About elzbthc

I am a Graphic Artist and The Tomato Lady in the Spokane Valley, WA. I love creating beautiful things, horses, quilting, traveling, sightseeing, cooking, entertaining, and reading among other things.

Amazing Tomatoes: How They Grow and it’s Only Early July!

This is one of the best years I’ve had for growing tomatoes, actually everything except the peppers are doing really well. they look good but are still smallish.

I am surprised because the weather has been like riding a roller coaster. Hot, cold, wet, dry. This should be causing more stress than I have. On the plants that is!

Here are some pictures of my tomatoes

candyland-red-2candyland-red

These are both Candyland Red

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Fred’s Tye Dye out of the Dwarf Tomato Project

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Mr. Snow of the Dwarf Tomato Project 2 pics

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Taxi – an heirloom. This really surprised me, it was the second one to fruit.

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These two are Bush Blue Ribbon

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Lucky Swirl out of the Dwarf Tomato Project

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Summer Sweet Gold out of the Dwarf Tomato Project

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maskotka-3-618maskotka-618Maskotka – Our first tomato, that we were able to eat on July 4th. It is from Canada.

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freds-tye-dye-618Silvery Fir Tree

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Septoria Leaf Spot of Tomato

Unfortunately, this is what is happening to some of my tomato plants. Here is more information. I am going to treat my plants with a copper fungicide before it gets too bad. You can find copper fungicides at Northwest Seed and Pet or the big box stores. Our weather is not great this year

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Septoria leaf spot on tomato (Lycopersicon)Septoria leaf spot is caused by a fungus, Septoria lycopersici. It is one of the most destructive diseases of tomato foliage and is particularly severe in areas where wet, humid weather persists for extended periods.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Septoria leaf spot usually appears on the lower leaves after the first fruit sets. Spots are circular, about 1/16 to 1/4 inch in diameter with dark brown margins and tan to gray centers with small black fruiting structures. Characteristically, there are many spots per leaf. This disease spreads upwards from oldest to youngest growth. If leaf lesions are numerous, the leaves turn slightly yellow, then brown, and then wither. Fruit infection is rare.

Life Cycle

The fungus overwinters on infected tomato debris or on weeds in the nightshade family, the same family to which tomatoes belong. The fungus can also survive on equipment such as plant stakes and cages. Long periods of high relative humidity, temperatures of 60–80 degrees F, and leaf wetness are ideal conditions for development and spread of the pathogen.

Integrated Pest Management Strategies

  1. Remove diseased leaves. If caught early, the lower infected leaves can be removed and burned or destroyed. However, removing leaves above where fruit has formed will weaken the plant and expose fruit to sunscald. At the end of the season, collect all foliage from infected plants and dispose of or bury. Do not compost diseased plants.
  2. Improve air circulation around the plants. If the plants can still be handled without breaking them, stake or cage the plants to raise them off the ground and promote faster drying of the foliage.
  3. Mulch around the base of the plants. Mulching will reduce splashing soil, which may contain fungal spores associated with debris. Apply mulch after the soil has warmed.
  4. Do not use overhead watering. Overhead watering facilitates infection and spreads the disease. Use a soaker hose at the base of the plant to keep the foliage dry. Water early in the day.
  5. Control weeds. Nightshade and horsenettle are frequently hosts of Septoria leaf spot and should be eradicated around the garden site.
  6. Use crop rotation. Next year do not plant tomatoes back in the same location where diseased tomatoes grew. Wait 1–2 years before replanting tomatoes in these areas.
  7. Use fungicidal sprays. If the above measures do not control the disease, you may want to use fungicidal sprays. Fungicides will not cure infected leaves, but they will protect new leaves from becoming infected. Apply at 7 to 10 day intervals throughout the season. Apply chlorothalonil, maneb, macozeb, or a copper-based fungicide, such as Bordeaux mixture, copper hydroxide, copper sulfate, or copper oxychloride sulfate. Follow harvest restrictions listed on the pesticide label

.Organic StrategiesStrategies 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 are strictly organic approaches. Using an appropriate organic herbicide (or removal by hand) would be viable organic approaches to Strategy 5.

Source: Septoria Leaf Spot of Tomato

Tomato Leaf Problems: A Visual Guide | You Should Grow

We have had really strange weather lately, hot then cold then humid then wet then dry! Enough to make a tomato plant cry. Some of my customers have contacted about some leaf rolling, spots etc.  Even I am starting to see what I think is called Septoria Leaf Spot. this is a guide that you can use to try and tell what is wrong with your tomato leaves. Courtesy of You Should Grow.

If you’ve ever grown tomatoes before, you’re probably familiar with tomato leaf problems. You might have noticed your tomato plant leaves turning yellow, brown, or getting spots.

SO WHAT CAUSES THESE TOMATO PLANT PROBLEMS?

We all love the flavor of a homegrown tomato. You just can’t get the same intensity and sweetness from any tomato at the grocery store. But homegrown tomatoes also come with lots of pest and disease issues.

The unfortunate reality is that tomatoes are susceptible to many pests and diseases. And many of them lead to yellow or brown spots on tomato leaves. Often you can determine the cause of the issue just by looking at the leaves.

