Tomatoes Planted for Late Blight Trial

Today I finally planted the last of the tomatoes for the tomato late blight resistance trial. I have some at City College and some in my community garden. Three other people I know of are planting them together as a trial, one in Berkeley, one east of the hills in the East Bay, and one in Moss Beach. I'm wondering if anyone else who purchased the plants at the City College plant sale has logged onto this blog to read about the trial. If you did, please send a comment, so I know you are out there.

Now there is nothing to do but wait. Late blight is, as the name shows, usually late. That is, it will show up after the fruit has set and is ripening. To succeed in this trial, all the plant has to do is stay healthy. I will be taking pictures as the summer progresses.

For more on late blight, do a search in this blog. Try "tomato disease" for a link to some very good photos of the disease.

Lost Garlic Crop

2009 February-March 043 copyThis is the photo I ran a couple of months ago of the wonderful garlic crop developing in the City College garden. I was looking forward to teaching about garlic next fall from the harvested bulbs. But alas, we had a late rain and the whole planting collapsed.
The cause., as far as I can tell, is garlic white rot. I realized I have been putting off reporting this sad 2009 Early May 021 copy
news, but I did take the photos, so better get it over with.

This is how the plants looked last week. Just about dead. It isn't the normal drying off that the healthy plants begin about now and finish by the end of June. The plants just collapsed in a couple of days. Generally, the infection arrives on the sets, the little bulbs you plant. I got these at the nursery, which is about all you can do to try to avoid the disease. The rain caused the fungus to grow, but it had to have been there already.
So what does the UC IPM site suggest? ( and follow the links to garlic and white rot). They say the fungus can live in the soil for 20 years. Great!
To prevent it, one can try dipping the cloves in water that is 115 degrees, but you have to be careful, since 120 degrees can kill them. This would be one of those operations you carry out witha little bowl, an immersable thermometer, maybe a meat thermometer, and pitchers of hot and cold water.

2009 Early May 020 copy The other suggestion for organic gardeners, is to purchase a garlic extract product that you can apply before you plant garlic again. The fungus doesn't make spores, but tiny bits of itself harden into black dots the size of poppy seeds. If you wait a year after the infection, then treat the soil with the garlic extract, it can trick the black dots into growing, then, because there is no garlic to live on, the fungus will die.

That's a bit of a wait, but I don't see another solution on the horizon. Here is a pulled bulb of sick garlic. Not clear and clean as it should be, but covered with clinging soil, even though the soil wasn't overly wet, and you can see some of the white fungal growth.

I guess the only good news is that the disease is only of the garlic. The lettuce and arugula can't get it, or can the trial tomatoes (that are being tested for late blight resistance). And I can't catch garlic white rot.


Seems like many gardeners are contending with rats these days. They eat vegetables and have been damaging citrus trees. They gnaw the bark off of citrus trees, or chew off twigs, or chew the rind from the fruit. As promised in this week's column, here is information that was in a recent column about rats, including links to two very good information sheets on the animals:

One reader reported good results from using an aluminum trunk band on a fruit tree trunk. Thsi can help if it is 12 inches wide and there is no other way into a tree. Repellent granules may also help. Traps are effective when used well, and pest-control professionals can be hired to set them. (One way to locate licensed trappers is through the Web site Rat bait is the worst idea, since the poisoned rats are likely to lbe eaten by cats or birds of prey, which will be killed by poisoned rats. 

It is important to understand that urban rats are a community problem, not necessarily solvable by one gardener working alone to protect one tree or one vegetable garden. Rats multiply when they can get into houses, have access to food (garbage, pet food, birdseed, etc.) and have cover (ivy on fences, heavy ground cover, trash). As the lemon rind story shows, if you have rats, your neighbor does too.

City health department inspectors will survey a property for possible attractants and habitats, and advise on how to remove them. They will also cite individuals with documented rat-attracting conditions who refuse to remove them. (To report a rat problem in San Francisco, call 311.) But perhaps a better approach is a community effort, such as a block party to seal up buildings, clean up and get a neighborhood rat problem under control. I found two downloadable rat information sheets that explain the tasks necessary to make a neighborhood rat-unfriendly. One is at the San Francisco Health Department Vector Control site (

The second information sheet ( is on the Web site of the Hungry Owl Project. This Marin County nonprofit helps Bay Area residents set up barn owl nests so these raptors can provide natural rodent control, and also offers good advice on other environmentally safe ways to control pest rodents.

