Tomato Chronicles

In the spring of 2010, I had finally had enough of tasteless faux-ripe supermarket tomatoes. Rather than pay through the nose for overripe heirlooms, I decided to grow my own. Even if it cost a bit more, it would be worth it. I had never successfully grown any plant (!), so I wanted a system as close to foolproof as possible. I documented the process in a series of posts:

These posts describe what I learned about selecting, planting, cultivating and harvesting tomatoes using the inexpensive Topsy Turvy planter. My conclusion: although the Topsy Turvy produced a decent crop, better results might be achieved more easily using a different sort of planter.

So, what follows is a record of my efforts in the 2011 growing season.

Nebula’s Tomato Growing Journal — 2011

DISCLAIMER: My experience, and the insights I present here, apply only to container gardening in a mostly arid Western U.S. location, with very high daytime temperatures and relatively cool nights. Also, I’ve tried only hybrid (not heirloom) tomatoes of fairly normal type and size; no cherry tomatoes or beefsteaks.

Proper preparation prevents poor performance. . .

_____________________________________________

> 17 March, 2011

Nighttime temperatures might still go below freezing,so I’ll wait out the rest of March before planting.

Ordered from Gardener’s Supply Company: Tomato Success Kit (USD $65); 4 planter casters ($10); support cage extension ($12); and red plastic mulch ($12). The Success Kit includes a heavy-duty plastic self-watering planter, a 30″ tall vinyl coated support cage, 40 quarts of container mix (sphagnum peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, dolomitic limestone, calcitic limestone), and 2 cups of organic 5-6-5 fertilizer. This might seem expensive, but I hope to reuse the hardware year after year.

My hope with this setup is to give the tomatoes consistently moist soil, which I believe was my main problem with last year’s Topsy Turvy planter. This should reduce or prevent the occurrence of blossom end rot (BER) and cracking, and keep the leaves dry.

> 9 April, 2011

Daytime temperatures are in the mid-60°s (F) and rising, and nighttime temperatures are working their way up from the upper 40°s into the 50°s. That’s it for me; I can’t wait any longer.

Per the Tomato Success Kit instructions I moistened the soil (the container mix), then mixed in 1 cup of fertilizer. Note: this is slow-release fertilizer, which will keep the plant fed for 4-6 weeks. Advice you might read that says to fertilize weekly doesn’t apply here. Over fertilizing is as bad as under fertilizing.

The soil is poured onto a raised platform in the planter, with space for 4 gallons of water below. Several parallel troughs in the platform extend deep down into the reservoir, with small holes along the bottom of each trough. The soil in each trough gets soaked in water, which wicks up into the planter as the plants need it. Other self-watering planters use a special wicking material that must be kept correctly positioned and clean; this one relies on the soil to do the wicking itself. The outdoor configuration has drain holes so the water level can’t rise into the main soil compartment.

I planted seedlings in 2 varieties:

  • Celebrity VFFNT (semi-determinate, 70 day maturity, seedling about 7″ tall)
  • Early Girl VFF (indeterminate, 50-55 day maturity, seedling about 12″ tall)

The Early Girl is a bit large for a seedling, but that’s what the nursery had available. By planting now, I might have harvestable fruit by the end of May!

Newly planted tomato seedlings picture

Newly planted Celebrity and Early Girl tomato seedlings in self-watering planter (note the open water fill port)

I originally had the idea to plant 2 semi-determinates with different maturity periods, so at least one would be producing a batch of fruit at any given time. Unfortunately, there’s little variation in maturity among the available semi-determinate plants. I also want tomatoes as soon as possible, so what the heck, I went ahead with the fast-maturing Early Girl. There’s still some question in my mind about how well it will coexist with the Celebrity in the same planter.

The soil area of the planter is about 17″x24″ and 8″ deep. I buried 2/3 of each seedling under the soil, including existing branches (this is normal practice for tomatoes, because they develop roots along every part of the buried stem). I needed to tip the taller plant over at an angle so I could get as much of it as possible below the soil surface. I gently curved the upper stem so it emerged vertically from the soil.

I put the plants as far from each other as possible, while maintaining 5-6 inches from the edges of the planter. Then I thoroughly watered the soil, filled up the reservoir, and rolled the planter into the sun.

