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Grow absolutely Superlative Tomatoes!Two Tomatoes

Wilts, Fava, Coffee Grounds! Favas for Nitrogen, add a tad of coffee grounds, wilts prevention practices! Here are some super tips on how to grow superlative tomatoes!  Prevent diseases, give them gourmet soil!

  • Plant tomatoes where you had dense fava patches. This year I was smarter, learned to chop the favas down for green manure while easy to chop when they started flowering. You can see all the Nitrogen nodules on their roots! Last year tomato plants I grew where the favas were, were robust and resisted the wilts longer. As the one reference online suggested, I cannot say they prevented the wilts, but they did feed the soil beautifully. I’m now letting some of the favas seed out for next year’s plantings.
  • At planting time, I added a good dose of animal manures and compost, and my usuals – a huge handful of bone meal, a handful of non-fat powdered milk, worm castings, a tad of coffee grounds to the planting holes. This robust combo works well. As they decompose, coffee grounds appear to suppress some common fungal rots and wilts, including FUSARIUM! Go VERY LIGHTLY on the coffee grounds. Too much can kill your plants. In studies, what worked well was coffee grounds part of a compost mix, was in one case comprising as little as 0.5 percent of the material. That’s only 1/2 a percent!
  • Plant on raised mounds, with a well on top, for drainage. Make the bottom of the well above the level of the surrounding soil so it drains and dries well. Fungi need moisture; don’t give it to them. Plant only plants that need less water nearby.  That means your basil, an excellent tomato companion, that likes lots of water, goes nearby, but not beside your toms.
    Special Soil Berm Basin Level for Tomatoes and Cucumbers
  • Top the area with a one inch layer of compost, then cover with a thin layer of straw mulch to prevent the splash factor. When water splashes up from infected soil onto the lower leaves, the plant is infected. Straw has air flow through its tube structure, allowing the soil to be drier even though straw is a mulch. Deep mulch keeps the soil cool and damp. No. Use only the thin 1″ layer of straw that allows more air flow, the soil to heat a bit. Replenish the straw monthly. Tomatoes like it hot!
  • Plant resistant and tolerant varieties.
  • Plant far enough apart so when they are mature their leaves don’t touch. It’s hard not to be greedy and jam them all together thinking you will get more per your space. But often that doesn’t pay if there are infestations or disease that spreads through the entire patch. Not only is it sad, but, ugly. And, it can reduce production since they shade each other out. When you struggle to harvest through dense foliage, breaking the foliage, those damaged areas are also then susceptible to disease and pests.
  • Plant alternately, tomato, a pepper or two, tomato, a couple eggplants, tomato…. You see? That keeps diseases and pests from going from one plant they like right onto the next. Instead of monocultures, work the biodiversity principle. Take that further, and do separate plantings, two or three plants here, a couple over there, and a third group or plant in yet another place. That can save them from gophers too if you haven’t installed barriers.
  • Trim the lowest splash-susceptible leaves away religiously, even if they have tomatoes forming on them. It’s a small sacrifice in behalf of the health of your plant, in favor of continued vigorous production. Remove infected leaves promptly.  Don’t expect to stop the wilt, just slow it down, a LOT.
  • Instead of long living indeterminate varieties, plant determinate faster producing varieties successively. Plant new plants in other areas when the previous plants start producing. Remove infected plants when production slows down. Sick plants will sometimes suffer along with low production, but replacing these plants is more effective and less disease is spread. The wilts are airborne as well as soil borne.  Consider the prevailing wind direction in your area. Plant downwind first; work your way upwind with your clean healthy new plants.
  • You can plant later. Rather than put young vulnerable plants in cool fungi laden soil, depending on the weather, you can wait until late May, even June, when the warmer soil is drier. In the past I have had volunteers come up in July and gotten healthy plants with good crops late August into September!

If you don’t have wilts in your soil, hallelujah! And pray you don’t bring any home on transplants from the nursery or it blows in from a neighbor. Keeping a clean crop is one good reason to do seed saving, buy organic seeds from a reliable seed house, and grow your own! If you are not a tomato eater, ok. If you are, enjoy every ‘licious bite!

