Mary's Veggie Garden

December 2, 2012

A Plan for Tomatoes in 2013

Filed under: Diseases,Late Blight,Tomatoes,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 7:36 pm

The collection of data is useless unless the analysis is used to inform and direct future activities. Since examining my 2012 tomato harvest in my last post, I’ve been thinking about my direction for next year. Now that the seed catalogs are arriving in my mail box, a plan is firming up.

Background

Climate change is here. The variability that was predicted is happening. Spring is warmer in NYS but the growing season doesn’t start any earlier because most years we are experiencing a hard freeze around May 1. In my gardens the season has gotten shorter as fungal diseases wipe out tomato plants before frost. (Between 1979 and 2008 my plants always survived until frost – often into November.)

  • 2009 – freeze 5/1/09, late blight over entire northeast USA in late July.
  • 2010 – freeze 5/4/10, this is the only recent year the plants survived to first fall frost.
  • 2011 – no late spring freeze,  a hurricane the last week of August and a tropical storm the following week brought heavy rains, fungal diseases and early death to tomatoes.
  • 2012 – freeze 4/30/11, late blight arrived late July and spread gradually during August.

Strategy

My plan is to focus on tomato varieties that mature quickly or which have disease resistance. Of course I also want flavor, but a great tasting heirloom is of no use if the plant dies about the time it ripens its first tomatoes.

Tactics

Cherry tomatoes: I love Sungold and it matures early (60 days) so it’s a keeper. Because my four plants at home produced the same yield as each plant in my Vassar Farm (VF) garden, I’ll grow only one Sungold at home and hope it’s enough to keep the chipmunks happy and away from my other tomatoes.

Beefsteak tomatoes: I’m replacing Big Beef with Defiant, a late blight (LB) resistant variety. Big Beef has slightly better flavor, but I lost a lot of them to LB. I preserve most of these tomatoes for use in winter soups, so I may not notice the flavor difference.

Sauce tomatoes: I’m replacing Granadero, an indeterminate variety that matures in 75 days, with Mariana, a determinate variety maturing in 70 days and described as having ‘very good flavor’. Determinate varieties provide a concentrated harvest, so I’m hoping to get it early, before the diseases arrive. Granadero’s extended harvest was chopped off by late blight in 2012.

Although there is a LB resistant plum tomato, Plum Regal, I grew it a couple of years ago and it was flavorless. It is also extremely susceptible to Septoria leaf spot.

Next year I will try Jasper, a 2013 AAS selection. Jasper will either replace Mountain Magic or, more likely, I’ll grow them side by side for comparison. Jasper is a very small, red cherry, described as having a ‘sweet and rich’ flavor. Jasper has resistance to several diseases, including intermediate resistance to Septoria. Septoria is a problem in my gardens and Mountain Magic lacks resistance.

I won’t grow more than 1 or two heirloom plants. They tend to ripen late and if we are hit with late blight their harvest will end prematurely.

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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