Renewable Farming

Our latest tomato project: Fresh, tasty tomatoes all winter!

Our Master Gardeners here at Renewable Farming, Jeanene Carlson and her family, raise delicious tomatoes, veggies and greens all summer. This winter, Grandpa will attempt to extend the productive life of their tomatoes by transferring and transplanting several plants in the two-story greenhouse built into the south side of our home.

Oct. 23, 2017    By Jerry Carlson — Our favorite table tomato is a cherry-sized variety called “Sun Sugar” which we found at our local Jordan’s Nursery in Cedar Falls. We started two vines a few weeks ago, and transplanted three mature vines into 5-gallon pails which we’ll suspend from the ceiling so the vines hang down as they grow.

Jeanene’s tomato

Jeanene grew one huge red cherry tomato plant in a large pot on her family’s upper deck. This is a “Super Sweet 100” from Bonnie Plants, an indeterminate variety. The fruit nourished their five-person family all summer, and rather than seeing frost take it, I “rented” it to see how long we can preserve its productive life in a 75-degree room with full southern exposure. (Photo at right.) Jeanene foliar-fed this beauty regularly all summer with a soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer and trace elements, mobilized by WakeUP Summer.  Now the test will be: Can we overcome normal senescence with intensive nutrition, and shorter days with LED lighting with the best growing wavelengths?

The transplanted tomatoes raised by grandson Blake in his gardens had long, sprawling vines loaded with delicious fruit through the summer. By late October, cold nights had almost shut them down, even though they are apparently indeterminate varieties. I pruned three of them brutally, dug the massive roots and potted them in pails. (Photo below.) In only four days, fresh leaves began pushing from the base stems. They’ll get watered with a full diet of soluble fertilizer, plus a wide array of nutrients such as: 

1. Mainstay Calcium Si from Redox. This is for stronger cell walls, improved flavor and keeping quality. Foliar, with WakeUP Summer.  When Blake foliar-sprayed his tomatoes in the field with this product last summer, tissue calcium levels doubled in 48 hours. Consultant Bob Streit pointed us to this product after discovering it among innovative sugar beet growers in Minnesota. 

2. A soluble NPK blend, 20-20-20 from Diamond R fertilizer in Florida. For balanced growth.

3. Occasional ammoniacal (NH4) foliar, with WakeUP Summer, a cationic form of ammonia to nudge the plant toward blooming and fruiting rather than pushing more vines. Dr. Carey Reams probably would prescribe a touch of household ammonia. 

4. One or two winter foliars of trace elements … “shotgun” across the spectrum of zinc, manganese and so on, for plant health. Also some Lithovit, micronized calcium.  Never do get enough calcium, the king of nutrients.

One of the motivations for this winter’s greenhouse effort, besides a hunger for really tasty tomatoes, is The Tomato Project encouraged by Jon Frank of International Ag Labs, Fairmont, MN.  Jon has long advocated “High Brix Gardens” using the wide range of nutrients and techniques offered by International Ag Labs. 

Note: We deliberately call the tomato a “fruit” because our kind of delicious tomato deserves that label. Legally and botanically, its fruit is a “vegetable” in accordance with a Supreme Court decision of 1893, Nix v. Hedden, which involved the purposes of the Tariff Act of 1883. Commercial tomato growers monitor the tomato’s acid content, important for tomato paste and canning. We look for brix level as an index to total dissolved solids and taste for fresh tomatoes. 

Regrowth after pruning