> 10 April, 2011 (1 day)

Now that the tomato plants are settled in, I applied the mulch. It’s 1 mil thick, perforated red plastic in 3′ x 3′ sheets. This stuff has recently been shown to stimulate stronger growth and larger, more flavorful fruit in response to the red light reflected up onto the tomato plant. It also works as ordinary mulch – conserving moisture, suppressing weeds and warming the soil. I cut a 3″ hole for each plant, with a slit to the edge of the plastic, and tucked the edges down the sides of the container.

I also installed the tomato support cage with its extension. The cage components all clipped together easily, and I pushed the 8″ legs all the way down into the soil. This complicated the mulch installation; I had to cut slits from the edge of the plastic to accommodate each cage leg. The result is a bit sloppy, but it seems to work OK.

Tomato planter with seedlings, support cage and mulch picture

The self-watering planter after installing the tomato support cage and red plastic mulch

The casters (which barely raise the planter off the ground) will allow me to test different positions and orientations to achieve the best sun exposure.

> 14 April, 2011 (5 days)

Although daytime temperatures are slowly but steadily rising, last night was the coldest in several weeks, so I wrapped the tomato planter in an emergency survival blanket (the kind that’s reflective on one side and orange on the other). The plants are fine.

Interesting note: several hours after this afternoon’s direct sunlight, I noticed that the water in the reservoir is still warm! That should help the tomatoes to weather the last of the slightly too-cool nights. It’s another point in favor of a self-watering planter.

What’s more, I haven’t needed to refill the reservoir since the original planting; the soil is still moist, and there’s plenty of water left.

> 18 April, 2011 (9 days)

I forgot to address a small issue: Both of my tomato seedlings already had a few small flower buds when I bought them; one bud (on the Early Girl) has since blossomed. I vaguely recalled reading that certain blossoms should be removed from tomato plants at an early stage to promote growth, or health, or fruiting, or something. I called and asked my local nursery, and the representative immediately said “pinch the buds off.” So I did.

An article on ehow.com says:

Plucking flowers before transplanting your tomato benefits root development for a hardier plant, and pinching blossoms and suckers for one month thereafter will increase fruit size.

A sucker is new growth that appears where a branch joins the main plant stem.

Other online comments say that without early flowers and suckers, a plant can devote all of its resources to growing stronger roots and branches to better support the fruit, and that the plant will produce smaller quantities of larger fruit. I’d rather have more, smaller fruits than fewer, larger ones, so I won’t continue the practice, but pinching the original set of buds seems like a good idea for a strong plant.

> 19 April, 2011 (10 days)

Wow, these plants are growing! (I’m always surprised when a plant doesn’t die.) They’re more than double their original size, and I still haven’t needed to add any water.

A recommendation from the Vegetable Gardener website says:

Remove all of the branches that are growing below the first set of flower buds. While it may seem drastic, there are two good reasons to do this: First, low-growing branches tend to become diseased because they’re so close to the soil. And second, since none of the lower branches will produce fruit, those branches will just drain the plant of its energy.

Most of the branches are below the first early flower buds (the ones I pinched off yesterday), and I don’t think pruning so many branches is a good idea at this early stage.  However, I did prune the lowest branch on each plant so it doesn’t touch the soil (or the plastic mulch). Fingers crossed. Sadly, I can’t show you before/after photos, because my 7-year-old camera died a week ago. A new one is on the way.

> 21 April, 2011 (12 days)

My new camera arrived! Here’s a shot of the plants after 12 days:

12 day tomato growth picture

12 days of growth - Early Girl (left), Celebrity (right)

I still haven’t needed to add any new water to the reservoir.

> 24 April, 2011 (15 days)

Since I planted the seedlings, I’ve been looking for any nasty critters on them, but all I saw were a few very tiny flies of some sort. I couldn’t identify them in the pest references I was using, so I figured they weren’t a problem. Turns out that they’re aphids!! They come in both non-flying and flying varieties. And both types have already propagated on my plants. I took some pictures.

Winged aphid picture

You can just make out the wings on this winged aphid.

