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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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Powdery Mildew on Peas

Select powdery mildew resistant or tolerant varieties!

Disease Resistant Varieties Right from the Beginning!

  • Green beans:  Provider – (Green/Bush): Bean Mosaic Virus Race 15, Common Bean Mosaic, Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew. Contender – (Stringless Green/Bush): tolerates heat and powdery mildew, resistant to common bean mosaic virus.
  • Cucumber: Diva, Cumlaude, Media F1. Larry Hodgson lists no less than 71 PM resistant varieties! One of the old standards, Marketmore 76 and 97 are on the list. He doesn’t specify what kind of cucumbers they are, but you can have a ton of fun looking some of them up! I see several familiar names.
  • Muskmelon:  Ambrosia F1 – Downy & Powdery Mildew. Primo (western type) – Tolerance to Powdery Mildew 1 & 2, and Sulphur. There are many melon possibilities. Take a little time looking them up.
  • Pea:
    • Ambassador – Resistant to powdery mildew, entation virus and fusarium wilt
    • Cavalier – Good resistance to powdery mildew.
    • Greenshaft – Resistant to downy mildew and fusarium wilt
    • Rondo – Resistant to fusarium wilt
    • Downy Mildew resistant peas:  Kelevdon Wonder, Oasis, Twinkle, Avola, Hurst Greenshaft, Ambassador, Cavalier and Peawee.
  • Pumpkin:  Per SFGate – ‘Large varieties include “Alladin” and “Gladiator.” Try “Hobbit” and “Scarecrow,” for medium-sized pumpkins. Small, mildew resistant varieties include “Pure Gold” and “Touch of Autumn.” ‘ In 2015 the Ashland Garden Club posted this great list Powdery Mildew-resistant Pumpkin & Squash Varieties compiled by the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.
  • Winter Squash:  almost all varieties
  • Yellow Summer Squash: Success, Sunray, Sunglo
  • Zucchini: Ambassador, Wildcat

Clearly there are many more plants and many more varieties than covered by this sampling. Things change each year as some supplies dwindle, new strong varieties are presented! Enjoy a scan around the net for the latest info!

Healthy Practices Make a Difference!

  • Plant in full sun!
  • Plant so leaves of one plant don’t touch another and spread the spores.
  • Have plenty of airflow. If the plant is too dense in its interior, thin it.
  • Remove any debris or dead leaves breeding habitat.
  • Remove and don’t compost infected leaves. If you don’t remove them, you reinfect your plant each time you water.
  • Wash tools and your hands before you go from one plant to the next.
  • Water in the AM, at ground level.  No overhead watering.

Prevention is the key word!

BEFORE you have mildew, while your plants are still babies, here is a natural homemade remedy. Drench the leaves with a baking soda/milk mix.  Tablespoon Soda, ¼ cup nonfat milk powder, 1 regular aspirin crushed, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish detergent in a watering can. Baking Soda alkalizes your plant, inhibits germination of the spores. Milk and Aspirin boost your plant’s immune system. Please also see IPM Powdery Mildew on Vegetables including tomatoes!

Drench weekly with your mix before the sun gets on the leaves and dries it. You want to give the solution time to be absorbed. Be sure to apply to both tops and bottoms of leaves and the stems. See Keeping Your Veggie Garden Happy – Foliar Plant Care! This is excellent for Roses too!

Roguing. When a bacterial or viral infection is suspected, if you think it’s too late, experience tells you that you aren’t going to be able to get rid of the mildew, sadly, do the one cut prune. Rogues are removed from the fields to preserve the quality of the crop being grown. Remove that plant asap so it doesn’t spread mildew to uninfected plants – yours or your neighbors’. Trash it, don’t compost it.  Mildew is windborne, so the more mildew, the more is spread.

Mildew is a temperature related disease – warm temperatures between 70 and 80F. And when plants are older in the season they are more likely to get it. They have been working hard producing and no longer have their youthful vitality, spent. I see that as a natural part of their life, a signal to thank them and let them go.

Mildew is usually not fatal, but it can bring your plant to a standstill. No production, suffering plant. Sometimes a change of weather will revive it. A lot depends on the strength of your plant. Choose the most resistant varieties, feed them the best and enough. But if no immediate recovery, let yourself grieve, you had high hopes. Then get on with it, get a better variety, start over. Be a good plant keeper. Pay attention to it, keep it watered per its needs.

Best of luck. Thank you for caring. Plants are dear living beings.

Updated 5.16.20


Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’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.

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