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Disease Tomato Fusarium Wilt Fungi Resistant

You may have had your own tears, and understandably so. Late Blight of potatoes and tomatoes was the disease responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century. Spores are spread by rain/watering splash, insects, and wind, and through our hands and tools and through these mediums they can travel distances. Spore spread is most rapid during conditions of high moisture, marine layer days, and moderate temperatures, 60°-80°F.  Once established, the fungi can over-winter in your garden soil, on debris and weeds.

Fusarium Wilt is commonly found throughout the United States, is a soil-borne pathogen. Plants susceptible to Fusarium Wilt are cucumber, potato, tomato, eggplant, pepper and beans. Fusarium wilt causes foliage to yellow, brown spots on leaves, leaves to curve the length of the leaf, wilt, then turn brown and die. Your plants become stunted because they can no longer function properly.

The list of plants susceptible to Verticillium Wilt is impressive. You might have thought it was just tomatoes, but look: Peanut, Horseradish, Rutabaga, Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Pepper, Safflower, Hemp, Watermelon, citron Cantaloupe, honey dew, Pumpkin, Cotton, Okra, Mint, Radish, Rhubarb, Castor bean, Eggplant, Potato, Spinach, New Zealand spinach, SaIsify, Yard-long bean, Cowpea! Cucumber, tomatoes and strawberries are particularly susceptible.

Verticillium wilt is most active in humid climates. Cool nights and moist conditions, the kind that favors peas, tend to encourage it. It lives in the soil, entering plants through the roots and is drawn up to stems, leaves and fruit through water uptake. At the same time, it is robbing the plant of moisture. The first symptoms of verticillium are usually seen in wilting, yellowing and curling leaves. Discolored streaks are often seen in strawberry stems and runners, and in berry canes.

To determine if a plant is infected with bacterial wilt, press together two freshly cut sections of a stem and slowly pull them apart. If a “stringy” sap (bacterial growth and associated resins) extends between the cut ends, the plant has bacterial wilt.

Especially Tomatoes! And of those, Heirlooms are particularly susceptible to the wilts. Instead, get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery. The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes. Ace, Early Girl, Champion, Celebrity, are some that are wilt resistant/tolerant. In these drought conditions, consider getting only indeterminates. In the Mother Earth News tomato survey, they found gardeners chose heirlooms over hybrids if their soil is wilt/blight free. Otherwise, the longer the gardener has gardened, they more they chose wilt resistant toms if their soil has the fungi.

Western striped cucumber beetles are deadly to cucumbers. They are referred to as ‘plant-wounding insects’ and also transmit bacterial wilt. Feeding on blossoms and leaves, they carry the wilts and also spread it among squash, melons, and pumpkins. Cucumber beetles also vector viruses such as cucumber mosaic but do so much less efficiently than aphids. Spiders are one of the predators that eat the beetles. Let those spiders live! A tachinid fly and a braconid parasitoid wasp parasitize them. Grow plenty of flowers for these beneficial insects!

Radish have become my new religion! Radish repel the beetles! You do have to plant your radish ahead of installing your transplants or have it up before the seedlings start growing from seed. Grow your radish companion along where you will let the vine travel. The part of the vine growing up over an arch won’t be helped, so if you have space and infected soil, you may opt to keep your vines on the ground. Plant enough radish so you can eat some, but let  some grow out so the whole plant is big and protecting your cukes and other vines. Broccoli also repel cucumber beetles. Grow cucumbers under over summering Broccoli. Put in plenty of straw mulch to keep the brocs cool and the cukes off the ground. Whenever you see these beetles don’t fall for how cute they are. Squish.
Transplant rather than direct seed! Tiny seedlings are most susceptible to cucumber beetle feeding damage and to bacterial wilts.

Washington State Extension says:

Apply straw mulch! Straw mulch can help reduce cucumber beetle problems in at least 3 different ways. First, mulch might directly slow beetle movement from one plant to another. Second, the mulch provides refuge for wolf spiders and other predators from hot and dry conditions, helping predator conservation. Third, the straw mulch is food for springtails and other insects that eat decaying plant material; these decomposers are important non-pest prey for spiders, helping to further build spider numbers. It is important that straw mulch does not contain weed seeds and to make certain that it does not contain herbicide residues which can take years to fully break down.

Cucumber Beetles have their preferences! Bitter is their favorite. Not interested in watermelon at all, but watermelon does get the wilts, just from other sources! Anyway, see more details and rankings of varieties of different kinds of veggies. Varieties make a huge difference.

