I’ve been pretty busy the last week and a half, but have finally wrapped up writing lessons for the online “Color Courage for Weavers: Workshop” course I’ve been teaching. Saturday will be the final lecture for the course. After that I’ll just be giving student feedback, so my teaching workload will be a lot lighter. Whew! That gives me a lot more schedule flexibility.
Which is great, because it’s spring, which is when a (not-so) young girl’s thoughts turn lightly to thoughts of…tomatoes!!
(Because the first crush of spring love compared to a ripe, luscious homegrown tomato bursting into your mouth? Pfft. Some of us girls actually have our priorities straight. 🙂 )
Yes, it’s April, when the weather finally warms up enough to transplant tomatoes. And a good thing, too, because my babies were getting big enough to outgrow their nursery:
The big one in the back is Kaleidoscope Jewel, which looks a little purple in the stems because it has the “anthy” gene. “Anthy” is short for “anthocyanin”, and results in a purple tinge to leaves and stems, but also means the tomato skin turns blue where the light strikes it. Since tomato flesh is typically yellow, pink, green, or brown, that results in various shades of blue + those colors. It’s a new gene in tomatoes, bred in within the last ten years or so. Kaleidoscope Jewel’s base color is red with green stripes, so this produces a fruit that is red with black stripes and a black blush. But! the unripe fruit is lavender with darker purple stripes. Very pretty. Here’s an “official” photo from one of the seed sellers:
You can see what I mean about “where the light strikes it”: the bottom part of some of the unripe fruits is green with darker green stripes, because it wasn’t exposed to light, while the parts that received light have the indigo color to the skin and are thus purple with dark purple stripes.
Anyway, 52 tomato plants are now transplanted into their garden homes. (The backdrop is 16 of my 24 varieties of garlic.)
If you’re wondering why they’re in containers rather than the ground, it’s because I have verticillium wilt in my soil. It’s a tomato-killing fungus, and it can live in the soil for 10-15 years or more. So I have to grow my tomatoes in containers. I have 20 big plastic tubs full of tomatoes, and a bunch of smaller pots, too.
The varieties in this tub are meant for eating. I’m growing 12 varieties that I bought – eight or so for eating, and another four mainly for breeding. Then there are 32 Fruity Mix plants that are part of a breeding project (I’m selecting out offspring in an attempt to stabilize for flavor).
I’m also growing another eight or nine Fuzzy Mix plants (yet to be transplanted) that will be cross-pollinated this year to produce hybrid seed, and a bunch of microdwarf tomatoes that I got from a fellow tomato breeder. Those I’m growing out partly for the sake of returning information (and seed) to the breeder, but also to see if I want to cross any of them into Fuzzy Mix to try doing more breeding work.
In practice, I really don’t have space to breed more than a single cross from Fuzzy Mix and one other variety. This year I can do all the crosses, and next year I can grow out hybrids and collect seed. The year after that is when I have to make some hard decisions about which cross I want to develop, shelving the rest.
My intent is to spend the next two years trying to stabilize flavor back into Fruity Mix by doing some intensive selection – picking the plants with the best-flavored fruit, growing a bunch of the offspring, and selecting again.
Tomatoes are natural inbreeders, so forget everything you learned about genetic diversity and avoiding inbreeding – the goal with tomatoes is to wind up with a genetically homogeneous plant with no genetic diversity at all. Most heirloom tomatoes are essentially genetically identical, accidental crosses and mutations aside. The genetic diversity comes from having multiple varieties, not within the variety itself.
It really takes seven years to finish inbreeding tomatoes for full stability, so I need to continue doing breeding work with Fruity Mix while working on Fuzzy Mix.
With Fuzzy Mix, I have a drought-tolerant, fuzzy dwarf tomato, which is great, but the tomatoes taste like dilute battery acid, which is not so great. So I want to cross it with a better-tasting tomato to produce a drought-tolerant, fuzzy tomato.
It’s occurred to me that a drought-tolerant, small, fuzzy tomato with attractive, tasty fruit might be a real winner for container gardeners. Here you would have the perfect tomato for the container gardener – a tomato pretty enough to put on the patio as a decorative plant, tolerant of neglect, and yet producing tasty fruit. So I’m thinking that might be my goal with a cross of Fuzzy Mix.
One of the microdwarf tomatoes that Dan Follett (the tomato breeder) sent me is a very cute fuzzy fine-leaf cross – the leaves look like a fuzzy, finely-divided carrot top rather than like traditional tomato leaves – so I’m thinking that might be a good place to start. But I’ll have to see what the fruit looks (and tastes) like further into the growing season.
This is going to be FUN!
Finally, for those who have patiently read through this lengthy description of my nefarious mutant ninja killer tomato plans, a soothing nightcap of Fritz and Tigress to send you off. They really love each other, as you can see. Which is great – it’s nice to have someone to snuggle up to all day long, when you’re worn out from the hard work of ordering humans about!