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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Horticulture Without a License

In the begining there was a gift, the gift of a tomato plant of unknown kind. And yea, so the plant grew and grew and had to be repotted. And yea, it grew some more and flowers bloomed and faded and became fruit (or vegetable, as I classify it). And the plant was in the biggest pot I owned, which wasn't very big, and it wasn't black either, as I learned it should be. Nor did I have enough sun for it so I moved the plant into the sun during the day, but not if a storm was coming for it was very exposed to the elements and wind and very vulnerable.

I went to a local nursery, and he gave me some good plant food but said my plant should be fine in the pot in which I had it, and so I waited and fed it and watched the fruit. But it's been a cool summer here (a blessed, cool summer!) which is great for us, but unfortunately, not so great for tomatoes.

Well, in the last couple days, the plant has tipped over a couple times in the wind. Once it fell off a plant pedestal I was using to keep it off of the hot pavement. The other time it was solidly on the ground, tipped over and even popped out of its pot (5 minutes before it had been FINE!)

Well, Tommy the tomato plant (as I've decided to name him) isn't doing so well now and it's totally my fault.

Let me say this first: I do NOT have a green thumb and the fact that I've eaten 1 ripe (albeit small) tomato from this plant is a HUGE BLESSED SUCCESS for me! But there are more tomatoes on it, one I had to toss (black on the bottom), and one green one that fell of in one of the plant falls. I think my plant has osteoplantitis from the bad treatment it's received.

Anyway, today, in desperation, I bought a much bigger pot (unfortunately not black or dark colored, couldn't find the right size in those), and lots of potting soil and returned home to repot my tomato plant. At some point in the process I heard a "snap!" and initially didn't discover the problem. Everything seemed to be in place. So I wrestled with the dirt and resetting poor Tommy, and still think I did it badly, although I did truly do my best. (Seriously, this is the hugest plant I've ever transplanted and I'm not sure he'll survive the trauma.)

Well, in looking at the plant, what I'd at first thought was a branch was actually...uh oh...a vertical split at the base of the stalk, right before the spot where all the branches sprouted.

Thinking back to tree grafts I've seen, I grabbed a couple bamboo sticks and put them into the plant to support the branches to take the stress off the stalk, and then took some string and wound it around the branch and stalk to "press" the damaged area back together. Certainly if I don't do something, it would just split up the middle as the branches grow heavier. If they continue to grow.

So, for all you tomato specialists, I have a few questions:

1. Is there a tomato plant ER somewhere? Can I buy tomato plant insurance or is it too late?

2. Does my plant have osteoplantitis due to my negligence?

3. Is there a horticulturist's code, something along the lines of "first do no harm?"

4. If there is, can I be sued for horticultural malpractice?

5. Does it matter that I don't have a license to practice horticulture and did it anyway in order to avoid the expense of the insurance premiums and copays?

6. Is Tommy going to die because I broke him? Or will my "graft" actually be effective and does the plant have the ability to "heal" like trees or other plants can with a proper "graft"?

OK...I await the bad news. Just give it to me straight.......


Dang. I'm hungry and craving tomatoes and now I'll never have ANY! *tears*


Melody K said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't have a green thumb! It's sad because I really love gardens, especially flowers. I took botany in college and got A's. I'm good at classifying plants, reading about them, knowing their cell parts. I'm just horrible at growing them. I think you have to water and weed them and stuff like that. You want to know how to get great tomatoes? Go to the farmer's market. (Or pray to St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners.)

Rebecca said...

As an actual licensed horticulturist, I can tell you that tomato plants will take tons of abuse. Your "graft" is actually pretty likely to take, given that you took care of it right away. If it is near the soil line, feel free to mound some soil over the split stem. The plant will probably put some new roots out around the split.

Also, make sure Tommy gets lots of water to help ameliorate the stress. You probably don't even need to keep in on the pedestal, because the heat from the pavement will encourage it to grow and ripen more quickly! (You're in Minnesota, not Kansas like me, so the accumulated heat is much less. You really have had a cool summer, so encouraging faster growth would be a good thing.) Just be aware that this will cause the plant to need water more often.

Good luck with your tomato! Your plant mishaps are nowhere near what some people do to their plants, so I don't think you are in danger of being sued for horticultural malpractice. We're saving all those lawsuits for the people that purchased those crazy Topsy Turvy Tomato Planters!