Special Planting and growing tips! 

  • Regarding soil fungi like Fusarium and Verticillium wilts/fungi, how you care for cukes and toms is super important! Cucumbers are even more susceptible than tomatoes to the wilts fungi, die pretty instantly, in about 3 days, if they get infected. So when you plant them, treat them similarly to your tomatoes if you have wilts fungi in your garden.
  • Plant cukes and toms on a raised mound/basin with the bottom of the basin above the regular soil level. This allows good drainage. Top that with a 1/2″ of compost, cover that with only 1″ of straw to let in air and sun to dry the soil. Keep the LEAVES OFF THE GROUND from the get go. Leaves touching the soil is the main way toms get the wilts. Remove lower leaves that might touch soil when weighted with dew or water from watering. Keep a regular watch for new foliage at ground level and remove it. AVOID WATER SPLASH when watering at ground level. The fuzzy damp leaves of toms and eggplant are perfect fungi habitat.
  • When they are about a foot tall, water neighboring plants, but not your toms.  That keeps the soil drier near your plant, so the fungi can’t thrive there. Since toms have a deep taproot, they will get plenty of water from what you give neighboring plants. Water near them but not at them or on them. In fact there are farmers who dry farm tomatoes! Read more!
  • If you are comingling beans with cukes lower along a trellis, plant the beans between the raised cucumber mounds. Beans don’t get the wilts, but love the water, so lower is good. They are a big plant with continuous high production and short roots that need to be kept moist. Mulch ASAP with straw under cukes to keep leaves and fruit off the ground, and out of the insect zone. Put a stake in the middle of the basin so you know where to water when the leaves get dense. Water gently below the leaves at ground level, no splash. Keep those leaves dry. When your plant gets bigger you can remove lower leaves.
  • Since the fungi are airborne as well as soil borne, plant in different places as far apart as possible. Plant so leaves of one plant are not touching another plant. Remove sickened foliage ASAP to reduce fungi population and slow spreading. Prune on hot, dry, unwindy days, mid morning to midday, after dew has dried, so cuts can dry and heal with less chance of airborne fungi getting into them. Try not to touch the cuts after they have been made.  Use clippers for a clean cut. Wash your tools and hands often.Trimming away infected leaves is a sad and tedious process. It’s practically impossible not to spread the fungi as your touch leaves that have it and try to remove them without touching any other stems or leaves. The very cuts you make are open to fungi. Then, naked stems are susceptible to sunscald – see image below. You come back a few days later and more leaves are wilting. The disease is internal, has spread out to the leaves. At some point soon after that, a lot of gardeners pull the suffering plant. It’s done. Not good to leave it and let windborne fungi infect neighboring plants.

    Do not compost infected plants or trimmings. The fungi has amazing survival ability and being soil borne, it is right at home in your compost. Put it in the trash, carefully bagged so as not to spread or leave any trace. Wash your hands. If you can, burn the infected plants.

  • The wilts can’t be stopped. Sooner or later the plant leaves curl lengthwise, get the dark spots, turn brown then blacken and hang sadly. Plants can produce but the fruit doesn’t ripen properly if it does produce. It’s agonizing to watch. Sometimes they somewhat recover later in the season after looking totally dead. You had stopped watering them, summer heat dries the soil and kills enough of the fungi for the plant to be able to try again. But production is so little and fruits don’t ripen properly. It’s better to pull it, reduce the fungi population that can blow to other plants. The safest bet is to remove the entire plant. Get all of the root as best you can. The root is where the wilt’s mycelium first congregate and infected roots left in the ground will start the whole process again. Replant in a different place if possible.

Tomatoes pruned to remove diseased leaves of Fusarium and Verticilllium wilts are susceptible to sunscald.Preventive Foliar Mix that can help! 

Apply to newly installed transplants, and during the season every 2 to 3 weeks, so new growth will be covered. Wet both the undersides and tops of leaves. Per gallon add:

  • One dissolved regular strength aspirin
  • 1/4 Cup nonfat powdered milk
  • Heaping tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon mild liquid dish soap

After the tomatoes set, add some nitrogen. Boost your plant’s immune system with some worm castings at the same time. You don’t want to add too much nitrogen to your tomatoes before they set fruit. Too much nitrogen before fruiting leads to more leaves and less fruit. Add N only once. Stressed plants are the most susceptible to the fungus. Water regularly and deeply. Use well-balanced, slow-release organic fertilizers that aren’t overly heavy with nitrogen. A healthy plant tends to fight off the spores.

