Sungold Tomato Plant: 1 Month

Our lone sungold survivor, one month after potting its seed.

It’s been four weeks since I planted a dozen of last year’s sungold seeds in a soil-filled container, and 18 days since the first (and only) sprout appeared. I decided to call it Seth, because I have a soft spot for religious lore; Seth was the brother of Cain and Abel, and is the progenitor of all mankind. So, you know, appropriate. All future generations (ideally) will stem from his line. I don’t much like the name Seth though, so I tend to just call it Tomato.

It’s been two weeks of trying to ensure that the plant stays appropriately watered, properly sunned, and a little mechanically stimulated. A couple of times a day, whenever I can sneak away for a moment, I’ve been giving its leaves a bit of gentle stroking, and maybe talking to it a little bit too — breathing lots of lovely carbon dioxide on him, etc. Providing light physical stimuli to plants imitates outdoor growing conditions like wind, rain, and animal passersby; it’s called thigmomorphogenesis, and it results in hardier specimens. Still, please don’t tell Heather I caress the tomato.

Today, our sole second-generation plant is doing very well. It’s sprouted a number of true tomato plant leaves, and stands at just over two inches tall. I created a little greenhouse dome thing for it by affixing a larger plastic container to the top of a smaller one. Usually I leave him outside during the day to stay warm and sunned (though it’s been pretty gray lately), but yesterday, I left the top down, so he could feel some real New England air for the first time. Now that he’s got the warm(er) air on his leaves and the wind at his back, I’ll pull back on babying it and just enjoy watching it grow. With some luck, it’ll be ready for transplanting at the end of the month. Ish. Wish him luck!

How are your tomato plants doing?


Heir to the Throne

COMING THIS SPRING: Twelve seeds were planted. Only one survived. Dun dun dunnnnn.

Ten days ago, I planted twelve sungold seeds I’d saved from last year into a little plastic container filled with soil. After a week of fretting that nothing was happening, sometime last night, a stem emerged from the ground: the (potentially) only heir to our sungold family lineage.

I’m hoping against hope that more of them sprout up over the next 48 hours or so, that this week’s cold and rainy weather has simply made these little guys run in slow motion. I’m not sure what the odds of any given sprouted plant have of surviving, but given the fact that we’re first-time parents, I’m worried that they’re not particularly good. It’d be nice to have more than one shot at it. But if this is the only plant we’ll get, then dammit, we’ll give it all we’ve got. It’s currently got a front-row seat in the sunniest south-facing window of the house.

What you’re looking at right now is a cotyledon, essentially the first growth which shoots out from the plant’s seed. Isn’t it remarkable how much larger the sprouted plant already is than the seed itself? Tomato plants are dicots, meaning that they have two embryonic leaves, as you can see in the picture. These are not yet truly tomato plant leaves, as they are present in the seed prior to germination (as opposed to growing after the seed germinates), but they are photosynthetic, meaning that as soon as they open up, they’re in charge of supplying the growing plant with energy. That’s why it’s important that they get immediate sunlight.

It looks like there’s some sun in the forecast for tomorrow and Friday, which hopefully is the case. I don’t really feel as though it’s proper to run an indoor fluorescent light just to develop this one plant. It’s going to have to grow naturally or not grow at all. Hopefully the little guy’s hardy. Things happen quickly in the springtime, so there’ll be plenty to monitor in the coming days.

Saving Seeds

It's okay that they're a little fuzzy, right? I think it's okay.

We had a very successful go of it last summer with our crop of sungold tomatoes. We did make one mistake, though: we weren’t very good about saving our seeds. As such, our eldest plant was mostly expired when we finally thought to try and save seeds from it, and the last seed-bearing stragglers we plucked from her branches from were only half-ripe. We took them anyways, hoping that their champion pedigree would make up for our haphazard collection practices.

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Hello, Spring

As the last (we hope) snow of the winter melts, our growing garlic catches some mid-afternoon sun.

We’re officially two weeks into spring here in the Northeast, and while temperatures have been creeping upward, it’s never easy in the early going, as was evidenced by the wholly unwelcome snowfall we saw this past Friday. Luckily, such setbacks tend to be short-lived in the April sun. Snow contributes to May’s flowers just the same. It’ll also contribute to whatever’s been overwintered – like, say, this lovely hardneck garlic!

