Friday, 17 June 2011

The tomatoes of midsummer

The stupid autofocus on my camera is useless in situations like this. However, you can see the first tomato here, a 'Jaune Flammée' swollen to the size of a pea!

It's time for an update on the heart of my garden this year - the tomatoes.

I'm being a little mean to the other crops, perhaps. But the reason I describe them in that way is simple (apart from the emotional attachment, the flavour, the usefulness) - they will be providing the bulk of my year's harvest, at least in terms of weight.

Three months ago, or about one third of the total season I suppose, I set out what I wanted to do, which varieties I would grow, and why. As time has passed, and I've seen how the plants have progressed, and especially once I'd committed to building my new greenhouse, I decided roughly how many plants I'd grow, where I'd put them, and then I worked out my projected harvest.

'Riesentraube' (bottom left), 'Gardener's Delight' (upper right), plus beans and winter squash (upper left), at the base of the outside wall of the greenhouse.

I started with 15 types of seed, and all have produced plants - although I had rather a glut of 'Green Zebra' and 'Gardener's Delight', and rather too few 'German Orange Strawberry' and 'Snowberry'. Nonetheless, I have met the minimum requirements - 3 of each variety. That makes 45 plants in total, but I decided I wanted a few more than that, and after I've distributed some to friends and family (so far, 6 to the boys, 18 to my friend and her mother, around 8 to my parents, and a dozen to my sister) I will have to find a home around the place for the remainder. That could be anything up to another 50 plants, but my rough total (i.e. the number I want, with anything over being a bonus, or a burden depending on your point of view) is 60.

Now for the maths. Some plants (between 15 and 20) will live in my greenhouse, the rest outdoors. The general advice with cordons (indeterminate plants, that won't just form a neat, self-limiting bush) is to stop the plant's growth after 4-6 trusses (bunches of fruit). I will probably push the ones under 'glass', as they will be kept under ideal conditions. A good average then would be 5 trusses per plant (300 in total). Trusses vary quite a bit in how many flowers they produce - each flower becoming one fruit, of course. The smaller the fruit, in general the more fruits per truss. A conservative estimate would be 6-8 fruits per truss averaged across all the varieties. That's 1800-2400 fruits, so let's pick a round figure in between of 2000. Two thousand tomatoes! Then, once again, the weight varies hugely, from as little as 15g for 'Snowberry' (probably even less for 'Riesentraube', but I couldn't find any figures online*), up to (apparently) as much as 800g for 'Great White'. I'll be modest, and say 50g on average across the board. That amounts to a lovely round 100kg grand total. Now, that's far more than I'd estimated I'd need, to attain self-sufficiency, which was a minimum of 50kg I think. So anywhere between the two, and I'll be satisfied.

A range of smaller plants, including 'Great White', 'Cherokee Purple', 'Cream Sausage', and 'Black Cherry'.

Now for a roundup of how each variety is faring.

Black Cherry
planted 2 • all plants <30cm flowers open fruit set
Fairly small, as they were in the later-sown batch, but healthy enough. Hopefully they'll catch up once established.

Cherokee Purple
planted 2 • all plants <30cm flowers open fruit set
They seem alright, vigorous and a good shade of green.

Costoluto Fiorentino
planted 3 • largest plant 58cm tall flowers open fruit set
Not all of these have survived, or look healthy, but the largest, in the greenhouse for a few weeks now, is doing very well. Its first flowers, however, are very odd - I think some sort of mutation has occurred, as there is one huge fused flower, with dozens of petals, and the truss is irregular. Hopefully an aberration!**

Not perfectly in focus, but the large, fused, mutant flower is in the middle, between normal ones. I doubt it will form a fruit. Sadly, inspecting the open flower to the right, I snapped it off. Still, plenty more coming!

Cream Sausage
planted 3 • all plants <30cm flowers open fruit set
I found one of these on the windowsill today, with a full truss of open flowers - still in a tiny plastic cup 'pot'. Amazing tenacity! The plants are small, not terribly vigorous (I suppose because they are determinates), but early flowering - all the plants have blossom open now. One of the ones I'm really looking forward to!

Gardener's Delight
planted 3 • largest plant 38cm tall flowers open fruit set
True to form, these have grown well, put up with a lot of neglect, and flowered early and profusely. They are popular for a reason! Again, I had a glut of plants, but that's no problem - I gave plenty away, as they're great for beginners.

German Orange Strawberry
planted none yet • all plants <30cm flowers open fruit set
A straggly bunch, rather neglected, still a little small to plant out (or at least, I can leave them a little longer while I devote space and time to other varieties).

Great White
planted 1 • all plants <30cm flowers open fruit set
No problems with these - and I found several extra plants when rearranging the windowsill, so hopefully I'll not be short of fruit when the time comes.

Green Zebra
planted 3 • all plants <30cm flowers open fruit set
There were far too many of these, around 40 seedlings. Thankfully, my friend has a greenhouse and seemed happy to take some for herself and her mother. They seem happy enough, showing no signs so far of the tendency to disease I'd read about.

Jaune Flammée
planted 3 • largest plant 70cm tall flowers open ✔ fruit set
The star of the show! These are strong, tall, early-flowering plants. The first buds, open flowers, and set fruit all came on this variety - although being the most advanced to begin with, I lavished more attention on it (it got planted first). I have taken side-shoot cuttings, which have started to root. Hoping it's as productive and delicious as I've read!

The second truss is already open, and two more trusses are visible higher up the plant.

planted 1 • all plants <30cm flowers open fruit set
What an odd variety! To begin with, nothing germinated. It ultimately took two or three times as long to get established as the others, and even then, most of the plants didn't thrive. They then exhibited two different habits; some remained short and stocky, putting out lots of side shoots (a bit like a determinate), and the rest grew tall and leggy. I have a feeling there's some sort of genetic variation, at least in the seeds I bought. However, those that have grown look okay.

planted 3 • largest plant 50cm tall flowers open fruit set
I thought disaster had struck when, searching for plants to give to my mum, I found they'd all died. They were from the first batch that went outside to harden off, and got blasted by hot winds, killing the tops. Thankfully, I'd already planted two for myself, and I later found another one clinging to life. I took side shoot cuttings from the strongest plant, so I won't go short after all. The ones that did get planted early are large, and very healthy, on the verge of setting fruit.

Sub Arctic Plenty
planted 2 • all plants <30cm flowers open fruit set
I don't mind if these don't do so well - I wanted really early fruit, and these are amongst the earliest, but I didn't plant them soon enough, so they'll end up fruiting later than some of the others. Small and early-flowering, like the other determinate type, 'Cream Sausage'.

Summer Cider
planted 3 • all plants <30cm flowers open fruit set
The one variety I don't need to label, as it has potato leaves (they really stand out). Otherwise, a little slower than some others, but strong enough.

Sun Belle
planted 3 • largest plant 75cm tall flowers open fruit set
Another one I started having a lot of, but lost some along the way.

This 'Sun Belle' is taking over as the tallest plant. The uppermost leaves are strangely curled back, with no obvious cause, but it seems untroubled.

Super Marmande
planted 3 • largest plant 40cm tall flowers open fruit set
Very strong, stocky plants, some of these, showing off the vigor that made me want to grow it again this year. Hopefully it'll be just as delicious, too.

This 'Super Marmande' may not be very tall, but it's very healthy-looking.

And one non-tomato picture: my largest squash plant, an 'Uchiki Kuri', which is really thriving in the greenhouse, but will need to be moved out soon.

*I've since found a source that says 6-10g.
**Looking at other people's photos of this, it seems the flowers do tend to have more petals/look rather odd. Watch this space!

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