Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cherry Tomatoes (10 AUG 2011)

I'm running out of plants to blog about in the middle of summer when I should be spoilt for choice, which doesn't bode well. I didn't intend to write a post about tomatoes. After all, everyone grows tomatoes don't they?  ... but while I'm waiting for my annuals to bloom ...

This story started last year when Mrs. F kindly gave me two tomato plants amongst others. They were an Italian variety : fat, squat & creased. I planted them in a grow-bag containing peat, not being aware of peat-free and the whys and wherefores at that time.  I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to taste tomatoes which had been ripened till they were warmed through by the sun and filled with sweetness.

Italian tomatoes grown last year

When the day came to pick the dark red fruit, I anticipated their flavour from the scent of the vine before their actual taste registered. Unfortunately, the reality was that the flesh was somewhat woolly, the juice was not as flavourful as I had hoped and the skin was tough to chew. Were they sweet? - can't remember. So much for my plan to slice and lay them alternately with mozzarella and avocado in a tricolore salad, dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar. Interest in the few remaining fruit on the dying vines waned. I promised to try harder next time, noting that fertiliser would be required to produce more fruit and earlier harvesting before their texture deteriorated.

This year I opted to grow cherry tomatoes instead, selecting a packet of Gardener's Delight seeds as the photo boasted an abundance of fruit. I raised several seedlings just in case, however the slugs and snails avoided these, feasting on my annuals instead. Initially, I potted them in peat-free compost, being better informed this time, along with seedlings of plum cherry tomatoes from my neighbour, but sensing the pots were holding them back somehow, half of them were removed to a flower bed where they are definitely thriving much better.
 
tomato flowers
cherry tomatoes grown in a flower bed

At the first sign of little fruits, remembering last year's notes, I was tempted to start dosing the tomato plants with the liquid fertiliser that you can buy in red plastic bottles, which my mother administers to any plant in her garden that she cares about. In her opinion, by the time tomato plants have finished flowering, the compost is spent and needs to be supplemented. This is true judging by the poor performance of my potted plants; the low acidity of the peat-free compost could also be a root cause. I can see why tomatoes are grown hydroponically commercially.

Finally, I decided not to go down this route because even though I give my mother full credit for my gardening gene, my motivations are quite different. My desire to observe the balance of my garden over-rides the need to be self-sufficient in tomatoes this summer; I want to understand how these plants take and give back to the garden without interference from external factors. Whilst making observations, I've snacked on a couple of ripe fruit and they are delicious.

unripe Gardener's Delight cherry tomatoes
unripe plum cherry tomatoes


Gardener's Delight grown in a pot

While searching the internet to find out how tomatoes are grown and ripened commercially, I discovered that they were the first food crop to be genetically modified, to enable them to ripen for longer without degrading. This reminded me of something I read once about iceberg lettuce causing belly ache for some people because it was specially bred to have increased shelf-life, which consequently means it takes a longer time to digest, during which it ferments in the gut. Food crops are also genetically modified to make them more disease resistant but this could prompt the evolution of stronger viruses or super-weeds.

I don't know enough about genetic modification to have an opinion for or against it; my concern is that quick fixes, however well researched, don't allow time for re-balance between the modifed plant, other living things and the environment. I guess the opposing argument is that our over-populated planet is already off-balance ...  My cherry tomato plants have certainly given me some food for thought.

Tomatoes can be grown hydroponically, without compost or soil :

When a tomato reaches its mature green stage, ethylene gas is released naturally. Immature, green tomatoes are ripened commercially by artificially exposing them to ethylene gas :
http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/programs/extension/publicat/postharv/tomatoes/tomat.html

According to this post, the perfect vine-ripened tomato is a myth. The advice given here is to pick tomatoes when they are on the verge of turning red (the mature green stage) and leave them to ripen indoors :
http://www.smallkitchengarden.net/small-kitchen-garden/the-vine-ripened-tomato-lie

Genetic modification can be used to encourage plants to cooperate with human beings, in the short term. Long term effects are yet to be seen :
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9921-introduction-gm-organisms.html?full=true

The first genetically modifed food crop was the Flavr Savr tomato. The gene which causes tomatoes to soften as they ripen was extracted, reversed and reintroduced. The modified gene stuck to the original gene, counteracting its effects, with these end results : allowing tomatoes to be ripened on the vine for longer, decreasing damage during transportation and increasing shelf-life.
http://www.biotech.iastate.edu/biotech_info_series/bio8.html#anchor259057
http://www.tomatocasual.com/2008/02/28/what-ever-happened-to-the-flavr-savr-genetically-engineered-tomato/


©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.com/2011/08/cherry-tomatoes-10-aug-2011.html

21 comments:

The Garden On Loch Ness said...

Really enjoy your blog and love your interest and research on each thing you grow.
I have a non-garden related question - how the heck do you get your (very lovely) photographs to line up perfectly side by side, I use blogger too and the photos jump all over the place.
Thank you, happy gardening ,
Cat

Malar said...

That's abundance of cherry tomatoes! Looks so juicy!

One said...