Blight can also be transmitted through seed, so NO seed saving from infected plants. Fresh seeds and resistant varieties are in order.

Remove volunteer tomatoes and potatoes. If they are a not a resistant or tolerant variety, when they get sick, they increase the chances of your resistant varieties having to fight harder to live, and your good dear plants may not win the battle.

Air circulation, plant staking and no touching. Air circulation allows the wind to blow through your plants. This allows the timely drying of leaves and it helps break up micro climates. If your plants are packed too tightly together, they themselves become barriers to drying. Staking your plants to poles and using cages helps them grow upright and it creates gaps between the tomato plants. You want wind and sun to reach through and around your plants. Moisture is needed for fungi to spread. Dry is good. Tomatoes should be planted with enough distance that only minor pruning is needed to keep them from touching each other.

Spray proactively. Wettable sulfur works. It is acceptable as an organic pesticide/fungicide, is a broad spectrum poison, follow the precautions. It creates an environment on the leaves the spores don’t like. The key to spraying with wettable sulfur is to do it weekly BEFORE signs of the disease shows. Other products also help stop the spread. Whatever you select, the key is to spray early and regularly.

At the end of the season remove all infected debris, don’t compost. Don’t leave dead tomato, eggplant or peppers in the garden to spend the winter. Pull weeds because spores can over-winter on weed hosts. Many weeds, including dandelions and lambsquarters, are known to host verticillium wilt. During our winter season, turn your soil about 10 inches deep. Let the soil dry and the fungi die. Burying the spores helps remove them, it disturbs cucumber beetle eggs and exposes snail eggs to die!

If you have space, crop rotation is an important tool in fighting wilt. If you’ve had trouble with wilt, don’t plant potatoes, eggplant, or other solanaceous vegetables where any of them have grown for at least four years.

Practice prevention, be vigilant. If you don’t have wilts in your soil you are so blessed! 

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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’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer 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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Dry farming has been a garden practice done for centuries in arid places.  With global warming, many will be using these ancient techniques to great advantage!  In Vietnam today, beans and peanuts, that restore the soil, and sesame, are grown season to season between wet rice plantings!  Watch this Vietnamese video, No Water Required! Dry Farming In Âu Lạc Vietnam

Dry Farming Video Vietnam - Beans, Peanuts, Sesame Restore Soil!

I’m sharing this paragraph of a past post on DRY GARDENING from the Oregon Biodynamics Group.  We hear about tomatoes being dry gardened, but have you ever done it?  Here are some practical tips from people who have:

When the homesteaders planted their gardens, they needed to feed their family for much of the year. They couldn’t afford to do raised beds or to develop irrigation systems. How did they do that? Part of the answer is to give plants lots of elbowroom. Space rows widely at about 8 times what we do with intensive beds. They also hoed or cultivated to keep a “dust mulch” between the plants. This technique is quite effective at preserving water so the plants can make it through the summer with only an occasional irrigation. Most of this class is directed at intensive gardening because we have limited areas for garden plots. But if you have the room, one can produce high-quality produce without irrigation. Vegetables must be able to send down deep roots so that they can draw in the water that is stored in the soil. Plants that work are root crops, brassicas, corn, squash, and beans. Ones that don’t work are onions, celery, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, radishes, and spinach. The plants need to get well established in June [Oregon] using the natural soil moisture. Then they can carry themselves through the dry months. It helps to give 5 gallons of compost tea every 2-3 weeks during July-August. Liquid fertilizer helps with the stress of low water.

When getting started for the season, farmer David Little of Little Organic Farm explains another way of dust mulching. To help people understand how dry farming works, Little uses the example of a wet sponge covered with cellophane. Following winter and spring rains, soil is cultivated to break it up and create a moist “sponge,” then the top layer is compacted using a roller to form a dry crust (the “cellophane”). This three to four inch layer is sometimes referred to as a dust mulch, seals in water and prevents evaporation.

Clearly, our SoCal weather is different than what the Oregon homesteaders had, especially in these times of climate change. I’m translating Oregon June to SoCal May. If you are a coastal gardener, or a foothill gardener, use your judgment how you will do your gardening practice. Plant your dry crops separately from your water-needing crops.  Plant your water lovers more closely together and mulch them well. Get plants going with a little water, then cut it off after a few weeks. As usual, seeds and seedlings Tomato California Dryfarmed Early Girlmust be kept moist at startup.

Soil choice is important. Dry farming in sandy soil, through which water drains easily, doesn’t work.