We received a beautiful-looking head of garlic late last summer from Turtle Creek Trading Co., and in the middle of October, I planted it… at 8PM on a Friday night, in the rain. The arrangement was far from ideal, but it was the only free time I had to dig and plant before temperatures were set to drop into “it’s too cold to plant things” territory. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of digging in wet, rocky soil, you’ll understand how much fun this was. Still, I got us a plot about six feet long and two feet wide, into which went twenty-two bulbs of garlic. I think I inverted the shovel, stabbed a hole into the ground, dropped the bulb in, and then covered it with dirt. Two rows of 11 bulbs each, set to overwinter.

It was our first time planting anything in the fall. After the huge amounts of snow we received began to melt in early March, we discovered that a few little green-brown shoots (it felt like a miracle) had begun to poke their heads through the soil. We were worried that they’d started to come up too soon, which I suppose is very human thing to do: could these plants possibly survive the winter? Yes, they can. Luckily, the sunlight has been a revelation for these little guys; the first to sprout are now a good four or five inches tall, and there are probably a dozen of them that have poked through the soil thus far.

In a couple of months, we’ll hopefully have a bunch of scapes to harvest. Cutting off the scapes serves two purposes: it allows the plant to send more energy to the bulb than to the scape, and it provides you with delicious scapes to eat. Then, in July or August, if all goes well, once the leaves of the plant start to look pale and tired, we’ll have almost two dozen heads of garlic to harvest. Spring is back, everyone! Here’s to a long and successful growing season.

Can you have too many tomatoes?

The answer is NO. Absolutely not, you cannot have too many tomatoes.

Although, it may seem like you do when you order over 20lbs of them in bulk from your CSA for canning. I think it was just first-time-canning-tomatoes-jitters, but I was terribly worried I wouldn’t be able to get through all of them. Thankfully, peeling tomatoes (which I had never done before) is so amazingly, miraculously easy that prepping these tomatoes for processing only took about an hour out of my evening, and I still managed to make dinner! (If you don’t know – all you do is cut a little cross in the base of each tomato, dunk them in boiling water for 60 seconds and then immerse them immediately into cold/ice water. The skin comes right off!)

I decided to turn all 20lbs into canned crushed tomatoes, because I’ve found that’s what I buy most frequently at the store. I think this is a good way of choosing what you’re going to can. If you buy whole peeled – can whole peeled. If you buy crushed, then get crushing. This will, hopefully, prevent you from running out to buy the aluminum canned variety at the store mid-winter, when the only fresh tomatoes in sight are Florida, California or Chile. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware that cooking the tomatoes for more than 5 minutes would break down their natural pectin causing separation in the jars. Some of them don’t look perfect, but they’ll still be just fine to eat!

Teeny Tiny Tomatoes

Finn’s parents came into town a few weekends ago to help us out around the apartment. His mom has volunteered her time to make all of the curtains for our place! We have a lot of windows – that’s a lot of curtains. On top of that, whenever they come they bring us mounds of fresh produce from their amazing vegetable garden. Last time, that produce included some sungold tomatoes from a plant we had given them at the beginning of the season. I couldn’t believe my eyes – her tomatoes, same breed, were about four times the size of the tomatoes our plants had been putting out. I asked why this could be, and Finn’s mom said “Water, honey. Water.” So, as it turns out, we haven’t been watering our tomato plants quite enough, so our larger than life plants produce smaller than average sungold tomatoes. They taste excellent, of course, and as you can see from the photo above – they’re also totally adorable. I just want to eat them up, and I think I just might!

Taking a Load Off

A few of our sungolds, resting in the rain. // Boston, MA

After five straight days of gray and constantly rainy weather, we’re scheduled for a weekend of nothing but sunshine. I figured it’d be a good time to head back into the city to check on our old back alley garden and pluck whatever was ripe in advance of a probable growth spurth over these next few days. Since we recently moved to Watertown, we’re only able to stop and check on the plants once every week or so; I arrived yesterday to bunches of ripe sungolds, and picked off about a pint in all, leaving behind plenty of green ones and even some new yellow flowers to receive lots of sugary attention in the next few days.

Above, a little bunch of tomatoes has made its way through to the Western (shaded) side of the trellis, and is clearly taking advantage of the added support, though these little guys are certainly not getting as much sun as they’d like to. A few days of heat and sunshine should make for a great weekend for the city’s gardens.