Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where's Sara? (And How Are Those Tomatoes Doing?)

First, I would like to reassure the readers of this blog that I was not abducted by Garden Gnomes.  (What a relief!)  Instead I started the month of July with a flu-like virus that did a pretty good job keeping me from doing much of anything, including garden activities.  Luckily Tom was able to help out with the watering and everything survived; including me!  Of course, due to the amount of time that has past since my last post, I have WAY too much to talk about.  So I have decided to break down the garden into plant type and give them their own posts.

We begin with the tomatoes!  At right you can see tomato alley.  The garden is resembling a jungle more and more everyday, so I apologize for the lack of definition.  If you click on the photo, it should bring up a larger size that hopefully makes it a little easier to see.  Most of the plants are doing fabulous, with ample amounts of green tomatoes.  A few, however, have blossom end rot on the fruits and/or extreme cat-facing.  While the majority of my blossom end rot issues have been with the potted tomato plants on the porch, there are a few plants in the garden that have had issues as well.  One would assume that if there was a watering issue causing the blossom end rot, that all the plants would be affected.  That is not the case though.  Only a few of the plants from the heirloom mix have experienced the rot while their neighbors have perfectly healthy fruits.

Same thing with the cat-facing.  Only some of the plants were affected and even stranger, the cool nightly temperatures that are normally the cause of cat-facing, did not occur when these plants were flowering and fruiting.  What exactly caused this anomaly?  Well, the local extension office was confused, so we may never know.  Chances are that something went awry when the flowers were forming, probably a nutrient deficiency, and the result was extreme cat-facing. (Photo of mild cat-facing above and the more extreme form below).

As I mentioned the plants with the issues are from the heirloom seed mix I purchased.  I still have no idea what the plants actually are, and since there have been so many 'bad' tomatoes, there is a chance I may never know!  I am leaving the cat-faced fruits in place to ripen, so at least I will know what those plants are, but I have at least one plant that I have had to remove all the tomatoes from, because of the rot.  That will probably end up being the true mystery plant.  For the potted plants, I finally broke down and bought some fertilizer with calcium in it in hopes that any new fruits will not fall victim to the rot.  The fertilizer I chose was Mater Magic.  It is organic, feeds for three months, and can be used in pots as well as in the garden.  And apparently the cats seem to think it might be worth eating.  The container is now empty, but I still have it in my garden bag, and I have caught both cats with their heads deep in my bag intensely investigating the 'new smell'.  I wonder if it would help the cats grow "bigger" and "juicier" too!  Simon has the 'big' part down, but I doubt he is juicy.  I think I will play it safe and NOT feed the cats tomato fertilizer.  Though the idea does bring to mind a Willy Wonka inspired vision of a giant, round and red Simon being rolled away by singing oompa-loompas.....

Which brings us to the plants that are doing fabulous!  I am anxiously awaiting the first ripe Italian Heirloom tomato.  Although an heirloom, it is not from the mix and has not had any issues.  The fruits from the Italian plant get to be two pounds (~907 grams) each, so they somewhat resemble a Willy Wonka invention.  The photo at left shows four Italian Heirloom fruits with their supplemental support and my hand.  As you can see, they are already rather large, but not to the two pound size quite yet.  I know that the plant is supposed to be able to support the heavy fruits on it's own, but I did have a tomato fall off from this bunch, so I wanted to make sure none of the other ones fell; hence the additional support.  So far so good!

Another variety that is doing well is the Amish Paste.  I have four plants of this type in the garden and all of them are heavy with fruits.  As a paste tomato, I was under the impression that they would be somewhat Roma sized.  What is actually growing on my plants though, are rather large fruits!  The picture at right shows one cluster of Amish Paste tomatoes.  With my initial size estimate, I was assuming they'd be ripe by now, but apparently they have other plans.  I am hoping they don't all go the way of the super-giant Amish paste tomato that I have (below), because if they do, I'll have to use them green or leave them on the vines all winter long!  Covered of course, since this is Wisconsin.  I was also told (after I planted these) that Amish Paste are prone to blossom end rot.  Well, I am thinking that I was misinformed as these guys are perfect.  It just adds to the mystery of the varieties that did get affected.

Another plant that is doing really well is the Tigerella.  I have two of those and they have more fruits than they know what to do with.  They are also at the top of my list at the moment, because I saw signs of ripening yesterday on one of the plants.  Yay!  They make the top of the list for another reason too.  As my alternative to Mr. Stripey, they are out preforming my failed attempts on a major scale.  I am very happy with my choice, and I haven't even tasted them yet!  I am sure they will continue to please, and I can't wait to sink my teeth in.

(Tigerella plant in its cage above; Tigerella fruit at left.)

As was mentioned above, the plants on the porch have had it rough.  There are only three plants that have not fallen prey to the blossom end rot, and as all but one of the three is from the Heirloom mix, it is a wonder that the unaffected number is so high.  The non-heirloom plant is the Legend tomato (at right).  Tom calls it the albino tomato, because the un-ripe fruits are very light in color.  I am hoping that these guys start turning soon, but I guess I will just have to be patient.  It is very difficult waiting for vine ripe tomatoes!  But it is definitely worth the wait.  Nothing beats homegrown!

I will conclude this tomato update with a non-tomato.  Soon after my seedlings were transferred into their pots, a sunflower seed from the bird feeder made its way into one of the pots and took up residence.  Although the sunflower plant picked an occupied location to put down roots, I decided to leave it there.  It is now on the verge of blooming, and I can't wait for it to open.  Since it came from the birdseed mix, I am assuming it will make bird friendly seeds.  This will of course cause great excitement among the squirrels in the neighborhood, so I am not looking forward to that.  But until that point, I will enjoy the bloom and perhaps thwart the squirrels' efforts by covering the flower head when it starts to go to seed.  Now to decide what plant to update you on next...