By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
Gardeners can learn a lot from the gardeners who have passed.
For me I learned a lot from my Great-Grandmother, who was what I like to call a Plant Whisper.
She could take a simple twig and grow a tree or save seeds and grow enough food to feed her family, neighbors and to can.
All of this was created in an urban space full of shrubs, flowers, fruits and vegetables.
But through her skill she did have a few tricks up her sleeve that allowed her to be a very successful gardener.
My favorite trick can be described with one word and that is marigold. While this word can be used, in some situations, to describe a color, the term marigold in this situation is one that means “a nematode preventer.”
This Old World technology can be found on Amish farms. The bright colored flowers can be seen outlining the famous vegetable gardens. While it does offer a decorative touch to the garden space, the simple marigold deters many different types of garden pests.
One of the major pests that can attack a tomato plant unseen is the nematode. This pest lives in the soil and congregates around areas were plants from the nightshade had been growing. Do not be fooled to think that plants in the nightshade family are the only type of plant that suffers from nematode damage several others do exist.
While my Great-Grandmother did not know how this simple plant protected her tomato plants, the concept is straightforward.
If anyone has picked a marigold, the answer as to how they work is no farther then their nose. Marigolds produce an aroma that is unpleasant to many pests, including nematodes.
Another factor is the color of the marigolds. Yellow is a color that many insects are attracted to and as a matter of fact if given the choice of food or their favorite color, many pests choose the color. In the situation of the tomato plant, the color attracts the pests away from the tomato plant and in doing so this is why many Amish gardens are outlined with marigolds.
One more reason my Great-Grandmother planted marigolds in her tomato garden was the fact that she could not crop rotate. The limited space of her urban oasis complicated with the vast number of trees she had in her backyard, prevented her from planting her tomato plants in any other area then the upper right hand corner of the vegetable garden. While today container gardens, edible landscape, vertical garden and such give gardeners more freedom, my Great-Grandmother had no choice but to garden where she did.
Today, we have tomatoes that are nematode resistant and while that is great I still love the old ways. So this year when you purchase your tomato seeds or plants, do not forget your marigold seeds. While you may feel that 21st century urban farming does not need such antiquated techniques, keep in mind that what is old is new again and that many of our modern day pesticides started with the marigold and the chrysanthemum.
So until we blog again, tomatoes and marigolds make odd bedfellows that work together in creating beauty and fruit to the garden space.