Tomatoes

Guess what we picked today? I’ve just finished freezing the large ones to make into tomato jam and tomato sauce later, or seasoning and setting the smaller ones out to sun dry. We’ll sell these fantastically tasty foods at our Marketplace in November.

Last year, 2016, we had no tomatoes until the Fall.  I couldn’t figure out why. Our summer temperatures were over 100F for days on end, peaking at 116F several of those days. The nights never cooled off and sleeping was difficult. It turns out that the tomatoes didn’t like the heat either. If temperatures consistently stay over 85F and don’t dip below 75F at night then the flowers won’t set fruit. And here I was thinking that tomatoes loved the heat! They just love the warmth, like I do.

Tomato flowers are self-pollinating. Each has both male and female parts and it takes vibration from winged insects and gentle warm winds to pollinate. Others flick them with their fingers, or set a tuning fork on them to simulate insect vibration. If there are very hot, dry winds, pollen dries out and isn’t viable. If the humidity is so high that it is sticky out the pollen swells and sticks, unable to fall to the female part of the flower. When the temperatures lowered in the Fall, even though the day length was shorter, the tomatoes quickly put on fruit. 

Here in Southern California’s inland area we don’t receive snow, so tomatoes can last outside as a perennial vine for several years. However a good way to keep tomatoes for use after summer is to prune it, hanging the vine with the tomatoes in a dry area with good air circulation. The vine will die but the tomatoes – especially sauce or paste tomatoes such as Roma – will stay in excellent condition for months.

Tomatoes enjoy a good deep watering, and then let go dry in between. The tomatoes are more flavorful that way as well. Most of the tomatoes we harvested today came from volunteers that had popped up along our fenceline and receive no water, and others receive water once or twice a week along with the trees by which they are planted.

This apricot tree has been struggling with the heat and heavy clay in which its been planted, and as it has too few leaves there isn’t anything protecting the trunk and branches from the scorching heat… except for this tomato plant. The tomatoes vine upwards away from nibbling animals and are easy to pick, and the apricot receives shade. (Remember that growing under trees that have an upward growth is great, but only grow companion plants outside of the dripline of trees that have heavy skirts such as citrus and avocado).

When tomato vines die down, cut them at the soil surface and then either bury them or cover them with compost and then plant right around them. Worms love tomato vines and roots, and the vines will return nutrients to the soil. Also, tomatoes don’t care about being planted in the same place twice, so don’t worry about crop rotation. The only issue you might have is that if you plant a different variety the following year, seeds from the previous year’s tomato might come up there as well. 

If your tomatoes crack on the vine, that usually means too much water, or that you’ve dumped some fertilizer on them and the growth spurt was too quick for the expanding fruit. Don’t use chemical fertilizers. Period. For anything. If you dose the tomatoes with fertilizer you’ll have lots of vines and little fruit. Also, if the tomatoes have blossom-end rot (round black dents in the bottom of the fruit) it means there is a calcium deficiency, so to prevent this bury crushed egg shells where you’ll plant tomatoes, or pour sour milk or milk products around the tomato plants. 

We have tomato hornworm in our garden,but they don’t get out of control because we have birds. They take care of most of the caterpillars in the garden. Besides, the tomato hornworm is the young of the Sphinx moth, 

a large lovely moth that you may see in the night.

If the temperatures remain tolerable this summer, we here at Finch Frolic Garden can look forward to lots of tomatoes to dry, can, freeze, eat fresh, make into sauce… whatever. Tomatoes are truly the taste of summer.

4 thoughts on “Tomatoes

  1. Jane, I know what you mean. Summers are longer, hotter and more dangerous here, too. I just keep preaching and practicing shade and sheet mulch, rain catchment and hugelkultur. These things make all the difference. Even artificial shade to protect young plants is important. Best of luck with your rain!

  2. Hi Diane, I don’t think we have blight in this area, I don’t usually have a pest problem with anything except kangaroos and cockatoos which are a real pest in the summertime. I have no idea what grubs got into my tomatoes they were quite large and a muddy colour. The chooks loved them. The Chooks and the wild birds usually do a good job keeping us pest free. We occasionally get summer storms, but the last few summers any storms have been dry thunderstorms. Summers are usually hot and dry and fire prone. This year we had the driest start to winter on record. However we did have some good rain at the end of autumn. Like you I find the weather forecasts for us are often wrong, but hopefully we will get the 20-40mm forecast for tomorrow. I have dug a few swales, I can’t plant them all at once, but I’m hoping that they will make at least a slight difference this summer and I will gradually plant them as finances allow. I have some things growing from cuttings and seed ready to plant out once the worst of the frost is over. Your winter months are our summer months. I dread the summer.

  3. Hi Jane, thanks for the comment. No, we don’t have tomato/potato blight in our area. The fungus thrives in wet conditions and in greenhouses, and we’re much too hot and dry for it. Does your area receive a lot of summertime rain/humidity? The wild birds in our yard take care of most of the caterpillars. Thanks for the wishes for rain. Last winter we had three times the rain we’ve had since the early 70’s, which was quite the challenge to deal with. We caught as much as we could in the soil. I have no idea what is in store for this coming winter (for us it is Dec – Feb). The forecasters are often wrong. Its been a much more mild summer than last year, with temps about ten degrees less. Still very hot, but not scorching. Best of luck with your garden!

  4. Lovely tomatoes. I always thought it was bad to grow them in the same spot each year because of the risk of blight. I think though that your area is probably too dry for blight. I did not grow large tomatoes last summer as the year before they all got grubs. I fed them all to the chooks, and let the chooks scratch through the bed, so hopefully this year I won’t have a problem. I did grow cherry tomatoes last summer as they never get affected by anything. I believe you are coming out of drought this year so I wish you ☔️.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *