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Start thinking about potatoes and tomatoes this month

Singing Gardener: March is the time to sprout spuds and start seeds

March is a good month to begin sprouting potatoes and starting tomatoes. Also, will be sharing Part 1 of excerpts from two pages of a handwritten letter. Top that off with where to buy late blight-resistant tomato seeds. There’s a song that says, “I need attention bad.” Did I get yours? Thank you folks for attending my classroom of words here in Grainews where the focus is “all for gardening and gardening for all.”

Next, I’m taking a moment for my tip o’ the hat salutation. It’s my way of acknowledging everyone joining me on this page and a greeting that says: howdy good people. Glad to be with you again and welcome readers.

The whole seed potato sprouting method

This method comes from a reader located about 120 kilometres east of Edmonton who prefers not to have her name mentioned. Get some cardboard boxes. Cut all sides down to about five to seven cm (two or three inches) high. Do not cut the potatoes. Leave them entirely whole. Remove all sprouts if there are any. Spread potatoes in single file inside prepared cut-down boxes. Keep potatoes separated as much as possible and set each box in natural light and it doesn’t have to be the brightest light.

Here’s her quote: “You need no dirt, no water, no paper, no nothing. Just whole potatoes that are separated in single file in a box. That’s all you have to do. Wait until they sprout leaves. There are no sprouts in the usual sense of the word. They just grow leaves. Plant ’em in ground at the appropriate time. You can do two or three batches for early, mid-season and late plantings.”

From Granum, Alberta – a handwritten letter

“Jan. 20-2017. Hello Ted. Thank you for the garden page. I read it first. Regarding wireworms in the Jan. 10 issue. Many years ago, I waited forever it seemed for the corn to come up. Then I started to scratch in the dirt where corn had been planted. Wireworms, all sizes in every corn seed; some contained up to three. I uncovered all four rows of corn, decapitated countless numbers of worms. I still catch a few worms and keep watching for the click beetles. There is in the garden a very speedy, shiny black beetle that is almost the same size as the click beetle. Upon closer inspection I noticed it has powerful-looking jaws and I wonder if it is a predator.”

Notes from Ted: More excerpts from said letter shall be continued next column with name withheld by request. The writer is better than 80 years of age. While I, Ted, can’t be absolutely certain, my guess is the “shiny black beetle with powerful-looking jaws” (referred to in the letter) just might be a member of a certain bunch of Fiery Searcher ground beetles. Many in the group are extremely beneficial common ground beetles that feed on slugs, cutworms, caterpillars, wireworms, snails and on and on. Such habits have also earned them the less exotic name “caterpillar hunter.” When handled, some can give off a very unpleasant smell. Perhaps it’s their body odour from consuming such a variety of soil insect pests.

Late blight-resistant tomatoes

My focus next is on a selection of three hybrid named tomatoes that are known for their high degree of late blight resistance. Vicky Berg has had close to 25 years of intense experience both in home gardening and a deep understanding of dealing with gardeners’ needs and expectations at her job. She wrote the following to me.

“Hi Ted, Here is a brief paragraph on my growing experience. Mountain Merit — I found that this tomato has one of the best all-around disease packages of tomatoes; not just late blight. The fruit is larger than Defiant but not quite as flavourful.

“Defiant — The flavour of Defiant is the best of all late blight varieties that I have tried. It isn’t as big as Mountain Merit but it still gives an abundance of six-oz. fruit.”

The third variety in this group is Mountain Magic. It is described as an excellent-tasting compact-type cocktail tomato. Dark-red fruits appear in concentrated sets or clusters, are tolerant to cracking, great for salads and eating out of hand and get this — have a long shelf life.

All three have been well tested in trials and are highly resistant to late blight. The key factor is to “spread the word” to garden centres, nurseries, garden clubs and the general public that growing late blight-resistant tomatoes in their home gardens can help reduce transmission of plant disease. It’s also of immense benefit to potato farmers as blight is a costly disease that affects quality of their crops.

If you, the reader and as a gardener, grow or have grown other tomato varieties that have demonstrated good disease and late blight resistance and wish to share with fellow readers, let me hear from you.

Check at local garden centres for such tomato seeds and inquire at greenhouses and plant sellers for started plants of named varieties. Also, there are seed catalogues that list one or more of aforesaid. Here are some sources:

  • Early’s Garden Centre, Saskatoon, Sask. S7J 0S5
    Phone 1-800-667-1159; has Defiant and Mountain Merit.
  • West Coast Seeds, Delta, B.C., V4L 2P1
    Phone 1-888-804-8820; has Mountain Merit.
  • W.H. Perron, Laval, Que., H7P 5R9
    Phone 1-800-723-9071; has Mountain Magic and Mountain Merit.
  • Veseys Seeds, Charlottetown, P.E.I., C1A 8K6
    Phone 1-800-363-7333; has Defiant, Mountain Magic and Mountain Merit.

The wooden bowl

A frail elderly man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. His hands trembled, eyesight was blurred, and he walked with faltering steps. The family ate together at the table but the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult for him. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. “We must do something about Father,” said the son. “I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating and food on the floor.”

So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner where Granddad sat and ate alone. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two and dropped cutlery, his food was served in a wooden bowl. The four-year-old watched it all in silence.

One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked his son: “What are you making?” In a child’s voice the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to play.

The words struck the parents so profoundly and deep that they were speechless and tears began streaming down their cheeks. No words were spoken, but they knew what must be done at once.

That evening the son took his dad’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days Granddad ate every meal with son, daughter-in-law and grandson as a family, thanks to the wisdom of a four-year-old. “And a child shall lead them.” After that, neither the husband nor wife ever cared again when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, the tablecloth soiled, or peas rolled.

About the author

Columnist

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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