Thursday, August 9, 2012

The State Of My Tomatoes (2012)

Garden Tomatoes 2012: "Cosmonauts"
It's time for my annual "state-of-the-tomato address". Actually, I don't remember if I did this last year or not. I do know that I've talked about my love of homegrown tomatoes before, and that has not changed. If anything, that love just grows deeper with each passing year.

Now, while I can't imagine that anyone else could be all that interested in how our plants are doing, at the very least you can learn from our mistakes and do better in your own garden or patio. And let me tell you, we made a couple of doozies this year!

New this year:
  • All tomato growing has been shifted to the front yard. If you want tomatoes, you must plant where the sun is. And we want tomatoes.
  • Hubby built a two-tiered raised planter to one side of the driveway near the street. The lower tier was planted with basil, the upper, home to two tomatoes with a row of chives in front of them.
  • We rigged up a shepherd's hook in the top tier of the planter to hang one of those upside-down hanging planter-thingies as seen on...
What we planted and how they're doing:
  • Black Krim (in half-barrel)... We got a half-dozen that ripened a couple weeks ago. The rest are still green and quite small. Growth has slowed.
  • Cosmonaut Volkov (in ground)... Topped out at around 8-feet and set large fruit like crazy. A few weeks ago the top started withering and dying back. When we checked the ripest fruits last week, they were soft though not yet red. We picked them and they were a mushy and the flavor was lacking.
  • Lemon Boy (in raised planter)... After a slow start, grew vigorously and set lots of fruit. We discovered blossom-end rot on half a dozen of the fruits last week and a few more this week.
  • Sungold (in raised planter)... What can I say that I haven't said before about this flavorful and amazing tomato? The shrub is absolutely huge and completely covered in clusters of cherry tomatoes on the verge of inundation... same as always.
  • Black Prince (in hanging contraption)... This one was a last minute addition. Is growing pretty well and has some fruit set but so far doesn't look like a big producer.
What went wrong: 
  • In a word... soil. I noticed when checking one of the pots for moisture, that the soil seemed clay-like and many of our new plants (not just tomatoes), were struggling. We dug up as many plants as was feasible, mixed a bunch of perlite into the bad soil and replanted them. The tomatoes were too large by the time we noticed the problem. The place where we usually buy our soil evidently changed their mix this year. We assumed their soil was the same as last year (and the years before), but when you assume... your tomatoes struggle and die back and you find that a good bit of wind has gone out of your summer sails.
  • Blossom-end rot. Evidence of a calcium deficiency brought on by inconsistent watering. Our bad. The roots get too dry and can't absorb the calcium from the soil and violá... blossom-end rot and the sadness of picking off and composting the first fruits from a tomato that you've never even tasted yet. Sniff. 
  • We planted too early. It didn't hurt the shrubs any, but it sure increased my impatience level as well as the amount of water we used. There just is no real benefit to getting them in the ground early. Wait until mid-March.
What went right: 
  • The new raised planter! It may not have much curb appeal, and I have no idea what we'll plant in it over the winter (maybe logs), but it's all about the tomatoes and they clearly love their sunny spot off the driveway.
  • Copper snail control. We always rely on copper tape around pots and barrels to keep snails and slugs at bay, but what about the in-ground tomato and the two in the raised planter? Hubs made a square copper ring out of lightweight copper pipe to go on the ground around the Cosmonaut Volkov, and a larger one that he attached to the outside of the raised planter. Both are working great! 
  • Aphid spray. We've not noticed any big aphid problems on any of the toms this year. Yea! During their growth phase though, I regularly sprayed with a soap solution whenever I saw evidence of them. Seems to have worked.
  • The Sungold. In what turned out to be sub-optimum conditions, where other tomatoes succumbed to various health issues as a result... the Sungold THRIVED! Die-back? Nah. Blossom-end rot? Nope. Low yield? Small fruit? No sir. If I am ever in a situation where I must choose only one tomato to grow, it will now and evermore be the Sungold. Year after year, good weather or bad, it produces and produces and produces...
Next year: 
  • Next year we'll probably mix our own soil using a recipe like this one to ensure that we don't end up with crappy clay-filled cost-cutting soil again. 
  • We will vow to be much more consistent in monitoring and watering the raised planter.
  • I am determined to find a flavorful and stalwart red sandwich tomato with all the qualities of the Sungold. If you have a favorite... I'd love to hear about it! how are YOUR tomatoes doing? Just lovely, I hope!
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