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tomato news

I heard some good news about the garden from Papa tonight. He told me that the Minnesota Midget melons finally put on some golf ball-sized fruit that was really tasty. He also said that he’d collected a single cayenne pepper from one the prized pepper starts. The ants had been ravaging the okra blooms until, he said, he put some ant killer out. Now, he says they’re doing just fine. Papa also said that he found another very small Cherokee Purple tomato on one of the vines and ate it on his salad yesterday. I was so happy to hear from him and hear how the garden is doing. When I moved I had a terrible sense of feeling as though I had abandoned my first child. I have no children, so I can only suppose that it is something of a similar feeling. I drove away, seeing the paradise of green and zinnias fade away in the rearview mirror and I cried. Actually I bawled. No kidding. Most of that was leaving my grandparents behind and wishing that I didn’t have to. I guess I had developed a sense of responsibility to them and the garden and I felt like I was letting both down. So, in light of that, I felt quite happy to hear how well things had been going since my departure. Papa was very positive and seems to have quite a sense of pride about keeping the garden alive with his careful watering.

He did wonder about the tomatoes though. He asked if he should stop watering them since they’ve quit putting on new blooms and fruit. Meme had put some of the green leafy stems in the dirt to make them take root, so they’ve already started the experimentation process. I told him that I would look some answers up on Google and either call him later, or send them in a letter. Here is what I found…

1) You can start the sucker of tomatoes to propagate new plants – Apparently, one of the most prolific avenues of propagation in indeterminate tomato plants is to pull 2-4 inch suckers off of a maturing plant. A sucker is the little shoot that develops in the crotch joint of two branches. They usually have two little leaves and are easy to pinch off. After you pull of a decent sized sucker (2-4″), plant it in cell packs just like you would with seedlings. I found this little tidbit of info fascinating. I also really want to try it, but have no room (or accessible tomato plants) to take on such a project.

2) You can also propagate tomatoes by taking 6 inch cuttings from the tips of branches. Once you make the cuttings, remove all the leaves from the bottom 4 inches of the cutting. Place them into a 4″ pot of damp potting soil. Make a hole in the soil with a pencil and put the cutting in it, making sure to press dirt in around it covering even the parts of the cutting where you removed some of the leaves.

Keep the cuttings warm, but out of direct sunlight for about a week, making sure to keep them sufficiently moist. Gradually expose them to more sunlight over the course of a week to “harden off” your cuttings. Once you have hardened off the cuttings, they can be planted and given room to grow and make more beautiful tomatoes!

Here’s an excerpt from a book I’m reading called “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball (Scribner 2010):

“The spokesthing for the hot decline of the season was the tomato hornworm. Who knew these creatures existed? Fat as Mark’s thumb and at least as long, they had smooth, soft skin the color of a Granny Smith apple, with white filigree details. Looked at one way, they were beautiful, meticulously drafted as living art; another way, they were horrible, soft, voracious aliens. Either way, I had to admire the camouflage, which was so good I could stare at a damaged plant for ages before I saw the worm, though evidence of its presence was obvious: leaves missing, whole stems consumed, big, wet, clumps of black frass. Sometimes, when I was close but still couldn’t see it, the worm gave itself up with  a faint but menacing clickclickclickclickclick. Mark had told me they bite, so I plucked each one off with my Leatherman and rubbed it into the dirt with my boot. The insides were a bright green jelly; the seven-chambered heart continued to pulse in the dust. I did not dare turn my back on it until it was still.”

This perfectly describes the horrid grossness of the tomato hornworm. I couldn’t have said it any better. If you are looking for an entertaining read about a city girl abandoning the comforts of convenience and turning into a bona-fide farm girl, this is a good one to pick up.

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