It was only a month ago that I posted about 'fingers crossed in Tomato Land' - cursing my luck with an indiscreet 'so far so good' comment – and now I have to report that the whole crop has failed spectacularly – but I don't mind. Well, I don't mind now, but a week ago I was completely depressed and annoyed about my crop failure. Then, first day back at work and talking to my workmate Geoffrey, an expert gardening writer, I discovered that he, too, had to pull out all his tomatoes due to identical symptoms to mine. Suddenly I didn't take it personally! When he said the gardening radio programs had a lot of people reporting similar problems with their tomatoes, I was positively beaming with relief. It's funny how suffering in a group is completely different from suffering alone.
This is the scene of the disaster, taken on December 31. My tomato plants had, for the last couple of weeks, been showing some yellowing of the lower leaves, but nothing too bad. I just pulled or cut off the affected leaves, as the fruits themselves were developing really well. But then the deterioration in the plants started to speed up. Pam and I went away for a weekend after Christmas, during which Sydney got a good fall of rain. By the time we returned home the plants had deteriorated alarmingly.
This Grosse Lisse plant went from OK to terminal in seven days. I couldn't believe the speed with which it faded away. It was covered in green fruit, lovely big ones, but only one or two fruit were changing colour, showing the first signs of ripening.
It was a similar story with the Roma plants. Covered in green fruit and dying leaves. Hardly any fruit ripening yet. I couldn't see the plants themselves lasting much longer than the next few days, so rather than battling on with this appalling eyesore taking centre stage in my garden, I pulled them all out.
I kept the tomatoes which were partly ripe and let them ripen indoors. The Romas all had a lovely flavour and were in perfect condition, but one of the Grosse Lisses had fruit fly larvae in it (despite all my spraying with the new organic wonder product), and the other, which was at least free of fruit fly larvae, had a bland, watery taste.
The only tomatoes which tasted great, looked fine and had no problems were the cherry tomatoes. My friend Geoffrey also said his cherry tomatoes were fine, so that's what I will be growing next year, and every year thereafter.
I haven't got a clue what the mystery disease is, other than to guess it's some kind of fungal disease brought on by our humid summer. It couldn't be fusarium wilt, which you can get if you don't practise crop rotation and grow tomato-family plants (eg, tomatoes, potatoes, chillies, capsicums, eggplants) in the same spot in successive years. I hadn't grown any of these plants in my tomato patch previously.
The good thing about my crop failure of course is that it doesn't really matter. I'm a dilettante farmer. Pam and I won't starve if we suffer crop failure. We'll simply have to buy our tomatoes and put up with their second-rate flavour.
But I have also learned that the new 'organic' fruit fly sprays are of dubious usefulness. I was so thoroughly diligent in applying, then re-applying them again and again, exactly as per the directions on the pack. And still the fruit were attacked. I found the fruit fly spray was a monumental pain in the neck to constantly re-apply after rain, then again after several days if there hadn't been rain. And it was expensive. At $27 for a 200ml bottle – which wouldn't be enough to last one whole growing season – my tomatoes (had they managed to ripen and survive) would have been a lot more expensive than the ones sold in the shops, especially when you factor in the cost of fertilisers as well.
At least my beans are bouncing along beautifully producing lots of delicious results, the salad greens and silver beet are doing fine and producing more leaves than we can eat, the herbs of course are in their tasty prime, and the lime tree will soon be providing zing for magaritas, Thai salad dressings, sweet tarts and many more delights. So all is well here for the dilettante farmer, even if one of his major crops has failed!