Cotztomatl Grow Out

My first foray into growing cotztomatl in 2012 started out a little bit bumpy, but I’m pleased that this plant found its footing in my garden and not only grew, but grew really well. There were a few surprises growing this plant, and having spread the seed around a bit in 2013, I’d like to provide those attempting to grow this one themselves with a bit more information than I had to go on.

cotztomatlseedlingIt wasn’t just me growing it this year, two friends Meighan and Gayla wanted to grow this one out with me, so we all started the seeds at more or less the same time and started comparing notes.

I had a tough time initially starting this seed. I start my seeds with bottom heat, but no enclosures/domes in order to keep the air circulating. Normally this works just fine for my Solanums, but after weeks I had seen nothing from my Cotztomatl. I resowed. Nothing again. I was starting to think all was lost. Until we compared notes.

Gayla and Meighan started theirs in an actual seed enclosure – and both of them had no trouble with germination. So I resowed again, this time with miniature domes around their individual cells, and sure enough, they germinated no problem.

First lesson learned with Cotztomatl: You need bottom heat and high humidity for proper germination.

The seeds and plants themselves look much like tomatillos, although they have more of a sprawling growth habit. Tomatillos generally grow up from one central stalk, cotztomatl grows out from several at the soil level.

Second lesson learned: These guys need at least three feet of room to grow in every direction. They’re almost unstakeable/uncageable. So give them room to sprawl.

Once they were transplanted they almost needed no care at all. I planted three separate plants, to make sure they had cross-pollination (I wasn’t sure if they were like tomatillos where multiple plants are needed in order to get higher pollination rates), and just let them go.
cotztomatl-xsmallThe blooms also resemble tomatillos, although they seem to be bigger. They’re a lighter yellow on the outside with a deeper purple/black closer to the centre. They’re gorgeous flowers, and they flower profusely. The plants are gorgeous in the garden just for their flowers alone.

Fruit set was very good (again, I can’t speak for if you only have one plant), it seemed to be very close to 100%. Like tomatillos, without a good amount of heat ripening and setting can be slower. My plants had about 6 hours of direct sun a day, with about 4 additional hours of dappled sun. They did just fine.

I started harvesting the first fruit in August, but the real huge amount came around September/October. Mountains and mountains of the fruit.

So what did it taste like? It’s kind of like a mealier, earthier tomatillo with a slight fruity finish. Sounds strange, right? The fruit is small, less than 1″ in diameter, and a golden orange. It has the husk like many other Physalis species, and that needs to be removed for consumption.

The raw taste was a little… strange. I snacked on a few, it was alright, Gayla hated the flavour.

Third lesson learned: The raw flavour is alright, if a little weird. Cooking with them is awesome.

I liked throwing them into chili and random Mexican-type dishes. They add quite a nice, subtle, earthy flavour to the dish. I imagine they’d be awesome in a salsa, but unfortunately I didn’t make any salsa this year.

I let my plants go on a bit – I live in a place with a very mild winter (snow is scarce at best), so I wanted to see how long these would last for. They even survived a few light frosts without any damage. Unfortunately, a few successive hard frosts is what finally killed them off in January. However, with a cover I believe they would have survived even then.

Fourth lesson learned: It’s a very tender perennial in zone 8. Light frosts won’t kill the plants, but successive hard frosts will.

cotztomatl-seeds

Harvesting Seed
These buggers are not easy to harvest seed from – even more finicky than saving seed from tomatillos. In my ultimate laziness I decided to let them sit outside. Seriously, I just let the fruit sit there, in little tubs outside. Now, I can get away with this because besides maybe from snow a few days a year, all we have is rain for the winter. Letting nature take it’s course to rot away the fruit, leaving just the seeds, was the absolute easiest method to allow me to get these ridiculously tiny seeds out of the dense fruit.

If you’re in an area with a lot of snow, all you’ll have is frozen fruit until the spring thaw. The image you see above is after about three months of fruit sitting outside in the chilly rainy weather here on Vancouver Island.

For colder climates, I’d suggest bringing the ripe fruit under cover (a cold room or storage shed if you have it), and keep these suckers wet. They will rot down, and all you’ll have left is some pretty cool looking skeleton husks, and a bunch of seed kept inside for you to easily slide out and bag up.

