Friday, March 2, 2012

Tomato tales

Once upon a time in Pretoria when I was a young bride (heh heh), my husband planted tomatoes. If I remember correctly they grew without fuss and we had so many tomatoes that they filled a wash basket - huge, gorgeous, luscious healthy tomatoes! Oxheart I think.
Since I have been gardening here in Cape Town, I have tried year after year to emulate that achievement, with plenty of disappointment and frustration. I have been told that it is very difficult to grow tomatoes out of doors these days and that one has more success in tunnels.

This year was the worst ever. The seedlings which I raised myself last September, were ready to go into the ground by early November. Again they were Oxheart. They grew vigorously and I had high hopes of achieving that dreamed of bumper crop. The plants looked fabulous and were full of flowers. They were fed and watered with devotion, using chicken manure from my own bantams. Then overnight it seemed, they became pale and covered in a fine reddish web that smothered them like some stealthy, creepy organism out of a horror movie. The deep green of the leaves was replaced by a ghostly white - I have NEVER seen such sickly tomatoes. The few fruits that were on there looked terrible. I was not just disappointed, I was deeply ashamed! The whole lot got yanked out and thrown in the dustbin. UGH!

In the first week of January I was at the nursery and thinking that it was far too late to plant tomatoes, I only looked at the seedlings out of curiosity. Oxheart and Rosa. Then I thought, bugger this I'll try again, and into the trolly they went. I bought Reliance organic compost and soon they were flourishing in their new beds.
Rosa seedlings after three weeks

No one could have been more determined than me to get it right this time. Their position was very pleasant, morning sun and slightly shaded in the afternoon. No water touched their leaves and they were fed and watered very regularly. My pride was at stake here after all.

I decided to be proactive regarding blight, red spider mite, fungal, viral,or any other horror disease. I sprayed them once or twice with milk against fungal disease. My main weapon was very experimental, namely Echinacea. Being a phytotherapist it made sense to me that Echinacea might have a preventative effect on the plants similar to humans. So I mixed 25 ml Echinacea tincture in 500ml water and sprayed them every week. They grew so fast and vigorously that I could hardly believe my eyes. It was as if the Echinacea was a tonic. However, I didn't do a control batch to see whether they would have  thrived anyway - because of the soil, compost or feeding with chicken manure. So next year I'll have to do a proper experiment.

Now it is almost 2 months to the day that I planted the seedlings. The Oxheart got some leaf curl disease and I pulled them all out. I don't think I'll try them again. Rosa did develop blight on the lower leaves, but I cut those leaves off and continue to spray the growing tips every week. This week I increased the amount of Echinacea to 30ml per 500ml water. One thing I can say with certainty, the Echinacea didn't harm the plants in any way.

Rosa after two months.

The Echinacea that I have is very strong 1:4 compared to the 1:10 that you can buy commercially. I think it helped prolong the health of the leaves, without entirely preventing blight. Most of the tomatoes look very healthy, but here and there, on otherwise very healthy bushes, there is the odd tomato with blossom end rot. The rest of the tomatoes on the same bush are fine. Very strange.

Hopefully I'll be able to post a picture of the harvest! Hold thumbs for me!!!