Dry gardening isn’t for everyone, ie, harvest is generally a tad less, or even only a third as much, or very dramatically, only 4 tons of tomatoes compared to 40 tons from watered plants. But they say the taste is superb! In fact, At Happy Boy Farms, near Santa Cruz, sales director Jen Lynne says “Once you taste a dry-farmed tomato, you’ll never want anything else!”  And people shop specifically for dry farmed tomatoes in areas where they are grown!

Useful pointers if you want to try your hand at it:

  • If it is an option, store water for summer use. Set up a grey water system.
  • Prepare your soil with well aged water-holding compost, manure, worm castings.
  • Plant out of a drying windy zone. If that’s all you have, plant subshrub barriers or build porous windbreaks.
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  • Select plants or plant varieties suited to summer, tolerate heat and being dryer.
  • Choose plants that mature more quickly so they will have the early season water.  Plant those that need less water in the latter part of the season.
  • Grow only what you need.
  • If you don’t need volume, but rather a steady supply, plant high producing dwarfs and minis, like many container varieties, that need less water for smaller leaves.
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  • Plant further apart, at least 1½ times or greater the spacing distance recommended on seed packets, 8 times further if you have been doing intensive planting practices. But, do give seeds and seedlings all the water they need until they are established
  • Make furrows and plant IN the bottoms of furrows, not on the peaks that drain/dry out.
  • Thin out seedlings on time.  No wasting water on plants you won’t use and that will slow others that need all the nutrients and water they can get.  Use scissors; don’t pull up soil causing the other plant’s roots soil to be disturbed, even expose the roots, to dry out, killing that plant too.
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  • If you don’t go the entire dry gardening route, but want to use less water, mulch deeply early on. It keeps your soil from drying out and blocks light germinating weed seeds from sprouting.
  • Self mulching:  plant in blocks, rather than rows. This creates shade for roots and reduces evaporation. If you are home gardening, maybe plant 4 to a block, put the blocks in different places to avoid disease or pest spread.
  • Dust mulching is simply soil cultivation to about 2 or 3 inches deep. Cultivation disturbs the soil surface and interrupts the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation.  Do it after rains or irrigating.
  • Remove water-using weeds. Don’t let them seed.
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  • When you water, do it by drip or trickle, deeply, early AM if possible, when wind is low and temps are cool. Plants drink during the day.  This is a good time to invest in a ‘hose bubbler.’  They deliver water slowly without digging up your soil.
  • Cultivate 2″ to 3″ deep before a rain to capture up to 70% of the rainfall! Cultivate afterwards if a salt crust (from manures) has built up.
  • Give your plants tasty compost tea, equal parts water and aged compost. Compost tea delivers rich soluble nutrients directly to the plant roots.
  • If water becomes critical, consider planting only a couple of containers with vegetables.
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  • Harvest on time at peak flavor and texture, using no more water than needed.
  • When your harvest is done, turn the remaining plants under, especially legumes, like beans, that feed your soil.

Amy Garrett, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University says ‘for each 1% increase in soil organic matter, soil water storage can increase by 16,000 gallons per acre-foot of applied water (Sullivan, 2002)! Many people think of grains and beans when dry farming is mentioned, however farmers in the western region of the U.S. have dry farmed many other crops including: grapes, [cucumbers,] garlic, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes, winter squash, potatoes, hay, olives, and orchard crops.’

After years of trial and error, David Little now considers himself an expert.“It’s very challenging because you have to hold the moisture for long periods of time, and you don’t know how different crops are going to react in different areas,” Little says. Much of the land he farms is rolling hills and valleys, which present additional challenges because they hold and move groundwater differently than flat land.

If you decide to dry farm all or part of your garden area, know that you and your land, your plant choices, are unique. Don’t give up, find your own way. Also you can do as David did, search for people who were known dry-farmers. He even made the rounds at local bars, asking older farmers about their experiences! He said they humbly shared their stories and gradually he picked up the important details. That’s dedication!

Be water wise, sleep well, eat hearty, share the bounty!

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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) Don’t pinch off the lower leaves to plant your transplant deeper!  Those open pinch wounds would then be in the soil where the fungi are.  They say the fungi is taken up by the leaves, but an open wound, in the soil?  NO.  2) 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.  3) When your plants get taller, DO 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.

Do not let plants touch each other and spread the wilts.

When your plant gets about a foot tall, water around your plant 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.

Keep your soil evenly moist.  It avoids blossom-end rot.

Rap the tom cage or trellis, central stem, sharply, middayish, to increase pollination!  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 want less seeds, let nature take its course – no rapping.

