Thursday, October 3, 2013

What the Thrip?

It's humourous how we city folks farm. I blame our parents and our parent's parents for throwing our agricultural roots to the wind, making us relearn this knowledge from the depths of our DNA. Thankfully we are not alone in our quest back to old school agricultural techniques and there is a plethora of knowledge to be had at our fingertips.

Last year, our (almost) billions of tomato crops barely yielded any tomatoes, and we couldn't really figure out why. This year we got this amazing tomato boom! We had heirloom black tomatoes and heirloom roma tomatoes, small cherry tomatoes and big cherry tomatoes. We got beefsteaks and betterboys and earlygirls and these weird little tomatoes with an awesome lacy yellowish green pattern...

At first we thought that the cool lacy yellow pattern was a type of fancy heirloom we had planted. After a few weeks we realized that it might actually be a tomato disease because these particular plants began looking sick and dying off more quickly than the other tomato plants in our garden. I had a difficult time finding pictures online that looked exactly like what we were dealing with, but ultimately we determined that it was tomato spotted wilt virus or tswv.

Apparently it's a disease that is spread by small insects called thrips. They are super tiny and hard to see, but even more difficult to control. The problem with these guys is that while they don't travel very far, they are super easy to spread because they infect many different species of plants, including some house plants. This means that usually we, as home gardners and mini-farmers, often spread these pests around by things like composting, recycling potting soil and leaving leaf litter around. This type of infection can even be detrimental to cucumber crops, peppers, lettuces - the list goes on. I found a couple of really great websites if you want to read more about TSWV here and here. The second one even has a helpful brochure that you can print out and keep on hand.

On the brighter side, tomatoes infected with TSWV are still edible! You probably shouldn't sell them, but they aren't toxic and they still taste great. If you get the virus early in the season it can kill the plant and really affect your yield, but if acquired later in the season it doesn't do much to your tomatoes except give them some really funky color patterns. According to my estimate we yielded over 100 lbs of tomatoes this season. It's been amazing and we've been indulging in all kinds of tomato dishes. One of my favorites is this delicious tomato paneer dish found here (note that zeera in the recipe can be subbed for cumin seeds.) Just remember that if you do have something like TSWV and are eating the tomatoes, don't throw the scraps in the compost bin!

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