Tomato —Obsessive Love Disorder (OLD)

Mushroom Basket Tomato

Obsessive love disorder completely describes my relationship with this tomato! Ironically, the acronym for it is OLD! If being old means that it is ok for us to obsess about tomatoes — I am ok with that! I am really not that old but it feels like it sometimes —- But it feels good if you know what I mean.

I attempted to grow this tomato for the first time last year! What a flop! I planted somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 tomato plants and 10 of them were mushroom baskets! I got one stinking mushroom basket tomato! ONE !!!! Oh…… but it was glorious and delicious!

This year has been much better! Although, I can’t say I did anything that much different! I actually was very laissez faire about tomatoes this year. I did decide to do less plants and I fertilized the ground with more horse manure through winter but I always to that.

Oh but when those plants started to take off my excitement built up and the obsession started back. I dream about tomato plants! My husband and I still work out of town and so there are times when we are away from the garden for 2-4 days at a time. I always check the garden before I leave and immediately upon return. This last trip was no different.

I have been watching this giant tomato for over a week waiting for it to show signs of ripening. Everyday ….. nope still green….. nope still green….. not even a blush of color! Finally the day arrives (I mean I didn’t know it arrived but I was hopeful).

We were driving home together this time and it was late because we had both worked a 12 hour shift that day. It is nearly 11pm when we hit the county road. I am so excited to see my tomatoes. I know they miss me too! The county road is 3 miles of dirt road — which doesn’t seem to slow my husband down at all ever! I didn’t really care in this case because I was ready to get there too so I let him drive too fast this time without saying “what’s the speed limit on this road” while I look at his speedometer. We are barreling down the road with dust flying and I am in my mind taking a mental inventory of what all I need to check in the garden. Ah finally, the mailbox and driveway! We are almost there! NOPE— got to check the mail—— !! I really don’t understand why we have to check the mail EVERY-TIME we leave and return (insert sarcasm)! Ok ok get the mail! Go !! Off to the garden!!

Ok we are here! The truck is in park. I swing my door open and hop out ready to make a beeline for the garden but as I turn to shut the door I see my husband loading up his arms with stuff out of the truck! I guess I better help unload the truck! I begrudgingly made several trips inside to help unload the truck and finally it gets unloaded! On my last load inside, I see him unpacking the cooler. WHAT? Can I just go to the garden already! Of course, I have to help unpack the perishables —- but that’s all I am doing! I say to myself!

At long last, I am making my way down to the garden in the dark. No flashlight needed I know this path like the back of my hand! My sweet husband goes on to start checking on the animals and fill up feeders. The cats also know when he is there he feeds them special canned food so they encircle him and he can’t go anywhere.

I am in the garden and I can hear all the sounds of the night. The crickets are chirping and frogs are croaking. There is a slow soft breeze you can hear through the tall weeds of the garden —(that I haven’t had time to pick). I can hear the wind chimes softly playing music. It really is like magic to me! I take a quick moment to appreciate the night in the garden. But only a quick moment because I am on a mission.

I know right where the tomato I want is located. It is on the 6th row from the front and the last plant on that row! I make my way to the row and down the isle to the end. I can see the plant still looks really good but it is hard to tell in the dark and under the foliage of this 4 ft plant if the tomato has turned yet. I pull out my cell phone light and flash the tomato! GASP! Cue the angels signing! There she is in all her beauty …. the most beautiful luscious tomato ever! I don’t want to pick it because she is so perfect on the vine! Wow! I grew that! I do eventually pick it and hold it in my hand like I just picked a bar of gold off that bush. I realize there is another one ripe and another one ripe and another before I know it I have my shirt held up to make a basket and it is full of tomatoes!

Bryon startles me “Chasity, what are you doing?” Well, I am picking tomatoes of course at midnight, I think! Seemed obvious to me. Doesn’t everyone do that? In rattlesnake country no less. It was worth it. She tasted as good as she looked!

A true “slicer”

She weighed in at just under a pound!

Big Girl

Tomato Fail – Curly Top Virus!

The garden was hit hard this year by Curly Top Virus. This was my first experience with curly top virus so I did a fair amount of research on the virus.