I tried spraying a couple of infested leaves with a formula of natural oils (rosemary, peppermint, thyme and clove) that I have left over from last year. The leaves promptly withered. Then I checked the instructions, which warned not to use the stuff on recently planted seedlings. Duh. Following up online, some articles mentioned also that in direct sun the oil can burn the leaves.

Another winged aphid picture

The wings stick up like a sail.

One recommended tactic is to knock the aphids off the plant with a blast of water, but wet leaves can promote other problems on tomatoes.

Different types of green aphids picture

A large winged aphid, with a smaller wingless one to the left, and two very small ones in the foreground.

I called my local plant nursery, and was advised to try an insecticidal soap containing botanical pyrethrins or potassium salts. I found some stuff with both ingredients, and sprayed both sides of one branch on each plant. I’ll see how well it works, or hurts, tomorrow.

There are many types of aphids, and many ways of controlling them:

> 25 April, 2011 (16 days)

I checked my tomato plants today, and the branches I sprayed with insecticidal soap yesterday don’t seem to be any worse off, so I sprayed both plants completely, on both sides of every leaf.

My efforts to be thorough created a lot of excess spray, which dripped down onto the plastic mulch. I hope this doesn’t turn into a disaster; on the other hand, I’ve read that if a plant becomes sufficiently infested with aphids, it’s a goner. So better too much remedy than not enough, I always say.

> 26 April, 2011 (17 days)

The insecticidal spray seems to have worked reasonably well, although I can still spot the occasional aphid here and there on the leaves. The instructions say to spray again every 7-10 days, so I’ll have to let the little critters be for a week. As long as they don’t get out of hand, I think the plants will be OK.

The water remaining in the reservoir is almost out of reach of my fingers through the fill port, which means there’s probably about a gallon left (out of four). I refilled the reservoir, making it 17 days since I first filled it. This means the planter can go for some time between waterings while still keeping the soil uniformly moist.

I imagine that will change as temperatures heat up and the tomato plants grow larger and more thirsty.

> 30 April, 2011 (21 days)

So, temperatures have heated up, and the tomato plants have grown larger and more thirsty. Here’s how they look after 21 days:

21 days of tomato plant growth picture

21 days of growth - Celebrity (left), Early Girl (right)

In four days, the reservoir is down by half, so I’ll have to keep a closer eye on the water from now on. Although I still see aphids here and there, the plants seem to be surviving them quite well.

> 3 May, 2011 (24 days)

Water use is definitely increasing. I refilled the reservoir today, making it one week between refills.

The first flower on the Early Girl has bloomed!

First 2011 blossom picture

The first Early Girl blossom of 2011

This is about the halfway point in the plant’s (50-55 day) maturity period. Hopefully, this blossom will turn into a tomato by then.

I spotted greater concentrations of aphids today, so I sprayed both tomato plants with insecticidal soap. The larger they grow, the more plant there is to spray, and the harder it is to cover both sides of every leaf. So I drenched them just to be sure.

> 5 May, 2011 (26 days)

These guys are growing fast and thirsty! I think they’re 6 inches taller in 5 days. take a look:

Tomato growth after 26 days picture

Celebrity (left) and Early Girl (right) after 26 days

Today’s high temperature hit 93°F (34°C), and the water reservoir is already rather depleted. So I filled it again, and moved the container to catch less of the hot late afternoon sun. Nighttime temperatures are still in the low 50s (F) though, so the plants have a chance to rest.

> 9 May, 2011 (30 days)

Daytime temperatures have moderated by 15-25°F, but I still had to fill up the reservoir again, after just 4 days! Good thing it holds 4 gallons.

A couple of days ago, I decided to try some different approaches to the aphid problem. I placed some crushed mint leaves at the base of the plants; I also crushed some of the aphids I found on the leaves. Both techniques claim to produce scents that repel the little nasties. One or both approaches seem to have worked reasonably well.

The Natural Insect Control page of the Golden Harvest Organics website lists a host of techniques for dealing with aphids. I don’t know how many are valid, but I’m going to try a few of the more benign ones.

