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What’s happening with my tomatoes?! 

Early BlightFusarium Wilt, Verticillium WiltLate Blight

Tomato – Healthy SunGold!

Tomato – Verticillium Wilt, Yellow Flag effect

This?!                                                 Or this?

This is bar none, the most common summer question I get asked! Potatoes, tomatoes, and the various forms of lettuce are the top three favorite vegetables in the US, so you can see why this is THE question! Since fungi spread as simply as by the wind, I will be campaigning for more tomato plant care, starting with what people can do now to keep the fungi from overwintering, then in the spring to lessen its chances. There are more things that can be done than I knew! Read on!

About Fungi  To emphasize the potency of these fungi: Late Blight of potatoes and tomatoes, the disease that was responsible for the Irish potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century, is caused by the fungus-like oomycete pathogen Phytophthora infestans. It can infect and destroy the leaves, stems, fruits, and tubers of potato and tomato plants. Before the disease appeared in Ireland it caused a devastating epidemic in the early 1840s in the northeastern United States. Not only do the fungi feed on your tomato plants, but take a look at your potatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and beans! See those yellowing leaves? Remove and dispose of them ASAP! That removes zillions of spores so they can’t spread. The wilts and blights also affect trees! Sadly, not only do your plants look depressing, production is zilch, they die an unnatural death. Remove, replace. Be happy.

How do fungi work?  Spores are spread by rain/watering splash, insects, and wind, and through our hands and tools (wash your hands and tools after handling infected plants) and through these mediums, can travel distances. That’s why it is so important, in our community garden, to tend our plants, so our neighbors’ plants won’t also be infected.  Educate your plot neighbors, better yet, send this to them! 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 on debris and weeds.

What they look like on your plant: 

Tomato – Early Blight

15 Fungi Preventions!

Cultural control practices alone won’t prevent disease during seasons with wet, cool weather. However, the following measures will improve your chances of raising a successful crop.

Things you can still do this season!** Things you can do now to prepare for next season!**
  1. Buy toms that are tagged VFN, or just VF – that’s Verticillium Wilt and Fusarium resistant or tolerant. Varieties that set fruit early, at lower temps, are Early Girl Improved, Fourth of July, Enchantment. Excellent resistant varieties are Champion, Husky Red, Better Boy, Ace Hybrid, Celebrity.  
  2. Plant only healthy-appearing tomato transplants. Check to make sure plants are free of dark lesions on leaves or stems. If starting transplants from seed, air-dry freshly harvested seed at least 3 days.
  3. Plant cukes and toms on a special raised mound/basin with the bottom of the basin above the regular soil level. See more on this page in the section, Special Planting and Growing Tips!
  4. 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 plants may not win the battle.  Do not let volunteers grow, even on compost piles, cute as they are. Infected tomato refuse should be put in the trash, NOT in green waste or your compost.  
  5. **Create a soil barrier, mulch! Newspaper/cardboard covered with mulch or grass clippings doesn’t let the soil dry out. Moist soil is fungi habitat – we want that soil to dry. Use no more than one inch of straw. It is easy to lay on and allows light to get through and air to flow and dry the soil, stops the splash factor. Above all, you don’t want wet soil to contact your plant’s leaves. When that straw gets tired and flattens, trash it and replace with new clean light fluffy straw.   
  6. **Avoid wetting foliage when watering, especially in late afternoon and evening. Water at ground level! Watering the leaves creates a humid micro climate; the fungus produces spores. Dry leaves. Dry leaves. Dry leaves. No moisture, no spores.  
  7. **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. And getting more sun, your toms will ripen sooner! 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. In the case of tomatoes, scattered interplanting, biodiversity, is always a better choice than row planting where disease easily spreads from plant to plant.  
  8. **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.  
  9. **When your toms are about a foot tall, water neighboring plants, but not your toms. Plant water loving companion plants, like Basil or the Plant Dr Chamomile, next to your toms; water them all you want! Make a basin around your toms to keep water OUT! That keeps the soil drier near your plant, so the fungi can’t thrive there. Your tomatoes will get plenty of water by their deep roots.  
  10. **Remove bottom leaves, again, no touching (the ground), and prune your plants. Barbara Pleasant at Mother Earth News says, ‘When the lowest leaves are removed just as the first leaf spots appear, you also remove millions (zillions) of spores. And, because the bases of pruned plants dry quickly, the spread of the disease is slowed because early blight fungi need damp leaves in order to germinate and grow.’ Create an 18 to 24 inch barrier gap or safe space between your garden soil or mulch and the first leaves of the tomato plant. If the spores can’t splash upwards and reach the leaves, they can’t take hold. The stem usually isn’t a place for the spores, though it can be. Best is to remove the bottom leaves before the spores start!
    .
    If you have large plants, you might consider thinning some branches to let the sun and wind blow through the main body of your tomato plant. But, some gardeners don’t recommend pruning or snipping the suckers, the mini branches formed between the trunk and branches, because spores can enter through these cuts. If you decide to prune, the less cuts the better. 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 hands, in a rinse of water & alcohol, frequently so you don’t further infect healthy parts of your plant.  
  11. **Remove infected leaves immediately. A leaf should be completely green. Look for brown spots or yellow spots or distress. Remove leaves and prune when it is dry and sunny, not windy. Wash your tools and hands often.  
  12. After the tomatoes set, add some nitrogen. A healthy plant tends to fight off the spores. 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.  
  13. **Rotate your crop if possible. Because fungi also affect other plants, rotation in small gardens isn’t practical or even possible. But if you have the room, move your tomatoes to areas that are fungi free.  
  14. ****At the end of the season remove & trash, don’t compost or put in green waste, all infected debris and surrounding debris. Pull all the weeds because spores can over winter on weed hosts. You want to reduce the number of spores laying in wait.  
  15. **The spores aren’t super spores. During our winter season, turn your soil about 10 inches, burying the spores helps remove them, and it also exposes snail eggs to die.