Trouble for Fava Beans

2009 Mid April 001 copy

Today's column in the Chronicle was about black aphids and fava beans. They did print the image I sent, though this one is a little clearer than the one in the paper, which had registration problems. That is, one of the colors in the four color separation is not quite lined up with the other ones. The Chronicle promises a new printing press soon, which will improve the quality of their photo reproduction.

In Britain, this is what they call black fly, though it is an aphid rather than a fly. As I mentioned in the column, they just nip of the tops of the plants, which the aphid are happiest eating, and let the lower flowers form pods. You may prefer to spray with a hard spray of water a few times, or, for a better clean up, use an insecticidal summer oil spray. One spraying might be enough to do it. 

People used to use soap sprays to kill aphids, and they may work, but the oil sprays are proving more effective. A good reason to stay with the less-toxic methods, such as the above, is that beneficial insects really will help you get rid of garden pests if you don't use pesticides that kill them.

2009 Mid April 008 copy

For example, here is a lady beetle feeding on the black aphids on the same fava bean plant.I only got one shot of it, after which it dove behind a flower and never came out, but it was working away on the aphids. This one is an adult, but the little charcoal gray and orange alligator-like lady beetle larvae eat aphids even faster than the red-orange beetles with black dots that we all recognize.

Hope you can see the beetle. It is just past half way down in this photo, on the stem of the plant, among the flowers.

May your fava beans not get black aphids, or, if they do, may the lady beetles show up!

Citrus Bud Mites Deform Lemons

Deformed lemon copy 72

This is the photo that was submitted to go with my SF Chronicle ( Golden Gate Gardener column today. How could they resist printing this wonderfully sculpted Eureka lemon? But resist they did, so I thought you'd like to see it here. The image was taken by Dagmar Zidek, whose lemon tree has the problem. 

This happens because some mites enter the flower buds and start sucking out the sap. The ovary of the flower is misshapen, so the fruit is, well, outlandish. Citrus bud mite is apparently particularly a problem near the coast in our area, just where we depend on lemons for most of our garden citrus. 

The goal, in managing the pest, is to kill it without killing too many of its predators, in particular predatory mites. You have to spray when the bud mites are active and not yet inside the buds, which is May and June, then again in September through November. Use a summer oil spray. Some summer oil formulations are still based on petroleum, but apparently studies showed that vegetable oils worked fine too, so now a lot of the newer ones are based on vegetable oils, like canola or soy. So keep your lemons looking like lemons by keeping this pest under control!

Or maybe you'd rather go for the Deformed Lemon Hall of Fame.  

Tomato Trial On the Way

Someone asked for the list of tomatoes we are trialing to see if any resist late blight.

Once more with feeling: Below is the list of tomato varieties that anecdotal evidence suggests might resiste tomato late blight, and therefore the ones we are growing for our trial. Actually, we have changed the red cherry to white cherry, do to an ordering error, but that should be resistant too if the red currant is.

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).

All of the tomato seeds have been sown now, in a greenhouse, so we are on the way. We will be offering some of these plants for sale at the City College of SF Horticulture Department plant sale on May 7th, details to follow. If you want to plant all of the possibly resistant ones and a control, and report your results, you can register ahead of time through this blog to do so. We have one site offered, in the East Bay, but would like several, in different places. The criteria are 1. that you definitely have had late blight problems in the past and 2. are willing to grow the plants and report the results accurately. (and I guess 3. That you can pick up the plants at City College on May 7th or thereabouts.) (And, I suppose, assuming our seedlings all grow. I'll keep you posted.)

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.

Tomato Late Blight Progress/Winter Garden Report

The continuing tomato late blight reports are terrible, but I am delighted to hear from others who have the problem and begin to hatch a scheme to try to escape it. Also glad of confirmation that the varieties I plan to try have shown resistance in our area.

     Thanks for the tip about Seeds of Change carrying Matt's Wild Cherry tomato variety. I had looked at their catalog and missed the listing.  I will order a pack, which should be enough. I am getting 50 or 60  seeds of the several other possibly resistant varieties, and of course I will need to grow a control, like Clebrity or Early Girl just to be sure that the late blight is still capable of killing something.

We won't be starting seeds until maybe the end of March, but stay tuned if you want to get some plants in May.

I thought you'd like to see some successes in the City College Demo Garden this month. We are seeing the various cole crops that were planted early in September come in now.

2009 January 038 copy  Cauliflower has been heading up very nicely. Thes one is probably 'Snow Crown' a very easy type. We also grew 'Cheddar', which is yellow, like the cheese. It tastes the same as white cauliflower, but adds a little color to the plate and I guess a little vitamin A to the diet.

