Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stewardship: You Get Out What You Put In

"I think I'll go out and water the tomatoes" I said to Jessica thinking that I had not watered the tomatoes growing on the deck and on the side of the house. It had been at least a week since I'd even thought about the tomatoes languishing and dying in the neglected wick systems in the back yard. "Aren't you going to pick those red tomatoes?" Jessica asks, and "It's raining and they're being flooded back there."

I wasn't even sure what she was talking about since I had abandoned the wick system in my mind since the other two systems were doing so much better. There were tons of tomatoes in the three pots on the deck and quite a few, though smaller for the most part (cultivars) on the four tomato plants by the side of the yard. But I said, "Sure I'll go out and look and bring back any red ones."

In the back yard the wick system looked run down and the plants mostly dead or dying straggly, but the tomatoes on them had ripened and I picked ten and brought them in. They were mostly small donas which are a tomato I really like although Jessica thinks they are way too small. But they are very round, very red, and very tasty. I put the ten on my digital kitchen scale where I weigh all my tomatoes. They weighed in at 1# 1oz — 17 ounces total.

I took out my pocket notebook and made a note. That brought the total of the Late Start Systems to 114 tomatoes with a weight of 204.125 ounces, an average of less that two ounces each although there were some tomatoes that had come in at around 13 ounces it wasn't very many. And this is the total as of September 27th — It won't be too long now before the cold weather sets in. So starting late has been not too smart. I have to get a picture of the many many tomatoes on the plants in the deck pots. They are the most luxurious growth this year.

Live and learn really. You get out of things what you put into them. My motivation for the wick systems was to try for a system I didn't have to maintain too much. It worked for a while, but I think the lack of oxygenation probably was a mistake. Still I didn't want to aerate the water or use electrical devices.

I saw a system that was being used in Africa to help people grow hydroponically and they did their aeration by physical shaking the float system making the water splash. They did that for hours a day. That's hard. I suppose I shouldn't complain about what happened when I chose to do nothing. I didn't run out my aquarium air pump and pump tiny bubbles into the water. I just let things sit. I'll have to think of some other recipe for the passive system. Wick systems without oxygenation seem to be a bit of a dead end. Of course it could have been something else. The plants did end up with some plant diseases so I suppose I should do some research in that direction too.

For all the soul searching, the kitchen counter is full of tomatoes. Jessica and I don't need nearly as many tomatoes as we get, although this year with the late start we've not been getting anything like past seasons. Later on I'll put up a contrast between this year and years past with earlier starts.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tomato Anxiety

Well the Summer is mostly done and my very late start certainly has compromised my harvest, but since I don't do this just to get tomatoes but also to acquire knowledge it has been helpful. The current status of the systems is:
  • Wick Systems: pretty much a disaster, whether for lack of attention or disease or failure to aerate the systems or possibly failure to cycle the nutrient and rebalance. I intentionally did almost nothing and the result is that most of the plants contracted some kind of disease and seem to have largely died. Oddly, several are still healthy enough to maintain their leaves and have lots of green tomatoes on them, so I'm still maintaining the nutrient strength.
  • House Systems: the systems on the side of the house (4 plants with cut out plastic cups at the base for watering in a typical Virginia clay soil, really poor soil. ) Some Miracle Gro applied randomly, not systematic at all. Two of the four plants have some sort of disease, but all have significant numbers of fruit set and developing. Because of the disease some of the fruit is a little surface spotted.
  • Deck Systems: the deck systems are three pots and of the three systems these are flourishing the best. One of the plants has some minor disease, all have significant amounts of fruit set. They have been randomly fertilized with Miracle Gro as well.
Total Harvest: Because of the late start tomatoes have only been coming off the plants sporadically. The very first came off on August 29th and 30th -- a single 1 3/4 oz tomato from the house sytem was harvested and the next day 3 1 oz. tomatoes came off the wick system. Many of the plants are cherries or other smaller tomatoes like donas. Today a total of 43 tomatoes but only 56 5/8 oz. total have come off the systems. That's only about 3.5 pounds, so not much so far, especially given the number of plants.

I'll be tracking this until the end of the growing season which will probably come sometime in October. The late start from seed, May 21st — has compromised the yield and I'd say right now that the wick systems have been a failure despite a very promising start. So it's back to the drawing board there. I'd like to find a system that doesn't require electricity or a lot of monitoring. The wick systems have filled both those requirements for the most part, but after all the purpose is to grow tomaotes and will I've taken quite a few off the wick system so far (34 of the 43 taken so far came from the wick system, they've all been pretty small). The biggest tomatoes have come off the deck system: one at 6 7/8 oz. and two at slightly over 10 oz (one 10 3/8 and the other at 10 1/8 oz.).

We'll see how things develop in the weeks to come. Historically using NFT systems I've gotten a lot more tomatoes but you can't really assess things until you're further into the harvest season.