The Great Tomato Tangle

To date, I have managed to tie up less than 30% of the tomato vines. Obviously, tomato harvest goes much faster when vine tangling is minimized. At this point, with some vines approaching 10′ long in all directions, it takes up to 10 minutes to untangle and tie up just one vine. Multiply by maybe 800 vines that need it and – yikes! What a jumbled jungle! Here’s one shot from August 25th –

Tomato Jungle!

Two latest weekly videos documenting rapid growth of tomato vines –

Tomato Patch 6 Weeks After Transplanting Completed
Tomato Patch 7 Weeks After Transplanting Completed

To date (August 31st), approximately 100 batches of tomatoes have made it through the second phase of processing: taking field notes, photos, sampling, setting aside for fermentation.  This in the neighborhood of about 1% of the work needed this season before all seeds are processed, dried, packaged, inventoried, and ready to go.

So many varieties of tomatoes already harvested – where do I even start? How about a very small one, and the first two tomatoes harvested to top 1 lb. — though there are several larger ones still green –

The weather has been very cooperative the past couple of weeks – high temperatures mostly under 95° F, occasional thunderstorms, some wind to help with pollination. Still, many blossoms are dropping; Curly Top virus is still killing scores of plants; hornworms are still prevalent; and frost could be here within 3-4 weeks. Many megablooms, profiled in last month’s blog, have failed. Some vines, such as Estonian Yellow Cherry, are absolutely loaded with blossoms, though most of them have fallen by now, unpollinated. However, a heat wave is just starting! At least for larger-fruited varieties, if blossoms have not set fruit by now, they will have little chance of setting fruit and ripening before first fall frost.

There are a number of hard-working, unpaid, underappreciated assistants –

Preying Mantis
Black Widow Spider

Not all strictly tomatoes – I have a bit of an aesthetic streak as well, and a few hundred plants are not tomato vines.

Many gardeners who are familiar with Delectation of Tomatoes may not be familiar with documents of interest that are located on the associated Google Drive. These files are shared publicly at:

DT Shared Files

Contributions to these files are particularly welcome and appreciated, as I depend heavily upon feedback from other growers:

DT Big Tomato List

Tastiest Tomatoes

Heat Tolerant Varieties

Container Varieties

Dwarf and Smaller-vined varieties

Very Productive Varieties

Extra Early Tomato Varieties DT Disclosure

September is moments away – LET THE TOMATO AVALANCHE BEGIN! [and farewell to sleep…] 😴

30,000 Tomato Blossoms

Just a quick update on the progress of the main tomato patch.

Aside from 70 or so vines killed by or dying from Curly Top Virus, virtually all of the ~1,320 tomato vines have fruit set, or at least have blossoms open now. Some of these vines, likely of the cherry tomato sort, have more than 150 open blossoms per vine! Rough counts, estimates, and extrapolation puts the total number of tomato blossoms open now at 30,000 at a minimum, though likely closer to 40,000 or more.

Tomato Patch 3 Weeks After Transplanting Completed
Tomato Patch 4 Weeks After Transplanting Completed
Tomato Patch 5 Weeks After Transplanting Completed

Impediments to fruit set, in probable order of importance:

  1. Western Flower Thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis) devouring pollen – there are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of thrips in the patch
  2. Low humidity – ideal is 40-70% relative humidity; but in this high desert climate, 5-20% is much more common
  3. High daytime temperature – 70-85°F is ideal for tomatoes; over 94° means certain failure of blossoms for many varieties
  4. Low quantity of pollinating insects – there are more than in previous years, but much work still needs to be done to attract bumblebees and other native pollinators. Some birds (i.e. Western Kingbirds) and predatory insects (especially robber flies) prey on the pollinators, though the extent of their impact is likely minor
  5. Curly Top virus – killing entire tomato vines obviously means not useful fruit set
  6. Tomato hornworms – though they have not killed any tomato vines outright, they have severely damaged a few vines.

Next year, I intend to keep tomato vines covered most of the time with row cover fabric. This should help significantly with problems 1, 5 and 6.

As of today (August 19th), there are at least 3,000 tomatoes either processed for seeds, harvested and awaiting processing, ripe on the vine awaiting harvest, or green and growing. Already I am significantly behind with processing – and I feel a tomato avalanche coming on!

Of course the real challenge begins after fruit set: getting all of these 650+ varieties to produce at least a few ripe tomatoes suitable for seed saving before fall frost sets in – which could happen within 3-4 weeks. Really hoping for at least 8 more weeks to the growing season!