While July was hot and dry, June was not and set the seeds (or spores) of one of our current activities at Green Chimneys: trimming diseased branches and leaves off the tomato plants. Tomatoes are one of the favored fruits of summer as there is nothing quite so tasty as a fresh tomato that has ripened on the vine. Unfortunately, for the last three years we have had a constant battle with Septoria leaf spot and every year I have endeavored with my charges to control the problem.
A few weeks ago I told a group of young boys that we would be cutting the leaves off the tomato plants. Initially they seemed uninterested until I asked them if they liked salsa.
“Yeah! That’s one of the best things about the summer garden. Will we be getting salsa soon?” said Bob.
“Well I hope so,” I replied. “But only if all of these green tomatoes are able to turn red. And they won’t turn red unless the tomato plant that is holding them lives for at least a month more.”
I then showed them a diseased leaf. It was brown on the edges and had little dots all over.
“This leaf is infected with a fungus that will kill the tomato plant unless we stop it. Look at some of the wilted leafs at the bottom of that tomato plant,” I said pointed downward.
They all looked and saw a bunch of desiccated brown leafs hanging off the metal cage. There were also small shriveled branches hanging off the bottom of the plant.
“Does that look healthy?” I asked. They all shook their heads no.
So I told them that we needed to cut off all the sickly looking branches as well as collect the dead leaves on the ground and instead of putting them into the compost heap, we needed to throw them out. When I asked them why did we need to do that Bill spoke up,” Because if you put them in with the compost you will just be planting them again next year.” Smart kid.
I gave each of them a set of pruners and they quickly set off to do the work. I said that our goal was to finish a single row of tomatoes and they set off quickly to do their job. Unlike other weeding exercises, this time the boys worked quickly and carefully. Perhaps the prospect of not getting salsa was motivating them to work hard; perhaps my promise of carrots and early tomatoes if they did a good job was a more immediate incentive.
In their enthusiasm a few healthy branches were cut, but as they were not bearing any fruit, I told them that it didn’t really matter that they were cut. After each plant was tended to, I wiped down each of their tools with alcohol to remove any spores that lingered on the blades. After 30 minutes of work, the row was nearly done.
“Gentlemen you have done a great job and probably saved this row so we will be able to make salsa in a month or so. Give yourselves a pat on the back,” I said. “Look at the difference.” For the few plants that had not been trimmed, the dead, shrunken leafs were a bleak counterpart to the thinned out albeit airy bottoms of the plants that had been cut. The boys seemed pleased.
“OK now it is time to shop. Carrots first or tomatoes?” The boys had big smiles on their faces and decided to go for the tomatoes first.