You keep your nonsense. I’ll keep my $20.


Guest Rant by Aja RennieGuestOrganicTomato

When my husband and I bought our first house in 2006,
one of my major non-negotiable requirements was a place with a little space
to garden. Neither of us are native to North Carolina, nor did we have any
clue what making a real garden here was really going to entail (and
how much it would mean to us to make that real garden.) So I took my
naive self to the gardening community at livejournal for a little help,
hope and guidance. Now that I'm into my toddling years as a gardener I
try to offer a little hope and help to new members of that community
where I can, because there's a lot of information out there and not all of
it is helpful, or even true, which is how I arrived at this rant.

me be the first to admit that I subscribe to some superstitious nonsense. My
grandmother passed to me a number of strange beliefs, and as a grown woman I
still won't speak of a dream before breakfast lest it come true. I don't move
brooms from an old house to a new house. However, I know all of this is
nonsense and I never try to tell anyone otherwise.

Which is why stuff
like this – Joyful – drives
me absolutely insane. It's just bad science. I realize that not
everyone is interested in the scientific method, and I know searching
for peer-reviewed studies is time-consuming and not a skill
everyone learns in school (although it should be), but if you're trying to
get $20 off me, then GET THEE TO THE LIBRARY.

I would be entirely
willing to believe that pinching all the leaves off my tomato plants would
increase yields as long as you can show me that it works with solid
methodology. If you're not qualified to perform the experiment, link me to
some good studies. I am a pretty open-minded kind of gal, but I do have a
standard of evidence and this just does not meet the standard. Especially not
if you want me to give you cash money.

The three-leaf tomato method is
just one example of dozens I could choose, many of them probably more
offensive to the case for good science. If the word science didn't appear on
the site at all, the fact that this is passed from grandfather to grandson
would just be a bit charming, and totally acceptable since pretty much any
gardener has a few little traditions they've inherited from the gardeners
who came before, quite a few of them grandparents. However, bad
science sucks, and everyone should learn the difference between anecdote
and evidence.

About the Author:  I live in Charlotte, NC,
and I'm a relative newbie as I've only been gardening for about 3 years now.
It's a pretty nice place to garden as we benefit from long growing season,
but still get all 4 seasons. I'm especially interested in planting for shade
and woodland areas.

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Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.


  1. Aja, you’ve just described what’s wrong with most gardening advice–it’s witchcraft, superstition, and anglophilia masquerading as science.

  2. Well, here at the Rant we love our scientist friends!
    And ain’t it great that we don’t really have to get ourselves to libraries anymore, thanks to the Internets?

  3. Mr. Kacper Postawski needs to take his grandfather’s advice on the number of words in that sales pitch. That verbal diarrhea is bound to significantly reduce his harvest of suckers who will pay for this nonsense.

  4. Typical set up and layout of a scam site. All sales pitch and click here click here and click here NOW!

    I won’t go to the order form but it wouldn’t surprise me if somewhere (out of sight) in very fine print is a statement that you agree to a monthly charge. (they’ll bill you month after month unless you cancel – and usually the contact info leads to a dead end)

    This is the format of many easy money – earn at home scam sites.

  5. If you find yourself changing font colors, sizes, fonts, and formats multiple times within the same paragraph, and have more than ten words in ALL CAPS, you should stop and ask yourself, “Am I a crackpot?”

    I don’t know why, but it’s almost diagnostic of someone who’s lost their mind that they want to spend more time on formatting than they do on writing. The all-time greatest example, never to be surpassed, is of course the Time Cube guy (warning: both offensive and incoherent. May not be safe for work.), but there are many, many others.

  6. Susan bite your tongue! “And ain’t it great that we don’t really have to get ourselves to libraries anymore, thanks to the Internets?” No, no, and again no. I love The Internets as much as the next person but please don’t disparage my library. I visit mine almost daily and the pure joy of walking out the door with an armful of borrowed books is one of life’s joys. (Sorry for the tangent but saving libraries from the ax may be my future.)

  7. Pam J is right. Libraries provide an amazing array of services. As I was researching my book I read all of their garden books and then used their inter-library load service to borrow ones that they didn’t have in their collection. In one particular instance a Floridian who has self-published several gardening books looked like the world’s best garden writer if you look at her reviews on Amazon and other online resources, but the reality was much different. The books ended up being brochures for her nursery business. They were poorly written with many typos and misspellings, but worst of all, most of the advice was counter to any scientific principles. I showed one to my editor at University Press and he said that it was the worst book he’d ever seen. Thanks goodness I didn’t spend any money to purchase them. The lesson I took away from this particular situation, is that if you’re a good marketer, you can sell almost anything.

    On the other hand, Linda Chalker-Scotts’s website and other wonderful online resources also made my research easier.

  8. Another vote *for* the library from the guest ranter (who may be biased, as she’s married to a librarian.)

    Also, there are quite a few science journal resources that are mostly accessible in places like libraries because they’re subscription only.

  9. I fourth or fifth the whole the “library is awesome’ thread. The internets is great (do I really need to go on?), but after finding Elsa Bakalar’s out of print book, “A Garden of One’s Own,” from my library, suggesting that the net alone is sufficient for the well-read gardener, or that going to the library is obsolete, is maybe a little short-sighted. The internet doesn’t make us experts, just gives us brief doses of info that with further research, and cross-referencing, and trips to the library, might make us better gardeners (though nothing’s better than actually getting into the garden).

