Will Commercial Tomatoes Be Bred to Be Tastier?

Maybe.  Biologists at Cornell University have developed a pan-genome for tomatoes, using information from hundreds of varieties including wild relatives.  The previously known, reference tomato genome was derived from a single variety, Heinz 1706.  At least one newly discovered allele which is rare in domesticated tomatoes but common in wild tomatoes is known to contribute to flavor and could enhance tomatoes if it were bred back into the plants we grow.  It will probably take several years however before we see the results of this newly discovered information.

See the article in New Atlas and the original scientific publication in Nature.

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Container Vegetables Part 2

Growing vegetables in large containers (modified five gallon buckets) worked well in 2017, so I decided to double the number of containers from five to ten in 2018.  (See my posts Container Vegetables and Containers for Growing Vegetables for my 2017 experiences.)  I again planted dwarf tomatoes and eggplant like last year and I also tried growing peppers and summer squash in containers this year.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work so well this time.

The summer squash plants grew well, then died.  This has been my experience with growing squash over the past several years.  Something that I haven’t identified — a disease or possibly stalk borers — kills the plants just when they start to produce fruit.  So although I hoped growing the squash in new soil might solve this problem, I wasn’t too surprised when it failed.  The squash or gourd that came up on its own in my compost pile is the only squash plant that survived in 2018 (I also tried growing some winter squash).

The dwarf tomato and pepper plants grew and produced some fruit, but not as well as expected.  The eggplant, which did really well in containers in 2017, produced only a handful of small fruit before the plants died.

I did one thing differently in 2018 that may have been part of the problem.  I decided to try making my own potting soil mix.  I came up with a recipe that was mostly peat moss to which I added some perlite and a small amount of dried cow manure.  I hoped the manure would add some beneficial microorganisms in addition to nutrients.  I also used slow-release fertilizer, eggshells (for calcium), and Actinovate™ (bacteria that prevent fungal diseases and help plants absorb nutrients), same as I did in 2017.  It’s possible that my soil mixture lacked something that the plants needed.

Another problem I had in 2018 was heavy rainfall over the second half of the growing season.  In 2017, I had to water the container vegetables two or three times a week; in 2018, I barely had to water them at all.  One result of all that rain was that my tomato plants, both the dwarf tomatoes in containers and the other tomatoes in their garden bed, developed late blight earlier than usual.  This damaged fruit and eventually killed the plants.  In 2017, I sometimes added soluble fertilizer when I watered the container vegetables, but since I didn’t water often in 2018, the plants may not have received the nutrients that they needed.  It’s also possible that the heavy rain made the containers waterlogged even though they were suspended above their water reservoirs so excess water should have drained away.  The lack of sunshine due to all the cloudy weather probably didn’t help either.

I’m going to try growing some vegetables in containers again in 2019, but I’ll scale it back compared to 2018.  I plan to plant the eggplant and peppers in the main garden beds and only plant some dwarf tomatoes in containers.  I’m also going to give up on planting squash for now, either in containers or in the ground, although I might try planting cucumbers again.

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Garden Photos from 2012

Back near the beginning of this blog, I linked to an album of photos of my garden on Google+.  Since that service is being shut down soon, I decided to post the photos here.

The rest of the text is in the photo captions.

You may recognize this photo as the one I used for the blog background.  There are a lot of tomatoes, some green beans, and some blackberries.

Here’s a look at the same vegetables from another angle.  I used to grow a lot of paste tomatoes.

Those tomatoes grew in a “tomato jungle”.  There are some ‘golden guardian’ marigolds growing among the tomato plants; they are supposed to repel harmful nematodes.

The marigolds re-seed themselves and can take over parts of the garden if you don’t remove them.

Garlic chives flowers attract bees.

And the bees attract photographers.

more garlic chives flowers and bee

Once they are established, garlic chives tend to spread freely and take over any available space.

I’ve found kale to be easy to grow.

I’ve found blackberries (these are thornless) to be one of the easiest fruits to grow.

Cosmos ‘cosmic yellow’ attracts butterflies in addition to bees.

pole beans covering one side of the trellis

Sometimes the beans grow in odd shapes, like these twisted beans.  Notice how they grow in pairs.

This harvest photo contains peppers, an eggplant, and summer squash, possibly ‘magda’.  The shears are useful when harvesting anything with a tough stem.

I have a few more albums of photos from my Google+ account that I’ll probably add later.

