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You say tomato, I say….fusarium wilt?

November 17, 2009

Okay, I know I have no business posting about tomatoes in late November….but this one’s been waiting for a few free minutes for a while now, and in a fit of confusion, the only tomato plant we have left in the ground burst into flower this week, so that reminded me that I should wrap this up. (Yes, that would be this week when there was actually frost in the forecast and temps dropped to the low 40s—this is one mixed up tomato! I’m leaving it there to see how that pans out, though….)

But I wanted to get a post-season garden recap in nonetheless. This year, we planted:

Kassenhoff sells an amazing selection of heirloom plants at both the Temescal and Grand Lake Farmers Markets—it was all I could do to stop buying them after we’d filled up our beds! Theoretically these six were chosen to bear early, mid, and late season crops that would keep us up to our ears in tomatoes all summer long. In practice they all produced a little bit all season long, but nobody was prolific. (More on that below…)

Tomatoes! Clockwise from top: Glacier, Yellow Brandywine, Carmello, and a rather sad looking Taxi.

The Paul Robeson died of unknown causes early in the season, and I never did figure out if it was due to disease or to the fact that the Labradane tried to dig it up the weekend after we planted it. The others put on a good show, though—we didn’t have a huge number of tomatoes, but definitely more than last summer (and with pretty mild temps to boot).

By early August, though, it was clear that something was up with the plants. Huge swaths of leaves would turn yellow and wilt, and the stems I cut off were hollow with a soft white fuzz inside. From the outside, they looked waterlogged, although I’d been watering pretty conservatively. The potatoes that were sharing a planter with three of the tomatoes also fell victim. My online searches didn’t turn up a clear culprit, but either verticillium or fusarium wilt seemed like the prime contenders. Both are soil-borne, unfortunately, which means that we can’t plant tomatoes or other relatives in those two plots for the next several years. (We left this year’s plants in the ground on the advice of one book that pretty much summed it up as “ah, well—might as well enjoy the tomatoes you do get,” and we did indeed get some good ones, in spite of everything. So maybe there’s hope…)

So it’s back to the pots for the tomatoes next year—and I need to think of another good sun-lovin’ vegetable to plant in the big new planter with prime southern exposure instead. (Eggplants are too closely related to tomatoes, sadly, as are peppers—but squash may be an option.) For right now, we have fava bean cover crop planted there to try to build the soil up a bit.

In other garden news, most of our winter crops are planted now—although the carrots and parsnips hit an unfortunate glitch when a big hole appeared in that bed. I filled it in, and the next day it reappeared—and the Labradane showed up in the kitchen smelling like fresh soil. At first we thought he’d been digging in there trying to get to a critter. But then a few days later, D. came out to find him curled up in the garden, enjoying the warm little nest he’d made for himself. Time to get a garden fence, I guess!

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