The particular pattern of yellowing or spotting will give you lots of information about what disease or pest is plaguing your tomato plant. Use this guide to tomato leaf problems help you figure out what’s wrong and what, if anything, you can do about it.

NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES THAT CAUSE PALE OR YELLOW LEAVES ON TOMATO PLANTS

Whenever your plant’s leaves look pale, but the plant is otherwise healthy, try adding an organic liquid fertilizer first. Neptune’s Harvest is a reliable brand that we frequently use. Liquid fertilizer is more quickly absorbed, and you should notice improvement within a day or two.

Trays of tomato seedlings. Some healthy leaves and some yellow leaves

Whatever the deficiency, the liquid fertilizer should take care of it. But if you want to know exactly which nutrient is deficient, you might be able to figure it out by looking at the specific pattern of yellowing.

If you notice your young leaves (those at the top of the plant) are yellow with green veins, suspect iron deficiency. Check your soil pH to make sure it is between 6 and 6.8. If it’s too high, your tomato can’t take up necessary nutrients including iron.

If you notice older leaves (those at the bottom of the plant) are yellow with green veins, suspect potassium deficiency.

Yellow tomato leaves with green veins (indicates nutrient deficiency).

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If you notice dark spots within the yellow areas and the leaves are small and narrow, you might have a zinc deficiency.

If young leaves are pale and the growing tips of your tomato plant die, suspect calcium deficiency.

Stunted plants with general yellowing of the leaves is an indication of nitrogen deficiency.

It’s best practice to have your soil tested to confirm nutrient deficiencies before adding anything other than organic fertilizer and compost.

Adding too much synthetic fertilizer can burn your plants, and overuse of lime and wood ash can alter your soil pH causing more problems with nutrients than they prevent.

Learn about using fertilizer in your veggie garden.

YELLOW TOMATO LEAVES DUE TO PESTS

Pests are a common cause of tomato leaf problems. They are often carriers of tomato diseases as well, so it’s prudent to keep an eye out for any insects on your tomatoes. Read about some of the bugs I’ve found in my tomatoes.

Aphids love tomato plants and cause yellow, misshapen, and sticky leaves. Look for tiny insects on the undersides of leaves and on the stem. These pests will suck the sap from your tomato plant and can be a real problem in any garden.

Aphids are a common pest of tomato plants. Yellow leaves that have a sticky substance with tiny bugs on the undersides of leaves and stems are a sign of this pest.

If you notice dark spots within the yellow areas and the leaves are small and narrow, you might have a zinc deficiency.

If young leaves are pale and the growing tips of your tomato plant die, suspect calcium deficiency.

Stunted plants with general yellowing of the leaves is an indication of nitrogen deficiency.

It’s best practice to have your soil tested to confirm nutrient deficiencies before adding anything other than organic fertilizer and compost.

Adding too much synthetic fertilizer can burn your plants, and overuse of lime and wood ash can alter your soil pH causing more problems with nutrients than they prevent.

Learn about using fertilizer in your veggie garden.

YELLOW TOMATO LEAVES DUE TO PESTS

Pests are a common cause of tomato leaf problems. They are often carriers of tomato diseases as well, so it’s prudent to keep an eye out for any insects on your tomatoes. Read about some of the bugs I’ve found in my tomatoes.

Aphids love tomato plants and cause yellow, misshapen, and sticky leaves. Look for tiny insects on the undersides of leaves and on the stem. These pests will suck the sap from your tomato plant and can be a real problem in any garden.

Aphids are a common pest of tomato plants. Yellow leaves that have a sticky substance with tiny bugs on the undersides of leaves and stems are a sign of this pest.

They can be many colors, but we often see the red/pink ones. Ants love the sticky substance they excrete, and you may have an issue with both insects at the same time.

Treat aphids organically by dusting them with diatomaceous earth.

Brownish, finely dotted leaves with thin webs are an indication of spider mites. Look for tiny spider-like insects on your leaves that make fine webs between and below the leaves. Infested leaves will dry up and fall off.

 

Spider mite damage to tomato leaves

Spider mites and aphids can be treated with diatomaceous earth (DE). DE is a natural substance that is readily available at local garden centers.

We use a plant duster like this one to apply diatomaceous earth to affected plants. This powder will cut through the aphids’ soft exoskeletons and cause them to dehydrate and die.

Rain and watering will negate the effect of the DE so reapply as needed. Be careful to use DE in well-ventilated areas as inhaling this powder can cause damage to your lungs. And the lungs of kids, pets, and chickens, too!

If they get really bad, other forms of organic pest control including insecticidal soaps and spinosad sprayscan also help.

YELLOW LEAVES WITH HOLES

Whenever you see holes in your tomato leaves, you should suspect insect damage. Colorado potato beetles, tomato hornworms, grasshoppers, and flea beetles are all common culprits. Remove and squish these pests when you see them and utilize organic pest control practices to manage them.

