This weekend I began to say "goodbye" to a rather miserable 2010 gardening season. Many of the large pot indeterminates and ALL of the 5 gallon grow bag dwarfs are now history. Between extreme heat, which led to poor fruit set, and high humidity, causing rampant Septoria issues, it was pretty much a season to forget (but certainly to learn from!).
Let's start with my summary of the driveway Indeterminate varieties grown this year.
Mexico Midget - just an awful performance - got diseased early, and it really affected the fruit set. Plus fruit worms attacked early on as well. Near total failure! Plant was tossed.
Speckled Roman - somehow, managed to excel in an awful year. We got a very heavy yield of delicious, beautiful fruit. Tossed.
Yellow Brandywine - an immense plant (over 8 feet tall) with not a single fruit. Clearly impacted by the extreme heat - a total failure, which was tossed this weekend.
Green Doctor's - did quite well, heavy yield of amber skinned, green fleshed cherry tomatoes, quite healthy all year, but the flavor did nothing for me....better than Green Grape, but only because it is indeterminate and a little less "crunchy". Pretty, productive and forgettable...and now gone.
Cherokee Purple - I used seed from Johnny's Selected Seeds to see how they are doing maintaining the variety. The good news is that it is just fine - good yield of large tasty purple fruit, just what I expected. Plant is now gone.
Nepal - It didn't give me many fruit, clearly unhappy with the heat, but they were delicious and the plant stayed pretty healthy....now gone.
Cherokee Chocolate - my best large fruited indeterminate in terms of flavor, yield and health. And it is still healthy and cranking them out.
Tiger Tom - Got off to a great start, but got Fusarium wilt early on...so after a few early tasty fruit, was pretty much a failure, and is now gone.
Cherokee Green - also from Johnny's, who produced it from seed I sent them. If the main branch hadn't broken due to the heavy fruit, it would have been right there with Cherokee chocolate. Still, we got plenty before the plant died.
Caitlin's Lucky Stripe - no luck yet - first one went down to disease, second had a broken main stem, which I rerooted....still alive, hoping I finally get some fruit, but a long shot.
Orange Strawberry - see Yellow Brandywine - same type of failed experience, and now gone. Not a single fruit.
Sungold - still kicking along, excelled in flavor and productivity as usual...no wonder I grow it every year!
Kimberly - dead and gone, after a handful of early unimpressive red fruit - got diseased early and suffered this season.
Variegated - another of this year's stars - not in flavor so much as staying power, health and heavy yield.
Stick - died very quickly from Fusarium wilt with not a single ripe fruit.
The following all came down with severe Septoria leaf spot and gave me not a single fruit - Berkeley Tie Dye, Aunt Gertie's Gold, Trees Bottom Yellow.
The following were diseased, but gave me a fruit or two for seed saving - Buckeye State (large pink), Berkeley Tie Dye Pink (though it should be called Purple instead), Lucky Cross (I did eat the single fruit and it was superb), Andrew Rahart's Jumbo Red (which was red but not jumbo - not sure if it was from true seed), and Large Lucky Red (it was large, it was red, and it was delicious).
And the following are still barely alive, but I really want some ripe fruit - so I will hope....Lillian's Yellow, Sun Lucky, and Little Lucky.
So, out of 27 driveway indeterminates, I harvested fruit from 17, and am hoping that another 3 will eventually produce something. I've never, ever experienced a season when I have pot-grown driveway indeterminates that fail prior to ANY ripe fruit. Like I said....one of those years I will be happy to put behind me!
So, let's pick up where we left off....In 1997, I saved seeds of that uniquely striped, unexpected hybrid that resulted from an inventive bee positioning pollen from Tad (perhaps) onto a Brandywine blossom in 1993.
Which meant that the fun really started in 1998, when I ended up confirming that the striped fruit in 1997 was indeed a hybrid created from a cross between a potato leaf and regular leaf variety. I only grew out two plants from saved seed in 1998 - and really, what I was aiming for was to stabilize the striped fruit that I got in 1997.
