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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Green Thumb

When I came in from the garden today I noticed that my right thumb was green. I had been pinching off the tiny growing tips at the end of the stems on my petunias so they would start growing new branching stems and be nice short bushy plants instead of long lanky ones. 'Ah Ha!' I thought to myself, 'I have a green thumb'. I certainly should - I have been gardening long enough. My mother loved her garden, and I started helping her when I was in my teens. It's how most girls learn to cook and sew and keep house - you just watch and absorb and, if you are lucky, have the pleasure of passing your knowledge on to your children and grandchildren, if they are interested enough to watch and help you.

I read a book years ago, called 'Square Foot Gardening' by ?Fitzgerald? (not the new book by the same name - the original is unfortunately now out of print). Surprisingly it was written by an engineer and it taught me some basic common sense about plants and started me thinking about plants in a new way. For instance, if a plant is being stressed by being very dry, it says to itself 'Oh my Goodness, if this drought keeps up I might die soon, so I better get busy and produce some seeds before that happens.' If you are a worried lettuce plant, you adjust your chemistry and get very bitter as you start to 'bolt'. Moral of story - keep your lettuce and leafy vegetables nicely watered.

But if now you think about a tomato plant - well, things are different. We welcome the formation of the seeds in tomatoes because they happen to be inside the beautiful red fruit. In northern climes where the season is short, there is nothing quite so good as a vine-ripened tomato warm from the garden in full summer. So, I encourage my tomatoes to set and ripen their fruit by pinching off all growing tips and new blossoms, and then add to the plant's stress by denuding it of half its leaves. It really works!

If you don't already have one, your thumb is bound to turn green if you consider your plants' feelings. Rie