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Malformed fruit is still edible

Unsightly, odd-shaped bumps on tomatoes often the result of cool weather during early growth

Dear Helen: This year I am growing Stiletz along with six other tomato varieties. The Stiletz plants are producing well, but they are forming some extremely odd-shaped tomatoes, with bizarre protuberances. None of the other varieties are doing this.


Dear P.E.: Stiletz must be more sensitive than the other varieties to less than ideal temperatures during pollination and the early stages of fruit formation. Cool weather during these processes is the usual cause of such malformations. The unattractive condition is called catfacing. Most of an affected tomato is still edible.

The first fruits of the season are the ones most commonly affected. Exposure to herbicide drift can cause similar symptoms.

Dear Helen: Each year my seed-grown Copra onions send up increasing numbers of flower stems. This year about 75 per cent of the plants have done so. I cut off the flower heads as soon as they appear, but the plants that have done this yield smaller bulbs than usual. I was told that cool springs can cause this problem. A sweet onion I'm growing along with Copra has produced a smaller percentage of flower stems.


Dear P.E.: Any stress can cause onions to initiate flower stems. Stresses can include drought, low soil fertility, a nutrient imbalance in the soil, crowding or uncongenial weather conditions.

This year I've heard from several gardeners whose onions went to seed. The cause is most likely stress from the odd weather that gave us a long, cool, wet spring, and a rather unpleasant "Junuary." Even July, normally our hottest month, delivered some cool, wet weather.

You might consider branching out further into different varieties, to determine which ones prove the most weather-tolerant in your growing conditions. I do well with Kelsae and Ailsa Craig, both sweet onions that store fairly well.

Dear Helen: My Brown Turkey fig is in its third year in the garden. The tree appears healthy and has grown quite large, but it did not produce a single fig this year. Is it because of the late summer, or should I give up and remove it? Last year, I had one fig. If you think I should keep the tree, please tell me how it should be pruned.


Dear F.M.: It is entirely normal for fig trees to take several years to establish in a garden before becoming fruitful. Once fruiting begins, the tree's production of figs will increase as the tree ages, but pruning can help to hasten the process. Pruning is also needed to keep this fast-growing tree within manageable bounds.

Though I sometimes do a little August pruning as I pick fruit, it is best to wait now until late March or early April, just before growth begins, to do a main pruning. At this time take out dead, weak, spindly growth and thin, if necessary, to relieve crowding. Remove these stems and branches at their bases, leaving no stubs. To keep my fig from reaching inaccessible heights, I remove growth that is heading straight up. Finally, shorten other growth that has become overlong, to help maintain a pleasing symmetry in the plant.

In early summer, shortening newly produced growth will help in the formation of small fruit buds in the axils of the remaining leaves. As they develop, these buds appear as tiny green nubs nestled where leaf stems meet a branch. They develop into figs for harvesting in August.


Dahlia meeting. The Victoria Dahlia Society will meet on Thursday at 7: 30 p.m. in St. Michael and All Angels Church, 4733 West Saanich Rd. The meeting will feature a parlour show. This is a great opportunity to learn how dahlia flowers are staged and judged in a friendly competition with other club members. All are welcome.

Esquimalt meeting. Esquimalt Garden Club will meet on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the lower hall of the Esquimalt United Church on the corner of Admirals Road and Lyall Street. Derek Ditchburn will talk about beneficial insects. The club meets on the first Thursday of the month. New members welcome. More information: 250-385-6049.

Fall plant sale. The Gardens at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is holding its Fall Blow-out Plant Sale on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For a list of plants to be sold, go to

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