Califonia Bountiful

Gardening Q&A

July/August 2018 California Bountiful magazine

Parts of my tomato vines are dying back—the leaves are dried up and brown. Someone told me they could have tobacco mosaic, especially if someone who smokes has been in my garden.

True, the tobacco mosaic disease can be carried into a garden by someone who smokes, but it's rare. And the symptoms you describe match those of the mosaic. Most hybrid varieties of tomato are not susceptible. Many heirloom varieties are, but it is still rare. More likely, the problem is not enough water. Tomatoes like long, deep soaks of water on a regular basis. They do not like drought. Cut away the dead parts of the plant—they aren't going to recover—and give the plants more water. To be safe, plant tomatoes in a different spot next year if you can. Add plenty of compost to the soil, no matter where you plant them. Put mulch over the top of the soil to preserve moisture, and make sure the tomatoes don't dry out. A friend had this problem and was convinced it was tobacco mosaic. He called in several experts, and the diagnosis was not enough water.

When do I harvest potatoes?

Once the plants are mature, you can gently pull some of the soil away and sneak a potato. Generally, they are all harvested at once. The plants will flower and then the leaves will start to turn yellow. The plants will begin to die back. Use a pitchfork rather than a shovel to dig up the plants. You want to be careful not to slice the potatoes you've worked so hard to grow before you ever get them out of the ground. I really love harvesting potatoes because it's like a treasure hunt. You don't know what you'll find until you get there. Kids especially love digging for potatoes.

If you miss any of the potatoes, they will sprout and grow for another crop, often just after the July harvest, so you would have a crop for Thanksgiving. Always fun. 

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