Rise of the Zombie Tomatoes

It’s been a while since I updated you about my black thumb. This is very dated information, but I feel the need to inform you that I did manage to keep my tomato plant alive for some time. It looked quite pretty for a while. I even kept some tomatoes alive after death.

Thriving tomato plant

Whu? You ask.

I accidentally cultivated zombie tomatoes.

How did this happen? Well, for various reasons that I won’t go into some furniture was temporarily brought onto our patio which resulted in all of my plants being moved. And, in the case of my tomato plant, being bumped. Imagine my despair when I went out to water my plants one day and discovered that the one branch with the little green tomatoes on it had been nearly completely severed. Just a tiny bit of stem held it on.

Severed branch

Well that’s it, I thought. In a day or two this branch will completely wither and the tomatoes will turn brown and fall off.

So imagine my surprise when that didn’t happen. Imagine my bigger surprise when I discovered over a week later that rather than turning brown and shriveling, those baby tomatoes were finally starting to ripen. The branch stayed totally alive long enough for them to ripen completely (my roommate ate them; I abstained because I don’t trust zombie fruit and I’m not a big tomato fan).

Zombie tomatoes. Over a week after branch was severed.

The branch did eventually wither and die; of course, at this point the entire plant is fairly dead since it’s below freezing here and I don’t care enough about tomatoes to bring the massive planter inside.

I guess the big test will be whether the entire plant rises from the dead come Spring.

Black Thumb Goes Green-ish?

Disclaimer: I’ve been stockpiling blog entries so I could survive the rough times without another hiatus. This one’s been on the shelf a little longer than it should have been, so if this sounds more appropriate for August, that’s because that’s when it was written.

One of the things I like most about my new place is that it has a yard. A tiny one. And it doesn’t have any grass to cut or anything. It does, however, have room for some potted plants. My landlord even said I could plant things in the little strips of dirt/gravel we have, but that would require a shovel and more energy than I have. But I did decide to give potted plants a go to see if I fare any better when I actually have natural light available.

Knowing how excited I was about possibilities two of my friends bought me plants as housewarming gifts, so I have garlic chives and zucchini courtesy of them. I don’t actually eat zucchini, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them that. Then I bought myself lavender, rosemary, and two different kinds of basil. Finally a friend who was leaving handed down a large pot with a tomato plant and kale as well as a strawberry plant and something else he thinks is a flower. So I have a good little pot garden going.

And much to my surprise, it’s going. Well, the basil’s going. Like crazy, truth be told. The strawberry plant produced exactly one berry then decided it was done for the year. But it is growing and producing new leaves, so who knows? The lavender plant has new flowers. The tomato plant has flowers and some tiny green tomatoes.

The one problem is the zucchini. It’s growing just fine and it’s producing big beautiful blossoms. But they don’t survive long enough to make zucchinis. Every time one blooms and looks promising I come out the next day to find the stem just below it severed. I don’t know if something’s biting them off or someone is sneaking into my yard and cutting them off or if they’re just falling off. Either way, no zucchinis. Which, I suppose is just as well because it saves me the trouble of figuring out what the hell to do with them.

At any rate, it’s probably too early to say, but I have a glimmer of hope the black thumbs are turning greenish.

Lavender

Zucchini with Genovese Basil

Garlic Chives

French Basil

Tomato and Kale

Zucchini

Black Thumb Chronicles

Okay, okay, what’s happened to my poor little herbs since we checked in:

Well, my rosemary plant died for no good reason.  I have replaced it with a new one which so far (knock on wood) is doing well.

One of my basil plants (the one that had previously been the largest and healthiest) did not survive the inch worms.  Bastards!

Sometime week before last I was horrified to discover aphids on one of the two remaining basil plants.  What’s with all these pests on indoor plants?  Annoyingly, there seem to be ladybugs everywhere but on my plants where there’s a feast laid out for them.  I was so busy that I very foolishly waited a day or two before I got the chance to mix up some garlic chili water to spray on the plants.  That may have been the death of that plant.  I’m holding out hope, but it’s a slim hope.  There’s a little green left in the stem, but it has lost all its leaves.