> 10 May, 2011 (31 days)

Here’s another 6 inches of growth in 5 days:

Tomato growth after 31 days picture

Celebrity (left) and Early Girl (right) after 31 days

> 12 May, 2011 (33 days)

The reservoir refill period is down to 3 days. Daytime temperatures vary between about 65-82°F (nighttimes are still hovering around 50°F).

The first Early Girl tomato fruit is starting to emerge from the first blossom. Here’s what it looked like yesterday:

First Early Girl fruit picture

The green fruit is barely visible.

And today:

More visible first Early Girl fruit picture

The leaves spread to reveal a larger fruit.

As the fruit grows, it pushes the wilting blossom away from the stem, and the blossom eventually falls off. Don’t worry, I won’t post a picture of every new tomato. . .

> 16 May, 2011 (37 days)

I refilled the reservoir today. The water lasted 4 days this time, probably because we experienced a sudden cold spell with rain over the last few days. (The planter is under the patio roof, so it doesn’t get rained on.)

Part of the plastic water fill port cover has cracked, so it’s not closing as firmly as before. I’ll try to strengthen it with adhesive. I think this part should really be made of sturdier stuff, like rubber.

> 21 May, 2011 (42 days)

Outside temperatures are returning to normal, and the reservoir is practically empty so I refilled it, not a moment too soon. It took a whole week to empty, but now it’ll deplete faster.

I noticed that some of the Early Girl leaves are sprinkled with tiny dark spots, and I can’t seem get a consensus about their identity among the sources I’ve consulted online and at my local nursery.

Tomato leaf fungus picture

These little spots seem to be early blight, or alternaria.

It’s most likely to be some form of fungus, like early blight (AKA alternaria leaf spot). I’ve pruned all the affected leaves, and I’ll spray the plant with a sulfur-based organic fungicide. I also pruned some branches from the Celebrity to allow for better airflow.

The first fruit has started to emerge on the Celebrity plant. The Early Girl has continued to grow about 1 inch per day, and the Celebrity at half that rate:

Tomato growth after 42 days picture

Early Girl (left) and Celebrity (right) after 42 days

It’s been exactly 6 weeks since planting, which is the latest that the planter instructions say to apply the remainder (1 cup) of the supplied slow-release 5-6-5 fertilizer to the soil. For several reasons I decided to use only half a cup:

  • The tomato plants are growing nicely.
  • The soil is full of roots that I don’t want to damage.
  • The soil is hard to work with inside the cage, under the plastic mulch.
  • It’s not good to over fertilize. I can always add more later.
  • I also added banana peels to the soil.

You heard me. Banana peels are listed as a possible aphid repellent at The Natural Insect Control page of the Golden Harvest Organics website. The idea seems both simple and benign. There’s some anecdotal corroboration for this elsewhere on the web. Also, banana peels provide two of the three key plant nutrients, potassium and phosphorus, hence there’s slightly less need for fertilizer.

I turned to this page for details. It explains how to dry the banana peels, then chop them up and work them into the soil around the tomato plant. I suspect that undried peels might attract other undesirable critters, so drying them first makes sense. The recommendation is for one complete peel per plant.

I side-dressed the plants. That means to mix fertilizer into the soil, not too close to the base of the plant. I had to peel back the plastic mulch, scrape a shallow trough into the soil, sprinkle fertilizer into the trough, and cover it up.

Side-dressing fertilizer under mulch picture

The grey stuff in the middle is fertilizer; around the plant stems it's just relatively dry soil.

I sprinkled the crushed banana peels on top of the soil (under the mulch). I’m not sure if it’s the nutrients or the strong banana scent that repels aphids, so I decided not to bury them. Here are several resources for side-dressing:

> 25 May, 2011 (46 days)

Once again we’re having an anomalous day – at midday, it’s raining and the temperature is 57°F (25 degrees below normal). It’s only days away from the Early Girl’s maturity date, but the largest tomato is only an inch in diameter. Unseasonably cool weather can slow the normal growing process, delaying fruit maturation. Shucks. Well, the dozen or so young fruits on both plants will eventually mature.

Time to refill the reservoir (on a rainy day yet). I can’t just roll the planter into the rain, because I don’t want the leaves to be wet during cool, overcast weather.