Pests eating holes in tomato leaves

YELLOW LEAVES AND PLANTS THAT WILT

There are several kinds of wilt caused by bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and toxins that can affect tomatoes. Regardless of the cause of the wilt, it’s best to remove severely affected plants from your garden and destroy them.

For mild infections, remove affected leaves (usually the lower leaves) and send them to the landfill or burn them in an area well removed from your garden. Do not compost diseased plants or leaves.

Image of a wilted tomato plant with yellow leaves commonly seen with tomato diseases

Fusarium and Verticillium wilt cause yellowing and wilting beginning with the lower leaves.

Tomatoes planted within about 50 feet of a black walnut tree, may suddenly wilt and die. This is caused a toxin secreted from the roots of black walnut trees and tree stumps.

Nematodes in the soil can infect the roots of your plants and cause wilt. If you pull up wilted plants and notice swollen sections in the root balls, nematodes may be the problem. Choose resistant varieties and/or add parasitic nematodes to decrease the incidence of disease.

There are many varieties of tomatoes that are documented to be resistant to various types of wilt. Look for resistance codes BFNV (Bacterial, Fusarium, Nematodes, Verticillium).

A note about resistance: don’t expect resistant varieties not to be affected by these diseases. Expect them to tolerate the disease. Remove and destroy affected leaves as they appear, and the plant should continue to produce fruit for you.

YELLOW LEAVES WITH BROWN SPOTS, MOTTLED, OR DAPPLED APPEARANCE

Pale thin spots like the ones below are due to leaf burn. Leaves will experience sunburn when they haven’t been properly hardened off or when water droplets concentrate light on the leaves. If the burn is not too extensive, your plants will heal on their own and are not cause for concern.

Sunburn spots on tomato leaves

LEAF PROBLEMS DUE TO TOMATO PLANT DISEASES

Tobacco Mosaic Virus

Dappled yellow leaves with twisty new growth are common with tobacco mosaic virus. This virus is often transmitted by insects and especially aphids.

Do not try to treat these plants. Destroy them and remove them from your property, and be sure to wash your hands after touching any plant you suspect could be infected with this virus.

When choosing tomato varieties for future gardening seasons, look for the TMV resistant label.

Bacterial Speck and Bacterial Leaf Spot

Small dark spots on leaves that then turn brown and fall off are a symptom of bacterial speck and bacterial leaf spot. These diseases thrive in hot, humid environments and can be transmitted by your hands and garden tools.

Be careful working with plants suspected to be infected with this disease. To prevent future issues, remove and destroy severely infected plants and choose varieties with BLS and PST resistance in the future.

Late Blight on tomatoes

Leaves develop brown patches that turn dry and papery when they become infected with late blight. Sometimes a white mold grows along the edges of the brown patches. If your tomato plants have late blight you will also notice blackened areas along the stems and the tomatoes develop hard brown lesions.

Dry papery leaves & white moldy growth: Image of symptoms of late blight on tomato

Late blight will wipe out your tomato crop, and there is no treatment for infected plants. So try to prevent this disease by removing and destroying infected plants. Don’t compost them. Send them to the landfill and clean and remove all remnants of the infected crops from your garden.

Here’s a video from the University of Maine about late blight:


For future crops, try applying a preventative copper fungicide or Bacillus subtilis spray, make sure to water your plants at the base as wet conditions favor the spread of this disease, and look for resistant varieties labeled LB.

Septoria Leaf Spot

Septoria leaf spot has a similar appearance, but the brown patches are circular with light centers and dark specks. And the disease will start with the older leaves. Trim off infected leaves and remove them from your garden. Sanitize your hands after dealing with infected plants.

Early Blight on tomato plants

Early blight causes spots of dark concentric rings on leaves and stem of the lower plant first.

Early blight tends to strike your tomato plants when they’re loaded with fruit and days are humid and warm.

Preventative sprays may help slow the onset and spread of the disease, but infected plants should be removed and destroyed. Look for resistant varieties labeled AB (A for Alternaria fungal species) for future gardens.

Ring shaped lesions on a tomato leaf with yellowing of tomato leaves

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

Dark brown rings on the leaves can also be caused by tomato spotted wilt virus. In this disease process, you’ll also notice brown streaks on the stems, stunted or one-sided growth, and green rings on immature fruit.

This disease is spread by tiny flying insects called thrips. Check purchase plants carefully for signs of thrips and disease before bringing them home to your garden.

Practice good pest control and remove infected plants to control the spread of this disease. Resistant varieties are labeled TSWV.

Bacterial Canker disease on tomato plant leaves

Leaves with brown edges may be caused by bacterial canker. Lower leaves will also curl up and you may see light brown streaks on the stems of your plant. This disease often shows up after plants have been injured, so be careful when trimming your plants not to leave open wounds.

A note about disease resistance:

Don’t expect resistant varieties not to be affected by these diseases. Expect them to tolerate the disease. Remove and destroy affected leaves as they appear, and the plant should continue to produce fruit for you.

TOMATO LEAF PROBLEMS YOU SHOULD NOT WORRY ABOUT

Tomato leaf curl is often an environmental change due to stress. With no other symptoms of disease, no treatment is necessary.

