Requiem for a Tomato Plant

Monday, June 9, 2008

This is one of the hardest parts of growing heirloom tomatoes. It doesn’t matter how well you provide for your plants. It doesn’t matter that your tomatoes are in raised beds. It doesn’t matter that they have the best soil. It doesn’t matter that they get everything they need – and more. Because, this is bound to happen, guaranteed.

I bought this Cherokee Purple starter plant at the Sacramento Certified Farmer’s Markets, and its untimely death certainly wasn’t the fault of the seller. In fact, this plant thrived from the moment I placed it in its permanent home. Then, two weeks ago, the plant started showing signs of distress. Brown spots on the leaves. Some leaves wilted. A week later, entire leaf sets were dead. And a week after that, the entire plant was gone.

And now, sadly, I see the same signs of this disease starting to hit my ACE hybrid starter plant. Hybrids are supposed to be immune, or resistant, to just about everything under the sun. Take a good look. It sure doesn’t look resistant, now does it.

This blight appears to be the same thing that hit my garden last year, destroying half of my plants. I started spraying regularly in an attempt to control it, only to discover it was too late. Half of my plantings up and died on me last July. The other half, although infected, recovered to the point where they started growing again, and by the end of the summer, I was giving away tomatoes to anyone I could find.

But, this is a reminder of the many challenges that heirloom growers face. Do heirloom tomatoes taste fantastic? Yes, without a doubt. Can they provide you with so much bounty that you feel like you have tomatoes coming out of your ears? No doubt about that, as heirlooms can be big providers. Can heirlooms succumb to any and every tomato disease under the sun? Sadly, that answer is also yes.

What is means is this much: There will be no Cherokee Purple tomatoes from our garden this year. There are other plants nearby that will provide us with our share of purple tomatoes, such as Pruden’s Purple. But there’s only one Cherokee Purple. And now it’s gone.

This is part of the “trials and tribulations” facing heirloom tomato growers. You can give your plants everything they need and more, but sometimes, “everything” just isn’t enough.

No comments: