Mary's Veggie Garden

November 26, 2012

Tomato Harvest Reviewed

Filed under: Diseases,Late Blight,Tomatoes,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 8:58 am
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Have you ever wondered just how much a tomato plant produces? I have, many times. This year, as part of Harvest Monday, I weighed and recorded most of my harvest, weighing each tomato variety separately. The numbers reveal the effect of different locations and conditions.

Conditions this year were both very good and very bad. (Does that make it an average year?) June was dry enough to require supplemental watering. If you watered the roots without wetting the leaves it was so dry that there were almost no fungal infections. I watered with soaker hoses which kept the foliage dry. The plants were big and bushy with a huge fruit set.

Rains resumed in mid-July and along with much-needed moisture the storms brought late blight. At my Vassar Farm garden I first noticed late blight 7/31, a week and a half after it was reported at an adjacent farm. August 25 I discovered late blight in my home garden. Late blight is deadly to tomatoes, infecting leaves, stems and fruits. The only options for home gardeners are preventatives, not cures. I had sprayed with organic fungicides, copper at VF and Serenade at home but good treatment requires thorough spraying, wetting both sides of every leaf, and frequent spraying to treat all new growth. Clearly my techniques were not up to the task. Although spraying helped, preventing sudden death, the plants still died, slowly, in 3-4 weeks.

My home garden is partly shady. The soil is a nice loamy clay. At VF the soil is a deep clay and the garden is in full sun all day. Sungold is the only variety planted in both gardens and the results are dramatically different.

Variety Days to Maturity Catalog Actual Days to Maturity Location # Plants First Harvest Last Harvest Total Pounds Pounds per plant
Sungold 60 53 VF 3 07/12  8/24 43.4 14.5
Sungold 60 67 Home 4 07/19 09/18 13.2 3.3

How can two gardens, two miles apart, tended by a single gardener, produce such different results? Local conditions.

I grow all my own plants. I started the Sungold plants April 17. I transplanted into my home garden 5/13 and a week later transplanted at VF. But earlier transplanting didn’t get me an earlier harvest – I didn’t harvest the first Sungold at home until a week after VF. I’m sure this is due to the shade, even though I mulch with red plastic at home to take advantage of what little sunlight there is. All the varieties grown at home take longer to ripen than the catalog indicates.

Surely you don’t suspect me of eating all your Sungolds…

At VF I harvested 14.5 pounds of Sungold tomatoes from each plant while at home each Sungold plant averaged only 3.3 pounds. The shade at home caused some of this dramatic difference but chipmunks caused most of the difference. It was weird. The tomatoes would start to turn color then disappear. The four plants were divided between two beds on opposite sides of the garden and the chipmunks focused on the plants in the sunnier bed. Most of that measly harvest came from the plants in the shadier bed.

The VF Sungold plants probably could have produced another 2-4 pounds per plant had they not been struck down by late blight. I noticed the infection 7/31 in the new growth at the top of the plants just as harvest hit its peak.  I’d previously sprayed with copper to slow the septoria and early blight, and sprayed again for the late blight. The copper slowed the LB infection, but I probably didn’t get very good coverage; the plants were dense and bushy, very difficult to spray. I removed and bagged infected foliage every couple of days eventually removing whole branches including trusses of green tomatoes when the branches developed LB.

Late blight showed up at home three weeks later and I seriously considered removing the Sungold plants immediately because the chipmunks were getting most of the harvest. On the other hand, the Sungolds were the chipmunks’ favorite so the other plants were getting very little damage. I left the plants and sprayed again with Serenade which didn’t work nearly as well as the copper I used at VF. I found Serenade very difficult to use; I had to continuously adjust the sprayer nozzle to get any spray. Getting good coverage was almost impossible.

I also grew Big Beef tomatoes at VF. The Big Beef harvest started the same week late blight attacked the Sungolds across the bed. I harvested 10.7 pounds per plant over the next 4 weeks, when the plants were completely removed.

Granadero tomatoes

At home I grew Granadero, an indeterminate plum variety which yielded 8.1 pounds per plant. Harvest was delayed by shade and yield was reduced. Late blight stopped harvest early so the plants did not reach full potential.

