Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Tomatoes are the Gateway Drug to All Kinds of Gardening"

Good Morning Gardeners!

"Everybody wants to grow tomatoes. Tomatoes are the gateway drug to all of gardening." I wish I could own this quote, but I can't. It's from Mike McGrath, host of the weekly public radio show You Bet Your Garden. I think it's going to be one of my all time favorite quotes.

It came from an interesting article on NPR about late tomato blight . Thank you to Cooking Up a Story for the lead on this article. If you haven't checked out Rebecca's site--it's awesome. It's probably the only blog I follow on a regular basis. She's got great stuff on cooking, gardening, farming, food politics. So, check it out people.

The NPR segment talked about the somewhat common fungal problem, late blight, that nightshade family plants are susceptible to. Nightshade family plants are edibles such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers. There is early blight and late blight. Last year I had late blight on all of my potatoes and 1 of my tomatoes. The year before all 4 of my tomatoes got late blight. This past year, my friend Crystal, who lives in Vermont, had insane amounts of late blight which wiped out lots of her expansive garden. Apparently there was a massive outbreak of late blight in the Northeast last year due to the sale of infected plants from nurseries and garden centers.

This article from NPR says that winter has most likely killed all of the late blight, so not to worry this year. I don't know if I trust that. Experts say the same thing about aphids. Little buggers! I will remain skeptical and vigilant. I would also like to add that you should never compost infected diseased plant material. Diseased plants should be disposed of in the trash. Also, practicing good crop rotation will help prevent fungal diseases like blight. Rotate crop families on a 4 year cycle. Basically that means don't plant nightshade family plants (tomatoes, potatoes, etc) in the same place for at least 4 years. Practicing good watering habits will also prevent the spread of blight. If you water the soil heavily, say with overhead watering or sprinklers, it will cause splashing on your plants, which will spread blight from the soil to the plant surface. If you are interested in a great book on crop rotation and companion planting then Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham is it! This book is in my top 3 favorite gardening books of all time.

If you would like to learn more about late blight the online guide to plant disease control at Oregon State University is an awesome resource. Please check out the links. You can enter in the name of any plant and be presented with numerous disease possibilities with thorough descriptions and photos. If you live in the Portland area and have a question about plant disease you can bring a sample into Portland Nursery 5050 SE Stark Street or 9000 SE Division 7 days a week. Or email a photo of your diseased plant to

Since, we are talking tomatoes and we've established growing tomatoes is a "gateway drug" it would be a reasonable assumption you are currently either "under the influence" or having cravings to satisfy your need to plant tomatoes. Let me take this opportunity to remind you optimal planting time for tomatoes in Portland is mid-late May. That's right people, please wait until at least May 15th. I know you are eager, I promise it will be ok. Be sure to check out the story I did last year on planting tomatoes. I apologize for the weird layout and formatting of that post. But, it has lots of good information and photos of step-by-step tomato planting.

And, as always, let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

In Health,
Miss Jolie Ann


no36 said...

Hi Jolie,

I just stumbled across your blog. We just planted our tomato plants this week (in PDX) based on some other advice. Will they be ok?

Miss Jolie Ann said...

Hi there! Thanks for checking out my blog. In answer to your tomato question, tomatoes thrive in the warm/hot weather. They like to be planted when the soil is warmed up and night temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. Here in Portland our average last frost date is April 15th. We're not even there yet. Tomatoes are most successful when planted out mid to late May. If they are planted when night temperatures are below 50 degrees this results in stunted plants. This is not my bias or opinion, it is based on what most horticulturalists, gardeners, books, magazines and websites will also tell you. There is really no benefit or "jump start" to putting tomatoes in early. I know some folks who plant tomatoes in late April and use methods to keep tomatoes warm such as "kozy coat" and "wall of water" type products. I don't like all that high maintenance, I'd rather just roll with mother nature and plant heat loving plants when the weather warms up as nature intended.

I'm curious who would advise you to plant tomatoes at the beginning of April in Portland. That's pretty odd.

Let me know if you have any other questions & good luck with your gardening this Spring! And, again thanks for reading.

Warmly, Miss Jolie Ann