Tomato 'Spike'
Tomato ‘Spike’

(4/28/10) Back in the ’70′s and 80′s I planted several large vegetable gardens with some success, but for the past two decades I have had few opportunities to indulge this hobby. Half Moon Bay was too cool and windy and Florida far to hot and humid for it to be worth the effort. Then last week I saw that Annie’s Annuals had several varieties of tomatoes in stock that were adapted to the cooler growing climate in Richmond. Why not?

So I bought a ‘Spike’ and planted it in a container (see my discussion about the dirt in Marina Bay). According to Annie, it is a “baseball-sized black tomato with green stripes, & pink & green mottled flesh.” Hopefully, in three or four months I will be enjoying the results.

Tomato 'Spike'

(Update 4/20/2010) The tomato has significantly increased in size over the past three weeks and seems happy in its warm, sunny spot. The one unanswered question is whether it will set fruit. Buds have already appeared, but it is too early to see if they will bear fruit.

Tomato 'Spike'

(Update 6/5/10) Up until now I was concerned about flowering and germination. ‘Spike’ had produced only a couple of flowers and it was not clear if they had set fruit. The weather in this area of Richmond stays pretty cool this time of year and is not conducive to tomatoes.

So I was preparing myself for the reality that the dream of biting into a home grown tomato in a few months was not to be. However, in the past week the tomato has put on a major growth spurt and produced an abundance of flowers. Just on the basis of sheer numbers, some of the flowers should be able to bear fruit. Patience.

(Update 6/8/10) So as not to keep you in too much suspense, yesterday I discovered three small, green tomatoes hiding in the foliage. Patience has its rewards.

Tomato 'Spike'

(7/13/2010) Patience can be over-rated.  As the tomato continues to grow a whole new set of potential problems have arisen. I planted the tomato in a 12′ pot, which seemed more than adequate when it was a little seedling. Now that it has filled out and set at least 2 dozen fruit, I’m faced with a dilemma. It is difficult to keep the soil moist enough throughout the day as the tomato gulps down the water. This has lead me to wonder if I shouldn’t have used an even bigger pot to start with.

But when I mentioned my concern to one of the gardeners at Annie’s Annuals, I was told that I needed to occasionally let the soil go very dry in order to improve the flavor of the fruit. So which way do I go? Wet? Dry? I’ve decided to compromise. I find that even with a daily soaking each evening, the soil in the pot is pretty dry by the end of the day. So I’m just going to assume that I do let the tomato dry out each day.

Tomato 'Spike'

(Update July 30, 2010) This year has been one of those sobering experiences when I have learned my limitations as a gardener – over and over again. And ‘Spike’ seems to be the perfect metaphor for this experience.

I knew when I started out with my new garden in December of 2009 that I would have to experiment with which flowers did well in this area and how I should properly care for them. But I’ve been gardening for years, many of them in climates very similar to the one I’m currently live in. So I expected a few bumps in the road, not the road strewn with bottomless potholes that ultimately confronted me. For example, I’ve grown tomatoes successfully in several of my gardens, so I didn’t think I was taking on a major risk when I purchased a ‘Spike” tomato from Annie’s Annuals.

I bought an extra large 10″ pot, planted ‘Spike’ with plenty of fresh potting soil and put the tomato in the sunniest spot in the garden. The pot seemed more than adequate, especially since ‘Spike’ is an indeterminate tomato that does not require as much container space as a determinate variety.  Look at the first picture on this page. The pot seems to be almost too large for the plant. Surely, the size of the pot was adequate.

Tomato 'Spike'

For the first two months ‘Spike’ did extremely well, setting dozens of fruit and happily basking in the sun. And then things started to get ugly. It gets breezy in my garden and on a couple of occasions in early July I had to reset the pot after it had blown over.  Then one day in mid July ‘Spike’ fell over and couldn’t get up. It had grown so top heavy that the weight of the pot was no longer enough to keep the plant upright. I tried adding some extra stakes and even securing the tomato to the house, all to no avail. In desperation I had to resort to the embarrassing solution of propping up ‘Spike” with one of my lawn chairs. The chair does temporarily address the issue, but I’ve got a much bigger problem – I way underestimated the proper size for the pot.

So the one thing I have definitely learned is that if I plant another ‘Spike’ next year, the pot will have to be at least twenty inches in diameter.

(Update 08/19/2010) Spike continues to produce an abundance of tomatoes. A few have ripened so far and, based on the progress to date, it looks like it takes 90 to 120 days from planting for Spike to produce fruit. The taste of the first few tomatoes is terrific, but the consistency is a little mealy. In addition, the size is a little smaller than I expected. Hopefully, the texture and size may improve as more tomatoes ripen or it may just be because of the challenging conditions I’ve created for the fruit.

(08/22/2010) In my prior update I seemed to have ignored one critical influence on growing tomatoes – heat. This summer in the San Francisco Bay area has been unusually cool. The Sunday San Francisco Chronicle noted that many of the local tomato growers were having a hard time ripening the fruits with the 60 degree day time temperatures and pervasive heavy clouds. That may account for the long ripening periods I’m experiencing and even the mealy texture. The next few days are expected to get into the 80′s and maybe we will see some improvement.

(9/08/2010) After roughly 5 months in a container, Spike is producing like gangbusters. The texture of the tomatoes is still a bit mealy, but the taste is excellent.