Purple leaves are caused by expression of anthocyanin due to light exposure. Often appearing on plants grown under intense light, there is no cause for concern or need for treatment of purple tomato leaves.

Purple or curled leaves on tomato plants: these are often not a cause of concern.

QUICK TIPS FOR DEALING WITH TOMATO LEAF PROBLEMS.

  1. Make sure your plants have adequate nutrients. Try an organic liquid fertilizer first.
  2. Check for pests on the stems and undersides of your tomato leaves. Remove them by hand and use organic pest control sprays retreating as needed.
  3. If you do find leaves that are yellow, wilted, or spotty. Remove them immediately and dispose of them in your trash. Wash your hands after you handle any plants you suspect may be infected with fungal, bacterial, or viral diseases.
  4. Plant resistant varieties remembering that even resistant plants can be affected by tomato plant diseases but will often continue to produce if cared for properly (remove infected leaves, water, fertilize).
  5. Severely affected plants should be removed from the garden and disposed of as soon as possible.

The 10 commandments of community gardens

Courtesy of City of Sydney, Australia

page-01The 10 commandments of community gardens

While each garden will have its own set of bespoke dos and don’ts, here are our top etiquette tips to be a gracious gardener.

1. Everyone’s welcome

You don’t need to know a scrap about gardening to join in, as long as you’re keen to learn. Seasoned gardeners are welcome too – they share their know-how and mentor the newbies.

2. Love lockdown

Let’s face it, life can be hectic. Work steps up a notch, kids take priority, small bars pop up. Keep it simple by only planting the crops you love. You’ll be more likely to make the time to nurture them.

3. Be a neat freak

Nobody likes an unloved, weedy garden, so if you fall behind, get sick or take a trip, ask your fellow gardeners to step in and do your bit. If you find you can’t cope, let someone know so another eager beaver can take your spot.

4. Get stuck in

Pretty obvious huh, but if you’re lucky enough to be offered a spot at your local garden, make the most of it! It’s community gardening 101.

5. Surround sound

There’s usually a hive of activity going on in your local garden, but cranking classic rock from your radio won’t win you many friends. Consult other gardeners on your ultimate playlist before you hook up the stadium speakers. After all, this is your time to channel Mother Nature.

6. Small people and furry friends

Most gardens welcome little ones with open gardening gloves, but a wild child just spoils it for everyone. Keep an eye on them and reap the rewards of giving them a place to dig and watch things grow. It’s a good idea to ask if four-legged companions are OK too.

7. Go natural

Most community gardens are organic. If bugs, diseases and nasties abound, ask your fellow gardeners how to deal with them the natural way. Who knew snails hate eggshells?

8. Thou shalt not steal

Don’t take the bounty of others unless they’ve said it’s OK. Same goes for borrowing their tools. It’s a good idea to harvest as you go, leaving nothing to temptation. If it’s a collective garden, you’ll agree as a group as to who takes what, when.

9. Learn and grow

Look online, stick your nose in a book or best of all, talk to other gardeners about new ways to garden. You’ll be wowing friends and family with your growing prowess in no time.

10. Introduce yourself

Most importantly, get to know your fellow gardenites. You’ll have someone to swap vegies with, help out when you’re stuck, and a new bunch of fresh-food-loving-friends in your ‘hood to boot.

Why Not to Plant to Early in the Spring

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Frost-damaged plants
I have a sad story and a word of caution to share with you. One of my “most favorite” customers misread the weather app and planted the tomatoes in the garden yesterday.Unfortunately, they froze last night. At my house, we didn’t get frost. Everyone has microclimates at their house. My garden area is probably about 5 degrees cooler than up by the house. Keep that in mind when you plant.
I don’t recommend that you plant until mid-May in the Spokane area because our weather is so unpredictable. We are all anxious to get started planting after the long, cold, dreary winter but just because it is warm during the day doesn’t mean it is warmer at night. (That’s where it pays to know your microclimate) If you do have them out, cover them for a few degrees of protection if it’s going to be below 32 degrees. If they’ve only been in the ground for a day or two and you know frost is coming, pull them out and put them back into their pots. They won’t have started spreading their roots yet.
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This is a picture of when we used buckets to cover the plants. It provides a few degrees of protection. They still froze, see the story in next paragraph.
One last thing, if they get touched by frost, they will look dreadful, kinda like canned spinach when the sun hits them. Don’t be in a hurry to rip them out of the earth. One year the same thing happened in the first week June (I mean really???) to our garden. I cried, said some not so nice words and left them in. They recovered and grew as big as before! Unless we have several days of killing frost and the ground freezes, give them a chance.

Bi-Color and Striped Tomatoes Color My World

As an artist, I am in love with color! Any color. Of course my favorite is purple but I almost equal opportunity when it comes other colors; my clothes, my vegetables, my flowers etc.

Todays post is about colored tomatoes – striped ones to be exact. When I started choosing my own seeds for tomatoes many, many years ago, I thought there were only red, round ones. Boy, was I surprised when I started looking at the seed catalogs. Red, purple, black, yellow, orange, pink, bicolors, green, striped, white, cream, and now “blue”. And the shapes: round, heart-shaped, sausage-shaped, fluted, grape-shaped, blocky oblong, the list goes on.

