An Interesting Observation....

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An early morning walk through ye olde vegetable garden can yield many interesting discoveries...

First -- my thanks to sister-in-law Leana Barrantes -- who was kind enough to gift me with an old digital camera she no longer uses. It just happens to be the best camera I've ever had -- and the photos prove it.

This camera appears to be idiot proof. I should know -- since I'm an idiot -- First Class.

My friends -- the photo to your immediate right represents one section of the Bird heirloom tomato garden in early August. I have quite the conundrum here. Perhaps you can help me figure it out?

By looking at the first photo above -- you'll notice that the tomato plants in the raised bed to the right are much taller than the plants in the raised bed to your left. The taller plants represent the starter plants I received earlier this year from Farmer Fred Hoffman. The plants to your left represent my starters.

This comes as no surprise to me whatsoever. Fred's starter plants TOWERED over our sickly offerings this year. Although my plants are now catching up and fruiting quite nicely -- they still haven't caught up to Fred's starter plants and may never catch up to them.

Here is the same shot of the two beds taken at a different angle. The bed containing my starter plants is in front. Fred's starter plants are located the next bed over. The PVC cages that you see in these photos stand about six feet high. The starter plants from Fred Hoffman have grown through the top of these PVC cages and stand at a height of about eight feet.

My starters -- meanwhile -- have barely begun to approach the six foot level.

Why is this so confusing? Well -- to be honest -- it's not. I expected as much. When you start with tall and healthy starter plants -- you're bound to get better growth. The proof is in these two photos.

BUT -- that's not all.

There's another section in the Bird Back 40 also dedicated to our heirloom tomato efforts. It's yet another raised bed located on the other side of the backyard. This is an 8X8 wide raised bed that we use for growing tomatoes -- and another section has been reserved for all things melon.

The plants located in this bed -- pictured to your right -- are not Fred Hoffman's starter plants. They are -- or were -- our sickly starter plants. Notice how these are growing through the top of the PVC cages. And -- keep in mind -- that this bed was planted one week AFTER we planted out in the two beds pictured above.

The tomato plants located in this bed are about the same size of the bed that contains Fred's starter plants. These starter plants were just as sickly as the rest of our starters. They were nowhere near as tall or lush as the plants gifted to us by Fred -- yet as the photo clearly shows -- they are now just as tall as Fred's plants if not taller.

How could this be. Why are these plants so lush -- green and tall? Why are they so much larger than my other starters in the photos above?

But that's not all.

The tomato plants located in this bed -- again pictured to your left in a somewhat wider shot (those are wifey's sunflowers in the background) -- were slow to produce fruit this year. I had blamed the lack of production on the weather (which continues to be less than ideal) -- but yet another strange development took place about two weeks ago.

These plants -- after growing to a height of six or seven feet and not producing much -- suddenly set a large and surprising crop of tomatoes. I'm not complaining mind you -- no not at all. Some of our best heirloom offerings are located in this bed. That includes the time-honored classic of Brandywine and other varieties like Tigerella, Arkansas Traveler and German Orange Strawberry (a new addition to the Bird heirloom tomato garden this season).

In fact -- the numbers of tomatoes that have formed on the German Orange Strawberry would bring a smile to the face of any heirloom grower. The plant is simply loaded with fruit from top to bottom. The same development has taken place with the Brandywine -- which is planted right next to it and the Tigerella (which is rather hard to reach because it's blocked by melons).

So -- what gives? Well -- to be honest -- I'm not sure. This has happened once before -- with a black tomato variety that Venus and I planted two years ago. Oh -- the plant grew to an impressive size sure enough. But production was lacking. In fact -- to be honest -- this black variety didn't produce a single, solitary tomato.

But -- upon reaching a height of five to six feet -- the tomato plant stopped growing and suddenly fruited a crop of 30-40 tomatoes within the space of a week. It went from the "least productive" category to "Whoa" in the space of a few hours. I still haven't figured out how or why that happened.

It just did.

If I had to guess? I think I may have been a little too *generous* with the amendments that I added to the soil last spring before Venus and I planted. The 8X8 bed was amended with chicken manure compost -- which is a tad hotter than the steer manure compost that I normally use in the other beds. I may have also added in a tad too much in the way of pelleted fertilizers -- which I also use when I recharge our raised beds for the upcoming season.

Too much nitrogen will result in a strong and healthy tomato plant with very little fruit set. I do like to experiment somewhat when recharging these beds for the upcoming growing season (you learn through screwing up) -- and it's possible that I "crossed the line" when it came to the all important nutrient of NITROGEN. Yes -- it's essential for tomato plant growth or any vegetable plant growth.

But -- to be honest? This is really just a guess on my part. It could be too much nitrogen. It could be something else entirely.

Your thoughts?


Jenn's Cooking Garden! said...

Your tomato plants are looking nice! I have a section of Tomatos that i am still waiting to set fruit. Its a row of Mortgage lifter tomatos. they just started to flower a cpl weeks ago. I have never grown this type of tomato. In the meantime i just enjoy the green foliage and hope that tomatos will appear.

Greg Damitz said...

Your observation of too much nitrogen seems to be correct. One year a friend of mine put raw, uncomposted horse manure around his tomatoes.He had the most lush, greenest 10 foot tomato plants I have ever seen. Unfortunately he did not get a single tomato as his plants kept up this extraordinary growth until fall.

LauraBee said...

There's also the determinate/indeterminate difference. I'm not familiar with which tomato varieties fall into each category other than paste/sauce tomatoes are usually determinate - grow like crazy, then set most of their fruit in one fell swoop. It's a real bonus since you probably don't want to make tiny little batches of sauce every now & then. Cocktail & other bite-sized tomatoes tend to be indeterminate, giving you bits of a crop over a long period of time (thank goodness !). I think the other types ( beefsteaks, etc) can go either way, it just depends on the specific variety.

Then of course there's the oddball weather we've had this summer to factor in. I don't think I can calculate what that's doing to the poor tomato plants.

Jeremiah said...

I have the same issue with mine this year. I have been eating cherry tomatos since late June early July. Just within the past 2 weeks I have seen the slicers begin to throw off large amounts of fruit. All I can say is about time.


Are your varieties the same as Fred's? Was everything started at the same time?
I've had huge success in the past with bunny poop. Those little guys can really process the alfalfa to leave to great stuff.

Bill Bird said...

Maybelline: Varieties are different from Fred's -- but our seed starting efforts took place within a week of each other. Fred has a natural advantage with a greenhouse -- but it takes more than that to produce successful starter plants year in and year out (and he does). Mine have been hit and miss. One lady who gifted me with a plant this year used her waterbed to grow some GORGEOUS starters. Venus and I experimented a tad with our starters and it did not work out well at all. Once again? You learn through abysmal failure.