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March 2009

Late Blight Resistance--Tomato Trials

Well, our tomato trials are about to begin. I have seeds for two of the varieties we are hoping will show resistance, and the rest have been ordered.

If you haven't been reading, scroll back a few posts for information on this awful tomato disease, and a link to photos of the nasty things it does to a tomato plant (See post "Have you seen this tomato disease?). Tomato late blight is the disease that caused the Irish potato blight, and a new strain of it has been destroying tomatoes in the Bay Area for the past 10 or 15 years. Some recent scouting around on the web that I did turned up reports that a few tomatoes might resist it, so we plan tto grow a bunch of them at City College of San Francisco this spring and try them out. We will have some extra, which will be available in the plant sale, which is traditionally the Thursday before Mother's day, in the day time. If you are interested in participating in the trial, you can come and purchase a few, or, you can just grow your own and send in some results at the end of the summer.

We will be growing: 'Legend' (medium-sized fruit, bred for resistance, but may not resist the strain we have, from Territorial Seed Co.), 'Koralik' (cherry-sized, from Territorial Seed Co.) 'Tommy Toe' (cherry tomato, from Totally Tomatoes), 'Juliet' (grape-shaped tomato, from Totally Tomatoes), 'Matt's Wild Cherry', from Seeds of Change), red currant (wild variety, tiny fruit, from Totally Tomatoes, I think, but available several places).

Only 'Legend' was bred intentionally for resistance, the other choices are just based on informal reports.

If you plan to do this, you have to grow a control too, just to be sure you actually have the disease. (The spores fly in the wind to land on your plants, rather than being in the soil.) So grow one or more of the possibly resistant varieties, and also grow one that would get it if the spores landed on it--most any other kind will do. I have used 'Celebrity', a short plant that is resistant to just about any other tomato disease, but gets late blight. Or you could just grow some 'Early Girl' or 'Stupice', both tall plants with medium small fruit, and good production and flavor.

Let me know if you are planning to run a trial. We need a few going in different places to see if results agree.


A Perplexing Plant Name

For this week's column I have been writing about the lime that is used in Thai cooking, Citrus hystrix. It is primarily the leaf that is used, and it is said to have a unique and wonderful aroma and flavor. The peel of the fruit is second most used, and the juice probably last. I've never used any part of the plant, and have always wondered if I could grow it. I have learned that the plant, while it is a tropical citrus, needing more warmth than many other kinds, has been grafted onto roots of less tropical citrus plants, which makes it better able to handle our somewhat colder soils and air, and that it can grow, and even fruit, in San Francisco and other coastal locations, given that it is planted where it will get sun on a sunny day and is watered and fertilized adequately.

But here is the question. It is often called the Kaffir lime. "Kaffir" is a highly objectionable word meaning, variously, a non-muslim or a non-white person. One place the word has been used (not so much anymore) is in South Africa. (Another plant given that name is the "Kaffir lily." That plant is the orange lily that blooms in shade, Clivia miniata. To escape from the objectionable name, we just call it Clivia.)

I have a lot of questions about the name. The plant is originally from Thailand. I don't think that's where it picked up this name, but where could it be from? Was this plant being grown in south Africa at some point?

A second perplexity is that Sunset Western Garden and other Sunset pubications call the plant the Kieffer lily. Very interesting. I wonder where this name came from. I suspect it is just a similar-sounding word that someone started using, but there is no trace of evidence about the name change, when and where?  

Well, we can't just call it "lime" because there are other limes. And we can't just call it "citrus." In Thailand they call it "magrood" or "magrud," neither of which are names that would be recognized by most of us here.

I'm glad we are retiring objectionable names for any person, and I'm happy to call the plant a Kieffer lime, but it is the history of the name that I find interesting. Anyone have any info about this?


Leeks, Tomatoes, Chayotes

2 copy A student who was in my Vegetables and Herbs class last fall sent me this photo of the leeks she grew, with thanks for the class. She said to note the long white shanks of her leeks, vs the much shorter white parst at the right that she was able to get from some purchased leeks. The longer shanks were the result of planting her leeks deeply and piling some earth around them. Thank you Sarah!

Otherwise in the garden there is lots of rain, which is good, but inhibits gardening. On Friday, I got my jeans really wet whiile harvesting. Almost forgot about how really cold and wet one could get in only about 20 minutes.

The good news about tomatoes is that I have located sources for all of the varieties reputed to have some resistance to late blight, and the college is planning to grow them for the plant sale. They plan to add a few other varieties too, for the lucky gardeners who have not been struck by the blight, and a few other kinds of vegetables. If history is an indicator, and it probably is, the sale will be Thursday May 7th.

The not so great news in that the chayote seems to be in decline, with no fruit that matured. I will cut it back and fertilize it, in hopes that next year will be better. I see it growing all around our neighborhood, but don't absolutely know it will bear here. Sure got a lot of fruit when I grew it in the MIssion. Stay tuned to see if it will work on the cold and windy hill that is the home of City College.