After 20 years of choosing, I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorites are usually not red. Stripes and bi-colors float my boat. No too come in the same color. Here are a couple that I especially love.

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This is Speckled Roman, a paste tomato. It is reddish orangish with yellowish stripes. Good flavor.

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This one is a cherry tomato called Blush, a real beauty, with bright yellow skin suffused with red streaks. It has a lovely sweet-tart taste when you bite into it.

ananis-noir-insideananis-noir-on-scale

Here we have Ananis Noir. It means black pineapple in french and was a sport of Pineapple in someones garden. I am glad they cultivated it. Admittedly, outside isn’t all that attractive to my eyes, but the inside is gorgeous, fruity and juicy. And, they can get pretty big as you can see by the numbers on the scale.

orange-russian-2-2011

Orange Russian, on of the first bicolors I’ve tried. they are considered an oxheart, but like all heirlooms, their shapes and size can differ on the same plant. This one is a lovely orangish-yellow with reddish highlights, even on the inside.

Bumblebee-Mix-

Bunblebee is a cherry and comes in many colors with striping. Sweet and pretty!

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Chocolate Stripes – Brick red with greenish stripes. Juicy and sweet with dark colored interior. Yum!

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Lucky Tiger, cherry, originally a customer request. I’m glad I grew it for her. It is now one of my husband’s favorites along with Sungold. Golden green when ripe with green and reddish-yellow striping. Great taste.

roman candle 2012roman-candle-2012.jpg

Roman Candle, a paste. Definitely easy to find, it seems to light up the interior of the plant! Bright yellow, sometimes with green shoulders, more often than not it has faint green stripes. Makes good sauce and brightens up any salad or salsa.

gold medal trio

Gold Medal, a bi-color. Good flavor, yellowish orange with red blushing. Shows up on the inside and is sweet and juicy.

isis candy

Isis Candy, another bi-color cherry, this one round, often times with a white starburst on the underside. Very prolific, a favorite of my kids when they were still at home.

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Fred’s Tye Dye, a tomato developed by The Dwarf Tomato Project. There was a desire for a larger tomato on a smaller plant, especially good for a large container or small space gardening. The plant gets to about 4 feet tall with a massive stalk (sometimes they are called tree tomatoes), and dark green leaves. the color is perfect, dark red with metallic green stripes. Love this one!

pink berkeley tie dye cat

Last but least is Pink Berkeley Tye Dye. this is a Wild Boar introduction. A gentleman named Brad Gates, started breeding for striped and bicolor tomatoes. He has an amazing collection of them now. I think this one is an amazing tomato, with dark pink coloring and metallic green stripes.

Anyway you slice them, these beautiful and tasty tomatoes!

Here are some pictures of the newly transplanted babies, tomato babies. Just in case you thought I was sitting on my laurels! I try not to transplant until they have there first true leaves. It takes them 4 to 7 days to germinate, then another week to grow their true leaves I have found there is no real point to transplanting any earlier than that. Often, when you do, they fail to thrive. There isn’t enough root system to recover well.

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Here are the two greenhouses almost full of plants. I will be transplanting about 2000 more in about a week. Again, waiting for them to get their true leaves.

Now for some individual pictures

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A Quest for the Gros Michel, the Great Banana of Yesteryear

Who knew this about bananas?

The forgotten, flavorsome Big Mike is elusive, but not impossible to find.

A colorized 1902 photograph shows a banana cart in Detroit

A colorized 1902 photograph shows a banana cart in Detroit LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-D4-19576

Just below the end of Wall Street, at the tip of Lower Manhattan where the island meets the furthest estuaries of the green-grey Atlantic, there are no bananas. I’m around a hundred years too late: In the early 20th century, so many boats bearing bushels of bananas arrived at this spot that the Old Slip piers became known as the Banana Docks, as ships laden with bananas came in to land.

In the shops nearby, admittedly, there are a few—lurid yellow Cavendishes occasionally making an appearance behind the glass sheet windows of Starbucks, or for a buck apiece on the street corner from a local vendor. Unfortunately, the Cavendish will not do. I am here for the Gros Michel—the OG banana that was the standard across the United States from 1870, when it sold for $2 a bunch in Jersey City, until the late 1950s, when the ruinous fungus Panama disease all but wiped it out.

For decades, the Gros Michel banana was the standard in the United States and across the world.
For decades, the Gros Michel banana was the standard in the United States and across the world. WELLCOME COLLECTION/CC BY 4.0

I am on a quest across New York City for the Gros Michel, the Big Mike, the banana that launched a thousand pratfalls. Online, people speak of it in revered digital tones: “I am absolutely dying to try one,” one banana forum user writes, promising to pay “an arm and a leg” for them. Another claims they are so delicious that regular Cavendish bananas are disgusting by comparison. Today, the banana is virtually gone from the consumer market in the United States—finding it will be at best a challenge, and perhaps impossible.

ADVERTISING

It wasn’t always the case: The Gros Michel was once everywhere. When America fell in love with the banana, this is the fruit that captured its heart. The alchemist who first produced the banana split used a Gros Michel; the chemist who produced artificial banana flavor allegedly had it in mind as well. When Eddie Cantor sings “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” it is Big Mike he’s singing about. In New York, for enough money, you can get nearly anything: dice made of camel bonesa purple latex executioner’s hood; half a cow, sliced lengthways. But can you get a Gros Michel banana?

New York's Banana Docks were once located at the end of Wall Street.
New York’s Banana Docks were once located at the end of Wall Street. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-D401-19576

My first port of call is the internet. I’m by no means the first person to search for this, and strangers online have a few ideas about where I should be looking. A Reddit user thinks she’s seen them for sale in Chinatown. It seems sensible enough: If you can get pomelo and dragon fruit, lychees and longans, perhaps you can get a rare banana as well.

When Panama disease crept across the world in the first half of the 20th century, only a few places in a few countries were spared the blight that blackened bananas from the inside out. The few countries that still produce the Gros Michel today mostly do so under another name: Thihmwe in Myanmar, Johnson in Cuba, Pisang Ambon in Malaysia. In Hawai’i, it is commercially grown as Bluefields. The world’s largest banana firms don’t sell it—Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte have their hands full with Cavendishes—so any fruit with a recognizable blue and yellow sticker is automatically out. (This is helpful as, from pictures and YouTube video taste tests, the Gros Michel looks near indistinguishable from the Cavendish.)

Photographs of banana blossoms and fruit growing in Florida in 1888.
Photographs of banana blossoms and fruit growing in Florida in 1888. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-DIG-STEREO-1S09786

It’s possible that some Gros Michels under another name have slipped into a shipment of fruit from Thailand or Indonesia, therefore—and that’s what I’m banking on. Down on Forsyth Street, in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, Chinese-speaking vendors sell frilly green cabbage for a dollar a pound. It is just days after Chinese New Year, and supplies of fruit and vegetables seem lower than usual, though pouting red strawberries are selling like hotcakes. Barely a banana to speak of—just a fan of green phalanges, unceremoniously dumped in a cardboard box. I look closer at their stickers. They’re Del Monte. Back to the drawing board.

Back in Brooklyn, specialist fruit stores, markets and street vendors are all selling glossy Cavendishes, custard and green and as flawless as an emoji. (A fruit seller, speaking to the New York Times, described the less ripe version as the Millennial banana; older generations apparently prefer them golden-yellow and flecked with brown, like in the extremely suggestive Chiquita banana commercial.) The Cavendish, in fact, is just about the only banana commercially sold in the city, and the country, with the average American eating over 100 a year.

Cavendish bananas being sold in New York's Chinatown.
Cavendish bananas being sold in New York’s Chinatown. NATASHA FROST/ATLAS OBSCURA

As the Gros Michel went down, banana producers scrabbled for a variety that they could replace it with—one that, like the Gros Michel, shipped easily, grew readily, and could handle the odd bump and bruise in the packing process. In 1961, producers plumped for the Cavendish. Descended from a plant grown in a Devonshire hothouse 180 years ago, it takes its name from the family name of its Duke and Duchess. It was a compromise, says Dan Koeppel, author of Banana, The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. The Cavendish is not as hardy as the Gros Michel, leading to changes in how the bananas were boxed and bagged. It is also not quite as delicious, he says. “Chiquita and Dole definitely worried that consumers would reject the Cavendish because it didn’t taste as good.”

Eight years after Cavendishes started being grown commercially, they became the standard in American stores. But this revolution in the banana industry seems to have made little impact on consumers. Today, a slight change of recipe for a commercial foodstuff provokes petitionspublic outcry, and much media coverage—but there was barely a peep from banana-munchers whose Gros Michels were entirely replaced by Cavendishes in the early 1960s.

By the time <em>The Velvet Underground and Nico</em> came out in 1966, the Gros Michel was gone from stores.
By the time The Velvet Underground and Nico came out in 1966, the Gros Michel was gone from stores. YANN CARADEC/CC BY-SA 2.0

To Koeppel’s mind, and palate, it’s simply because they don’t taste that different. He likens them to vanilla ice-cream. The Cavendish might be a five-gallon tub from the back of the supermarket freezer; the Gros Michel only one step up from that. Neither one, he says, is exactly Haagen-Dazs. “The Gros Michel is a better tasting banana. I don’t think there’s any question about that. But it’s not a million miles ahead of Cavendish,” he says. “There are many, many varieties that are astonishingly good, where you would notice a difference immediately.” None of these more delicious bananas fit the bill from a shipping perspective, however—and so we are stuck with the McDonald’s hamburger of the banana world.

A Chinese friend, hearing of my search for the banana in Chinatown, suggests that I look in New York’s Thai grocery stores instead, along bustling Woodside Avenue, in Queens. Koeppel suspects I won’t find them there. (I don’t.) In countries where people eat many different kinds of bananas, like Thailand, he says, no one hankers for the Gros Michel. “Thailand, I guess, has 40 or 50 fairly common backyard banana varieties,” he says. Many are simply more delicious, like the diminutive “lady finger” Nu Meu Puying banana, or candy-sweet red varieties with a peel the color of lungs.