The early blight appears to have abated since I applied the sulfur spray, although I’m noticing the occasional leaf with a minor infection. I might just have missed these leaves during my original inspection; I prune them when I see them.

Similarly, I occasionally find and prune one leaf that’s covered with a colony of aphids, but such instances are isolated. Here’s an example:

Many aphids on one leaf picture

All of these appear to be aphids of various types and sizes.

> 31 May, 2011 (52 days)

Cool, wet weather (20-25°F below daytime normal) is still hanging around; I refilled the reservoir after 5 days.

This has stunted the plants’ growth; both plants have a number of tomato fruits, but they’re taking a long time to mature. I can only hope the weather warms up soon after so many false starts.

Either the early blight is back (the conditions are right), or the plants have some new infection. The tips and edges of leaves are turning brown. I can’t identify this particular symptom, but I pruned and sprayed with sulfur as if it was fungus.

Leaf with brown edges picture

This Early Girl leaf has brown edges and slight yellowing between the veins.

Unfortunately, almost half the Early Girl’s leaves were infected, and they had to go. The Celebrity is holding up much better, with dense, lush foliage.

> 5 June, 2011 (57 days)

Still cool and wet on this Sunday. Once again the future looks warmer and sunnier starting Tuesday; here’s hoping the forecasters know whereof they speak this time. After 5 days, the reservoir is still about half full!

Almost every leaf on the Early Girl, and quite a few on the Celebrity, are brown at the very tip (and some along the edges too). I called my local nursery for help; the guy told me it’s likely just environmental stress, not a disease at all. He also said the plants will probably be fine once the weather warms up.

Aaack!! Did I prune all those leaves unnecessarily? The browning problem is mostly with the indeterminate Early Girl, which is more amenable to pruning, but it’s looking rather bereft of foliage at the moment. In a normal year, I’d have some ripe tomatoes by now. At least it has a lot of blossoms and plenty of (slow growing) green fruit. Fingers crossed.

> 7 June, 2011 (59 days)

Finally! Somewhat seasonal temperatures have arrived, for at least the next 10 days. That means sunny days with temps in the mid-80s (F) and nighttimes around 60°F. It’s usually in the 90s, though.

The Celebrity plant handled the cool temperatures much better than the Early Girl, which showed almost no growth or fruit development in the past few weeks (plus I chopped off half its leaves). The Celebrity now has more and larger fruit.

> 8 June, 2011 (60 days)

The last tankful of water lasted 8 days! That shows you how cold and wet it’s been. My neighbor’s apricot tree would normally be happily dropping ripe fruit by now, but this year it’s entirely bereft. My tomato planter reservoir was completely empty, although the soil was still slightly moist. Filled it up.

> 12 June, 2011 (64 days)

Both tomato plants are full of blossoms and small green tomatoes, but none of them are yet close enough to maturity to start ripening. I filled up the reservoir.

It’s been 3 weeks since the last application of fertilizer. I rolled back the plastic mulch, scraped a shallow crater in the soil and applied another half-cup dose of 5-6-5 organic fertilizer. After covering it up, I sprinkled 2 dried, ground banana peels on the soil and watered it well. The banana peels purportedly repel aphids, and they also provide potassium and phosporus to the plants. Aphid infestation is minimal at this point, so what the heck.

> 16 June, 2011 (68 days)

Time for another reservoir refill. It was totally dry, but the soil was still moist.

The Celebrity plant is going strong, with masses of deep green foliage, and new tomatoes popping up every day. The first ones are more than 2 inches wide now.

The Early Girl, on the other hand, hasn’t grown at all for several weeks. Its fruit is still small, and though a few new tomatoes have sprouted, they’re not doing well. The existing leaves are losing color and have brown edges. I don’t see any insect pests; it might still be stressed. Some reference sources point to a possible nitrogen or iron deficiency, but the other plant in the same pot is fine. I’m looking into it…

> 19 June, 2011 (71 days)

Refilled the reservoir.

I took samples of Early Girl leaves at three stages of deterioration to my local nursery:

Dying Early Girl tomato leaves picture

Early Girl leaves at three stages of stress.