This was a great experiment for me in 2012, and I’m glad I had the chance to grow it. It will return to my garden again in future years, and it was a huge bonus that it was such an easy and care-free plant.

Annual Fundraiser & 2012 Grow Outs

Over the next few days the grow out list for the varieties being grown out for 2012 will be updated. It’s just a blank page now, so check back within the week to see what will be grown this year!

Also, the yearly fundraiser is now going on! Every year I put seeds up for sale that were grown the previous year to help fund projects for the following year. This seed bank is quite a costly undertaking at times, and every little bit helps! I currently have five varieties up (some in shorter supply than others), with more going up over the next 24 hours. Stay tuned to this page, and please consider purchasing some seed to help keep this seed bank growing.

More updates coming shortly!

Growth Notes: August 1st, 2011

I’m quite pleased with how the garden is shaping up this year. Despite the fact it was a barren wasteland of morning glory, ivy, oregon grape, and other sundry weeds and annoyances when we first moved in. The weather has been cool here, and rainy, and to my shock and awe, plants have not succumbed to blight or any other various diseases, *knocks on wood*. There’s a bit of a problem with powdery mildew on some of the bee balm and columbine, but even the squash only have minimal tellings of it. Things are going pretty damned well, and I thank the excellent natural soil of the area, and a bit of hard work to keep it all going.

Now, for a few updates!

Tomato 'AP2'

  • Tomato ‘AP2’ – This plant is a sprawler, sending large, huge vines everywhere. Next year I’m going to make a point of caging this one rather than trying to stake it. Fruit is currently taking on a rather heavily pleated shape (love it!), so a grow-out next year with the actual ‘Americke Pyramidni’ will let me know if that fruit is heavily pleated as well (according to PGRC fruit shape is “oblate” and fruit smoothness is “rough”). Tons of flowers, some blossom drop but this might be more due to the weather than the actual tendencies of the plant (as several other varieties are also dropping buds). Can’t wait to see how these fruit mature.
  • Pole Beans 'Irish Conners'

  • Pole Beans ‘Irish Conners’ – doing a lot better here than when I tried to grow them in Nelson. Vines are about 6ft tall currently, immature pods are flattish and medium sized and taste very sweet. Flowers are white, with 4 flowers per shoot. Most set with no problem, but there are a few dropping. Once again, might be due more to the weather than actual growth.
  • Pole Beans 'Oma's'

  • Pole Beans ‘Oma’s’ – Very strong grower, vines are currently between 7-8ft and seem to grow several inches over night! White flowers, immature pods are rounder and fatter than Irish Conners, and currently seem to grow longer.
  • Beans - Poltschka X (Unknown)

  • Beans ‘Poltschka X’ – Very, very slow growing (once again, possibly due to weather, although all the other beans have outpaced these). While the other beans started flowering weeks ago, I just saw the first blooms open up on these yesterday. Flowers are white.
  • All the tomatoes have had at least some flowers isolated now, and are growing fruit. I had some problems with a few, most notably ‘Coracao di Boi’ and ‘Antonovka’ with blossom drop. Once again, hard to tell if this is weather related or not, but since it’s been warming up and days haven’t been so cool, both are setting fruit much more easily.

    Site update!
    I thought it was high-time to start producing a quarterly newsletter. In it we’ll have updates on the bank, new additions, and special projects and plans. There’ll also be things that are announced there first (like looking for growers for instance!), as well as highlights and features on varieties in the bank. I’m even hoping to feature one family heirloom per newsletter with stories, historical info, growth info, etc. Imagine it like a mini magazine that finds its way to your inbox!

    Of course all information will be kept strictly private, I’m not even using a third-party service to keep the email addresses, they’ll be stored with me, and I will never release them.

    The first issue will be in October of this year – and yes I would love to feature your family heirloom! If you have one, please use the contact link located in the side bar to get a hold of me.

    Want to sign up? Here’s the form (all fields required):

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    I’m excited about the first issue, which is already being worked on as I type this.

    Stay tuned for more growth notes from the gardens coming this week.

    Growth Updates for June 2011

    June 12 - Tomato 'Fryerfrinsbroghese' Oh it’s been busy here the last few weeks, so I must apologize for the inherent silence this has caused.

    A bit of travelling was in order, then catching up after travelling, and now that I’m all caught up I finally have a moment to do a post here.

