to determine whether these are at the F1, F2, etc. stage, or whether they are stabilized hybrids and should be considered as open-pollenated (OP) varieties. Big seed companies often (apparently) tack on or leave on “hybrid” to a variety name to increase sales, even when the variety is stable.

There are another 250 or so varieties not listed here: off-types, mix-ups, de-hybridization projects, too few seeds to offer, crop failures, etc. Please email me at dale@gianttomatoseeds.com if you want more information about those.

2 thoughts on “Adventures in Ultramarathoning

  1. I still think the Harbor Freight 10×20 is the best bang for the buck with the proper upgrades..

    Its simple enough to put two end to end to make a 10×40 Greenhouse.

    Thermostatically exhausted fans will be needed as it will reach 130 on a 60 degree day rather quickly.

    If your ever decide to go that route I have several upgrades to suggest that really made a huge difference.

    Brian.

    Get Outlook for Android ________________________________

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