Anonymous said...

Your plant should be fine - I had a big split in one of the tomatoes in my garden due to a windy hail storm. I left it as is (no graft), and it is growing like gangbusters anyway. Tomatoes are tough. The black spot on the end of the one red tomato is due to uneven watering- careful of that (water regularly). Caveat to this is that I have a deep green thumb. If it is a 'bad tomato' season and all my neighbors have little to show for their hard work ... my plants are 6 feet tall and producing hundreds of fruits. I think it's an inherited trait.(And, less you be jealous, it's also equally frustrating to have things grow regularly to three times the predicted size). My neighbors plant things in their yards, and they show up in mine (not theirs). I have a patch of asparagus growing right now that I never planted. It's fun, but a little weird.

Leave the pot on the pavement (heat is GOOD!) mound that dirt up around the stem (that's one secret- tomatoes and eggplants grow roots off their stems no matter how deep you plant them. The deeper the better the root system is.)

Good luck, I love reading your blog and tweets!

-Cricket (aka kristinacm)

Adoro said...

Melody ~ St. Fiacre! I had no idea she was the patron of gardening...I'll pray to her, thanks! I've been praying to "Our Lady of the Garden", certain that she had to grow this stuff, too.... lol

Rebecca ~ Great, thank you! I still have a little soil left over, can pick some up tomorrow, too. Right now it's raining out and prob. will much of the night. My little (well, not so little) plant is under the eaves as I've given it a lot of water today, even some miracle-gro for tomatoes. Not sure if it's low enough to mound the dirt up, but I'll try. That's a good idea. Hopefully it takes! Maybe with this bigger pot I'll feel better about leaving it out all day, too, on the pavement.

The only reason I used the pedestal is because some neighbors said the roots would fry. :-( that would be bad. But with the cooler week we have ahead, shouldn't be a problem.

Again, thanks! :-)

Adoro said...

Cricket ~ you posted same time I was commenting. Great to know. Looking forward to more pavement days! And tomorrow...I'll buy more dirt, even though it'll make it look like a volcano in the middle.

I did read or hear somewhere about the black bottoms, but it didn't say what to do so I let it grow. Took it off the plant today, cut it open...ew. Glad I didn't wait. What a drain on an otherwise good plant.

I just wish I had your inherited trait. I'm good with animals apparently. Plants...not so much. I can kill a cactus like nobody's business.


Kristen said...

I can't help. Plants fear me. I kill them. I forget about them. I forget I need to water them. I try, I do, but that whole watering thing just confuses me. I can't keep cactus either. You'd think they would be the perfect plant for someone with my colored thumb (not green). But no. I kill those too. My MIL is a landscape gardener and she and my 2 SIL are very gifted with gardening. Yeah, that's awkward...

Adrienne said...

To add to the above advice:

Your black ended tomatoes have blossom end rot which is caused from a lack of calcium in the fruit. It is caused most often by over watering and then allowing the plant to become too dry. In other words - great shifts in moisture which would be easy to happen in a potted plant.

By this time of the year cut back on water to stress the plant a bit. The stem split is probably a good thing as it is causing a bit of stress. When I experience an early autumn and there are lots of green tomatoes, I take a sharp butcher knife and slice around the plant cutting the roots. This stress forces ripening in the tomatoes.

If the plant is real tall and ungainly, with few or very small tomatoes toward the top, I'd prune that puppy. Just chop the top off so the the strength can go to the tomatoes that may amount to something. You may also want to pull off all tiny tomatoes in favor of the larger ones.

Adoro - you need to start thinking like a plant (it's really fun). You see, all plants want and need to set seed (sort of like a good Catholic). It will do anything in it's power to crank out those seeds. That is it's raison d'etre. It wants to have a huge family next year and it can only do that by putting out seeds.

That's the reason we deadhead annual plants like petunias. It is to keep it from setting seeds. Once it's set seeds it has fulfilled it's mission and can die. Circle of life - doncha know!

There is no such thing as a person without a green thumb. You are every bit as capable as the finest gardener anywhere. Trial and error, research, advice, and don't forget to "think like a plant."

The Ironic Catholic said...

I can't add much else to the above other than--I agree the season in this area has brought havoc on tomatoes (we're struggling too), and aren't Farmer's Markets great?