Inspiration from a centenarian — grow gooseberries

Plus, info on blight and Ted shares reader’s opinion on earthworms

Now what’s Ted up to on this occasion you ask? Here’s a clue. Remember that handwritten letter from Alberta I mentioned last column? Read on and learn what the next mini-story is about. Also, more on late blight-resistant tomatoes. I’m including gooseberries for the very first time and my inspiration is a centenarian. Time for a tip of the hat as I bid welcome to my Grainews family of readers. We’re a great bunch together aren’t we?

Earthworms and dew worms

The next mini-story. “My sister in Lethbridge did everything to enrich her garden plot and keep it soft. It was actually like digging in rock. She added lawn clippings, leaves from her own trees and bags of leaves found in the back of alleys, apples from trees, sand and manure from my backyard. She grew the biggest dew worms like little snakes and earthworms. All they are good for is bait when you go fishing. I told her the worms eat the organic matter she works into her garden and poop out cement! I used to have very few worms, small, but over time they have grown too. Now my garden has become harder to dig in, so when I find a worm, I throw it out. I don’t care if they are ‘soil builders,’ they make cement. Did you know that dew worms have bristles on one end of their bodies?”

Notes from Ted: Folk names for earthworms include dew worm, rain worm and night crawler. The writer is correct about bristles. Except for the mouth and anal segments, each section carries bristle-like hairs called lateral setae around or under their body. These hairs provide grip to help earthworms move through the soil. They do not have eyes but do possess light- and touch-sensitive organs. The following may come as a surprise. Many earthworms secrete a mucous-like fluid that helps them move more easily through the soil. In some burrowing species, this fluid forms a cement-like substance that lines their burrows to help keep the walls from collapsing. Writer’s name is withheld by request. Next mini-story continues in Grainews March 28, 2017 issue.

Early blight and late blight

Don’t confuse the two. There’s a difference. Early blight is a soil-borne bacterial disease that splashes onto foliage during rain and watering. Blighted side leaves become discoloured, turn brown and dry up. As it advances, edible ripened fruits are still possible. The central stem on some plants may eventually appear with very few side leaves, but still has a canopy of green on top.

Late blight is an airborne fungal disease transmitted through the atmosphere during periods of cool, humid and wet weather particularly during August and September. Spores attach to both tomato and potato plants causing darkened or black sections along the stalks rendering the fruits and tubers unattractive and inedible. The trick is to grow late blight-resistant varieties. (See my March 7, 2017 Grainews column for seed choices available to home gardeners.)

This spring, some greenhouses and garden centres will be selling two new proven late blight-resistant varieties named Stellar and Rugged Boy. Ask for them by name when you go searching for started tomato plants.

Jim Solomon and his wife Aileen are owner-operators of Solomon’s Home Garden Gift in my area. Jim tells me they’re growing both aforementioned tomato varieties this year.

Jim says, “plant habit of Stellar tomato is determinate (non-vining) and matures between 70 to 75 days with ripened fruits at five to seven ounces each.” He describes it as “having the highest late blight resistance so far and will be especially noticed if Stellar is grown separate and apart from other tomato varieties.” As for Rugged Boy, “it is a mid-season tomato and produces six- to eight-ounce fruits in about 75 days after setting out plants. It too has shown strong resistance to late blight and other green leaf issues.”

Signs to watch for

If you notice the slightest indication of late blight in your garden, take action promptly. Apply a copper fungicide spray according to label directions to slow down its effects. If blight has already taken hold, remove the affected plant material at once. If you don’t act fast the remainder of your crop and possibly that of your neighbour could be compromised. Careful disposal of diseased material is essential. Do not compost anything that’s been hit by late blight. Double bag the infected plants and do it on a calm day so disease spores are not spread by wind. Arrange for transport to the local garbage disposal site. If you do nothing, there’s a good chance your entire tomato garden — and perhaps your potatoes too will suffer. Both home gardeners and large-scale potato growers can be affected by late blight.

