The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Tomato experiments

Tomato transplanted with soil to cotyledonsThe tomato blight of 2009 left me close to tears last summer, and with a serious craving for red sauce this spring.  This year is also a tomato seed turning point.  I last saved seeds in 2007, assuming that I could collect more in 2009, but I didn't manage to harvest any tomato seeds before the blight hit.  This spring, my three year old seeds had low germination percentages, so I absolutely must have ripe tomatoes to save seeds from this year or I'll have to rebuild my collection of the tastiest and most utilitarian tomato varieties from scratch.

So I'm experimenting with spacing, location, and timing in search of a blight-free tomato harvest.  The goal of the first two experiments is to allow lots of sunlight and air movement around the plants so that they'll dry off quickly after rains.  To that end, I've planted all of our tomatoes in the sunniest part of the garden, and am doubling the spacing between plants to three feet.  In addition, we'll be individually staking the plants and pruning off the suckers to promote even speedier drying.

Tomato protected by a bottomless jugMeanwhile, I'm trying three different planting times/ages.  I've discovered in the past that young seedlings started in a cold frame then transplanted to the garden do better than leggy tomato plants that have been struggling on a windowsill for months.  So the majority of my plants have just been transplanted out at the two sets of true leaves stage.

On the other hand, my neighbors believe in buying big transplants and putting them out earlier, covering the plants with bottomless milk jugs during cold spells and hoping that they will bear at least some harvest before blight sets in.  A volunteer tomato came up in our lemon pot in the sunroom this spring, and I decided to transplant it out into the garden on April 21 to see how its growth compares to that of my younger transplants --- it's currently big and hefty, with about six pairs of true leaves.

Finally, my father likes to tell me that he once direct-seeded tomatoes into the garden after all danger of frost was past and still got harvests nearly as quickly as from transplants.  So I filled the last tomato spot with ten seeds and will weed the seedlings down to the strongest one once its up.  Will it catch up with its transplanted siblings?  Only time will tell.

If all else fails, I have one last trick up my sleeve.  One volunteer tomato plant survived the blight of 2009, and I carefully saved its seeds to add to my collection.  I have high hopes that at least this one variety will be resistant enough to give me a crop.  Here's hoping something works!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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WAY BACK WHEN... at a previous employer, my supervisor encouraged growing things around the maintenance building. the east and west ends were available. On the east was planted thornless blackberries and a few melons--delicious. On the west end was tomatoes carrots etc. The tomatoes were bought from a nursery, well into spring and pruned down to two leaves and buried as deep as possible with the leaves exposed and put a wire frame around them. As it happened the tomatoes were always planted under the window shaker so they always had "drip" irrigation on warm days. No chemicals at all and small river rock for mulch. The only attention to them was to pinch off suckers and tie onto wire frame. Until today I didn't really realize that some people had trouble growing tomatoes. So-full sun, tie them up, pinch suckers and ignore them seems to be our "remedy".
Comment by Vester Tue May 18 17:39:58 2010
That's what I thought in the past too, until we got the abnormally wet summer that killed all of our tomatoes last year. My conclusion is that tomatoes usually are extremely simple...until they're not.
Comment by anna Tue May 18 19:02:10 2010

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