After much discussion, they suggested that the recent cold spell might be the culprit, and that even though the weather has warmed up, the tomatoes still want more heat and less soaking. So this week will bring triple-digit (F) temperatures, and I’ll let the reservoir stay empty for one extra day so the soil can dry out and breathe a bit. Mind you, the Celebrity plant is showing virtually no signs of stress or disease.

> 22 June, 2011 (74 days)

Refilled the reservoir. As summer starts, temperatures are finally in the summer range, hovering around 100°F for a few days.

I just realized that I can’t let the reservoir stay dry for long, because (per the planter instructions) the soil’s wicking effect will be disrupted and hard to restart.

> 24 June, 2011 (76 days)

Refilled the reservoir. Temperatures are more stable in the upper 80s to lower 90s (F) during the day, and down to the mid-50s (F) at night.

The Early Girl has simply stopped growing and developing, but the Celebrity plant is now almost the same height, and has nearly 20 tomatoes, some up to 3.5 inches wide. They should start ripening shortly, I hope.

 > 26 June, 2011 (78 days)

A single stunted, 1″ wide tomato on the Early Girl plant has started to ripen! That’s all, for now. I picked it and hope that it continues to ripen fully, just so I can say this plant produced fruit.

Early Girl tomatoes picture

One ripening and one cracked Early Girl tomato.

The Early Girl plant has a number of cracked tomatoes, which indicates that the plant has recently experienced a dramatic increase in moisture. It’s hard to understand how this happened, because the soil moisture has been quite consistent. This plant might be especially vulnerable to cracking. On the other hand, the Celebrity’s large fruits look entirely healthy.

> 27 June, 2011 (79 days)

Refilled the reservoir. The next two days are once again forecast to be anomalous: rain. This is a very odd year.

> 1 July, 2011 (83 days)

Refilled the reservoir. It’s hot again. . .

A few more of the Early Girl’s fruit are ripening, but they’re all still quite small. There’s been no new growth on the plant, and I doubt these tomatoes will amount to anything.

Tomato plant growth picture

Growth of Celebrity (left) vs. Early Girl tomato plants

> 9 July, 2011 (91 days)

At these seasonal normal temperatures (in the mid 90s (F)), I’m consistently refilling the reservoir every other day.

The few unblemished (but tiny) Early Girl tomatoes are ripening nicely, and taste meaty, juicy and flavorful. I wish the Celebrity fruit would hurry up and ripen. I suspect it’ll happen all at once, and I’ll have 15 pounds of deliciousness to consume quickly. That’s better than nothing.

> 10 July, 2011 (92 days)

Ask and ye shall receive! Two small Celebrity tomatoes have started to show a bit of blush, about 3 weeks later than expected. I picked both, to give the remaining larger fruit more room and resources.

Tomatoes from both plants picture

First two Celebrity tomatoes (back row) and the stunted Early Girls

> 14 July, 2011 (96 days)

I side-dressed the tomatoes with ¼ cup organic 4-6-3 fertilizer, which should last a month. I also sprinkled two dried, ground banana skins onto the soil as before. I don’t know for sure if they drove away the aphids, but I won’t try to fix what works.

About 5-7 Celebrity tomatoes have started blushing. I picked two of them.

> 16 July, 2011 (98 days)

I picked a couple more Celebrity tomatoes. Here’s a photo of what I have so far:

Six Celebrity tomatoes picture

Six perfect Celebrity tomatoes

For reference, the one in the middle is about 1.5 inches across. The giant one is 5 inches! It has the only blemish, a very slight “zipper” effect, which doesn’t really affect edibility. The ripest one is till not quite ready to eat.

> 23 July, 2011 (105 days)

I’ve picked 18 beautiful Celebrity tomatoes so far. In a bowl on the dining table, they all quickly turned a rich red color. I ate the four earliest ones to ripen, but they were generally undersized and didn’t taste all that great. The flavor was a bit tart, and they suffered from a lot of internal hard white tissue at the stem end. I can only hope that the later, larger ones are better.

Harvest of Celebrity tomatoes picture

A bunch of ripe Celebrity tomatoes

I’ve picked and eaten 9 Early Girl tomatoes, all severely undersized and most with significant blemishes and cracks. But nearly all of them were meaty, juicy, and wonderfully flavorful.

