Friday, October 14, 2016

And it's a wrap. Garden season 2016 is done. "Not" enough tomatoes.

It's snowing, and not for the first time this fall. The 2016 garden season is definitely over, and it's time to make notes on what worked and what didn't, so I don't make the same mistakes next spring.

I started my tomato plants from seed for the first time ever this year. Way back in February (February???) when we bought the full spectrum LED lights and hung the shelves to start seeds, I had no intention of starting tomatoes, thinking they were far too fussy and difficult for my newbie skill set. And then I happened upon some heirloom varieties by West Coast Seeds at Earth's General store, and decided to risk the $10 or $12 for four bags of seed.

I haphazardly planted my first rounds of seed sometime in March using the seed packets that I had in various drawers from past years, just to see what would germinate. I relied on being able to distinguish species on leaf shape. I learned my lesson, and planted the second round more carefully, keeping meticulous records of which seed went into which row of the tray. 

The four varieties were:

Black Krim
Old German
Purple Bumblebee
Golden Nugget

I started seeds on March 16 and again on April 7, six of each variety each time. As the seeds germinated and the seedlings grew taller, I'd carefully transplant them into taller containers, so that only the top two leaves were out of the dirt. I'd read that was the right way to promote strong roots, and it seemed to do the trick. 

According to my meticulous record keeping - phone camera photos and a spreadsheet - the Purple Bumblebee did not germinate at all. The Golden Nugget were very successful, with a high germination rate and robust seedlings. I was sure we'd have a bumper crop of glorious yellow tomatoes for yellow tomato ketchup. I was also sure I'd have a lot of transplants to give to friends and family. I ended up with only 13/32 plants in the ground here and gave one Old German away. 

I transplanted Basil into each of the pots as well. My herb seedling transplants were almost all failures though that's a topic for a subsequent post.

More meticulous record keeping:

At the end of June, the plants were doing nicely and a few had some blossoms forming. 
And then it hailed. First week of July. Hail stones only about the size of peas. But they beat the crap out of my plants. 

It was like starting over for many of them. But, none of the plants died, and ten produced at least one tomato (and most of them produced many). By mid August they were all around three feet tall.

It turns out that Golden Nugget are more cherry tomato size than the described 1 inch tomatoes. I had three plants in large black pots, and they produced very prolifically. We were eating ripe tomatoes by August 6.
They're so pretty, and I wished I could figure out a way to preserve them as is. Ultimately, I roasted them whole (without removing seeds), which was as close as I could get to maintaining their color and shape. Ready to roast - fresh garden herbs and olive oil.

And I had a nice surprise in that one of the 13 plants was a Purple Bumblebee. Also a cherry tomato. And also really pretty.

Some of these vine ripened too. As did a few of the Black Krim. I learned that those needed to be picked as soon as they started turning as they ripened super quickly. 

Black Krim are a very, very dark tomato with green streaks that turn to black over time. The other variety, Old German, was the least productive, which is super unfortunate because it was definitely another great looking tomato - and big and yellow. 
Old German on the left, a small Black Krim on the right. 
A different Old German:

Inside Black Krim

I picked all of the unripe larger tomatoes with the first frost warning, pretty early in September. We hauled the potted herbs and the cherry tomatoes in and out of the garage for a few weeks, but they've come in too, along with the peppers and squash that I dutifully covered in hopes they might mature if we had a few more sunny, warm days.

The herbs are transplanted into colorful pots in the hope they'll keep growing over the winter. Yesterday I roasted the last of the ripened tomatoes, the squash and a few of the jalapenos. Roasting ended up being the primary preservation method for the tomatoes this year, since there were never large enough quantities ripe at the same time to do anything else. Also, that makes for really delicious tomato sauce for pasta or pizza.

The final harvest:

And so, not only did I start tomatoes from seed and keep them alive all summer, I've also now collected their seeds so I can do this all over again next spring. I started out with the goal of just enough produce to eat as it ripened, and ended up disappointed that I didn't have huge bumper crops to preserve and share. Next spring I'll be more generous with the number of plants I start. 

Overall I think the methodology for the tomatoes was pretty good, and I'm perfectly fine blaming the July hail and all the rain for the under production of some of the plants. I used 'organic' fertilizer very sparingly too, and perhaps that's something else worth modifying.

On further reflection, it was not 'Not Enough Tomatoes'. It was just right. 

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