The virus affects mainly tomatoes, peppers and sugar beets. I had extensive damage to my tomato crop. Minimal damage to pepper plants and I had no damage to sugar beets. I planted beets that were sweet but I am not sure they are technically “sugar beets”.

I had high hopes for my tomato crop this year. I planted 120 heirloom plants from seeds. I planted 12 different varieties with approximately 10 different plants each.

 I had big dreams of fresh tomatoes all summer and canning tons of stewed tomatoes that would last me all winter. Mother Nature had something else in mind. Instead of tomatoes all winter we will be having tons of pickles…… and spaghetti squash.

I guess I can’t complain too much. We won’t go hungry I guess! Anyway back to the problem at hand. I didn’t get the tomato crop I wanted either in the spring or the fall thanks to a little virus called Curly Top.

The virus is transmitted by the sugar beet leafhopper (Curculifer tennelus). It is a tiny little grasshopper that kind of resembles a fly. I have seen several in the garden. It is an invasive species in Texas.

Unfortunately, insecticides are not effective. (I mean- not that I would use any insecticides! SQUIRREL! Let’s be realistic. We all try not to use insecticides! We start by using the least toxic method of killing insect like picking them off and killing them manually. Then, we move to organic insecticides like diatomaceous earth or any other commercially available organic insecticide, fungicide, any kind of -cide we can find.

Then as our plants keep dying we bring out the ……. ((whisper)) seven dust! Yup, you heard me! I’ll dust the shit out of those little insects if they push me too far! I HATE GRASSHOPPERS OF ALL KINDS BY THE WAY!~

Now, back to the problem. Since insecticides don’t work what are my other options?

Fine mesh….. NOPE ….. blew right off in this hurricane strength wind of Central Texas once all the cedar has been cleared off the land. See, I think that is the original problem. We have been clearing cedar to improve our grasslands which has left big open grassy / weed fields surrounding my garden which grasshoppers (leafhoppers too apparently) love!

There are resistant tomato varieties per TAMU which include: Roza, Rowpac, Columbia and Saladmaster. The problem they haven’t really been celebrated for the taste! But, I would definitely try them at least for making stew tomatoes at this point!

I reached out to Dr. Harold Kaufman listed in the article link above. He is now retired but did suggest the same varieties above but clarified the Saladmaster needed to be the cherry type. He didn’t think anyone was still doing research on curly top. He did say some people did suggests partial shade. See leafhoppers have to feed in full sun so partial shade might keep them from feeding on the plants in the shade. The problem is tomatoes need full sun. However, I don’t think people realize Central Texas has EXTRA FULL sun most of the summer. I might try a shade block of 50% this next year and see if that helps.

Insects are cyclic so I was hoping maybe the fall would be better for the tomatoes…. NOPE! They were still there…..

It starts with a slight curling of the leaves and small bumps on the main stem. The leaves become leathery and tough. There is also a gummy type feeling to the foliage. The fruit that is there will ripen but it is slow and when it does ripen the skin is tough.

Turns out the leafhopper has three morphs including: a summer morph (3-4 months), winter morph (overwintering females) and migratory morph (capable of flying hundreds of miles). So they were still lingering around in the fall.

I did get a few little measly tomatoes to put up this year despite my new arch nemesis!

I froze them initially, then we cooked them down and made some stew tomatoes. We only produced about 4 pint jars this year. I did also get this beautiful black beauty tomato. There was only one and it looked and tasted amazing!

I also got a few more tomatoes here and there but not nearly the crop I was hoping for.

Look at the leaves on the bottom left corner of the above picture. They are starting to curl. Grrr…. Nothing was more frustrating than seeing that this year! The tomato below is called a mushroom basket. I can’t tell if it was just a fused blossom or if it was infected with something? Either way, I had to pick it before the frost!

 I did get a fair amount of green tomatoes for pickling before our very early frost hit!

I still thought I had another couple of weeks! Again, Mother Nature had other plans! What she doesn’t know is this will go great with Texas BBQ!

The disappointment of a bad tomato crop is always filled with hopes for next year! Curly Top -1 / Chasity -0…….

I would love to hear your thoughts for combatting Curly Top for next year!

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