My final basil plant got aphids too, but I was able to I was able to stop the infestation earlier.  It’s looking a little ragged, but I’m marginally more optimistic about its chances of survival.

Meanwhile, we’ve been getting no sun.  I mean, ordinarily my apartment doesn’t get much, but at this point it’s a little ridiculous.  It’s been grey and cloudy every day.  My poor plants that are trying to recover their strength need sunlight!

It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!  The universe is conspiring to deny me fresh basil!  It’s not fair!

Inching Away with My Time

Okay, as promised, my war with the pests that were attacking my basil appears to be over (Victory is mine!), so here’s the tawdry tale:

I’ve been planning an update to my Black Thumb Chronicles.  Because so far all three basil plants and my new little rosemary plant were all alive.  Not just alive, but thriving.  For someone who hasn’t met a plant she couldn’t kill, this was very exciting.  Then several weeks ago I went to pick some basil for my cucumber lime sorbet and I noticed that a few of the leaves had little holes like something had been munching on them.  I made a mental note of it, but the damage was thus far minor, so I wasn’t super concerned.

Then a day or two later, I noticed that there were more holes and there were some sort of black specks all over some of the leaves.  Initially, I thought that the specks were the parasites in question.  Apparently I was wrong.  And I was mad because one of the benefits of house plants is supposed to be that they’re relatively safe from pests.  AI rushed to the interwebs to see what sort of information I could find on bugs that attack basil.  The closest I could find to something that fit what I was seeing was aphids, but these little black things seemed too small, even to be aphids.  Nonetheless, I looked for remedies.

Now there’s a big issue with pesticides—mostly that I’m only growing the basil so that I can eat it, so I don’t want to get anything toxic near it.  I read that cucumber peels had pesticidal properties, which was vexing because I had just thrown out a large amount of cucumber peelings a couple days earlier.  Then I read that you can get great results by crushing a couple of garlic cloves, soaking them in water for several hours, and then spraying the mixture on the plants.  At this point I was really annoyed because I was out of garlic.  Understand that I am never out of garlic.  This was probably the first time I’ve been without garlic in my apartment since 2004.  Finally I discovered a solution I had on hand—soaking chili peppers in water and spraying it on the plants.  So I filled an old spray bottle and went out to spray these little black specs off my plants.

I started meticulously spraying all these little black buggers off my plants and got a little curious.  I couldn’t see any of these black specs moving.  They were the strangest little bugs I’ve ever seen.  But I’m no bug expert, so what do I know?

The next day the black specs were back.  Hell, they were worse.  And the leaves were looking lacier by the moment.  I got my spray bottle and went to work again.  And then I saw something green fall into the dirt.  And I realized what was really going on.   It was an inchworm!  As best I can guess the black specs?  Inchworm poo.

You have to understand the depth of my hatred for inchworms.  Back when I was in middle school we had an unusually cold winter which evidently killed off something that eats inchworms in their larval stage.  This caused an over population of inchworms.  A disgusting overpopulation.  Our front porch was literally swarming with them.  My mom left a pair of sneakers on the porch and within a day you couldn’t even see them they were so covered in the little buggers. My parents’ house is surrounded by trees.  There’s no way to get in and out of the house without walking under at least a few.  I have long, thick, curly hair.  Picture me having to walk under all those trees, dripping with inchworms on my way to the bus stop every morning and ask me why I have such a virulent hatred of inchworms.

Getting them off my basil proved to be a pain in the ass.  The little creeps are the same exact color as the leaves.  And they hide underneath the leaves because they are, of course, creatures of darkness.  And they can hold on like nobody’s business.  I wound up just clipping off every leaf I found with an inch worm on it.  Then I took them outside, dropped them on the ground and did a victory dance on top of them.  Sneaky as they are, I didn’t get them all the first day.  Or the second day.  I thought I got them all on the third day, but then a couple days later?  More black specs.  Then I found two final inchworms.  Big ones I had initially mistaken for stems they had gorged themselves so thoroughly on my basil.

I took them outside and did one final victory dance on their evil segmented bodies.  And then the war was over.

