Expert Help – Heirloom Tomato

you’ll find all this season’s entries from our tomato experts. Use
the headlines in the left column to jump through subjects.

Feel free to e-mail our experts with questions and comments of your


the Nematodes!

Tomato season is finally here! You’ve picked your favorite
varieties, planted them in a sunny spot, lavished them with
love, organic fertilizer, and compost, but you notice that
something just isn’t right. The plants are stunted or growing
poorly, leaves and stems are yellow, the tomatoes just aren’t
happy. The culprit could be something you can’t see: nematodes.

Finding Nematodes ­ What are they and what do they do?

Nematodes are microscopic worms which live in the soil and
feed on the roots of host plants, such as tomatoes, preventing
them from taking up the nutrients they need to grow into
healthy, happy plants. Some forms of nematodes are highly
beneficial to tomato plants, while others can wreak total
destruction in the garden. Tomato plant nematodes are prevalent
throughout the country, but they are most damaging to tomato
plants in the Southern regions of the United States. The
good news is nematodes can’t travel far on their own, so
they can be fairly easy to control. The bad news is they
can be carried into your tomato garden through wind, rain,
infested tools, and by excess watering.

Unfortunately, the only sure ways to determine whether your
tomato plant is infested with nematodes is to pull it out
of the ground and check the roots for nodules or test your
soil. Your friendly local Cooperative Extension office can
provide information on soil testing (enter your city name
and “cooperative extension” in your web browser for more
information). If your tomatoes just don’t look perky and
you suspect that nematodes might be infecting your tomato
plants, but you just can’t bear to yank them out of the
ground, there are a few simple things you can do to control
this unseen pest.

Fighting Nematodes ­ What you can do

• Plant nematode resistant varieties, designated by
a “V” on the label.

• Rotate your tomato crops every two years. Planting
a fresh crop in a different area of your garden will help
control the damage. Treat the area previously inhabited
by tomatoes by adding large amounts of organic matter.

• Give your soil a sweet treat. Tony Kienitz, author
of The Year I Ate My Yard, suggests spreading a half
pound bag of sugar over the garden and covering it with
a thick layer of organic compost. He says the sugar kicks
all the beneficial soil microbes into high gear, which then
help control the damaging nematodes. Likewise, try drenching
the area you intend to plant with a solution of one-half
cup sugar in one gallon of water. Other sources say the
sugar dries the nematodes out.

• Give your tomatoes company. Decorate your tomato
garden with companion plants that help combat nematodes:
Marigolds, Chrysanthemum (C. coccineum), Asparagus,
even Borage (which also discourages horn worms). Be sure
to allow enough space between plants for good air circulation.

• Clean your tools! Using a garden tool that has made
contact with nematode infested soil will carry them to other
parts of your garden. Clean them thoroughly before digging
in other areas of your garden.

• Plant peppers! Kaala Bell Pepper or Waialua peppers
are unaffected by nematodes.

• Let the soil where you plant your tomatoes dry out
between seasons. This may be too much to ask of a gardener,
so you must ask not what your tomatoes can do for you, but
what you can do for your tomatoes!

posted by Debbie (4/04/06)

back to top

Meets Middle-Earth!

Samwise Gamgee had returned home from his long journey with
Frodo, having helped save Middle Earth from certain doom,
and contentedly resumed his role as Sam the Gardener. Spring
was coming, and it was time to help his old Gaffer plant
the vegetable patch; not forgetting plenty of tomatoes.

Lovingly patting the ground around a young seedling, Sam
reminisced about Gandalf’s amazing fireworks
at Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party. There was
the glitter of silver stars, cool green showers, and the
big red rocket that magically turned into a dragon.
It seemed so long ago, yet the fantastic adventures
surrounding the quest to destroy the One Ring, that golden
of evil, which held the fate of all Middle-Earth
in its power, were still fresh in his mind. He shivered
slightly as he recalled their escape across the Brandywine
River, journeying to far off and unfamiliar lands.

Staking the laden vines, Sam recalled the arduous journey
across Middle-Earth and the terrible battle in the Dwarf
mines. Showers of sparks flew as Gandalf battled
the Balrog to his peril, after which the Fellowship mournfully
continued to the land of the Elves. There they beheld the
dazzling white beauty of Galadriel, the elfin
queen. Sam smiled, for it was she who gave him the magic
soil which nourished his burgeoning tomato patch.

Picking a creamy orb, he recalled traveling under cover
of night with the creature Gollum, who abhorred moonglow
and morning light. He remembered the treacherous
passage over the rocky plains of Gorgoroth, always
evading the gaze of the Great Eye shrouded in orange

Picking a sweet cluster of juicy red tomatoes, Sam
smiled at the memory of his friends’ tales; especially
how Merry helped Eowyn slay the black prince. But
what’s this? A strange new variety was growing in Sam’s
garden, possibly the seeds of an unknown variety that stole
their way in the box of enchanted soil and now flourished
in his luscious garden, blushing in the warm Hobbiton sun.
It was named for a far-away land that Sam had yet to know:
New Zealand Pink Pear. He wondered if New Zealand
was part of the Undying Lands in the West, where Frodo sailed
with Gandalf and the Elves.

If the adventures of Samwise the Brave weren’t enough
to secure the humble gardener’s place in legend,
at least the bounty of his tomato crop was the envy of all
the Shire; and that was sure to make his old Gaffer proud!

posted by Debbie (3/13/06)

back to top

to top


the Nematodes
Meets Middle Earth