Preventive Foliar Mix that does wonders! 

Apply every 2 to 3 weeks, so new growth will be covered.  Wet under and over the leaves.  Per gallon add:

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

Water your plants with an aspirin?!  Salicylic acid, in aspirin, triggers a defense response in tomatoes and other plants as well! Adapted from eHow:  The main benefit of aspirin in planting involves aspirin’s ability to fend off potential plant diseases.

  1. Purchase regular strength aspirin. The brand does not matter; purchase the cheapest brand that is available.
  2. Mix together one aspirin with one gallon of water. Combine the ingredients well, so that the aspirin is distributed evenly throughout the liquid.
  3. Add a half teaspoon of mild liquid soap to the mixture. This is used as a way to help the aspirin water stick better to the tomato plants. Once the soap is added, attach a spray nozzle to the gallon jug and it is ready to use.
  4. Spray the tomatoes when you first set them in the ground. Aspirin sprayed directly on seeds improves germination, on plants it stimulates the growing process. There is no need to soak the area. A light and gentle spray will suffice.
  5. Continue to spray the aspirin mixture on the tomato plants every 2 to 3 weeks. You are going to notice that the plants stay healthier and attract fewer insects.

Per a comment by Leroy Cheuvront at Heavy Petal blog:  I have had the blight and have stopped it from destroying my tomato plants. All you have to do is mix 1/4 cup of bleach to a gallon of water and drown the plant from top to bottom, it will not kill the plant. I do it every seven days and the blight has not returned.  — June 18, 2010. It sounds scary, but I bet it works! I would test this principle on ONE plant to be sure it is safe to use.

Solarization  In the past ten years, some enterprising Israelis came up with solarizing. Moist soil is covered with transparent plastic film for four to six/eight weeks in the summer. It takes that long to heat the soil to a temperature and depth that will kill harmful fungi, bacteria, nematodes, weeds, and certain insects in the soil. Some gardeners won’t use solarizing because it kills beneficial soil organisms too… Solarization can be a useful soil disinfestation method in regions with full sun and high temperatures, but it is not effective where lower temperatures, clouds, or fog limit soil heating. Solarization stimulates the release of nutrients from organic matter present in the soil.

Solarization

Solarization also kills grass by heating up the soil when daily temperatures exceed 80°F. Weed eat or mow the area as short as possible. Moisten the soil and cover the area in clear plastic for 10-14 days, until the grass is dead. Although cloudy weather will slow things down by cooling the soil under the film, a few weeks of sunshine will improve your soil dramatically, easily, and inexpensively. If you live in an area with cool or cloudy summers, or if you just don’t want to wait all season, you can speed up the process by adding a second sheet of plastic. Using the hoops commonly used to elevate row covers or bird netting, raise the second sheet of plastic over the ground-level sheet. The airspace between acts as a temperature buffer zone during cloudy weather and the combination of the two sheets of plastic serves to raise the soil temperature an additional 6 degrees. The goal is to raise and maintain temperatures in the top 6 inches of soil to a level between 110 to 125 degrees F. After several days of sunshine, soil temperatures rise to as high as 140 degrees at the surface and well over 100 degrees as far down as 18 inches. Do not mix untreated soil into the solarized bed!

