Weekly Update...Tomato Story #3. Lucky Cross and Little Lucky

OK - it's Monday - back on track. Well, back on track with blogging...but not so much with gardening - we are delighted to be hosting family, giving me the chance to infect our two young grandsons with the gardening bug. Suffice to say I am a bit off my schedule. Each year something different impacts routines, and having the impacts be visiting family members is about as good as it gets.

 Aiden and Aaron - best book selling helpers ever!

Aiden and Aaron - best book selling helpers ever!

 

Recent weather: For the most part the pattern continued - warm, humid mornings, clouds billowing for big afternoon thunderstorms. A few days provided a bit of a respite. It puts gardeners into such conflict - rain means that no watering is needed. Late rain means wet foliage, which means perfect conditions for fungal disease spread on foliage. This is gardening in North Carolina.  It's summer - we endure, adjust, experience a mixture of successes and failures. Makes us emotionally tougher, I suspect!

General Garden Observations: There are a whole lotta tomatoes out there on the plants, and ripening is (finally!) beginning. I am at the point where time and effort and daily heat and humidity lead to focus on the basics - tie when they droop, water when dry, feed when hungry, pick when ripe. Some plants are going under with disease - attrition is always expected, but it is important to note which ones are most susceptible to which diseases, and where and how they are grown. I never seem to capture as much of such info as I hope to....energy levels, focus, discipline just seem to flag a bit as the season wears on. It's my fault for squeezing so many plants into the driveway. One thing for sure - the peppers and eggplant show their relative ease of growth vs tomatoes at this time of the year. They are loaded and look perfectly healthy.

 Driveway garden view July 11 - Overall, things are going well

Driveway garden view July 11 - Overall, things are going well

What has been rather breathtaking is the flourish of blooms in the side pollinator garden. Hibiscus, butterfly bush, and lantana are providing magnets for bees and butterflies - and I suspect hummingbirds as well. Each day provides amazing photo ops, and just walking through elevates my spirits.

 Our tumbler composter sits amidst a forest of hibiscus and buddleia

Our tumbler composter sits amidst a forest of hibiscus and buddleia

 

Current Activities: Feeding continues at the week to week and a half rate, and watering has eased due to all of the rain. I need to spend some time topping and tying and better securing the many indeterminates that are as tall as the stakes and loading down with tomatoes. I also need to do a general walk through and note the plants that are struggling with foliage disease the most. I am beginning to pick tomatoes, label them, photograph, and save seeds. This is the major multitasking time of the season for me.

Epic Tomato book-related activities hit quite hard recently...tomato dinner at ACME, tomato day at the Carrboro Farmers market, tonight a cooking school at Southern Season, next Saturday tomato day at the Chapel Hill farmers market, an interview on A Way to Garden podcast with Margaret Roach, and a radio spot on Niki Jabbour's Weekend Gardener. Multitasking, indeed!

Tomato Story:  Lucky Cross - and Little Lucky

I am talking about tomatoes that are on the way, but are so special to me. The story of these tomatoes describes one way to  create new varieties....growing an unexpected seedling, confirming it as a chance cross (F1 hybrid), then seeing what riches it holds as saved seed is grown and the results sorted through.

It is a story that continues to this day, but started in 1993. A Brandywine flower in my garden that year was visited by a bee with pollen from a neighboring striped variety. I was lucky to save seeds from the tomato that formed; in 1997, when some of those seeds were planted, a few had the normal, serrated type leaves, very distinct from the expected, smooth potato leaves of Brandywine. The question to be asked is....is it a mix up in seed saving? Some stray seeds?  Or a cross?

I grew out one of those regular leaf seedlings in 1997, and the results confirmed the bee-aided cross. The one pound tomatoes were pink, but with fine vertical gold stripes. Seeds were saved, and in 1998 and 1999 I grew out a number of offspring, some regular leaf, some potato leaf. 

I hit the jackpot right away - in 1998 one potato leaf plant produced medium sized yellow tomatoes with a red blush that were absolutely delicious - fully the equal of Brandywine. Along that time I enlisted the help of a Duke professor who lived nearby who was also a tomato enthusiast. Over the next few years, we worked with this tomato, and eventually settled on two different offspring, both potato leaf.  

In the year 2000, two named tomatoes were born - Lucky Cross (a name I gave it - pretty obvious, really, since we were so lucky that the bee made the cross!), which was of the Brandywine size and shape (one pound average) and flavor (just delicious) and leaf shape - but with the lovely yellow coloring with red marbling known as the bicolored beefsteak type. The sister tomato, named Little Lucky, was the same in all respects except for size (4-6 ounce range) and shape (round). 

We are now pretty advanced now on generations for each of these - seed saved of each variety in 2012 was at the F10 generation, meaning it is quite stable. 

For this year, I wanted to go back to some earlier generations and do a reselection for the very best flavor. In my driveway garden are five different selections of Lucky Cross at the F8 generation, and three earlier generations of Little Lucky as well. Below are some unripe fruit of each type - we are probably a week or two away to getting to taste the fruits of this year's research efforts.

 Lucky Cross - one pound fruit, a week away from ripe

Lucky Cross - one pound fruit, a week away from ripe

 Little Lucky - blushing...any day now!

Little Lucky - blushing...any day now!