Monthly Archives: August 2009

You Say Tomato…

Cluster of CherriesI found an intriguing Op-Ed article in the New York Times this morning, that was in the NY Times last Saturday. The article focuses on the Late Blight epidemic that is destroying tomato and potato crops in the Northeastern U.S. (Happily, we don’t have to deal with late blight here – just the usual spider mites, etc.)

The article, You Say Tomato, I Say Agricultural Disaster, was written by a chef for the Stone Barns in New York.

However, there was one paragraph that caught my attention:

According to plant pathologists, this killer round of blight began with a widespread infiltration of the disease in tomato starter plants. Large retailers like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart bought starter plants from industrial breeding operations in the South and distributed them throughout the Northeast. (Fungal spores, which can travel up to 40 miles, may also have been dispersed in transit.) Once those infected starter plants arrived at the stores, they were purchased and planted, transferring their pathogens like tiny Trojan horses into backyard and community gardens. Perhaps this is why the Northeast was hit so viciously: instead of being spread through large farms, the blight sneaked through lots of little gardens, enabling it to escape the attention of the people who track plant diseases.

The article goes on to tell about a Cornell University plant pathologist who saw diseased plants at a “large retailer,” and told the manager they needed to get rid of the plants. A week later they were still there!

The author also points out something that I knew, but hadn’t really given a lot of thought to:

There’s another lesson here for the home gardener. When you start a garden, no matter how small, you become part of an agricultural network that binds you to other farmers and gardeners. Airborne late blight spores are a perfect illustration of agriculture’s web-like connections. The tomato plant on the windowsill, the backyard garden and the industrial tomato farm are, to be a bit reductive about it, one very large farm. As we begin to grow more of our own food, we need to reacquaint ourselves with plant pathology and understand that what we grow, and how we grow it, affects everyone else.

Go read the whole article!

Family of 4 Garden Update

Red Padron PepperIt’s Tuesday, so you know what that means, right? Exactly – the Family of 4 Garden.

Today we harvested 3.25 pounds of tomatoes, 2.75 pounds of peppers, 1 bell peppers (still green), and 1 bunch of Swiss Chard.

3.25 pounds of tomatoes @ $2/lb = $6.50

2.75 pounds of peppers @ $1.59/lb = $4.37

1 green bell pepper @ $1.00 each = $1.00

1 bunch Swiss Chard @ $2.00/bunch = $2.00

Today’s Total: $13.87

Year-to-Date Total: $175.63

There is a beautiful garden spider hanging out on a web in amongst the pepper plants:

Garden Spider

We also planted some purple carrots, more Chioggia and Gold beets, and some Bok Choy in the open spaces where the onions, beets, and carrots were planted this spring.

Raving about Golden Rave

In case you thought I was crazy to be so excited about the Golden Rave roma tomatoes last week, take a look at this picture:

Loaded RaveI counted 31 ripe tomatoes on it this morning! Wow! Yellow tomato sauce, here we come!

Friday PhotoEssay

Welcome to the Friday PhotoEssay! I was tempted to do an entire photoessay showing everything in the Demonstration Garden that is infested with spider mites. However, I figured that you have enough problems of your own, without me heaping depressing pictures on you. So, I scouted out some more uplifting pictures!

Baby DelicataThis Bush Delicata squash in the Family of 4 Garden has its first baby squash! Mmm…I can taste the butter and brown sugar already…That’s what winter squash is for, right?

RaspberryA ha! There’s a raspberry that the robins haven’t discovered and scarfed down yet!

Black RaspberryI can’t believe how vigorous this black raspberry plant is! The branches were hitting the ground and beginning to root last week, so we pruned them back. They are almost grown back to the ground again! We had better get lots of berries next year, or else this plant is going to be a goner.

Purple SproutsThe purple Brussels Sprouts are starting to produce. They aren’t quite ready to pick yet, but the plants are beautiful!

Concord GrapesThe Concord grapes are starting to ripen. I guess I shouldn’t have picked the ripe one out of the middle of the cluster before taking the picture, huh? I’m as bad as a robin!

Red ZinniasThese Benary’s Giant zinnias are beautiful, showy flowers!

Have a great weekend!

Roma Tomatoes: My Picks

Now that the peak of tomato season has arrived (or maybe passed, depending on how many spider mites are in your garden), I thought I’d start sharing my observations and opinions on the various types of tomatoes we have growing in our Demonstration Garden this year.

First up – the Roma Tomatoes.

The Winners:

Golden Rave going crazyGolden Rave – By far my favorite tomato from the romas, it is a smaller tomato, but early and prolific. It has a nice tomato flavor, not bland as some romas are, but not extremely acidic. It is a VERY vigorous indeterminate plant. No problems with cracking or blossom end rot.

Cream Sausage – This white roma has been loaded down with tomatoes, although the plant is determinate and has delicate-looking leaves. For a small plant, it is productive! It is a little bit later than other tomatoes, but that’s not a huge problem. As most white tomatoes, it is a pretty mild tomato that not everyone will like. We’ve had little problem with cracking, despite the tomatoes having thin skins.

Mariana & Margherita – These are two hybrid red romas. They are a little later producing than others, but it’s worth the wait! Both produce beautiful, large roma tomatoes that will be great for salsa or sauce. Their flavor isn’t great for a fresh-eating tomato, but for sauce they’ll be superb. The plants are semi-determinate, but not too crazy. Little problem with cracking or blossom end rot on these two.

The Losers:

Super Marzano – This tomato is supposed to be the “improved” hybrid of the old San Marzano. I’m not sure what they improved. This plant has the worst blossom end rot of any of the plants, and despite the huge indeterminate vine, the yield is poor. The tomatoes are smaller and narrow, but a nice red color.

Purple Russian – Although I love the tomato itself, it has not performed well for us. The fruit is prone to bad cracking, and the plant has partially succumbed to some wilt disease (possibly Fusarium?), although parts of it still seem to be healthy. It is still producing some tomatoes, but it doesn’t seem to do best under Kansas conditions.

The In-Between

Roma VF – This older hybrid variety (with Verticillium & Fusarium resistance), is a potato leaf variety. It is determinate to semi-determinate, and has tons of leaves! However, the tomatoes have been disappointingly small and oddly shaped. The yield hasn’t been great either. We’ve had minor problems with blossom end rot on this variety.

Green Sausage – This heirloom has been surprisingly productive, although the blossom end rot has been a moderate problem. The plant is determinate, again with delicate leaves, but it is visually much more vigorous than Cream Sausage. For some reason, the tomatoes on these plants have been light – not as meaty or juicy as I have seen them in the past. Not sure what has been going on with that.

That’s my take on the Roma tomatoes this year, for what its worth!