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Container Herbs

I’ve grown herbs in containers for many years.  There are many reasons to do so:  lack of suitable space; growing tender perennial herbs in cold climates; making annual herbs available in winter; or to keep particularly aggressive herbs from taking over the garden.

All of the herbs that I have now I’ve grown from seeds.  In the past I’ve also purchased herb plants and even grown rosemary from fresh sprigs purchased at a grocery store.

Many herbs originate from dry areas and don’t need a lot of water, so you have to be careful not to over water them, especially in the winter.  My strategy with herbs and most other houseplants is to soak them thoroughly once a week.  During the summer, when they are outside, I need to water them more often unless there is a lot of rain.

Herbs seem to grow well in regular potting soil.  I give water-soluble fertilizer to perennials that I grow in containers a few times a year; and to annuals (which grow quickly) sometimes more often.

We can divide herbs into three types:  1) Hardy perennials that can grow in my central Pennsylvania climate without any special care; 2) Tender perennials that need to come inside during the winter but could stay outside in warmer areas; and 3) annuals that have to be planted from seed every year.  I grow herbs of all three types in containers and will take them in that order here.

sage growing in a pot buried in the garden for winter

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a short-lived (about five years), hardy perennial.  I planted my first sage in the ground, and after that plant died some new plants grew from its seed, but I decided to (also) try growing it in a pot.  Sage can stay outside all winter, but I bury the pot in a garden bed to reduce temperature fluctuations and keep soil moisture more consistent.  You can see photos of my older sage blooming in two of my posts, More Spring Flowers and Beans Are Up; Peas & Sage Are Blooming.

I grew a couple of varieties of mint (Mentha) in pots for many years, until one winter when I didn’t bury the pots in the garden and they died.  Oops!  Mint is a hardy perennial that spreads pretty aggressively, which is why I grew it in pots.  I didn’t really use the mint (I bought the plants on impulse), so I’ve not bothered growing it more recently.  You can see photos of my (former) mint in two posts, Summer Flowers 03 and Mantis in the Mint.

I planted oregano (Origanum vulgare) in the garden many years ago, and it has survived and spread to places where it wasn’t really wanted.  I decided to try growing Greek oregano (Origanum heracleoticum) more recently as it is supposed to have better flavor.  I grew it in a pot to keep it separate from the regular oregano and because I really don’t have a place for it in the garden.  I planted it in 2017 and it did well until I brought it inside for the winter, when most of it died back.  Last fall, I buried the pot in the garden next to the sage; I wonder if it will survive or if I will need to try again.

French thyme

I’ve tried growing thyme (Thymus vulgaris) plants in the garden before, but they never survived for long, so I decided to try growing thyme in a container two years ago.  This variety, French thyme, is supposed to be more flavorful than regular thyme but may be even less hardy, so I bring it inside for the winter.  It has been producing new growth (the pale green shoots in the photo) indoors under the plant lights.

I’ve grown rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) in a pot before by planting some excess sprigs purchased in a grocery store.  It grew into a fairly large plant but died after several years; I think it is short-lived like sage.  It was difficult to water, sometimes needing a lot of water and sometimes not.  I started some rosemary seeds two years ago but the plants died soon after I transplanted them.  I tried planting rosemary seeds again last year and those plants are growing slowly.  In warmer climates such as northern Virginia, you can probably keep rosemary outside all year, but I have to bring it inside for the winter.

marjoram seedlings

I’ve grown marjoram (Origanum majorana) in my garden for several years, planting new seedlings every spring and treating it like an annual.  Since it is actually a tender perennial, I decided to try growing marjoram in a container.  I started the seeds last fall and transplanted them into this window box.  Marjoram is one of my favorite herbs and I hope I’ll be able to enjoy it fresh all year round now that I’m growing it in a container.  You can see some marjoram (and basil) seedlings in my post Okra, Herb, & Tomato Seedlings and harvested marjoram in Carrots, Daikon, & Marjoram.