2009 January 037 copy

Romanesco broccoli, which some would call a cauliflower comes in between November and January. Lovely as it is, I wish this were the larger-headed heirloom Romanesco I once grew. I haven't found seed for many years now, but the heads were over a foot across, not 6-7 inches like the little f1 hybrids such as this one, Veronica. I am hoping that someone who is lucky enough to travel to Northern Italy will find seeds for the original heirloom some day and find a US seed company to carry them.

2009 January 036 copy

Our garlic is in the middle of its long winter journey from single cloves to fat heads of many cloves. It won't finish until about the end of June, at which time the leaves will be mostly dead and we will dig to see what we have. I have positioned the garlic at the end of a bed away from the source of the drip lines, so that I can pull the lines back in spring when the plants begin to turn yellow. This is to let the soil dry, in hopes of avoiding root rot.

So the garden rolls on through winter. There will be peas to show soon, and winter broccoli. The lettuce transplants are growing, and we are trialing a very cute little red mustard green, spiky, like mizuna, but it is too small to show yet.

Keep the tomato late blight reports coming!

Tomato Late Blight Reports--and an idea

It is wonderful to hear from those who sent comments. So far, we have two yeses, one maybe, and one no. Yes, the blight appears late in the season, which is why they call it "Late Blight." Whether plants get it is a function of whether spores are present, how many spores float onto the plants, weather (it likes mild, moist weather), how healthy the plants are, and whether they are genetically resistant.

Whether you had it or not, it's a good idea to clean up all the fallen leaves and stems of old tomato, potato, pepper, eggplant, wild solanums, etc, and take them out of the garden for a few months in winter. Don't compost the stuff.

Let's do this: Try to test all of the varieties that are supposed to be resistant or "tolerant" that I mentioned in my last post, and see if they compare favorably to the ones that have no resistance. 'Legend' is available from a lot of companies, 'Juliet' from several. No source yet for 'Matt's Wild Cherry'.

I found another that is mentioned as resistant: 'Tommy Toe', a red cherry tomato sold by Seed Savers Exchange and Abundant Life Seeds. I would like to start some of these varieties and have them for sale at the City College Horticulture Department Plant Sale in May. II will try to find a student to do that, and will know in a week or two whether I can do it.

Truth is, that Legend is said by one source to be 5.3 in resistance on a scale of 1-10, and that isn't very good. If we found that 'Tommy Toe' or 'Matt's Red Cherry' had more resistance, we could try cross pollinating one of them with a non-resistant variety and growing the offspring next year in gardens that have the blight. If any of the offspring survived and had larger fruit, we'd be on our way to success!

Well, optimism is better than despair, which is what I have been feeling for a while.

More comments out there? Have you seen this disease in the San Francisco Bay Area?  (see photos in the pdf)           

Have you seen this tomato disease?

For the past few years, I, along with many other gardeners, have been losing tomato plants to a disease called tomato and potato late blight. It is the very disease that killed the Irish potato crops in the 1800s and left so many people to starve or emigrate. Fortunately, I am not dependent on my tomatoes for my very survival, but it has been distressing to lose so many tomatoes to this ugly disease.

What I want to know is who else in the San Francisco Bay Area has been having this problem. It shows up as brown lesions on stems and leaves. Often, the stem will have a brown area with green above and below, or just part of a leaf will be brown. The fruit will have a brown, shiny surface, especially near the stem, that usually starts when the fruit is still green. The plant may turn completely brown and die

My photos of this disease aren't scanned, but I can send you to a pdf file from the University of Hawaii at Manoa that shows many photos. It is at

The only tomatoes on the home garden market that are said to have any resistance to this awful disease are Legend (resistant unless there are a lot of spores around) and Juliet hybrid (tolerant of the disease, meaning it survives). Anecdotally, something called 'Matt's Red Cherry' has been called resistant, but I don't have a source for it at the moment. Probably there are some heirlooms with some resistance, though I haven't encountered them.

So please, if you will, if you have any experience with tomato late blight in the Bay Area, send me a comment. Or if you do not have the problem, I am very interested in knowing that too! Please tell me where your garden is located--city, general part of city (as in Northwest SF, or Hills of Berkeley).

I have been making test plantings of research varieties that are supposed to be late blight resistant for several years, and none have worked yet. I am hoping to get an idea of how widespread the problem is here and maybe get some attention from tomato breeders.

Thanks for any input you can offer!