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They really are, aren’t they?! The most common summer veggie question I get asked is, ‘What’s wrong with my tomatoes?’ So here are reminders, tips to keep your plants healthy and in strong production!

In areas with wilts in the soil, plant only toms that have resistance or tolerance to the wilts; avoid heirlooms. Jetsetter, an early season tom, is grand. Click here for a list of excellent varieties! 

If you have the wilts or blights in your soil 1) Do not pinch out the suckers (the little branches between a big branch and the main stem) as your plant grows because that makes wounds where the airborne fungi can enter your plant.  2) Right from the beginning, pinch off lower branches that would touch soil, or will when they are weighted with dew, water. When your plants get taller, DO promptly prune off lower branches that water having soil borne fungi could splash onto. This is obviously a trade off – no splash on leaves versus wounds open to wind borne fungi. Lay on only an inch of straw to avoid splash and let the soil breathe and dry between waterings.

Do not let plants touch each other and spread the wilts. Remove branches when they get near enough to touch.

Make a special planting basin for tomatoes and cucumbers. Make the base of the basin above the surrounding soil level. We want drainage and some drying to make your soil unfriendly to the fungi.
Special Soil Berm Basin Level for Tomatoes and Cucumbers
When your plant gets about a foot tall, water plants near your tomato but not at its central stem. It has a good deep root and can get water below the fungi zone. Some people simply dry farm toms, especially when they start producing, saying that makes the flavor more intense.

This all said, keep your nearby soil evenly moist. It avoids blossom-end rot.

Rap the tom cage or trellis, central stem, sharply, middayish, to increase pollination! Honey bees do not pollinate tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant or blueberries, but bumble bees DO! They do buzz pollination, called sonification! When you rap the stems, you are helping pollination the same way the bumble bees do! About 11 AM is the best time of day to do it. The flowers are warm and open. Not only do you get more tomatoes, but they are the right shape! More pollination makes more seeds. Plant plenty of flowering plants for pollinators! If you don’t mind less tomatoes, and want less seeds, let nature take its course – no rapping.

Please see all about buzz pollination in Sue Rosenthal’s post at Bay Nature! And Bumblebees can harvest pollen from flowers 400 times faster than honey bees can!
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Temps are crucial!  Tomatoes are not happy when there are

High daytime temperatures (above 85° F)
High Nighttime Temperatures (above 70° F)
Low Nighttime Temperatures (below 55° F)

True, tomatoes are heat lovers, but per the University of NV, temperatures over 104° F, for only four hours, the flowers abort! Your plant goes into survival mode, stops production. Why wait when it gets HOT and your tomato stops setting fruit?! Get heat tolerant varieties! Check out this nifty page of options at Bonnie Plants! Plant “heat set” varieties like Florasette, Heat Wave, Solar Set, Sunchaser, Sunmaster, Sunpride, Surfire. If you didn’t plant a heat tolerant variety, don’t think is a quitter and pull it. When things cool down, it will start making flowers and setting fruit again. Whew!

High nighttime temps are even worse than high daytime temperatures because your plant never gets to rest.

Conversely, in the spring, wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55° F or protect them with a cover at night. Choose early maturing varieties like Early Girl, Legend, Matina, Oregon Spring, Polar Baby, Silvery Fir Tree, Jetsetter.

‘Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes. What would life be like without home grown tomatoes? Only two things that money can’t buy. That’s true love and home grown tomatoes.’  – John Denver

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, then became this blog too! 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!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

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APRIL is for Heat Lovers! Pull back your mulches, let soil heat up, PLANT!

Why not start with an AAS (All America Selections) 2011 Winner?!
Pepper ‘Orange Blaze’ F1  Early ripening orange variety, very sweet flavor, multiple disease resistances!

AAS 2011 Winner - Orange Blaze F1 Pepper

Get out last year’s garden notes if you made any, and review for varieties you liked, where you got ‘em, how much to plant!