From the regular leaf seedling planted out in 1998, I got a large tasty pink fruit with perhaps a hint of striping. But from the potato leaf seedling I got smooth, medium sized oblate fruit that were yellow with red swirls and blushing - a true bicolor, but smaller than any I'd yet seen, smoother, and most noteworthy - it was absolutely delicious.
I actually did the same thing in 1999 - went back and grew out two seedlings from the 1997 F1 seed - and from the two potato leaf plants I grew found the medium tasty bicolor again. I was actually very lucky (there's that word again!) - in 2005, when I went back to grow out many more of the F2 seedlings, I had everything but what I found in 1998 and 1999....oblate, heart, stripes of different colors - so there is so much diversity in this cross, I feel like I've only scratched the surface.
Getting back on track - it turns out that the tasty medium potato leaf bicolor I found in 1998 is the source for what became, eventually, Little Lucky and Lucky Cross. But, I also enlisted some help for the stabilizing and selecting efforts. It turns out that another Seed Savers Exchange member and tomato enthusiast lived quite close - Larry Bohs, a professor at Duke University. I sent him some of the 1998 seed, and he and I both did a few years of growouts to see if we could get a large potato leaf bicolor with the flavor of Brandywine.
Larry sent me back some saved seed from a plant that he liked. When I grew it out, in the year 2000, it was clear we hit the target - the plant I grew out from Larry's seed was the best flavored bicolor tomato I'd tasted; blindfolded, you would think it was Brandywine itself. It was large, oblate, meaty, and, hopefully, starting to become stable. That year, I also found, from my growouts, what would eventually become Little Lucky. I considered it a smaller fruited, round version of Lucky Cross in color and flavor.
I am now growing Lucky Cross and Little Lucky at the F9 generation - they are essentially stable new varieties. Every now and then a surprise pops out, such as the medium sized, vertically striped fruit that came from Little Lucky that looks very promising, and I've tentatively named Caitlin's Lucky Stripe. And last year I found a nice large oblate red with all of the size, shape and flavor of Lucky Cross; it grew out the same this year, so it is now tentatively called Large Lucky Red. And, another tomato friend, Lee Newman, in one of his growouts of my early selections found a very large red fruit with vertical gold stripes, with a heart shape, that he named Striped Sweetheart.
I may dive back into this complicated
A long time ago, I decided that the best way to be able to track any surprises I get when I grow out my saved seed is to aim for good record keeping, from which I could build a family tree, if desired, for each variety that I maintain.
Some of the varieties I grow most often, and are most treasured, are kept in a sort of family tree file. I confess that it is not always up to date, but it can easily be updated from my annual growing logs and my seed collection file.
Here is an example:
For Cherokee Chocolate, the variety appeared in 1995 when growing out Cherokee Purple that was saved in 1991. (In 1991, my saved Cherokee Purple was put in vial number 27 - my code therefore is 91-27). The seed from the chocolate colored tomato was stored in vial 47 - so the "parent" of Cherokee Chocolate is 95-47.
I grew out a few plants in 1996 - two out of three produced the chocolate colored tomatoes, the other purple. Seeds from one of the chocolate colored fruit were saved in vial number 3 - so the code is 96-3. I actually went back to that vial in 2007, and seed from the chocolate fruit from that plant were stored in vial 11 - so the code is 07-11 for my Cherokee Chocolate that year.
So between 1995, when Cherokee Chocolate first appeared in my garden, and this year, I have Cherokee Chocolate seed saved with about 30 different codes that point to the year I grew the tomato that produced the seed and the vial number.
Just as an aside - and a topic for another blog entry - I sent out some of the 1996 saved seed (not sure if it was vial 96-3 or 96-9) to Darrell Merrill (a great SSE member who is, sadly, no longer with us) in Oklahoma. Darrell grew it out and returned fresh seed to me. In 1997, one of the plants that came from the seed he sent was the start of the Cherokee Green line! But that's another story...
