Wild Men on the North Fork

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The One Third Rule...

If you live in the Rocky Mountains, or at high elevations, and you are reading a seed catalog or the back of a seed packet, apply the One Third Rule to what you read.

Here is how that would work.

Let's say that Tomato 'X' information says that those tomatoes get to be 9 ounces. If you live at high elevation apply the one third rule, and you can expect to get 6 ounce tomatoes. If Tomato 'Y' information says that those tomatoes get to be 12 ounces, you will get 8 ounce tomatoes at high elevations.

Let's say you are looking at Tomato 'X' and the information says it is '70' days to maturity. That makes the real days to maturity, here at high elevation, about 93 days. I calculate that here in Casper our season is about 114 days. If you can get the average tomato from that seed packet to mature in 93 days, you have a winner.

If you are looking at Tomato 'Y' and the information says it is '90' days to maturity. That makes the real days to maturity, here at high elevation, about 120 days. I calculate that here in Casper our season is about 114 days. The average tomato from that seed packet is not going to be ripe when the season is over. Most tomatoes from that seed packet will not even be fully sized when the season ends. Tomato 'Y' is a loser.

The top line of the chart below are the days given by the seed supplier. The second line shows the approximate days here in Casper. The third line shows the weight given by the seed supplier. The fourth line shows the approximate weight here in Casper.

Days Given: 60 63 66 69 72 75 78 80 85 90 95 100 105 110 115 120
Casper Days: 80 84 88 92 96 100 104 107 113 120 127 133 140 147 153 160

Weight Given: 2 oz 4 oz 6 oz 8 oz 10 oz 12 oz 14 oz 1 lb 2 lb 3 lb 4 lb 5 lb 10 lb
Casper Weight 1.3 oz 2.7 oz 4 oz 5.3 oz 6.7 oz 8 oz 9.3 oz 0.67 lb 1.3 lb 2 lb 2.7 lb 3.3 lb 6.7 lb

I figure that the absolute maximum days, given on a seed packet or in a catalog for a tomato variety, that will work is 80 days, and that is pushing things too far in a cool season. 80 day tomatoes will only yeild in very hot seasons. Try to stick with tomato varieties that are 75 days or less. That is what the chart above implies. This rule applies to most other vegetables with the exception of squash and pumpkin. The one third rule applies to them in a different way. Instead of taking more days to produce fruit, or producing smaller fruit, squash and pumpkin seem to produce at least 1/3 less numbers of fruit.

Seed Potency...

For three seasons (2005, 2006, 2007) we have been trying out new determinate tomato varieties. The first year we grow a variety it grows like crazy and provides tons of big tomatoes. But the next year it may grow as many tomatoes, but they are not big at all. I think these highly hybridized varieties may lose 'vigor' over 12 months time. And now that I think about it, other plants besides tomatoes may be susceptable to the same thing. Therefore beginning now (the end of the 2007 season) I will attempt to rate the seed potency for each variety we have grown.

So, Seed Potency is a term that refers to the ability of the seed to: germinate, produce numerous offspring, and produce large offspring. Low Potency seeds should not be used the next year, medium potency seeds can be used for two seasons in a row. High potency seeds can be used for three or more seasons.

Our Tomato System...

Our Main-Crop Tomato Support System
We used our normal 3x3 beds. We covered them with plastic mulch. Then we drove a metal pole into the center.

We then took concrete reinforcement wire approximately 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. We folded each one in half and tied it to the center pole, two of these units per bed.

Then we planted four main-season tomatoes into the four spaces. The 6x6 wire gave ample support to the plants and allowed us to reach through the wire. About August 1st we tied cord all the way around the whole unit on one foot intervals to give the tomato plants a bit more support.

During the season we trimmed the plants to keep each one growing in a basic column shape. After an 80 mile per hour gust of wind, the day after we set our tomatoes out, we cut lengths of 6 inch heavy-walled plastic water pipe and placed these tubes down around each tomato plant. The young plants responded well immediately. We will use the 'tubes' each year from now on.

Using these methods, and planting Goliath Tomatoes allowed us to grow big tomatoes in a 'bad' tomato year, a year when many gardeners did not get main-season tomatoes.

2002: Pictures left and above of our system.

Trimming Indeterminate Tomatoes - the Jacquot method
Despite being one of the coldest summers on record, 2004 was one of our best ever seasons for tomatoes. We did a lot of things right. But we think the main reason for our success was the fact that we started trimming tomato plants in July and we did not stop until the end of the season. Why Trim? Trimming directs and controls plant growth. When to trim? How to trim?

Trimming should happen based on three ideas.

1. Laterals. Laterals are branches of the tomato plant that have on them ONLY leaves, no flowers, and no new branches emerging from them. The laterals will grow, given the chance, way out of proportion to their function, which is to provide photosynthesis, period. After some trimming you will come to realize the truth to the statement that tomato plants are far too fond of their own foliage. Given the chance, an indeterminate tomato plant will grow more leaves than fruit. So trim the laterals in half. On the branch pictured to the left, one would cut at point A or point B. Do all the laterals on the plant. Start trimming in July, or when the plant is twice as tall as when you first set it out. If, when you come back a week to 10 days later, you can hardly tell you did any trimming at all, you trimmed just about right; and it is time to trim the new laterals. If you trimmed at point A but the branch and leaves have grown a lot since you trimmed, go ahead and trim the branch back to point B.
2. Core. From above, look straight down at the center of the plant. If you see just a mass of crossing lateral branches, get to trimming. Open up the core of the tomato plant to a lot more sunlight.
3. Topping. Calculate your season 'end', the date when you think you will be picking your tomatoes due to frost or simply to be able to harvest under more favorable conditions than frost. Now back that date up one month. That is the date to 'top' your tomato plants. By 'topping' trim so that you absolutely halt the growth, upward and outward, of your tomato plants. When you are two to three weeks from your 'end' date cut off all blossoms.

Some old hand gardeners cut back the water to their tomatoes toward the end of the season to hasten maturation. Don't do this. You want to keep the plant healthy and energetic to grow those tomatoes as big as possible.

I am sure you have noticed that a tomato plant will tend to fill all available space with growth, one kind or another. What trimming will do will be to insure that the tomato plant fills in its available space with non-lateral branches instead of lateral branches. In other words, it will fill space with branches that produce tomatoes, as opposed to branches that do not.

Tomato Size/Weight...

Catalogs will sometimes give you the average size of a tomato, but not its weight, and visa versa. Here is a chart to help you.

Inches in Diameter 2.00 2.50 2.75 3.00 3.25 3.50 3.75 4.00 4.25 4.50 5.00
Weight in Ounces: 2.304 4.500 5.988 7.776 9.901 12.348 15.209 18.433 22.140 26.246 36.052

The Tomato Relatives...

Plantae (Kingdom)
Magnoliophyta (Phylum)
Magnoliopsida (Class)
Asteridae (Subclass)
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