Ever notice how after working with tomato plants your hands are stained brown for days? I looked like a veteran cigar roller after my stint in the Windsor Crossing hoop house tying up and pruning tomato plants for 3 hours on Tuesday afternoon. (Well, maybe an avid smoker with a habit of tromping through swamps: I think I may now have a seasoned pair of garden/farm-only work pants and shoes.) My hands were still stained this morning, as if I'd meticulously tattooed every crack and crevice with henna. Don't even get me started on the ground-in dirt under my nails....
Today, I found myself plucking yellowed and browning leaves on some of the tomato plants I am watching over at the North Columbia Heights Green over the summer months. Brown hands again. (I swear I wash them. Repeatedly.) Luckily, I hang out with lots of farmers, who are familiar with such cosmetic discoloration, and are thus unperturbed. But I think it alarms my friends with desk jobs.
I recall cousin Caroline saying something about stained hands and tomatoes awhile back. I believe it was when we were pruning a row of heirloom nightshades last autumn. My hands were brown for nearly a week that time! Had I only known before tonight that this "tomato tar" damage is preventable: just rub your hands with something acidic before you start pruning -- vinegar, say, or a green tomato -- and you should be able to avoid sepia toned extremities. Beware: there does not appear to be a way to remove the stains from hands or clothes once they're there.
Another bit of trivia for you: tomatoes are related to tobacco plants.
Yep. I first learned this in my master gardening class this past winter -- both are susceptible to the insidious tomato mosaic virus, which is often spread by folks handling tomato plants after a smoke break. (One would think that the very idea of virus-laden cigarettes would induce people to quit, but apparently folks don't often know they're infecting other plants and the virus does not appear to affect humans. Still: gross!)
So, friends who don't want diseased tomato plants, I'd suggest not feeding your nicotine habit while pruning the nightshades in your vegetable patch. And for those who want to avoid being known as Ibti Brownhands, maybe rub a little bit of vinegar between your fingers before you head out to stake your tomatoes. (I wonder if simply reaching into the pickle jar for a pre-gardening snack will do the trick....)
*Five points to those to correctly identified the line from Macbeth! (Once an English teacher, always an English teacher.)