Below is what my Cherokee Chocolate page looks like (it's not very pretty, but it is useful to me!)
Sometimes, it pays to grow out the unexpected. Often, even for seed savers, bees are our friends. Both of these phrases played out in the development of the varieties Little Lucky and Lucky Cross. And like the name - a good bit of luck was involved!
Back in 1993 I grew one of my favorite tomatoes, Brandywine, in my Raleigh, North Carolina garden. From those wonderful, large pink fruit, I saved plenty of seeds. That year, Brandywine was situated between the experimental variety Tad, and Ukrainian Heart. Tad was a variety developed by a seed saver friend Tad Smith by crossing Tigerella (a small red tomato with gold stripes) with Old German (a large red/yellow bicolor). Though not yet fully stable, Tad was producing small yellow tomatoes with red jagged stripes. Ukrainian Heart is a large, heart shaped pink variety.
Anyway - fast forward to 1997. I started perhaps 10-15 Brandywine seeds from that batch I saved in 1993. Several of the resulting seedlings showed themselves to be regular leaf, rather than the expected potato leaf foliage that Brandywine itself has. Well, I could have just tossed out those regular leaf seedlings and planted out what I knew would be Brandywine. But instead I decided to also plant one of those regular leaf seedlings in my garden. I suspected it was an F1 hybrid - regular leaf is dominant, and any cross of a regular leaf variety with Brandywine would result in a hybrid with regular leaf foliage.
Well, that was the first instance of luck - that I didn't toss, but instead planted, a regular leaf seedling. In the green fruit stage, I noticed distinct vertical striping. As it ripened, the fruit turned a lovely deep pink, with striking vertical gold streaks and stripes - with much finer and distinct striping than I'd seen up to that point. In retrospect, a bee probably transported some pollen from a Tad blossom on to a Brandywine blossom, thus producing a hybrid. And I managed to include some seeds from that crossed fruit with my Brandywine saved seed that year. As a bonus, the fruit was delicious, reflecting its Brandywine heritage.
With plenty of seed saved from the uniquely striped fruit, the saga of Little Lucky and Lucky Cross begins....and this part of the story ends. Stay tuned for part 2, soon!
By the way, below is a picture of a slightly overripe fruit of the Brandywine X (presumably) Tad cross that started this whole interesting journey. Note the distinct vertical striping.
What a disorienting morning! My usual job is to make the coffee....meaning grinding the beans, and brewing in a French Press. But this is what our kitchen looks like (as of yesterday)
...and this is our "interim" kitchen, for the next month....
We are excited pondering what that blank slate of a space will look like...and it will be interesting living in the in-between month....but I am glad I did most of my seed saving prior to this!
Though Sue and I will be delighted once it is done, this kitchen renovation is really starting to seem real - especially since the contents of our kitchen is now scattered throughout the house. Tomorrow is demolition day...bye bye cabinets, counters, sink, stove and dishwasher. (hello take out food???). On the menu - one month or so of chaos! We did get our first (and perhaps only) batch of pesto made today.
Oh yeah - this is a garden blog. If only I had any enthusiasm to step out into the garden - even to water! As Ann Miller said in some old movie we saw once, "it's too darned hot". Right now I am finishing up seed saving - the end of the tomato harvest (it seems like I've hardly had any harvest at all!)....sweet and hot peppers, and eggplant. I've got stacks of paper plates with drying seeds in my office, waiting to be stored in plastic vials - a perfect activity for rainy winter days!
Aside from picking some green beans, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, the final gardening chores of the year will be digging into the weeds to see if any potatoes formed, and preparing for my garden talk at Monticello on Saturday, Sept. 11. I will be focusing on the story of the Dwarf project to date. Sue and I hope to see some of you there!
