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Tomato Diary 11

15 Oct: Ripening very nicely, thank you!

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato. (Although we’re well into spring now.)

There’s not much left to say about the experiment. I think we can all agree it was a success, albeit not a quick one. From seed planting in early May, it’s taken almost seven months for the tomatoes to reach the eating stage (I had five for lunch on Sunday!). So yes, seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato will germinate and the plants will grow in a Sydney winter, but they definitely prefer the spring with its overall warmer temperatures and longer days. (So do I, actually.)

22 Oct: Good enough to eat?

Remember in September, I started to water one pot with milk and to not use chemical fertiliser? That experiment was not a success. The milk didn’t seem to hydrate the plants as well as water, and the pot is significantly heavier. Some digging with a stick revealed that the bottom 3 or 4 inches of soil has turned into a type of semi-solid swamp that released quite an unpleasant smell as I dug around. The liquid oozing from the drainage holes was a sort of thick green. (It’s the pot on the left in the photo below.) My advice: don’t do it!

The powdery mildew problem has not been cured by spraying the leaves with diluted milk, even with the addition of baking soda to the mix (a suggestion from Jude). You can see in the group photo below that these plants have a lot of naked stems! If you’re wondering why they haven’t gained much in height, the answer is that I’m pinching off their tops when they get to the height of the stakes because the plants generally sit on the balcony’s raised bed (visible at left) and there isn’t much vertical room.

22 Oct: Not the healthiest looking tomato plants you’ll ever see! But there are 80-odd tomatoes, the largest the size of a golf ball or small plum.

Interestingly, the star performer of the five plants has been the runt that I retrieved from the rubbish because I felt sorry for it (the small black pot above). It was the first to flower and the first with ripening fruit, and is taller than two of what were apparently the four strongest ones.

I’m keeping a tally of harvested tomatoes, and when this is all over I’ll let you know how many I get.

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Tomato Diary 10

Time to eat one of these babies!

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato. (Although we’re well into spring now.)

I wasn’t sure if this was ripe enough, but only one way to find out!


It was not quite ripe enough — slightly bitter, and not exactly full of flavour. There are 81 more on the plants, sized from marbles to small plums, so no doubt I’ll eventually get the timing right.

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 11.

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Tomato Diary 9

5 October — ripening at last!

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato. (Although we’re well into spring now.)

Finally! I thought these things would never turn red. However, I haven’t fixed the powdery mildew problem, and leaves continue to die at an alarming pace.

Dying leaves.

Mushrooms are popping up too!

I’d eat these if I knew they weren’t poisonous.

Here’s a larger shot of the header image: the shadows of the plants against my curtains in the bright morning sun.

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 10.

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Tomato Diary 8

You can see all the tomatoes coming along — and also see where I’ve picked off all the dying bottom leaves.

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato. (Although we’re well into spring now.)

Oh dear, things are looking worrying. Last evening it was very windy so I moved the pots to the balcony floor, which meant that this morning I was able to look down on the leaves. Powdery mildew is rampant!

A selection of the leaves I’ve removed in the past few days.

Not happy at all.

So off I went to Google again to see what is suggested. And would you believe it — milk! Diluted 1:4 or 1:5, and sprayed on the leaves weekly. So I have diligently done so. As for the pot that is being “watered” with milk, I can’t say that those two plants look any better or any worse than the three plants getting more conventional fertiliser. It’s the middle pot in the photo of all three pots at the top.

They look good from this angle!

Now the race is on: will any tomato ripen and be edible before all the plants die from the bottom up?

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 9.


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Tomato Diary 7

5 Sept: The largest tomato is golf-ball size now.

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato.

Sadly, we are back to a mix of good and bad news for this update. 😦 As you can see above and below, I have lots of tomatoes coming along.

We’re out of winter and into spring now, and the temperatures are warming up. The sun blasting onto the exposed pails was quickly drying out the soil. Easily fixed, though: I put up some black sunblockers to keep the pails in the shade, and made nifty covers for the soil on top.

Sept 5: Keeping cool!

However, here’s the bad news: the lower leaves are yellowing again. You can see it in the photo above. I shall try fertilising twice a week rather than once, and see if that helps. However, in true experiment fashion, I’m going to try something different for this pot (you may have noticed the yellow straw on the right, there to remind me that this is the experimental pot). I read that tomato plant problems are often caused by lack of calcium in the soil. Well, what has lots of calcium?

Calcium and B vitamins — not just for mammals!

Yes, milk! And sure enough, various gardening websites told me that “watering” tomatoes with a 50-50 water/milk mix is a “thing”. However, once plants go on the milk diet they can’t be given standard fertiliser because the chemicals break down the good bacteria in the milk. So we’ll see what happens!

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 8.


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Tomato Diary 6

First tomato! 19 August

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato.

The news is good for this update! I have not one but TWO tomatoes. Granted, not very big, but definitely coming along.

Tomato number two is to the right of the ‘large’ one and up a bit.

