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Tomato Trials 2011

That mean old late blight strikes every year in my community garden and when I am foolish enough to think I can grow tomatoes at City College, so I am still on the lookout for a late blight resistant variety or two. Inland gardeners may escape this nasty disease, but it is thriving in cooler gardens near the coast.

Two years ago, in a trial reported in this blog, I grew several varieties that "someone" on the web said resisted late blight where they garden. Not a very scientific choice, but for several years, I tried the ones that wholesale seed companies and universities have been developing for resistance and none of those worked, so I was ready to try anything.

As a review, tomato late blight, which is the same as potato late blight, and which caused the Irish potato famine, is not soil borne, but carried by aerial spores from infected plants. It appears rather late (as in late blight) in the season. There are dark brown lesions on stems and leaves, followed by general collapse of the plants.Here are a couple of photos of plants with symptoms:

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The fruit may start to show the greasy brown coloration near the stem while it is stil green, or after it ripens. This may spread to whole fruits. In any case, fruit on infected plants ripens poorly and isn't sweet.
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The one variety that has been on the market for several years is 'Legend'. In my trials, it was the first to die. Here is the miserable dead plant of 'Legend' in 2009:

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Of the others I tried in 2009, my best plants were 'Juliet', which now is sold with a notation that it has some resistance to "Blight." (Not very informative, since there is also an early blight, a disease much more common in the Eastern US, but an entirely different disease.) Here is 'Juliet' in 2009:

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Although 'Juliet' had a touch of late blight, it produced a huge crop of these plum-type fruits--bigger than a cherry tomato, but smaller than a standard paste tomato. They were, however, perfect for the Broiled Tomatoes with Herbs and Cheese recipe I printed in Golden Gate Gardening.

In the past couple of years, late blight has been appearing on the East Coast as well as in the West. A few more supposedly resistant varieties have appeared, and I am trying 4 new ones:

Plum Regal F1 (Salsa/Sauce/Drying) 68 days

Golden Sweet F1 (Yellow Grape) 60 days

Mountain Magic F1 (Red, tall vine) 70 days

Defiant PHR F1 (Red, short vine) 70 days

So, I got them all from Johnny's Seeds, who may or may not have seeds of them left this year. They are all hybrids, and all relatively early. (The number of days doesn't count the 6 weeks or so to grow transplants, but anything under 75 is reasonably early.) The one I am most hopeful for is 'Defiant', since it has a formal "PHR" after the name, stands for "Phytopthora Resistant". (Phytopthora is the scientific genus name of the late blight fungus.) 'Defiant' is also said to resist 2 strains of the disease, so maybe it resists the strain we have while others didn't?

The plants will be potted up this week, planted out in May in one or possibly several San Francisco test sites. Stay tuned!


Frost and Hail in SF on February 25th--But Not Quite Snow

On February 25th, we almost had snow in San Francisco, but not quite. We saw some flakes falling past the TV camera on Twin Peaks, not enough to make me want to run up there and look. I taught the next morning and when I got up there was a good frost in our back yard, and some hail embeded in it. I've seen hail here, and frost, but not both together.

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Here are some beets. Very frozen, very dry surface, still in shade.Hail particles are frozen into the frosty surface.

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This is a creeping campanula. Same thing, hail in the frost.

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This is the windshield of my car. A good icing, with hail embedded and bunched up at the bottom. I started to scrape, using my little rubber scraper. It's great for raindrops, but not so much for ice, so I was glad to have a different car, one that had been indoors overnight, to load up and drive instead. But by the time my husband got up and read my note, the frost was gone from the outdoor car. Nope, he said, no frost at all.

At City College, I began final prep for teaching, but had to run out to the garden to grab a few shots. I love the look of a frosted cabbage plant. This one is 'January King', one of the most handsome varieties.

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I love the way frost accents the edges of leaves.

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Morning light on the frosted wood frame of a garden bed.The plants are borage.

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Everything pictured here is fine now. No damage on these plants. The only damage I noticed at the college garden was to nasturtium. In my back garden, the shrub impatiens (Impatiens sodenii) are damaged--the young leaves are partially dead. I think I will just cut them back, since there are nice green leaves at the bases of the plants, protected by weeds and the uppper leaves from the falling cold air.



Garden Photo Class About to Begin

Sample garden shots--David 004 at 72

Only a week left before a new garden photography class will begin at UC Berkeley Extension in San Francisco. Taught by Horticultural Photographer David Goldberg, who shot the images in Wildly Successful Plants, this class will definitely help you improve your shots of flowers and gardens. It consists of 10 classes, 4 of which will be practice shoots in private or public gardens. (One shoot will be in the newly restored gardens of Alcatraz, where students will be allowed into some garden areas off limits to the public. Ferry fare will be waived for the class.)

This class will meet 10 times, from March 19th through May 21. Sessions in the classroom will be taught at the South of Market Extension Building, on Third Street near SF MOMA, with validated off-street parking.

This class is a steal when you compare the price of one-day or half-day shoots offered at other venues. Register soon to assure space.

You read the course description on the extension website, and you can enroll online.

To see more photos by the instructor, go to To ask the instructor questions, you can email him at