I started growing culinary lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) in a container many years ago and it has required very little effort; I move it indoors for the winter and outdoors for the summer, keep it watered (it requires a fair amount of water), and remove old leaves when they dry out.  It’s a tropical plant, so it can’t survive cold weather.  I don’t really use lemon grass as an herb, so it serves mainly as an ornamental houseplant.  You can see my lemon grass in the background in the photos in my post Houseplant Moving In Day, 2014.

basil ‘lime’ (left) and ‘dwarf Greek’ (right)

Wouldn’t it be nice to have fresh basil (Ocimum basilicum) during the winter?  Unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck growing this annual herb indoors in a pot this winter.  I planted the seeds last fall.  The two varieties in the photo, ‘lime’ and ‘dwarf Greek’, have grown very slowly.  Recently, they started blooming, which usually signals the end of useful leaf production.  A third variety, ‘Marseille’, grew for a while then died off; you can see the dead plants in the foreground of the photo.  Perhaps these varieties of  basil need either more heat or more light than I have been able to provide.  My house stays near 68 °F (20 °C) in the winter and I keep the basil, marjoram, and cilantro seedlings under an LED shoplight for 12 hours a day.  There also could be a disease problem.  I have successfully grown basil outdoors in a pot during the summer several times; in fact, it produces so much foliage that we really don’t use the additional basil that I grow in a garden bed.  I’ve had better luck growing basil indoors in the past; see my post Basil.

cilantro ‘calypso’

I decided to try growing cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) indoors for the first time, and unlike basil, it has thrived.  I grow varieties that are resistant to bolting, i.e. flowering, since I want the herb/leaves (what we call cilantro) as opposed to the spice/seed (coriander).  When annuals like cilantro and basil start to produce seed, they usually stop producing more leaves.  I planted the seeds last fall, at the same time as the basil and marjoram, and the plants grew quickly enough that we’ve used the leaves several times.  The cool temperature seems to be perfect for this herb.  You can see photos of cilantro seedlings in my posts Herb Seedlings & Replanting and Seed Coats, Seed Leaves, True Leaves, & Mutant Kale and a photo of flowering cilantro (with attendant wasp) in Cabbage Patch “Weeds” & Pollinators.

Want more information?  Here’s a short article on growing herbs in containers from Lee Valley:  Fresh Herbs in Winter.


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2017 Tomato Report

Better late than never, right?

In 2017, I planted ten tomato varieties.  Five were varieties I had planted before, and five were new to me.  Seven were planted in my usual raised beds, and three were dwarf varieties that I planted in five gallon (19 l) containers.  This year was the first time I tried growing vegetables in containers.

Before I continue, here are some previous posts that contain related information:

  • 2016 Tomato Report (includes ‘nectar’, ‘garden gem’, ‘garden treasure’, ‘Corleone’, and ‘Polish linguisa’ as well as varieties that I didn’t plant in 2017)
  • Two New (to me) Tomato Varieties (about ‘Anna Russian’ and ‘Cherokee green’)
  • More Tomatoes (about ‘garden gem’, ‘Corleone’, ‘garden treasure’, ‘Anna Russian’, and ‘Cherokee green’)
  • Container Vegetables (includes the three dwarf tomato varieties that I grew in 2017)
  • 2017 Seeds Orders (sources of some of these varieties and more about dwarf tomatoes)

To avoid the problem I had with blossom end rot in 2016, I tried adding (clean) crushed chicken eggshells to the hole when I transplanted my tomatoes.  I decided to do this for the eggplant and peppers as well since they are tomato relatives.  I tried this because calcium deficiency is one cause of blossom end rot (cycles of too little and too much water is another) and eggshells contain calcium.  I still had blossom end rot problems early in the season, but they disappeared after a week or two.  When I dumped out the soil from the containers at the end of the season, I noticed that the eggshells had disappeared from the tomato containers but not from the eggplant containers, so I think the plants did eventually absorb calcium from the eggshells.  I didn’t have any serious problems growing tomatoes in 2017.

tomato ‘Anna Russian’

Anna Russian‘ is an heirloom variety that I hadn’t planted before.  This is classified as a ‘pink’ (red flesh with clear skin) tomato.  The fruit is sweet and mild.  The plants grew vigorously and produced a lot of large fruit.

Cherokee green‘ is another open-pollinated variety, but it was selected too recently to be considered an heirloom variety.  These plants also were quite vigorous and probably produced the most fruit of any variety that I planted in 2017.  Initially they seemed a bit bland, but later in the season the fruit had a lot of flavor.  The flesh of ‘Cherokee green’ is indeed green, but the skin turns yellow when they ripen, which makes picking them easier.  I also check that the fruit are a little soft when I pick them just to be sure.

From the left: ‘garden gem’ (two), ‘Corleone’, ‘garden treasure’, ‘Anna Russian’, and ‘Cherokee green’ tomatoes.  Ruler is marked in inches (top) and centimeters (bottom).