After the yellowing leaves reported in the last update, it was time for action. I bought some 10L pails for $2 each in my supermarket to use as pots (I added drainage holes), and extracted the two sets of two plants from their existing pots (maybe 3L in size), then very carefully prised apart the roots. I then planted two in each of two 10L pails, as far as apart in the pail as I could. The smallest plant moved into one of the now-vacant 3L pots; I would have thrown it out, as I did with another one the same size, but this plant was farthest along with flowers so I figured it deserved a chance. It’s the one showing tomatoes in the photos.

8 August: two in a new pail, two in an old pot. Once again, I buried the lowest set of leaves in the soil in order to get more roots, so the repotted two don’t look as tall as you’d expect.

Here are two shots of all five on the balcony. I’m a bit worried about how tall they’ll grow! They’re getting full sun now from sunrise (about 6.30am now) until the point where the sun is too far west to hit my balcony, roughly 1.30pm. So seven hours of direct sunshine. They’re also getting weekly fertiliser now.

19 August, basking in the morning sun.

19 August, basking in the morning sun.

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 7.


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Tomato Diary 5

The good news: Flowers are opening!

The experiment: to grow tomatoes on my balcony during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato.

There’s good news and there’s bad news for this update. The plants are 25-38cm (10-15 inches) high and, as you can see above, the flowers are starting to open. However, as you can see below, not all is well with the plants.

The top of the plants look great, the bottoms look unhappy.

A closer view of those yellowing leaves at the base.

Not as bad with these two, but you can see it.

Something I read online suggests the plants aren’t getting enough nutrients from the soil. My parents (successful tomato growers) suggest the pots are too small — each plant should have its own 5-gallon (18L) pot. I have neither the room nor the soil for such huge containers, plus that would mean putting them on the balcony floor where they’d get much less direct sunlight. The tomato experiment may well hit the wall here!

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 6.


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Tomato Diary 4

21 July: The crop is flourishing! I’ve rested a blue 6in/15cm ruler in the left-most pot for scale.

The experiment: to grow tomatoes during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato.

Since the last instalment of Tomato Diary, a veritable forest has sprung into being on my balcony. But the real reason for an update is — ta da! — flowers! (Well, buds.) On all six plants. This is marvellous, but rather worrying regarding possible quantity.

21 July: Flowers at last, about the size of caraway seeds.

23 July: Hairy little devils, aren’t they?

Admission: The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed references to six plants, not eight as in the last post. The two smallest ones (which I fished out of the discard pile and potted) certainly grew, but never caught up in size to the others. So it was back into the rubbish with them. I should probably get rid of four more plants, because I could be looking at a LOT of tomatoes.

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 5.


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Tomato Diary 3

Aerial view: 27 June and 23 May

The experiment: to grow tomatoes during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato.

All eight of the finalists were healthy and thriving, but two were definitely smaller and two were sort of mid size. They’ve certainly come on since the last instalment of Tomato Diary!

Amazing what three weeks can do.

Last weekend I repotted all but the two small ones into larger pots, ready for the big adventure of actually making tomatoes. Maybe.

These are the best four plants, planted in two large pots.

You can’t see the difference in pot sizes above and below (I should have photographed them together) but the two above are much larger.

The two not-best but pretty good plants, each in their own pots.

I had no more large or even medium pots left, and not enough soil to fill them anyway (and what on earth would I do with eight tomato plants??) — so these two didn’t make the cut.

The two smallest plants, destined for the rubbish. Poor little guys.

Admission: I felt really bad about ditching the two little ones. They weren’t sickly or weak, just smaller. And the next day, when I was putting some dead-headed pansy and petunia flowers into the rubbish bag, I saw them, sitting on top, still strong and healthy, not wilted at all, despite being out of pots. They looked up as if to say “Hey, Kaz, give us a chance!” So I fished them out and put each one into its own small pot. Fool.

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 4.


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Tomato Diary 2

23 May, down to 8 seedlings in 4 pots.

The experiment: to grow tomatoes during a Sydney winter using seeds scraped from a store-bought tomato.

On 23 May I ruthlessly discarded all but the sturdiest 8 seedlings and put the winners into four small pots.

23 May, aerial view

Above on 23 May, after repotting. Below on 6 June, after two weeks of growing.

6 June, aerial view. Definitely bigger!

Despite the less than ideal conditions, they are growing. Daytime highs now are 15-20C (59-68F) and they get only about five hours of morning sun — and that’s with me moving them four times to try to avoid shade as the low winter sun passes behind trees. Of course, many days are overcast and wet. Not what you’d call optimal!

Interesting to see the size differences. All the seeds are from the same tomato, but not all seeds are equal!

Yesterday I ventured to a garden centre for soil and stakes, being very optimistic that the plants will grow high enough to need staking! Some of you may be wondering why I bought “seed raising and cutting” mix. The answer is that I don’t have a car. Not following that logic? I had to buy soil in a bag small enough to fit into my backpack and of a weight I could carry. All that was available in this bag size was mixes for seedlings, cacti or orchids; this seemed the least-bad choice. I do have about the same amount of regular potting mix so when the times comes I’ll combine the two.

Ready to go.

Tune in later for Tomato Diary 3.