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Ted talks tomatoes and shares reader tips

Singing Gardener: Plus, info on green potatoes and inoculant for legumes

Heard from a Calgarian whose email leads me to a phone visit with her mother at Coronation, Alta. The daughter writes in part: “The Flin Flon is of interest to her to replace a tomato that she can no longer acquire. She’d love to hear from you.”

In mid-February, yours truly heard from the supplier Tanya Stefanec of Heritage Harvest Seed who wrote to say: “Hi Ted. Best wishes. Sorry — Flin Flon Tomato is Sold Out.”

Shall also include something about the good ol’ super spud or tater. Don’t we call ’em potatoes too? As always, it’s a fine howdy-do and how are you, everybody. Welcome to the Grainews Singing Gardener page. We’re all one great big family of gardeners and we love our farmers too.

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Gardeners love to party

At least that’s what I sing about in a song I wrote. Here are some of the lyrics:

Gardeners love to party,
Gardeners love to party,
And when they’re not gardening,
They eat hail and hearty,
Gardeners love to party,
Gardeners love to party,
To sing and swing and tap their toes,
And stay out late ’til cows come home,
And for dessert eat Smarties.

My telephone visit

It resulted from an email sent by Rhonda Pechout (nee Gerber) of Cal­gary: “Hi Ted, my mother Peggy Gerber of Coronation, is well known for her gardening skills. At the young age of 77, she still loves to put in a very large garden on her farm (enough to feed a family of 10, I’m sure). It is my ultimate treat to reap the benefits of my mother’s labours in the garden. Yum! She specifically takes great pride in her tomatoes and loves to try new types.

“Coronation is a unique spot on the Alberta map as it regularly is the hot spot in summer and the cold spot in winter. She does not use a greenhouse or hothouse. However, she does have a variety of locations in her garden to grow her tomatoes. The big ones are normally planted on the south side of her house where it is HOT. Good soil, daily doses of water and love; together they yield her bumper crops every year. She loves all sizes, from the small cherry tomatoes to the big beefsteak; yellow, orange and red.”

Ted says: Thank you Rhonda for the great Coronation promo, and for being such a thoughtful and caring daughter to your mother Peggy. Next, it’s on to my phone visit with Peggy and the first thing she said was:

“Well I’ll be darned. You’re the man I read about in the paper and you’re the Singing Gardener. I’ll be 78 on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve helped my mom and dad grow a garden ever since I was a little girl. It’s a good size. I’ve had big gardens all my life and still garden. Everybody says, why do you grow such a big garden? I’ve got my family and I sell some of my produce in August and September to a hunting lodge that’s close to me. Then I can tomatoes, I freeze some and I eat real good.”

Peggy loves to grow big tomatoes on the south side of her house. In the past she grew Sun Chief for three years but can’t get plants anymore. She describes it as “a gorgeous red tomato; just under a pound. I like big tomatoes. The guys at the hunting lodge say, ‘Oh Peggy, how did you grow them?’”

Peggy asked about Flin Flon tomato seeds but alas, as I, Ted, mentioned earlier, “they’re sold out.” Her response was quick and to the point when I asked Peggy if she had any tomato-growing tips for Grainews readers. “Lots of water, lots of sunshine and lots of calcium. Eggshells crushed with a rolling pin and diluted in water works good. Then I use a bit of Epsom salts and buy something good for tomatoes.”

Peggy stakes her tomatoes; both vining and shorter non-vining ones and has grown as many as 100 tomato plants in the past but last year cut back to about 45 plants. Early Giant was a tomato she grew years ago for her boys (at the lodge). “They were gorgeous, beautiful tomatoes and I didn’t use any fertilizer but can’t get plants anymore. We had manure, rain and sunshine at the right time. When you get a good tomato you like, hold on to some seed as you never know when they’re no longer available.”

