Posted by: Mr. HSH | August 24, 2010

If the smog does this to tomatoes, what about our lungs?

By Mr. Home Sweet How

Tomatoes are a boon to beginning vegetable gardeners, and ours certainly have been the stars of our first effort at backyard farming. They were the first to grow and the first to fruit. They’ve stood tall, literally and figuratively, over the rest of their brethren in the plot as they struggle through various insect pests, fungal diseases and human blunders (such as the flooding caused when memory lapses and drip irrigation meet).

Yes, that is a chain link fence in the background!

So it was with great concern that I first noticed a pale yellow hue creeping up the bottom fourth of the stem, framed by sickly curling leaves. Was I overwatering? (most likely – see photo above). More bugs? (Always a possibility).  A mysterious and deadly soil-borne pathogen like “bacterial canker” or “necrotic spot virus” that would almost certainly defeat any human attempt at intervention (amazing what you can find online). According to UC, foliage that yellows and turns brown from the bottom up can also be a sign of root-knot nematodes, nearly microscopic worms that seem be all but a death sentence for the plant.

There's that foil flag again!

Were my tomatoes becoming the biological equivalent of a teenage boy’s feet? After some online research (gotta love that internet), the telltale flecks on the lower leaves led me to a theory that was relieving in one sense, and yet very much more sinister in another… smog. 

According to UC Cooperative Extension’s “Tomatoes in the Home Garden,” lower leaves with tiny brown specks, dead leaves and dropping blossoms can result from air pollution. That makes sense because like many communities in the great Central Valley bowl, Sacramento suffers from some of the worst smog in the nation. We routinely make the Forbes and American Lung Association top-ten lists for not only summer ozone, but also the particulate matter or soot emitted from cars, diesel trucks, wood-burning and other pursuits.

They do look good, don't they!

For pride’s sake in my first garden, I suppose I’ll take the brown gunk or whatever on the tomatoes over a dirt fungus — but I shudder to think what’s happening to the branches of my lungs.



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