CORN!
Plant in blocks, not rows, for pollination.  When tassels bloom, break off pieces and whap them on the silks!  Each silk is one kernel, each needs one grain of pollen!
Corn hybridizes – plant only one variety, or varieties that don’t have pollen at the same time.  This is pretty much not doable at a community garden since everyone is planting all kinds at any time, so if you harvest seeds, don’t expect true results!

Heat tolerant, tipburn resistant lettuces – Nevada, Sierra, Black Seeded Simpson, Jericho Romaine
     Slo bolt cilantro, arugula in semi shade (among your corn?!)
Eggplant love humidity and heat.  Tuck ‘em in between, right up against, other plants.  Near the cooler coast plant the longer length varieties that mature earlier.
Jicama, limas, melons, okra, peppers, seed potatoes, pumpkins
From Seed:  basil (Nufar is wilt resistant), chard, green beans (while peas finishing), beets, carrots, corn, endive, New Zealand spinach, parsley, radish, squash – summer & WINTER, sunflowers, turnips.  Coastal gardeners, get your winter squash in NOW so it will have ample time to mature.
The radish variety French Breakfast holds up and grows better than most early types in summer heat if water is supplied regularly.

PreSoak and/or PreSprout for 100% success!  Click here for details!  Per eHow:  How to Soak Watermelon Seeds in Milk Before Growing.  Sometimes the seed coat carries a virus, and the proteins in milk will also help deactivate the virus.  Read more 

Transplants:  cucumbers (hand pollinate?), tomatoes, watermelon
WAIT FOR MAY to plant cantaloupe
Herbs from transplants – oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme 

Plant successively!  If you put in transplants now, also put in seeds for an automatic 6 week succession!  Plant different varieties (except of corn if you want true seed – see above)! 

If you overplant, thin for greens, or transplant when they are about 2 to 3 inches high.  Lettuce, carrots, onions.  Too many stunt each other.  OR, this from Santa Barbara Westsiders Lili & Gabor:  Overplant mesclun on purpose, then mow the little guys!  If you are at home, plant densely in a planter bowl, cut off, leaving 1 ½” of stem still in your soil.  They will regrow, you will have several months’ supply of tasty baby greens.  Plant two or three bowls for more people or more frequent harvest!  Give a bowl as a gift! 

Tomatoes
Plant for excellence
 – Throw a handful of bone meal in your planting hole along with a handful of nonfat powdered milk, worm castings, compost/manures, mix it all up with your soil.  Sprinkle the roots of your transplant with mycorrhizal fungi!  That’ll do it!  Stand back for bounty!
REMOVE LOWER LEAVES OF TOMATOES  Wilt prevention.  Water sparingly or not at all after about a foot tall.  Wilt comes from the ground up the leaves and is airborne. Remove any leaves that touch the ground or could get water splashed.  Don’t remove suckers – airborne fungi can enter open wounds.
Sorry, NO HEIRLOOMS if you know the soil has the wilts.  Heirlooms don’t have resistance.  Get varieties with VF on the tag or that you know have resistance/tolerance.
Mid day, rap tomato cages or the main stem, to help pollination.  55 degrees or lower, higher than 75 at night, or 105 in daytime = bud drop.  Not your fault.  Grow early varieties first that tolerate cooler temps.
Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden Kevin and Mary Smith have had successes with 2 blight resistant/tolerant determinate varieties, New Hampshire Surecrop, a 78 day, great tasting slicer/canner, and Legend, a very early 68 day!  Ask for them, and more Jetsetters, with unbelievable VFFNTA resistance/tolerance, at your nursery.  See Tomatoes and Wilts here at the Green Bean Connection Blog for a list of additional resistant/tolerant varieties and tips!   

Maintenance!  Sidedress when blooms start.  Fish/kelp, foliar feed Epsom salt for Solanaceaes, seabird guano (not bat) for more blooms, manures for lettuces and leaf crops like chard, collards.

