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Friday, July 31, 2009

The Case Of The Sloppy Pincher


Funny how doing things wrong (or in this case, semi-wrong) can lead to a discovery. I bought some tomato plants this year, against my better judgement, and too late in the season. Furthermore, I bought seedlings instead of sowing my own seeds, which is ridiculously expensive. I’ll never get a big enough crop out of my plants to justify their expense, but at least a couple of things went right this year.

First, we had a freakishly cool June in Phoenix. Long-time vegetable gardeners around here will tell you it’s always tricky to get your tomato plants timed right – you don’t want a late frost to fry them, you’ve got to have them blooming when the pollinators are interested in them, and it’s all got to happen before the heat of summer sterilizes the pollen. I deserved to have a big failure in the tomato department this year, since I bought my plants in May (instead of late February). Happily, nature intervened and cut me some slack, extending spring far into summer.

But that’s not the only thing that went right. The other thing has to do with sweet basil. I planted some with my tomatoes in pots, in a spot that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. I figured the basil would shade the wimpy tomato greens and keep them from getting fried. And that’s what they did. But they did something else for the tomatoes as well, and that’s where the partial goof comes in.

I always pinch back blooms on sweet basil, because they spoil the flavor of the leaf. The plant puts so much energy into the bloom, it sucks all the flavor out of the rest of the plant. I also pinch because bees love those basil blooms so much, they’ll ignore other fruiting blossoms in favor of it. If you want your beans to develop, you may be disappointed if the bees are busy with your basil. So I pinch developing basil blossoms almost every day. But here’s the funny thing: I’m a sloppy pincher. So usually a few blossoms develop right at the bottom of the stalk. Because I planted the sweet basil in the same pots as the tomatoes, and because there were a few blossoms to attract the bees to that location, it looks like the tomatoes have benefitted from the close proximity. They came for the basil, and when they ran out of those flowers they moved on to the tomatoes.

I’m thinking I’ll try the trick with other fruiting plants. Mix ‘em up with sweet basil, and plant plenty of tansy too, because I’ve managed to have an entire spring without aphids, thanks to the tansy I planted in several places. I don’t believe in pesticides, I’d rather throw a plant away than squirt it with poison, but I don’t mind doing lots of companion planting. Butterflies and ladybugs love tansy, that’s good enough for me.

So, just to recap – I goofed, but the goof turned out all right. Maybe it steered me in a more productive direction. Next year I’ll mix more basil and tomato plants, maybe throw in some beans for good measure. And I’ll do the same sloppy pinching I always do. We’ll see if my theory is sound.

For the time being, at least, the Great Experiment continues . . .

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