September 29, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Update on tomato garden: ups, downs, & stripes

fava bean root nodules
Fava bean root nodules

What’s better than fresh “fruit” from your own tomato garden?

For the last few years when I think about planning my summer tomato garden, I start months in advance preparing the soil.

I had fava beans as my cover crop all this past winter and tilled it into the soil late in winter. It adds a lot to the soil in terms of nutrients and nitrogen.

You can see in a plant I had just pulled up the little root nodules that crank out nitrogen, which is fixed from nitrogen gas in the air. There’s a nifty symbiosis in the nodules between the plant and certain bacteria that can fix the nitrogen.

The main thing I’ve been hoping is that the fava beans’ impact on the soil would yield happier tomato plants the following summer with a lot more tomatoes. When I planted the tomatoes in late March and early April 2018, the soil looked nice and rich.

Over the years, I’ve been getting lots of great tomatoes, including fun varieties from Wild Boar over in Napa. See “How to Grow Cool Tomatoes” for some tips.

So now that it’s July 2018, how have things gone this year so far?

tomato garden 2018
Tomato garden 2018

There have been many ups, but unfortunately some downs too.

On the positive, I’ve got about eight plants that now like the one shown at right that are loaded with about 15-20 ripening tomatoes on each plant. I’ve got another eight plants with maybe half that number. These are mostly standard, tougher varieties such as Celebrity, Champion, and Better Boy.

Also, I’m happy that some of the cool striped tomatoes and other unusual types have made it to be eaten and there are more to come (see below left with one standard red variety for comparison). Some of my favorites include Beauty King, Lover’s Lunch, and the heart-shaped Bull’s Heart (the giant one at 3 o’clock).

On the down side, more than half of the unusual tomato varieties’ plants including striped ones have succumbed to some kind of fungal thing. I think it was most likely Fusarium wilt. Ouch.

tomato garden; Beauty King, Lover's Lunch
Beauty King, Lover’s Lunch, Bull’s Heart, Champion

Other than planting resistant varieties from the beginning (which fortunately I did a lot more of this year than in the past), apparently there’s not much to do about Fusarium.

It’s not easily prevented and definitely not really treatable in tomatoes that already have it as far as I understand.

It’s hard to remove it and other fungal diseases from soil longer term, although apparently some professional farmers fumigate their soil. That sounds pretty harsh.

Champion, Celebrity, Better Boy, and Ace 55 are 90% resistant in my experience.

Then there’s the heat here.

Last year a long stretch of 100+ days in a row in early June took a big toll. We haven’t had too hot a spring and early summer yet here in the Sacramento area (and in fact Spring was cool for us, push back ripening by about a month), but even so we’ve had plenty of 100+ days on and off. Some plants just can’t stand up to that even for a day or two. Most varieties stop flowering even if they hold up well overall.

I have more tomatoes on the vine to come including the unusual Brad’s Atomic Grape, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Michael Pollan, and more standard varieties too. Lots of tomatillos this year as well; my experience with them has been that they tend to ripen later in summer.

What’s growing in your garden? How are your tomatoes doing?

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