A 1918 photograph shows Gros Michel plants struck by Panama disease.
A 1918 photograph shows Gros Michel plants struck by Panama disease. PUBLIC DOMAIN

If banana giants like Dole and Del Monte were to offer a greater selection of bananas to customers, Koeppel says, they’d have to change the way they think about the fruit. At the moment, “it’s an industrial product. It’s all about scale and markets.” More delicious bananas are also more expensive to ship—requiring a cognitive shift in how consumers think about them. In short, we’d have to start thinking of bananas as fruit worth spending more than a few cents on. At the moment, only the Cavendish can promise that.

But how much longer the singular Cavendish will remain in our stores remains to be seen. For some time, it has teetered on the precipice of disaster, after a new incarnation of Panama disease began to wipe out crops in Asia in the late 1980s. In the years since, the fungus has destroyed African crops, Filipino plantations, bananas in China, Pakistan, Indonesia. This month alone, it struck a third commercial banana farm in Queensland, Australia. Cavendish bananas don’t have seeds inside—they’re clones of one another, no matter their provenance. But, like the Gros Michel before them, their monoculture makes them vulnerable to attack. Anything that will wipe out one plant will kill them all. The Cavendish’s days are numbered—unless they can be modified to fight off the plant cancer that has already felled so many.

There are a few options on the table. In Australia, scientists are attempting to “switch on” the gene that makes the Cavendish able to resist this particular blight. In Japan, they have engineered a new form of the Gros Michel, with a lettuce-like skin that fruit fans can simply bite into. (If this one were to become the norm, shipping practices would have to change dramatically, likely driving up prices.) But these, and other biotech options, again prioritize the monoculture that led us to this problem in the first place. Banana barons seem to have learned little from the demise of the Gros Michel, and are now finding themselves bitten by precisely the same bug. No one knows exactly when the Cavendish will come crashing down—Koeppel is reluctant to make any predictions—but it seems an inevitability.

A selection of Gros Michel bananas, grown in Florida.
A selection of Gros Michel bananas, grown in Florida. CHRIS NAKA/ATLAS OBSCURA

The day I speak to Koeppel, a FedEx box arrives on my desk from Miami. Inside are 26 bananas, each around four inches in length, of varying shades of chartreuse and canary yellow. Having given up on finding the Gros Michel in the wild, I’ve ordered it in from the Miami Fruit Company in South Florida, a tropical fruit grower with so many different bananas they’ll ship you an entire sampler of different varieties. I spend the next week waiting for them to ripen so I can hand them out to Atlas Obscura staff members and their banana-loving family members. “It’s not a taste revelation,” Koeppel has warned me on the phone. Visually, there’s no obvious difference—the inside of the skin is a little silkier, the stem, to my mind, slightly more delicate. Across a room, I’d definitely mistake them for a Cavendish.

Biting into the banana of yesteryear, I expect a more intensely tropical flavor and the vivid sweetness of artificial isoamyl acetate banana flavor. Instead, the fruit is tangy and complex. Everyone who eats one over the following week agrees: This is a superior banana, with a creamier texture and a more delicious flavor. I could eat three in one go, easily. But these bananas have not come cheap. Each costs about $2 a pop, which would get me at least a half-dozen at my local bodega.

One thing is for certain: The model of banana growing is likely to change. Small plantations like this one, where lots of different varieties are grown side by side, is one possibility, though one that would put an end to “Big Banana.” Moving from monoculture to multiculture is a more environmentally sound outcome, but one that may push bananas into a higher cost bracket. Whether consumers believe that to be a reasonable price is hard to say. If that is the eventual outcome of the Cavendish being scuppered, however, the specially grown Gros Michels on my desk may not be a vestige of the past, but the bananas of the future.

Gastro Obscura covers the world’s most wondrous food and drink.
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Pepper House – Now Full! Transplanting Peppers When It Is 20 Degrees Outside

Disclaimer: Sorry about the quality of the pictures. I usually like them looking clearer but was in a hurry before it got too cold for me to run out to the greenhouse! Yes, I am a wuss!

Over the last three days, I have been transplanting peppers. Sweet bell peppers, sweet non-bells, Italian frying peppers, heirlooms, super hot peppers, medium hot and just plain hot peppers, All types, all colors. Right now it is about 20 degrees outside, There is still snow on the ground. In the greenhouse it is a balmy 60 degrees due to the sun being out and shining on me and my babies. I also transplanted some schizanthus, cinnamon basil, million bells, alyssum and petunias.

I had a hard time getting into my groove as The Tomato Lady. Not sure why but as soon as I got my hands into the potting soil, I started getting into the swing of it. Nothing says spring like green plants. The knowledge that each one of those itty bitty plants was going to become a large plant giving us good things to eat in the summer just amazes me!

SCHIZANTHUS Baby and in full bloom

And the flowers are even better to work with. Those are truly tiny and they will be gracing mine and your yards at a future date flooding the landscape with color and scents.

