Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hot Tomato

okay, so I write an advice column for a garden club newsletter, and I had a woman corner me at a meeting and insist she should not have to rotate her tomatoes, because the were in the only sunny spot in her garden, and should be allowed to stay there, free of disease, no matter the laws of nature.

I didn't have the heart to tell her she's not that special.  Actually I tried, but she was on broadcast, not receive.  But if she reads this, maybe she'll get the idea...or maybe not.  A friend once told me you can write the most outrageous, egregious things your friends have done; as long as you change their names they won't recognize themselves.  So far I have kept that urge in check, but I'm thinking about breaking out.

So here is my advice to that Hot Tomato.  And stay tuned: more advice columns to come.

Sage Advice  May 2015
by Mary A. Gardener

Dear Mary:  
I am getting ready to plant my tomatoes, and I am being told that I can’t plant them in the same place as last year!   That can’t be right; it’s the only sunny spot in my garden!  This is an old wives’ tale, right?

Hot Tomato

Dear Hot Tomato:
Alas, it is not.  Old wives get blamed for a lot of things, but they are not responsible for your tomatoes.

Tomatoes are susceptible to a whole host of diseases - fusarium wilt, causing the plant to yellow and then collapse; verticillium wilt, causing the plant to wilt, yellow, and then collapse - are you seeing a trend here?  And some other really colorful things like cottony leak, sour rot, and spotted wilt.   May you never make their acquaintance.  

Unfortunately, these diseases are not swayed by your argument that you have only one sunny spot in your garden so should be allowed to plant your tomatoes there every year with impunity.  You may avoid the diseases for years, but once you get them, they will stay.  And stay.  Like distant unwelcome relatives at the holidays, the are very hard to get rid of - although, unlike relatives they can be controlled.  By rotating their location - more on that later.  Come to think of it, if you rotate your location, maybe the relatives won’t be able to find you?   

Mary’s sister had huge healthy tomato plants, the envy of the neighborhood (and Mary), until one day they just keeled over, all six-plus feet of them, and died.  Loaded with green tomatoes.  Heartbreaking.

Mary’s sister tried growing her tomatoes in pots, in raised beds with fresh soil, and they always looked great at the beginning of the season (hope springs eternal; so do tomatoes), but just as Mary's sister was buying the mozzarella and snipping the basil for her salad, the tomatoes would keel over and die.  Again.  And again.  

So what do you do?  First, don’t plant any of the solanums (that’s the tomato family, and includes potatoes, peppers, eggplant and tobacco, ornamental and otherwise) in the same bed more than once every four years.  Yes, you heard me right - four years.  And if you have - or suspect - a problem, take out the plants, bag them securely and put them in the trash.  Not on the compost.  Trash.

And sterilize your tools! this includes shovels, trowels, pruners, and gloves.  And hands.  Clorox wipes (I know, I know) are handy, but a dilute bleach solution in a spray bottle works too.  A shovel is how, we think, Mary’s sister’s garden got so badly infested.  Eventually she moved to Seattle.  If you rotate your tomatoes, you should be able to stay in your home and enjoy your tomatoes - and Garden Club - for many years.

Happy Gardening - Mary

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