My basil is still alive, but it’s looking much less healthy.  My rosemary is just fine because it seems inchworms don’t like rosemary.  And I won the war.  But it sucked away a lot of my time.

Black Thumb Chronicles



As should be obvious to anyone reading this blog, Cammy and I have a lot in common.  Part of the reason we get along so well is because we are so much alike.  But there are also certain ways in which Cammy and I are nothing alike.  One of these areas of difference is nature.  Cammy enjoys it.  She speaks fondly of visiting national parks.  She’s gone camping, and liked it.  This summer she actually made it a goal to spend more time outside.  Like on purpose.  And she’s not getting paid for it.  She’s got a garden and it’s doing well, providing her with tomatoes and eggplants and fresh herbs.  Heck, even when we were in college she had potted plants with her.

Me?  I’m pretty sure that the call of nature is only saying, “Come closer so I can kill you!”  I spend a fair amount of time outside during certain portions of the year, but only because my job requires it.  To me, time outside equates only with sunburns and mosquito bites.  And getting dirty.  I really don’t like being dirty.  I wear socks or footies inside all the time, partially because my feet get cold, but mostly because I don’t want the bottoms of my feet to get dirty.  And I haven’t met a plant I can’t kill.  During my one and only year as a secondary teacher, my predecessor left an ivy plant with me.  I warned her I would kill it, but she assured me no one can kill an ivy plant.  She underestimated me.

This black thumb really hasn’t bothered me that much, because I had no desire to be around plants.  So why should it matter that I am the footsteps of doom where green and growing things are concerned?

Because I love fresh herbs, that’s why.  My mother (who likes nature and gardening and all that crap) has a yard which is almost entirely shade, so the only thing she’s been able to grow there is herbs.  But it’s so nice to have food which is made from fresh herbs—there’s just no replicating it with the dried stuff.  So I decided when I moved into my own place and was not surrounded by Bridget’s plants (oh yes, I attract plant loving roommates.  And Capricorns.) I would try growing my own herbs.  Particularly I was excited about basil and rosemary.  I knew my black thumb would be a problem, but I like a challenge, so I was willing to take it.

One year later… I’m mostly failing.  I bought a basil plant and a rosemary plant last year at our local farmer’s market.  My basil died almost immediately, but I’m reasonably certain that it was fusarium wilt so I’m only willing to take but so much responsibility for that.  (Incidentally, I was overly emotional about my basil dying of an incurable basil disease—it indicated to me I should get out more).  But my rosemary plant survived.  I won’t lie and say it flourished, but it lived.  There’s very little sunlight available in my apartment so it stayed small.  Until Spring.   Then I went out of town for the better part of a week and forgot to water it before I left.  And I overcompensated by overwatering it when I got home.  I can’t be certain, but I think that was what did it in.  It didn’t die immediately.  In fact, shortly after that I was able to harvest some of it and use it in a dish for the first time.  But then the leaves started getting really dry and new growth stopped.  I thought maybe it was root bound, so I bought a bigger pot and transferred it.  At which point I discovered not only was it not root bound, it had hardly any roots at all.  I repotted it anyway.  You never know, I figured.  It had looked droopy before and come back.  I also bought three wee tiny basil plants at the farmer’s market and potted them.

Then I had to leave town for a month.  I left my plants with a friend who graciously agreed to take care of them.  She would be leaving town about the time I got back, but I figured they’d be okay.  She had a yard and could leave them outside, so I thought even if there’s a week where no one’s around they’ll survive.

Well I was gone three weeks longer than planned.  So the poor little babies were unattended for almost a month.  My friend had warned that the rosemary was completely dead, but I figured I’d probably come back to find the basil dead too.

Well… So far not quite.  Enjoying their temporary access to sunlight the things grew a heck of a lot more than I anticipated.  Which meant they were horribly root bound by the time I returned.  And looking very dry and droopy.  But I watered them.  And I’ve now repotted them.  And they are looking marginally better.  Maybe, just maybe, I might have fresh basil  in my putanesca sauce this year.  But I’m sure I’ll find a way to kill them yet.

Stay tuned to the Black Thumb Chronicles to enjoy more tales of my killing plants so that you can feel better about yourself.