Archive for Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sick Big Boy tomatoes disappoint gardener

June 30, 2010

Toward the end of April, I wrote of my hopes for the tomato plants I’d just set out in the planters that hang from our deck out back.

I held great hopes for those plants, which I fearfully nurtured through a few cool snaps, and I ended that column with a quote from Dr. Samuel Johnson about hope, the gist of which was that hopes “improperly indulged must end in disappointment.”

So, what of my hopes? If they’ve not been dashed, they have at least been moderated.

As it has turned out, one of the plants has produced several succulent fruits as to texture and flavor. Nothing outlandish as to size, mind you, but they have at least been acceptable — enjoyable, even. I forget its pedigree, but it is one of the early-blooming varieties.

The other, however, was a Big Boy, which tomato growers, connoisseurs and aficionados will know as a plant known for producing an abundance of big, flavorful fruits.

Alas, my Big Boy is a sick boy. It has a chronic case of failure to thrive. Its few scrawny fruits have been afflicted with blossom end rot, a condition that produces ugly, brown rotten spots at the bottom of the fruits and which renders them inedible. As soon as I saw the first brown spots on the tomatoes I did some Internet research to identify the problem.

Blossom end rot, according to the authorities I consulted, results from a calcium deficiency in the soil, which is supposed to be eliminated by increasing applications of nitrogen. (Don’t ask me about the science here; my limited knowledge of chemistry suggests to me that the way to increase calcium would be to add calcium rather than nitrogen, but what do I know?)

After I tried and failed to produce acceptable tomatoes with the hanging planters a couple of years ago, I resolved this year to feed them aggressively. The hanging planter, after all, holds only two gallons or so of soil, which I figure a vigorous plant like a tomato will exhaust pretty quickly, so I have been applying plant food twice a week. It seems so far to have worked in one case but not in the other.

With all this fuss about the tomatoes, I would not have other gardeners think that has been our only horticultural endeavor. Although the space we have available pretty much limits us to containers, we have had fairly good success with lettuce this year, and some with broccoli, although the caterpillars ate much of the leaves before I was able to, er, discourage them. (I did this by plucking the little buggers off and squashing them on the deck, I confess.)

We also have great hopes for an eggplant that so far has several small fruits that seem to be gradually getting bigger and that thus far show no outward signs of disease, discomfort or infestation. We’ve also planted some aromatics – onions, shallots and garlic – in some of the planters. And, as always, herbs – rosemary, sage, thyme, basil and two varieties of parsley – do well here.

But I keep coming back to the tomatoes. I may yet find a way to deal with the blossom end rot.

As Don Quixote said, sanity may be madness, but the maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be. Or, to again quote the good Dr. Johnson: “Hope is necessary in every condition. The miseries of poverty, sickness, of captivity, would, without this comfort, be insupportable.”


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