After 6 weeks of appearing to be a goner, the Early Girl plant seems to be recovering somewhat! There’s new growth at the top, and several blossoms have appeared. Fingers crossed.

I just came across another great reference for tomato cultural problems:

Physiological, Nutritional, and Other Disorders of Tomato Fruit

Keep in mind that it’s a publication of the University of Florida IAFS Extension, and so might not apply so well to other climates.

> 26 July, 2011 (108 days)

Over the past week or so, I’ve noticed a new threat: the looper. It’s a 1 – 1.5 inch long caterpillar that moves like an inchworm, with legs at either end.

There are many different types of loopers. They eat holes in plant leaves, and appear (so far) to prefer the leaves over the fruit, thank goodness. These critters are exactly the green color of the plant leaves, and they cleverly hide inside curled leaves and masquerade as part of the stem. But the leaf damage is immediately obvious, and their dark droppings tend to collect on the leaves below. Using tongs, I found and removed 5 of them today!

> 4 August, 2011 (117 days)

I caught an unwary tomato looper in the act, where I could get some good photos:

Tomato looper picture

Two views of a tomato looper chowing down. On the left, you can see its distinctive stripe. On the right, I managed to catch a dropping on the way out (it looks like a lump of coal). Looper poop!

Loopers leave a lot of droppings, which provide a clue to pinpoint the critters. I’ve been using this method to discover them, and to date I’ve dispatched a couple dozen of these monsters to an isopropyl alcohol bath. Over the past few days I haven’t seen any more new droppings, so I think I won! (For now.)

> 22 August, 2011 (135 days)

I’ve just finished up the last and largest of the Celebrity tomatoes, which did taste better than the first few. And the next harvest is already starting to mature! On average, they’re not as large as before, though.

The Early Girl produced a number of small fruit, but most have failed to grow and mature. But a few more are starting to look better, and any ripe fruit will be welcome.

I side-dressed the tomatoes with their monthly ¼ cup organic 4-6-3 fertilizer, along with two dried, ground banana skins.

> 10 September, 2011

I’ve harvested quite a few tomatoes in the last month, but they’re mostly stunted and misshapen, and they suffer from some version of blossom end rot (BER) that creates an ever-widening soft spot. Even after I pick a tomato, the soft spot ends up covering the fruit before it can fully ripen.

Maybe there’s a nutrient deficiency. I side-dressed the plants with ½ cup organic 4-6-3 fertilizer (double the usual amount and 2 weeks early), along with two dried, ground banana skins.

There are a couple dozen Celebrity tomatoes fruiting, and time will tell if they can shrug off this affliction. . .

> 15 October, 2011

I’ve picked several blushing tomatoes, and they appear to be ripening nicely, with no BER! They’re still relatively small, shaped less like globes and more like little pumpkins. The extra fertilizer seems to have done the trick.

I side-dressed the plants the same way as last month. They’re holding on, with 15-20 still-green tomato fruits, which are growing larger. . .

> 27 October, 2011

I’ve been out of town since my last post. Hey, a bunch of the Celebrity tomatoes have developed a nice red color, although they’re still a bit small. The ones I previously picked are nicely ripe. Their flavor and texture are great! Rich taste and meaty but juicy flesh. I could survive on these.

> 30 October, 2011

It’s getting cold, Halloween is upon us, and yet the tomatoes are still growing, ripening and delicious!

Celebrity tomatoes picture

Celebrity tomatoes ripening on November 1

This successful growth can’t last very long; I really hope that a couple of surprisingly large tomatoes actually reach the ripening stage. Fingers crossed.

> 14 November, 2011

It’s almost too late to plant some winter vegetables, and I need the container for spinach, broccoli and peas now. The remaining tomatoes are still green, so I picked them and put them in a bowl; maybe some of them will ripen.

> 1 December, 2011

What a surprise! The larger tomatoes in the bowl, about 8 of them, are ripening nicely (and only the half-dozen or so tiniest ones are still green). Most of them taste great; a few are a bit mealy. I’ll eat the last of my backyard container tomatoes in mid-December! In spite of the poor weather, pests and other issues, I call that a successful 2011 growing  season.

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