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.
Impediments to fruit set, in probable order of importance:
- Western Flower Thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis) devouring pollen – there are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of thrips in the patch
- Low humidity – ideal is 40-70% relative humidity; but in this high desert climate, 5-20% is much more common
- High daytime temperature – 70-85°F is ideal for tomatoes; over 94° means certain failure of blossoms for many varieties
- 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
- Curly Top virus – killing entire tomato vines obviously means not useful fruit set
- 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!