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 Plant! 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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Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 1

Wolf Peach!!!!  Did you know – our tomato originated in South America and was originally cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas, came to Europe in the 1500s.  People were warned not to eat them until the 18th century!  Wolf Peach comes from German werewolf myths that said deadly nightshade was used to summon werewolves!  ‘Tis true, tomatoes are of the deadly nightshade family, and does have poisonous leaves.  But you would have to eat a LOT of them to get sick!  But they are not good for dogs or cats!  Smaller bodies, right?

Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 1

Tomato - Healthy SunGold!

Tomato – Verticillium Wilt

Above on the left is a very healthy Sun Gold cherry tomato and happy owner.  On the right is a verticillium wilt fatality, not old age.  Almost all of us have had tomato wilt fatalities.  Very sad to see, disappointing and frustrating as XXX!  Tomatoes are pretty dramatically affected, but many plants get the wilt, including your trees, shrubs and roses.  Veggies affected are cucumber, eggplant, pepper, potatoes, rhubarb, watermelon, artichoke, beet, broad bean, strawberries, raspberries.  Cool, damp weather, like we had here in Santa Barbara area ALL last summer, referred to as the ‘May grays’ and the  ‘June glooms,’ is the worst. 

The leaves fold along their length, the stems get brown/black spots/blotches on them, the leaves turn brown, dry and die.  It is a fungus in the soil that is also windborne.  There may be too much N (Nitrogen), too much manure – lots of gorgeous leaves but no flowers.  That’s an easy fix, add some Seabird (not Bat) guano to restore the balance, bring blooms, then fruit.  The wilt is tougher.  When the toms get about a foot tall, STOP WATERING!  Remove weed habitat and don’t mulch.  The fungus can’t thrive in drier soil. Water the toms’ neighboring plants, but not the toms.  Tomatoes have deep tap roots and they can get water from below the wilt zone.

It is better to pull infected plants, called the one-cut prune, because their production will be labored and little compared to a healthy plant that will catch up fast in warmer weather.  And you will be more cheerful looking at a healthy plant.  Heirlooms are particularly susceptible, so get varieties that have VFN or VF on the tag at the nursery, or are a known VFN variety.  The V is for Verticillium, the F Fusarium wilt, N nematodes.  Ask a knowledgeable person if the tom doesn’t have a designation, or check online.  It’s just a bummer when plants get the wilt.  If you are one who removes the lower leaves and plants your transplant deeper, don’t let the lowest leaves touch the ground. When your plants get bigger, cut off lower leaves that would touch the ground BEFORE they touch the ground or leaves that can be water splashed – some say take all up to 18″ high!  The wilt gets into your plant through its leaves, not the stem.  Don’t cut suckers (branches between the stem and main branch) off because the cuts can be entry points for windborne wilts.  Wash your hands after working with each plant with the wilt so you don’t spread the wilts yourself.

Verticillium-resistant Tomato Varieties
AAS (All America Selections) are Starred & Bolded 
  • Ace
  • Better Boy
  • *Big Beef
  • *Celebrity
  • Champion
  • Daybreak
  • Early Girl
  • First Lady
  • *Floramerica
  • *Husky Gold
  • Husky Red
  • Italian Gold
  • Jet Star
  • Miracle Sweet
  • Pink Girl
  • Roma
  • Sunstart
  • Super Sweet 100
  • Ultra Sweet
  • Viva Italia

There’s little you can do for/to the soil to get rid of the wilt.  The only method I know that most of us can afford is Solarization.  Put black plastic tightly to the ground during a couple weeks of heat to kill it.  Problem is twofold.  1) That would be high summer to get that heat, so you can’t have your summer crop in that area.  If you have enough space, it’s doable.  If you only have a small space, that means no toms this year.  2) We are coastal and the temp needed to kill the wilt isn’t maintained over a two week period.  Sigh.  So we do our best, resistant varieties, little water, removal of lower leaves, remove infected plants.  A lot of smart local farmers dry farm tomatoes, and it’s water saving. 

You can use straw bale planting, or make raised box beds and fill them with soil that isn’t infected with the wilt.  That can help for awhile.  Here’s a link to my Green Bean Connection blog post on Plant a Lot in a Small Space that has a bit on hay/straw bale gardening!  It’s about 2/3s down the page, with link for instructions!  But.  Not only are the wilts soil borne, but airborne.  That you can’t do a lot about except ask everyone with infected plants to remove them.  

See Tomatoes & the Wilts – Part 2, including Fava & Basil Tips

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