Nectar‘ produces red cherry tomatoes that are sweet and flavorful.  It produced well again in 2017.

Garden gem‘ and ‘garden treasure‘ are two hybrids that have been recently developed; see How to Get Garden Gem Tomato Seeds.  ‘Garden gem’ is semi-determinate, meaning it produces tomatoes for about five weeks, stops for a few weeks, then produces a smaller, second crop.  The fruits are small, flavorful, and start to ripen relatively early.  ‘Garden treasure’ produces flavorful, medium-sized fruit starting mid-season and has become one of my favorites.

I planted two paste tomato varieties in 2017, ‘Corleone‘ and ‘Polish linguisa‘.  The latter is an heirloom variety that produces relatively large fruit, while ‘Corleone’ is a hybrid that holds the record for being the most expensive vegetable seeds that I ever bought; however I got a very dependable producer in return.  I found neither variety to be particularly flavorful but that is typical with paste tomatoes.

Now we come to the dwarf varieties that I grew in containers in 2017.  None of these produced a lot of fruit, which is to be expected, but they all did well enough that I decided to continue planting dwarf types in containers.

tomato ‘dwarf sleeping lady’

The fruits from ‘dwarf sleeping lady‘ are described as brown, but I would say the ones that I grew were mostly red with green shoulders.  Flavor of these small-medium sized fruit was good but not outstanding.

tomato ‘dwarf sweet Sue’

True to its name, ‘dwarf sweet Sue‘ produced sweet fruit with good flavor.  These were medium sized.

a cluster of ‘Polish dwarf’ tomatoes that broke off during a storm

Unlike the other dwarf tomatoes I planted, ‘Polish dwarf‘ wasn’t recently developed by the Dwarf Tomato Project but has been around since at least 1965.  The small fruits are tart and flavorful, what I now realize is my idea of “real tomato flavor”; they were my favorite tomato of 2017.

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Seeds Order for 2019

I already ordered and received my garden seeds for 2019.  Once again, I ordered my seeds from Pinetree Seeds (superseeds.com), my usual seed source (see Resources).  This uncharacteristically early order (see 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017. 2018) was spurred by a “Cyber Monday” special.

As always, I only order seeds for varieties that I’ve run out of (and want to continue planting) or new varieties that I want to try.  Flower and vegetable seeds remain viable for many years if stored in a cool, dry place.  I use sealed containers in my refrigerator.

First I’ll list all the vegetable varieties I ordered.  There are quite a few this year.

  • tomato ‘defiant’
  • tomato ‘cherry bomb’
  • tomato, ‘plum regal’
  • pepper, ‘Aconcagua’
  • mizuna ‘Kyoto’
  • okra ‘Clemson spineless’
  • cucumber ‘diva’
  • broccoli ‘aspabroc’
  • beet ‘touchstone gold’
  • cabbage ‘purple pak choi’
  • cabbage ‘green rocket’
  • cabbage ‘optiko’
  • carrot ‘Danvers half long’
  • bean, pole ‘fortex’
  • pea ‘super sugar snap’

‘Kyoto’ mizuna, ‘purple pak choi’ and ‘optiko’ cabbages, ‘Danvers half long’ carrot, ‘fortex’ pole bean, and ‘super sugar snap’ pea are all varieties that I’ve planted before and like well enough to continue, or at least I haven’t found anything better.  The pole bean, ‘fortex’, has been so good the past two years that it’s the only variety I plan to plant this year.

The three tomato varieties, all new to me, are all supposed to be resistant to late blight, which I believe infects my tomato plants every year.  I’m curious to see how these fare, although this means I have the always-difficult task of determining which varieties I have to exclude to make room for these.

I’m hoping ‘Clemson spineless’ okra will do well in my garden as I haven’t been too impressed by ‘jambalaya’.  I’m going to try growing cucumbers again after having some success with them in 2018; ‘diva’ is the latest variety I’m trying in an attempt to reproduce the long, non-bitter cucumbers I grew many years ago.  The other new varieties (‘Aconcagua’ pepper, ‘aspabroc’ broccoli, ‘touchstone gold’ beet, and ‘green rocket’ cabbage) are new ones that I’ll trial alongside my favorites.

Next are the two varieties of flower seeds that I ordered.