This is the most challenging part of the gardening season for me. It is just too hot and humid to want to be "out there" amongst the plants for any length of time. The thriving weeds, spreading disease, and unruly, out of control plants tends to send me running in the opposite direction. It is the time of the year when I can actually have thoughts like "I am so sick of this garden....indeed, of gardening altogether!".
Fortunately, stepping away a bit, our annual fall trip to Ocracoke Island, and this year, some home improvement work - then the winter, with its holidays and family time - bring a renewal, and I find myself sometime in January getting excited again, and deep into the next garden's plans and expectations.
So, now what, indeed! I've got lots of seed saving and documentation yet to do, particularly with eggplant and hot peppers. I need to be brave and dig for potatoes to see if there are any lurking under the thick overlay of out of control weeds. There may be a few late Dwarf project surprises (though the plants look just awful). Monticello is only a month away, so a presentation needs to be prepared.
What this all means is perhaps fewer blog entries, as I ease into my renewal mode. Or maybe the blog entries will be less about gardening, more about just daily life and observations...who knows!
I can honestly say that I've never quite experienced a season quite like this one....it is not one that I will look back on with fondness!
My checklist of issues are rampant Septoria disease, tomato fruit worms, tomato hornworms, ants, incessant heat and humidity, poor tomato fruit set due to blossom drop (leading to poor yields), fruit cracking due to uneven moisture supply, total failure with radishes (plenty of green, hardly any radishes to harvest!), tiny cucumber yield (plants went down to disease quickly) and rampant weeds (could there possibly be any potatoes under there?).
Now, for the good news of the season so far - no problems with deer, no drought, great flavors on those tomatoes that did set, outstanding yields of both sweet and hot peppers and eggplant, a good crop of blueberries, summer squash, garlic, beets and spring greens of all sorts.
But, since tomatoes are our favorite summer crop, and because I was so ambitious in numbers of plants (especially Dwarf project research), the puny, disappointing yield has hit pretty hard.
The prognosis for the rest of the season: a smattering of tomatoes (most of the pot grown dwarf varieties are looking quite bad, and I won't get much more from them), plenty of hot and sweet peppers and eggplant, a good crop of bush green beans from a later planting, plenty of basil for pesto, and whatever potatoes are managing to have developed amongst the choking weeds.
I am already getting an idea of some adjustments so that next year isn't a failure repeat. There are two major ones - an extensive bleaching of all of my tomato grow bags and pots (more concentrated bleach for a longer soak than I did this year), and a much earlier plant out. The stretch of 90-plus degree days in June, July and August hit at the wrong time for my plants, which I didn't get planted out until mid May or later.
If I can get my plants off to a healthy start and blossoming before the extreme heat and humidity set in, a better yield and healthier plants will hopefully result.
Two videos discussing the problem of mixed up varieties (or, tomatoes of the same name giving different results from different seed sources).
the first short one is on Mexico Midget.
This starts as me doing a self recorded video tomato tasting, but I then settled on Nepal - and we had a discussion about how two tomatoes called Nepal (grown by someone else, and me) can taste so different. Well, after watching these two videos I guess it can't be said that I don't have opinions on things!
I hoped you enjoyed these little snippets from our event. Starting tomorrow, it is back to the depressing reality that is this tomato growing experience in my baked, diseased Raleigh garden!
First - people have been asking for the results of the three Tomatopalooza contests....here are the results.
Largest Tomato: Georgia Streak 1.8 lbs (Ira from Southern Seed Exchange)
Best Tasting: Black Cherry
Most Unusual: Garden Peach
I've asked Lori to see if she can provide a flavor top 10 list, so we can see what came close - if she has it available, I will post it in a future blog.
So, here are the next set of video clips - these are the three introductory "speeches" we gave to ensure everyone was oriented to the process this year (it was quite a bit different from previous years) - and also to give the tomato slicers time to slice!
So, in order of our "speeches" - starting with long-winded me:
And here is Lee...
And here is Lori.
This will give you all an idea on how we organized the event this year....and an idea on why it sent so smoothly! (lots of planning up front...)