I agree. My motivations are different from most gardeners too. But I must admit that my tomatoes have never really done very well. Although I do get to eat them, I don't see the abundance that I would really like. Maybe I should just experiment with one pot of inorganic, non pesticide free tomato. What do you think?

Orchid de dangau said...

Like your cherry tomatoes and plum cherry! Looks so juicy! Love to read your research and thanks for sharing your experience.

Mark and Gaz said...

I haven't grown tomatoes for awhile, have done so in the past, but I enjoyed reading your insights and little research, very informative.

Might give tomatoes a go again next year :)

gardenwalkgardentalk.com said...

This post was a wealth of tomato info and so much more. Thanks for the links too. I like the Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie and the glow in the dark piglets. I never realized the lettuce info either, but it makes a lot of sense that the extended shelf life would cause it to ferment when exposed to heat.

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

Fascinating research! I grew tomatoes in pots this year because we are redoing our vegetable garden and raised beds. They have not done well in pots at all. I think partly they dry out too quickly and secondly tomatoes have long roots and need more space. They also are very heavy feeders and take a lot out of the soil and that is why I rotate their location every year. My experience is that they are best when picked right before they are fully ripe (as your link suggests) and I sit them in a sunny widow for a day or two.

linniew said...

As my tomato crop is slow to ripen for the second year in a row, I read with almost neurotic interest your very fine post here. How awful what is done to commercial tomatoes! (I think we suspected.) No wonder they taste like they do. It just inspires me to work harder, and to learn how to successfully grow the winter greenhouse varieties too!

b-a-g said...

Thanks Cat. I used to have problems arranging photos too. This might help :
- Write your paragraphs and put a few empty lines in between.
- Put your cursor at the beginning of the middle empty line and insert your first photo.
- Put your cursor at the beginning of the empty line below the first photo and insert the second photo.
- Put your cursor just in front of the second photo and press backspace carefully. The second photo should pop up beside the first photo and level with it.
- If you add captions, keep them short.

Please let me know if this works for you.

b-a-g said...

Thanks Malar, Orchid, Mark & Gaz,
I recommend growing cherry tomatoes. They are so sweet and juicy, just like grapes - the perfect snack for a thirsty gardener. They seem to be pest-free, which is quite unusual in my garden.

One - If you tried that experiment, you might be tempted to start growing tomatoes commercially. You could try growing them in your garden soil too, if you don't mind all the nutrients being drawn out.

b-a-g said...

Thanks Donna & Karin - I enjoyed that Tomato Lie post too. I reckon it's the aromatic scent of tomato vine that tricks people into thinking that vine-ripened is ideal.

Thanks Linnie - It seems to me that unless you're prepared to dedicate your flower-beds to tomatoes (rotating them to allow the soil to replenish, as Karin says), growing them in pots and adding liquid fertiliser is not far-off commercial methods.

Masha said...

Cherry tomatoes are my favorite - usually so plentiful. I also pick my tomatoes when not quite ripe - it prevents splitting, squirrels don't sink their teeth in them, and it actually speeds up the ripening of the remaining tomatoes on the vine.

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

Fascinating and timely. I have a large number of lovely looking but very green tomatoes that I had hoped to be tucking in to already. Am off to check out your link, preparatory to picking a few and ripening them indoors, possibly next to a banana. You may have saved my summer salads!

Stacy said...

I had to wipe a little bit of drool off my keyboard after reading your description of the planned tricolore salad.

b-a-g said...

Thanks for the tip Masha - I didn't know picking speeded-up ripening of the rest.

Thanks Janet - Hope the banana does the trick.

Stacy - I was drooling too till I tasted the Italian tomato last year. This year I didn't have any expectations. They are coveniently ripening gradually so I can pick a few each day.

Donna said...

so sorry to hear your tomatoes did not taste good. ours are poor too but the cherries are sweet...I let them ripen on the vine and they do well. I learned a lot about fertilizing them more from your post. One thing I did find that worked this year for me was the use of egg shells planted with the plants. It has helped keep my hybrids that were in trouble growing better than ones I forgot to use the egg shells with. Although the volunteers from last years tomatoes composting in the soil are the healthiest plants. go figure...

debsgarden said...

Cherry tomatoes are favorites in my garden. Few make it to the kitchen, as they are eaten as snacks, picked off the vine and popped in the mouth while still warm from the sun. Unfortunately, my tomatoes have mostly played out by now, so I will soon be forced to buy the gassed, often genetically altered varieties available in the store. What they gain in commercial worthiness, they often lose in taste.

b-a-g said...

Donna - That's interesting. Egg-shells are mainly composed of calcium carbonate. I checked on-line to see if calcium is an ingredient in the red bottles of fertiliser but it isn't.

Deb - I understand that the US have accepted GM foods more readily. Currently, a type of maize is the only GM food cultivated commercially in the EU.

One said...

Hi! Read about your mounds of spaghetti. Could they be from the snails? I've have not seen them processing spaghetti but let me know if you catch them in action.

Shannon Marie said...

Great blog, beautiful tomatoes!

b-a-g said...

One - I'm pretty sure it's not snails. I don't think they process earth as worms do.

Welcome Shannon Marie !

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