    The image you see to your right is the tomato ‘Fryerfrinsborghese’. This tomato, about a month back while I was originally transplanting everything, was snapped in half by my over excited dog when she took a flying leap over it while it was still waiting for transplant. Of course, I only had one of these transplants due to extremely low germination (I have a feeling these seeds must have been the original given to Plant Gene Resources Canada in 1984). Shocked and horrified I grabbed my rooting hormone and plunged it into the ground.

    About two weeks on it looked practically dead, but still showing a bit of green I couldn’t force myself to actually rip it up. Then, when I left for holiday I noticed a little tiny bit of new growth. Hallelujah!

    By the time I got back a week later, there was about two new inches of growth on it.

    The plant is now doing spectacularly, growing very well, and I even see the formation of flower buds, promising me I’ll actually be able to save some seeds from this sucker for the bank. If this is any indication of how strong this plant is, I am absolutely thrilled to have requested these seeds from PGRC (which I did only because I liked the name!).

    Unfortunately I do have a few deaths to relate: ‘Platillo’, another variety from Plant Gene Resources Canada didn’t survive the initial transplant. It was a poor start to begin with, but even my extreme babying couldn’t help it. ‘Calabacito Rojo’ also met its untimely death after a bad meeting with a weed whacker. ‘Americke Pyramidni’ died about a week after transplant, due to its very weak state, but the tomato that came out of those seeds that is still yet unidentified, ‘AP2’ is doing extremely well and growing like crazy. All three will be on the growing list again next year.

    ‘Irish Conners’ the bean I’m determined to bring back from the brink of extinction is doing much, much better for me here in Victoria than it did in Nelson. In Nelson I had hard clay soil, and temps reaching 35C, and this variety suffered in those conditions. Out of five initial beans last year I got two plants, and from those two plants, only managed to save 13 beans. Thankfully I got that many, and decided to plant them all this year. Well, they are doing spectacularly well here on the coast with it’s warm sun, but slight breeze to keep it cool. The soil I think is playing quite the roll too, as the natural sandy loam here seems to be much better for these plants to grow in. Looks like I’ll have nice strong plants, which means lots of beans to send out to anybody wanting them.

    Thanks for coming by to read about the updates – I promise more in short order!

    Populuxe Seed Bank Grower Update #2

    Just a quick mini-update today from two of the seed bank growers (besides myself!):

  • Marie in Saskatchewan is growing ‘Orange Jubilee’ and ‘Yellow Lemon’. ‘Orange Jubilee’ are showing nice strong characteristics, while ‘Yellow Lemon’ are a bit smaller, although that might just be due to growth habits. With little information available on ‘Yellow Lemon’, only time will tell! You can read her blog entry here.
  • Xan of Illinois reports some good news and bad; ‘Bramki’ and ‘Ferris Wheel’ are coming along very nicely, while unfortunately ‘Blondkopfchen’ lost its tag, and sadly, won’t be grown out for the seed bank this year. You can see her update here.

    May 22 - Tomato 'El Nano'

  • My tomatoes on the other hand are all outside and doing nicely in their new homes of the brand new garden bed! I spent six hours on Saturday planting. To read the full list of what’s in the beds being grown out for the seed bank, check out the list here.
  • Unfortunately we’ve had a few casualties this year already, including the ‘Americke Pyramidni’ and ‘Fryerfrinsborghese’ – both varieties I received from Plant Gene Resources Canada. ‘Americke Pyramidni’ suffered from really poor starts from the onset – they were spindly and just didn’t survive the move outside. However, ‘AP2’, the plant that came out of the same pack but showed markedly different growth characteristics (the most obvious being a regular leaf where ‘Americke Pyramidni’ is a potato leaf), is doing well and growing strong. This year I’ll be saving seeds from it and taking really good notes so that next year when I grow ‘Americke Pyramidni’ again, I’ll be able to compare the two by growing out those saved seeds and doing a side by side comparison.

    ‘Fryerfrinsborghese’ suffered a different fate – my over excited dog, while eyeing something darting on the other side of the yard, took a flying leap over it and snapped the poor thing in half. I quickly put some rooting powder on the snapped upper portion and planted. A few days later now, the leaves aren’t looking good but much to my surprise the stem is strong and upright, so I’m hoping it’ll make a recovery and I’ll be able to at least save a few seeds from it this year. Only time will tell.

    Photo: An image of ‘El Nano’, a smaller plant but growing very strongly.