CINNAMON Basil

The basil is giving back already. As I put each of them into larger homes, the myriad of aromas tickled my nose. Especially the cinnamon, one of my favorites. I like to mix it with fresh tomatoes, sweet onion and little bit of garlic and make a light, fresh sauce for pasta.

The count on peppers so far is 1210 pots with maybe an additional 30 pots coming from late “germinators                 .

 

How to Test the Germination Rate of Your Old Seeds – Courtesy of You Grow Girl

This is an excellent article on testing the germination rate of seeds. If you are like me, I am always saving seeds I buy, seeds I collect from my garden, seeds I save from other folk’s plants… Sometimes I feel the need to test the germination rate of seeds I buy from commercial seed houses! Occasionally I get no or little germination on a seed packet.

How to Test the Germination Rate of Your Old Seeds

I love to buy, collect, save, and trade seed, but I have to admit that I do not go about it in a particularly organized fashion. While I am careful about where and how I store my seeds and I do have my own “it’s all in my head” system, it doesn’t exactly compare to some of the personal seed banks I have seen. I do not have Excel charts or lists of any kind that track what I have and when I got it. If I’m being honest, I often don’t realize I am out of a particular something or other unless I bother to check ahead of time. However, most years that moment doesn’t come until I am in the act of sowing. Whoops, guess I won’t be growing that this year.  For this reason, it’s not uncommon for me to find packets in my stash that are older than I can remember. Most store-bought seeds have a “packed for” date on them, but I receive a lot of seed in trade, and some of those traders are even less organized than me. The seed of some plants last no more than a year or so. If I find an unmarked, rogue packet of onions or leeks I can be nearly certain that they are junk. Tomatoes seem to last forever, so if I find a packet of unknown origin that I’d like to grow, it’s worth spending the time to test its germination rate.A germination test determines the viability of the seed — how many in a packet will reliably germinate. This is important because the window of opportunity to get some crops sown and growing can be short. I’ve lost the chance to grow a specific variety some years because I sowed and then waited on seed that wouldn’t grow.Germination rate can also provide a gauge of a seed’s vigor. I explain what this is below.

How to Test for Germination Rate
There are lots of ways to go about this. Some people use paper towels. I use coffee filters because I find it easier to see the germinated seeds and their roots should I opt to plant those that have germinated. Fragile roots and leaves tend to disappear in the pile of paper towels.

What You Need:
Coffee filters
Plastic baggies
Water
10 Seeds (per test)
Permanent marker

Cut or tear the coffee filter along the bottom and one side seam. Lightly moisten with water so that it is moist, but not sopping wet. I sometimes use a spray bottle but you can also just dip it into a bowl of water and squeeze it out.

Open the filter up flat and lay out 10 seeds on one half. You do not have to do 10 seeds at a time, but it makes figuring out the germination rate a heck of a lot easier. Spread the seeds out so that they aren’t touching. I do this so that there is less chance that their roots will become entangled should I decide to plant them up.

Fold the half of the coffee filter that does not have seeds over onto the side that does.

Fold the bottom half up.

Place the moist and folded coffee filter inside a baggie and seal. Write the variety name and the date you started the test on the outside of the baggie. I write this onto sticker labels so I can reuse the baggies in further testing.

Place the sealed and labelled baggies in a warm place and check on them every few days to see whether germination has occurred. Some seeds may require more time. Some may also require light in order to germinate, or more heat.

Tip: The majority of the seeds I test do well in a kitchen or utility drawer that is used often. Otherwise I have a tendency to forget about them! I also put a sticky note on the front of the drawer as an added reminder to keep checking the seeds! Hot peppers tend to need more heat, so I keep them on top of a reliably warm (but not hot) appliance.

The rate is determined by the number of seeds out of 10 that have germinated. For example, 6 out of 10 seeds = 60% 3 out of 10 = 30% and so on.

You can go ahead and plant any seedling that have germinated into soil just as you would a seed. Don’t bother trying to remove the seedling from the paper — you risk damaging delicate roots. Instead, tear the paper around the plant. (Note: If your seedlings have browned roots like mine do in the above photo then I would not suggest planting them up. I left those too long and the roots were starting to rot.)

Loss of Vigor: Seeds that fall below 70% germination tend to suffer from a loss of vigor that will increase with each passing year. What this means is that even though many of them will still germinate, the seedlings that develop may not be healthy or develop into strong, vital plants. If the percentage isn’t too low you may decide to take a chance and see how the seedlings develop. It should be easy enough to determine which are suffering. However, if you’re planning to save seed from this plant for future crops then you may want to replace the seed now. Unhealthy plants beget unhealthy plants and since you’re going to the effort, it is worth it to start out with the best of the best.

Please note that some varieties suffer from a poor germination rate even when new and healthy, so it’s important to know your plant/variety.

Tip: I keep all of my seed testing equipment (including the used baggies) together with my seed saving equipment in one of the dollar store containers that I use for organizing seed. That way I have it on hand whenever I need it.

Source: How to Test the Germination Rate of Your Old Seeds – You Grow Girl