Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010: A San Marzano Tomato Odyssey

This post has accompanying music, to enhance the grandeur and magesty of the occasion. It can be accessed by clicking play below.

Finally I've got round to documenting the odyssey that is this years tomato plantation. Last year, I grew tomatoes like a primitive ape, flimsy bamboo stakes, poor watering and no pruning. Then I was visited by an enormous rectangular San Marzano tomato with perfect 1x4x9 dimensions and suddenly my growing techniques evolved. Where to begin, I became interested in growing San Marzano after reading about them on Wikipedia and discovering that they are regarded as the ultimate cooking and saucing tomato with unparalleled flavor. I like the way that they look like an ugly Roma that has been grown in a toothpaste box to make it square.

As they are an indeterminate variety they require serious pruning and I scoured the internet trying to reach a concensus on the best pruning method. The conclusion I came to was that agressive pruning would result in larger (but fewer) fruit and a healthier plasnt with better air movement and better access of light to the leaves. What you do is select several of the lower lateral branches and of course the main stem and pinch out all the remaining lateral growth. I also removed any leaves in contact with the ground. The training method of wrapping twine round the stems caught my attention and I decided to use it on all the plants. Its advantage is it offers sturdy support to the plant but at no point does it place pressure on the stem which could affect the plants growth.

The first clusters of flowers are starting to appear and i'm getting ready to apply Potash around each plant to aide fruit set. I'm also going to add a small amount of agricultural lime to reduce the occurance of blossom end rot. Also I believe the main cause of BER is under-watering during fruit development, it couldn't hurt to have a little extra calcium available to make sure. Under-watering means calcium is not available to the fruit at a sufficient rate.

To ensure that the plants have ample water, if it ever stops raining that is, I've set up a semi-automatic dripper system using weeping hose to deliver long slow soaking water to them at regular intervals. I say semi automatic because I still have to set the timer to get it started, oh god the effort! Last year I learnt it was very difficult to water tomatoes when the plants reach a certain size and to keep that water off the leaves. With the weeping hose they can be watered slowly and at the optimum time with all the water going directly where it is needed.

A short video of weeping hose in action. It just seems like the ultimate watering invention, much more effective than drippers.

This is the picture that got me so excited. Its got everything. Ripening fruit that's supreme flavor is guarded by its rectangular unsightly appearance, aggressive yet calculated pruning for maximum yeild and a complicated training system for commercial production results.

HAL kind of looks like a tomato. I don't think that's a coincidence.

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