What is copper spray

It’s a standard fungicide spray made from a wettable powder. Best results are obtained when applied before serious evidence of any problem arises to prevent, control and/or delay blight. Besides tomatoes, copper fungicide can be applied to veggies, flowers, shrubs and ornamentals that are subject to blights, leaf spot, anthracnose, downy mildew, powdery mildew and black spot. Ask for Copper Spray, available at many garden centres and follow directions precisely.

Emilia is 100 plus – she ate lots of gooseberries

Are you aiming to reach 100 plus and be in good condition? Well, the garden and staying young at heart can help you get there. No set rules apply and no one knows how a centenarian should look or act, but what is known — they all eat real food.

Emilia was born in England in 1913 and has a certain degree of “je ne sais quoi,” yet she’s willing to share some life lessons why living past 100 years of age is no secret. “I don’t feel any older than when I was 20 or 30 years ago. I’ve never realized how strong I am. I’m still very strong.” She referred back to her youthful years. “It’s all that food my mother cooked and grew in the garden.” She continued, “We always, always had fresh food when we were youngsters — straight from the garden, into the pan and onto the plate and lots and lots of gooseberries too.”

Thinking back to her years as a wife she recalled it with sheer joy and delight. “Oh my marriage was absolutely wonderful; heavenly, heavenly. I lived with him from the age of 16 until his 70s. I wanted to marry a handsome man and with good manners and he had both. Make the most of it, especially if he’s the first love. There’s nothing like it.”

When asked if she had any regrets Emilia said, “I can tell you right from my heart, none whatever. I recommend to anybody if they find the right husband to marry — not just live together — but marry. It seems to me if you are happily married and happily living, it is the finest remedy for all ills.” Her philosophy is, “Behave well to other people, show them respect and help them as much as you possibly can. It will be repaid a hundredfold.”

Centenarians and super-centenarians (those who live beyond 110 years) do understand the value of eating real food. There was no other option when they were born. After all, eating homegrown food fresh from the garden and home-cooked food was the norm. What else was there?

Nowadays, the notion of eating homegrown, home-cooked food has become more of a rarity than a norm for many people. It would seem that switching back to the traditional way of eating is the best route for health and longevity.

No one is saying their diets were perfect, but eating whole food is a common theme among centenarians, even though some had an apparent fondness for beer, wine or whiskey on occasion. Apart from that there’s no set pattern as to why some people live to 100 and beyond.

Are you inspired to grow gooseberries?

Interestingly, this berry comes in varying shades of yellow, green, red, or black. There can be tart and sweet berries on the same bush, each containing a plethora of tiny edible seeds. Gooseberries thrive in changing seasons involving frigid winters and humid summers, and they’re more shade tolerant than other fruits.

Berries were often harvested when not quite ready to pick and full of tartness. Maybe our great-grandmothers relished the idea of converting sour gooseberries into scrumptious pies, jams and sauces with the addition of other fruits or honey. Back then, sugar was out and sour was in — something that’s worthwhile revisiting today.

There are endless health benefits attributed to gooseberries and found to have numerous beneficial effects against colon cancer, aging, inflammation, diabetes and neurological diseases.

Gooseberries also contain a healthy dose of vitamin C and none is lost in cooking. The wide array of goodness in gooseberry juice ranges from stimulating the body’s ability to produce insulin to promoting healthy adrenal glands and prevention of osteoporosis. Even improved skin tone plus restoration of hair loss and restoring a feeling of well-being are attributed to gooseberries.

Two varieties are available this spring. Captivator is a nearly thornless gooseberry whose fruits become dark red and sweeter as they ripen. Pixwell gooseberry is very hardy, has few thorns and is very productive of pale-green fruits that turn pink upon ripening. There are other gooseberry cultivars available so make inquiries when visiting greenhouse and garden centres.

About the author

Columnist

Ted Meseyton

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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