She also reminisced about another mutual interest and that’s music. Peggy spoke of how she “loved to dance and especially enjoyed music by The Emeralds.” I learned she played a 24 bass accordion and her mom would “kick out a tune” as she put it, on the fiddle. I mentioned to Peggy that my son Chris and I do a lot of personal appearances together and I always sing “O It Must Be the Tomatoes,” and “The Weather Song.” Chris is a trained 120 bass accordion player and songwriter; one of the best in my opinion. Years ago, a Vancouver paper described Chris as “the Ashley MacIsaac of the accordion.” We concluded with Peggy saying, “We’ve had a wonderful visit on the phone. I thought you’d never have time for me and you did.”

Potatoes turned green in storage

Allan Klassen writes the following: “Hello Ted, We live 10 miles south of Stettler, Alberta. The soil pH is about 6. Last spring we worked some hot lime on the whole garden. That is the only difference in our planting. Some years we buy seed but can’t remember what we did last spring. The potatoes looked lovely and a good size, nicer than we’ve had for years. They were in storage in a barn with the temp. at about 40 F. They were in plastic pails covered with plywood. Sometime in Dec. we noticed the bitter taste and the green colour throughout. It’s been several years since we put old manure on the garden. — Thank you, Allan.”

Ted’s reply starts with a question to readers: Have you any advice or an opinion to offer Allan? Here’s my two cents’ worth in simple terms after speaking with a longtime commercial potato grower.

A storage temperature of 4 C (40 F) is OK, as long as it doesn’t drop below 37 F, and it should remain consistent. Secondly, stored potatoes should not be exposed to light; not even low light, nor for the shortest time, whether natural or artificial light. The long and the short of it is this: Both store-bought and homegrown potatoes will turn green when they are exposed to light resulting with increased production of a toxic alkaloid called solanine.

Consuming a large quantity of solanine can cause illness such as digestive issues and neurological problems, or even death in extreme cases. Most people know not to eat the affected bitter-tasting green tissue. The highest concentration of solanine is in the potato skin. Cutting away the green portion removes most of the toxin.

Gardeners know potatoes that appear too close to soil surface will show signs of greening. The reason for hilling is to provide plants with mounds of soil to blot out even a tiny smidgen of light. Complete darkness is the key to preventing a colour change. Any sign of green is a warning there’s presence of toxic solanine. Keep in mind that potato plants can suffer and show displeasure from stressful growing and environmental issues too, such as adverse weather, pests and plant diseases. Humans dealing with a lot of stress are not happy campers. Plants are no different.

What is inoculant for legumes?

I mentioned during my March 8 column that inoculant can really add benefit to sweet peas pre-treated with it. Matter of fact all pea and bean seeds and other legumes will derive gain.

West Coast Seeds describes inoculant as “a fine powdered compound of beneficial bacteria called rhizobia that kick-start the nitrogen-fixing process exhibited in these plants. Beans and all legumes have little swollen nodules along their roots where symbiotic bacteria form colonies and begin to draw nitrogen from the atmosphere and soil. The accumulated nitrogen helps the plants grow better. Some of the nitrogen also remains in the soil after plants are harvested or cut down. This provides a benefit to future crops planted at a later time in the same spot. Full directions for use come with each package of inoculant. Both it and Big Beef slicing tomato seeds are available from West Coast Seeds, at Delta, B.C., phone 1-888-804-8820; www.westcoastseeds.com. Other garden centres also carry various tomato seeds and inoculant.

Oddball plant names

You’ve heard the expression, cheaper by the dozen. Well, let me give you a baker’s dozen listing (13 in all) of not-so-familiar plant names using common words that probably most gardeners are not aware existed.

They are: Blue Fingers Cold, Bellyache Bush, Cannibal Tomato, Chinese Rice Paper, Naked Ladies, Old Man’s Beard, Running Postman, Scotch Whiskey Tree, Squirting Cuke, Hairy Doris, Tumbling Ted, Wavy Hair Grass and Widows Tears.

A bad health news day

Doctor: I have some bad news and some very bad news.
Patient: Well, you might as well give me the bad news first.
Doctor: The lab and X-ray sent your test results. It says: You have 24 hours to live.
Patient: 24 HOURS! That’s terrible!! WHAT could be WORSE? What’s the very bad news?
Doctor: I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday.

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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