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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Reporting on the Great Fava Versus Wilt Experiment!

Some of you have been following my fava experiment, that, per John Jeavons, favas counteract the tomato Fusarium and Verticillium Wilts fungi, hoping it would work. Issues for me were lower leaves, humidity, low spots, nearby plant water needs. I religiously watered only nearby plants. But that was still a problem because the neighboring plants needed a LOT of water, and the toms were in low spots. The fava ring, planted around each tomato, grew really well and was so bushy I forgot to reach in and trim the lowest ground-touching leaves off my tomatoes. The favas created a humid environment, blocked air flow. They got the wilt first, kind of like a trap plant. But then it spread to the tomatoes because I had planted them closely, not knowing how far apart I should plant them. Perhaps I should have removed the favas at first signs of the wilt?

I didn’t give up on favas.

  • As per the long-term plan, I decided where I would plant some of this summer’s toms, and put in dense fava patches in those places. They are now ready to be used as green manure.  Tip!  Cut them down just as they begin to flower.  When they flower, the energy of the plant no longer goes into making leaves, but production.  And the stalks get tougher the longer they grow – harder to chop up.
  • At planting time, I will add a good dose of animal manures and compost, and my usuals – a huge handful of bone meal, a handful of non-fat powdered milk, and worm castings, and a new item, a tad of coffee grounds (see below), as well, to the planting holes.
  • I’ll plant in wells/basins on slightly raised mounds for drainage, and plant only plants that need less water nearby, ie no basil.
  • I’ll top the area with a one inch layer of compost, then cover with a thin layer of straw mulch to prevent the splash factor. When water splashes up from infected soil onto the lower leaves, the plant is infected. I will replenish the straw monthly. Straw has air flow through its tube structure, allowing the soil to be drier even though straw is a mulch.
  • I’ll plant my resistant and tolerant varieties far enough apart so their leaves don’t touch, and trim the lowest splash susceptible leaves away, remove infected leaves promptly. I don’t expect to stop the wilt, just slow it down, a LOT.
  • Instead of long living indeterminate varieties, I’m going to plant determinate faster producing varieties successively, removing infected plants when they finish producing.
  • I’m going to plant later. Rather than put young vulnerable plants in cool fungi laden soil, depending on the weather, I’m going to wait until late May, even June, when the warmer soil is drier. In the past I have had volunteers come up in July and gotten good crops from them late August, September!

Coffee Grounds: Myths, Miracles or Marketing?!

Here’s some study results adapted from the Washington State U report! Disease suppression As they decompose, coffee grounds appear to suppress some common fungal rots and wilts, including FUSARIUM! In these studies, coffee grounds were part of a compost mix, in one case comprising as little as 0.5 percent of the material. Researchers suggest that the bacterial and fungal species normally found on decomposing coffee grounds prevent pathogenic fungi, like Fusarium, from establishing. Currently, disease suppression from coffee grounds has only been demonstrated under controlled conditions on a handful of veggies, bean, cucumber, spinach, and tomato. Their efficacy in gardens and landscapes is unknown, as is any protective activity on other plant materials such as trees or shrubs.

Not all get a jolt – Weed Suppression
Not all plants get a jolt from coffee grounds. Seed germination can be inhibited by water leached through coffee grounds. Growth of crops such as Chinese mustard (Brassica juncea), komatsuna (Brassica campestris) and Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) were all inhibited by coffee grounds, as was that of ornamentals including inch plant (Tradescantia albiflora), geranium, and asparagus fern. One investigator speculated that toxic substances released from decomposing coffee grounds were responsible for their inhibitory effect. This effect also reduces weeds, and perhaps in a landscape dominated by large shrubs and trees, only germinating seeds and seedlings would be injured. But as there has been no experimental research on coffee grounds and woody plants, this is only speculation, says the author.

Moral of the story is go lightly, only 0.5 % in your compost – that’s a 1/2 of a %!
That’s very little! Just as our soil only needs 5% humus, over composting is not helpful, so is too much coffee grounds. When I first started gardening, I laid some grounds down as mulch. Bad beginners move. The plants there died, and that area grew plants poorly for the following two seasons.
May you and your tomatoes have a happy summer!

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