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Jetsetter Tomatoes, Early, VFFNTA!!!!

It may seem a bit early to talk about tomatoes, but tisn’t!  Hey, it’s always ok to talk about tomatoes, right?!  There are important things to know about that start well before planting time!  Read on….

Last year I tried the dandelion cure – either I didn’t do it right, not enough dandelions soon enough, or it doesn’t work.  But this year I am going to plant toms where the dandelions grew into big patches, just in case there are any residual benefits!  This year I found this info from Gene Bazan, Ph.D, about toms and favas and I have fava seeds!!!!

Favas First, then Tomatoes!  Or….

Gene says:  Many years ago I introduced a diseased Early Girl tomato plant I purchased at a greenhouse. Unknown to me, it had verticillium wilt. I thought the wilted look was just due to dry conditions, but didn’t think much about it. I composted the debris, and unwittingly used the diseased compost in the following year’s tomato bed. That year I lost 3/4 of our tomatoes to wilt. I then took a diseased plant to the pathology lab at Penn State, and got the diagnosis. I remembered that Jeavons wrote that fava (bell) beans counteract wilt, so the next year I planted fava beans in early April, and put the same tomato varieties in the same bed. Mortality dropped to 1/4th. Since that time, we always precede tomatoes with bell beans. We have reduced wilt even further.

Clearly, here in SoCal, we have missed the usual Sep to Nov fava planting window, so let’s do as Gene did, plant favas and tomatoes at the same time!  I already have one Jetsetter (those are Jetsetters in the image), unbelievable VFFNTA resistance/tolerance, in the ground surrounded with a six pack’s worth of favas.  All doing fine so far.  Next fall decide where you will plant your 2012 toms and put in a patch of favas then and there!  Plant your toms, as usual, starting in March.

Basil and Wilts Since so many of us like to companion plant basil with our tomatoes, and tomatoes are so wilt susceptible, and the wilt fungi are in the soil and windborne to boot, what’s a Pesto Lover to do?!  Get wilt resistant basil variety Nufar! Pesto lovers, Nufar is the first basil that is wilt resistant, developed in Israel in 2006.  It is a Genovese basil, heat and humidity tolerant, and very tasty!  ArcaMax Publishing says:  …some of the specialty basils (such as lemon and purple basil) have shown some resistance to the disease.  If you can’t find Nufar basil locally, do send for seeds ASAP, and ask our local nurseries to stock it!

And please, do NOT compost diseased tomatoes, or any other diseased plant.  Better to trash it, not even put it in green waste that the City will make into compost.  That’s how you spread soil born fungi, let alone that they are also windborne.  If your neighbor has a diseased plant, don’t be shy to respectfully and gently ask them to remove it.  Remember, they raised that child, besides having paid for it.  How hard was it for you to give up your plant?  Especially the first time.  See?  They may not even know about wilts.  Educate them if possible.  Tell them how you learned about it.  Offer to forward this info to them.

TOLERANT.  Some varieties like Surecrop, mentioned below, are wilt tolerant.  They keep producing well though diseased.  What to do?  At Pilgrim Terrace, the soil has the wilts and wilt is virtually unavoidable.  Slowing it down is probably the best we are going to do.  So, find out what variety your neighbor has planted before you make your request for them to pull a producing plant.  If the plant is simply dead, then it is a nonproducing disease factory, better for everyone that it is removed ASAP.  Use your discretion and kindness. 

If you have success with a particular variety, do let your nursery know so they will stock it again!  A couple gardeners at the Terrace have had good luck with 2 blight resistant/tolerant determinate varieties, New Hampshire Surecrop, a 78 day, great tasting slicer/canner, and Legend, a very early 68 day!  The best to you with yours!

See Tomatoes & Wilt, Part 1 for a list of Wilt Resistant Varieties, How to Save Your Plant Tips

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