  • viola ‘Johnny jump up’
  • catmint ‘pink’

Both of these flowers are ones I selected to grow in containers.  I’ve tried growing this common viola before but the seed wouldn’t germinate for me.  I hope that this new seed from a more trusted source will work out.  I haven’t tried catmint before but the flowers I’ve seen growing in flower beds attract a lot of bees and I hope this will too.

Finally, I ordered some garden supplies.

  • plastic labels, 6 inch (15 cm)
  • plastic labels, 4 inch (10 cm)
  • legume inoculant

I ordered some six-inch plastic plant labels a couple of years ago and decided they work well enough that I should get some more as I was running low.  I also wanted some shorter labels as they will work better with the slow-growing seedlings.  I always apply legume inoculant when I plant peas and beans to help them “fix” nitrogen.  I didn’t order Actinovate, an anti-fungal bacteria product, at this time because it has a limited shelf life.

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The Squash that Ate my Raspberries

As I mentioned in my Solo Cucumber post, all the winter and summer squash plants that I planted this year succumbed to disease or insects.  A “volunteer” plant that grew out of my compost bin has had no such problems however.

squash vine growing over black raspberries

To keep the vines from running across my lawn, I moved them so they would grow over my black raspberries.  Eventually, this one plant covered the entire patch.  The main stem is now more than an inch (25 mm) thick at the base.  In its growth habit, the plant resembles a pumpkin or winter squash more than a summer squash such as zucchini.

ripening squash fruit and an immature fruit

We’ve added squash and pumpkin seeds to the compost bin over the years in our kitchen waste, and this plant probably grew from one of those seeds.  The vine has produced a fruit unlike any I’ve seen before.  I expect it’s a hybrid of two plants that grew near each other at the farm belonging to the market where we buy squash.

The fruits that those seeds came from have included butternut squash and a kind of knobbly pumpkin, which this fruit (and all the others on the plant) sort of resembles.  I have no idea if this will be similar to a squash, a gourd, or a pumpkin.  I’m also not sure how to tell if it’s ripe, but eventually I need to pick one, cut it open, and see what nature and chance have produced.

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Cracked Tomato

I’ve had a lot of trouble with cracking of my tomato fruits this year.  I suspect it’s related to the unusually rainy weather we’ve been having.  For more about cracking, and many other tomato fruit problems, see this Missouri Botanical Garden webpage.

dwarf tomato ‘tastywine’ exhibiting cracking

Although the cracks on this tomato appear to have healed to some extent, they still allow diseases and insects to enter the fruit.

This fruit had an odd taste, unlike any other tomato I’m growing.  I’m not sure if that’s a characteristic of the variety or if it’s related to the cracking, perhaps caused by a disease that made its way in through the cracks.

‘Tastywine’ is another of the dwarf tomato varieties that I’m growing in containers this year.  It is one of the varieties developed by the dwarf tomato project (a team that includes Craig LeHoullier, author of Epic Tomatoes; see my Resources page) and the seed is available from Victory Seeds.  It produces “pink” fruit, i.e. when ripe it has red flesh and colorless skin.

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Solo Cucumber

After I planted peas last spring, something came along and dug up many of them before they could sprout and grow.  In their place, I planted some old cucumber seeds, since cucumbers also can grow on a trellis.  Unfortunately, as the seeds were close to a decade old, only one seed of the two different types I planted produced a plant.

cucumber vine (‘homemade pickles’) growing among the pole beans (‘fortex’)

That plant grew a few vines and those vines climbed and spread, even invading the pole beans’ space as you can see in the photo above.

cucumber ‘homemade pickles’

We got a few good fruit off the plant.  There may have been a problem with pollination that limited the number of flowers that produced fruit and the leaves probably didn’t receive enough sunlight.

Most of the plant has withered and died since I took these photos.  I suspect either a disease or an insect such as a squash vine borer caused this.  I have had similar problems growing cucumbers and their relatives for many years.  This year, all of the winter squash and summer squash that I planted died before they produced any usable fruit.

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Dwarf Tomato ‘Perth Pride’

One of the dwarf tomato varieties that I’m growing in containers this year is called ‘Perth pride’.  It is one of the varieties developed by the dwarf tomato project (a team that includes Craig LeHoullier, author of Epic Tomatoes; see my Resources page) and the seed is available from Victory Seeds.

dwarf tomato ‘Perth pride’

These tomatoes are described as purple, but I would characterize the ones that grew in my garden as red with green shoulders.  They have been quite tart lately but were a little less tart earlier in the season.


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