There was a bit of chipmunk damage to the Granaderos, though the chipmunks focused on the Sungolds. I saw one nibbled, green Granadero next to the garden gate. Next it moved along side the garage where I spotted a chipmunk lunching on it next to the downspout. From there, I watched a chipmunk carry the tomato across the front of the garage, up the three steps to sit on the patio, eating the remain of that tomato. In my face…

Mountain Magic tomatoes

Mountain Magic was my top producing tomato variety with my single plant producing 19 pounds. The variety is resistant to both early and late blights so while the rest of the tomatoes were dying this plant was growing until frost. Starting in early September, the Mountain Magic plant was fighting septoria leaf spot, which killed off most of the old foliage and reduced later harvests.

Variety Days to Maturity Catalog Actual Days to Maturity Location # Plants First Harvest Last Harvest Total Pounds Pounds per plant
Big Beef 70 74 VF 2 08/02/12 08/30/12 21.4 10.7
Granadero 75 81 Home 4 08/08/12 09/30/12 32.5 8.1
Mountain Magic 66 81 Home 1 08/02/12 10/11/12 19.0 19.0
Opalka 83 88 Home 2 08/15/12 09/11/12 9.0 4.5

The Opalka tomatoes, with their long days to maturity, had barely started ripening when late blight struck. The chipmunks also enjoyed Opalka, more than the Granaderos. BTW I agree with the chipmunks, Opalka is a great tasting tomato; too bad it’s so slow.

I can’t prove if this was a good year or a bad year as I don’t have numbers from any other year. I do know there have been better years – 2008 when I filled all my canning jars – and worse years – 2009 when late blight killed everything, both tomatoes and potatoes, by 7/31. So maybe 2012 was an average year.

How much does a tomato plant produce? In my gardens, between 3 and 19 pounds.

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10 Comments »

  1. I absolutely love the information you provided for us on growing conditions, productivity, date of first and last harvests. Great information.

    Comment by crafty_cristy — November 26, 2012 @ 2:03 pm | Reply

  2. Interesting results for your tomatoes…. seeing the difference in those in your shadier garden and those in full sun reminds me not to rotate my tomato plants to a shadier area next year (just need to find another sunny area to move them to). The chipmunks also enjoyed all of my earliest cherry tomatoes; they finally left some for us later in the season. We ended up with enough tomatoes to eat daily later in the season, but not enough to can – so my dozens of empty canning jars remain stored in the basement.. Seeing your beautiful Mountain Magic tomatoes and knowing they are resistant to both early and late blight, think I will try growing them again next summer (I was successful when I tried some from a trial package when they first came out). I had some real nice kale still growing and was planning on using it in some homemade soup, but had to rip it out as the deer decided to munch on it extenseively.

    Comment by Ginny — November 26, 2012 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

    • Yes, when there is nothing else around the deer will eat the kale and collards.
      I think I’ve convinced Cheryl to grow Mountain Magic for the plant sale next year.

      Comment by marysveggiegarden — November 26, 2012 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

  3. You have very smart chipmunks, they know that the sungolds in the sunny location are more flavorful than the ones in the shade, got to give them credit.

    Comment by Norma Chang — November 26, 2012 @ 4:43 pm | Reply

  4. Nice reflection on your tomatoes this year! Great information you’ve collected 🙂

    Comment by Bee Girl (AKA Melissa) — November 26, 2012 @ 9:51 pm | Reply

  5. This is a fascinating breakdown. I have a rather shady garden, and struggle with a lot of crops. And I tend to blame my lack of success on incompetence. Maybe I should cut myself some slack.

    Comment by Lisa — November 26, 2012 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

    • Either cut yourself some slack or cut yourself some trees. 🙂 Or get a plot in a sunny community garden and see the difference. If your tomatoes are tall and lanky, with a lot of stem between leaves and branches it’s a sure sign of not enough light.

      Comment by marysveggiegarden — November 27, 2012 @ 8:00 am | Reply

  6. This was a REALLY useful post; thanks. I had been clicking all over the Internet, seemed like, trying to get the answer for one simple question: How many pounds can I expect, on average, from XYZ cultivar(s)? Or, how many tomato plants do I need for a year’s worth of one daily “dose”? I am summarizing your article as “approximately 10 pounds average with a little luck and a lotta sunlight” with a footnote to cage against marauders.

    Comment by Khlovia — August 28, 2016 @ 1:24 pm | Reply


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