July 6, 2008
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
Deep down I know that some of my practices in the garden may not actually impact the health of my plants, but are simply garden myths passed down through the ages. I grow marigolds because they are supposed to keep pests away and basil near tomatoes because they are supposed to be good companions. Most gardeners do these things too. We're a superstitious bunch I think.
One of the other "rules" I try to follow is to keep my tomato leaves dry when I water and space the plants far enough apart so that the tomato leaves don't touch each other. Both of these practices are to prevent the spread of diseases and I have seen plenty of sad, spotty tomato leaves after a lot of rain to believe that they're a good idea.
Now I'm not perfect. My garden plot is a little bit more than 100 square feet and It's simply not possible to plant 6 tomato plants and have none of them touch, but I do a pretty good job for the most part. I water at the base of the plant. I cage AND stake and prune (at least a little) to keep the branches moderately under control.
Okay, so the plot right behind mine has some new occupants. They are a lovely couple with a toddler. They are absolute beginner gardeners and magically have strong, healthy looking plants with no signs of bad bugs or diseases. I'm pretty impressed -- beginner's luck for sure! They also planted all of their tomatoes right behind mine in a big row. They put in stakes, but don't seem to be tying the plants to the stakes at all and they haven't pruned anything. As you might imagine, their big, leafy, crazy tomato plants are all over mine. This is not good. For a week or so now I've been feeling pretty helpless. I rarely see the couple and I don't know what I would say to them if I did. Community gardening is supposed to be about community building and getting along. Yeah, ok, but it is ALSO about growing some awesome tomatoes right and fighting against the calamaties that could prevent this? What am I supposed to do?
Two days ago, after pruning and tying up my own tomatoes, I walked around the back of my plot, through the tomato thicket, and sort of pushed (gently I swear) all the branches I could, back over to their side. I was amazed at how well this seemed to work (see the photo.) I just went back today though and all their tomatoes are back over, cuddling up to mine. Grrrrr.
I don't wanna be a jerk or unneighborly and, as I've said, I'm not 100% sure that their tomato plants touching mine is absolutely, definitely a bad thing, but I don't like it -- at all. I also don't like the fact that I don't know how they're watering and my guess is they're just spraying that whole row of tomatoes with a hose from above. Which means that they are spraying MY tomatoes too. So all of my careful watering at the base of the plant so as not to get the leaves wet might be for nothing. Geez, I know I sound uptight here, but c'mon!!
I honestly don't know what I will say if I see them. I like them and I want to be nice : "Heeeey, hiiii, so I wanted to give you some advice about your tomatoes over here." I just don't know how to say it without it coming out snarky. So far everything looks ok though, so perhaps there is nothing to worry about.
Anyway, perhaps I will really try peas next year...as a fence.