    But certainly spending $20 on learning how to grow tomatoes does seem a bit crazy.

  10. Um…..those who re-read it may see that Susan’s comment about internets vs. libraries was tongue-in-cheek. FWIW.

    And Aja’s good rant touches on a real problem with the interweb—the ease of sharing good information is only matched–or outmatched–by the ease of spreading bad information for fun or profit.

    I remember when friends encouraged me to explore the ‘net in the late 80’s/early 90’s for gardening info and how they trumpeted how it would empower regular folks to overthrow the corporations and bad politicians, etc., etc. Somehow it didn’t dawn on my friends that the bad guys, or even the misinformed good guys could use the same channels. The more things change….

    Anyway Aja, congrats on your gardening explorations. I’m in Durham and I teach gardeners in my classes that this part of the South actually has five seasons: fall, winter, spring, early summer and late summer.

    And if you find the summers curtail your veg gardening, then just wait till after Labor Day, when the weather gets better and gardening problems–weeds, bugs, diseases, bolting, etc.–become less severe. Plant the heck outta those greens, root crops and brassicas. We’ve harvested broccoli on New Year’s Day and kept greens and root crops going happily all winter and into spring with minimal maintenance. Also, for you relocated Yankees, collards taste sweeter after that first light frost that comes around Halloween in this part of zone 7.

    And then come Valentine’s Day, refresh any plantings and add some potatoes and peas to the mix. Then sit in the sun with a hot toddy and your sweetheart and relax.


  11. Tai Haku,

    British gardening books are lovely, and very influential, but have little bearing in a country with a very different climate. The maritime northwest is the only place with a similar climate, and even we have important differences, like summer drought.

  12. Frank, I feel like there’s about 6 months of fall/spring here and 6 months of summer. I miss regular winters, but I’m seriously pleased with the extended fall crop options. This year I’ve got beets, carrots, potatoes and broccoli planted so far, with kale, garlic, leeks and miscellaneous greens to follow. It’s perfect for homemade soups in winter, really.

  13. Science has got it wrong. Why wash away every organizzum on a balled and burlapped plant?
    Fun garden fiction at my local library I’m reading is Pushing Up Daisies.

  14. Coming from uber-tropical Maui (zone 11) to the mountains of WNC, I’d say there is 5 months of winter, 3.5 months each of spring and fall and one week of summer give or take a day.

  15. Check out Elizabeth Lawrence’s writings in that local library of yours for a taste of down-home sense and experience done up with elegant writing and classical references. Early books and articles from Raleigh and later from Charlotte may lead you on a search for tiny bulbs to keep your lawn in bloom from early January through May.

  16. Did I miss the premise that the problem with you did not see a reason for pinching off suckers on tomatoes? If you live outside of the New England states, or Canada don’t pinch off anything. If you do live up north, you might need that extra sunlight to get extra tomatoes.

    In Oklahoma the candlelight power of our sun here compared to a nice garden in Maine is considerably different – Up north you don’t get that full affect of sun blasting away the pigment right out of tomato skins but down here in the middle of the USA – every leaf is salvation from a sun that scorches tomato and pepper skins, can curl sun loving basil and just about fry your brain in the process.

    Just a suggestion regarding books – where is the author located when you read their gardening methods – it may simply be a matter of location, location, location instead of just plain insanity. Plants that thrive in Oklahoma such as Okra can’t even get warmed up in the far northern states. Plants that thrive for long periods in relative coolness just flip us the bird and disappear in mid-June.

  17. That little site (and so many others like it) are really terrible, if a bit amusing.

    However I happen to know even in the northern climates (I’m in Alberta Canada) you can in fact grow a number of cherry tomatoes from a plant with only 3 leaves.

    Here is how I know this. This spring, due to are very strange and abnormal weather patterns, my little container with a cherry tomato in it got hit by late blight in June. Being very new to the old gardening thing, and being as suborn as a mule, I treated the poor thing with fungicides and vigorous pruning. The treatments slowed it down, but since it wouldn’t stop raining, the blight took its toll. And when it finally dried up and stopped progressing, I had about 3 leaves left on the poor sad little plant.

    Well it was healthy again (if you can call it healthy) and it started producing flowers like you wouldn’t believe. I figure it was trying desperately to fulfil its life goals of propagation. It turns out to have produced extremely well… for its size. The real trick is with no leaves, it stopped growing completely. And in June up here, tomato plants are not much more then a foot and half tall. which isn’t much of a tomato plant (considering the unblighted brother of this plant is well above my head now and completely covered in tomatoes.)

    So now you all know it works up here, saved you the 20 bucks. But I don’t recommend you try it, well not until the plant is big enough to make a decent contribution. With out those leaves, in our weak sun, the plant doesn’t have enough energy to do much of anything.

  18. A quick google search reveals the perpetrator of this three-leaf garbage as a prolific e-huckster/ snake oil salesman. Old Kacper (age 20) is an expert in body building, sleep disorders…and he’s even making $$$ by touting himself as an entrepreneurial guru who will, for a fee, tell you how you too can make turn BS into Big Sales…

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