And please, do NOT compost diseased tomatoes, infected trimmings or removed leaves, or any other diseased plant. That’s how you spread soil borne fungi, let alone that they are also spread by wind, are airborne. Put them in the trash, not green waste. 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. 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 send them the link to this page.

Biofumigation  Biofumigation is a sustainable strategy to manage soil-borne pathogens, nematodes, insects, and weeds. Initially it was defined as the pest suppressive action of decomposing Brassica tissues, but it was later expanded to include animal and plant residues. 

Other Tomato Questions & Cures – Holes, spots, brown areas?  Here is an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) image page from UC Davis that is likely to answer your question! It includes diseases and pests. Do take a good look at it!

To the fattest, bestest tomatoes ever!!!! 

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Updated 6.11.19


The Green Bean Connection newsletter 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!

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

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AUGUST is WATER SPECIFIC month! 

Keep it steady!

The Southern California coastal ‘June Glooms’ may continue, or alternate with hot days in August.  That calls for your attention; there just isn’t a routine, so water with passion!  Feel how your veggie must be feeling!  Thirsty plants need their water to continue to grow and produce.  Most plants need consistent water.  If they don’t get it they make misshapen fruits, or stop producing at all, thinking summer or production time is over.  Oops.  If you need to be gone, ask someone reliable and experienced, who knows what your plants need, to water for you.  General courtesy and gratitude is you offer to let them pick what ripens while they are tending your veggies.    

Think like a plant!  Pretend you are a short rooted plant, like a strawberry, lettuce, onion, bean, cucumber. You can’t go get the hose yourself, but you need to stay moist or your toes dry up.  You are hoping your gardener will check, stick their finger in the ground, to see just how moist your soil is and how deep the moisture goes.  Think like a tall big corn making fat cobs – needs water from bottom to top!  Giant leafy plants like chard, kales with tons of curls, zucchinis, need a lot of water to fill up those leaves!  Plants that are in full production, especially of watery fruits like zucchinis, cucumbers, and tomatoes need steady water to make those fruits.  You need more water because you are working hard, and there is a lot of you!  If you are a little seed or seedling, you need tender gentle watering so you won’t be swept away or broken!  Remember, fuzzy plants, like tomatoes and eggplant prefer dry leaves, so water them underneath.  Although with tomatoes, better to water their neighbors or nearby rather than right at or under them.  That’s to let the soil near the roots be dry, to not harbor the Verticillium and Fusarium Wilts.  The water your tomatoes can then get is from their lower roots below the topsoil fungus area.      

Rebuild water basins that have degraded to be sure to capture the water your plant needs.  Use some pretty shells or rocks to hold the soil in place.      

A sure sign there isn’t enough moisture is if the water just runs off the top of the soil to low spots.  That soil needs a deep thorough soaking to wash away accumulated surface salts.   Water deeper and less frequently.   Mulch can help, keep it a couple inches away from the veggie stem.  One of the simplest things is to take healthy trim, chop and drop.       

On these overcast days, water at ground level and in the AM so leaves aren’t wet, mildewing.  Cut off bottom leaves so they don’t transmit funguses from the soil up into your plants, and keep fruit up off the soil to prevent bug nibbles.      

Winter Weather  Predictions are mild to cooler and dry.  Cooler means slower growth, so this fall, perhaps a bit more manures – as they rot they create heat and nutrients for your plants.  Plant a tad more densely in a row for more crop, and to keep the plants warmer together.  But, do leave plenty of space between the rows for air flow to keep down diseases.  Do you follow the Farmers’ Almanac planting dates?      

Tomato Questions & Cures – Holes, spots, brown areas?  Here is an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) image page from UC Davis that is likely to answer your question!  It includes diseases and pests.      

How to Get RID of those cute pesky digging Skunks!  http://www.howtogetridofstuff.com/pest-control/how-to-get-rid-of-skunks/

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Now, let’s look at July in more detail:  Definitely time to be gathering info about fall plant varieties, getting your seeds for August planting!  As plants finish, spaces become available, get that soil ready with compost and manures.  Get some hardware cloth and install some gopher barriers. 

Wise Harvesting!  Now that the initial rush of harvesting your new veggies has passed, and it has, at times, become a labor, it is not the time to slack off!  Harvest frequently to keep your crop coming!  Do not store on the vine.  Pick zuchs and cucs small and tender. 

Maintenance practices make a difference!  See June’s info for more details! 

  • Water & mulch.  Mulch for moisture, water deeply and less frequently.  Stick your fingers in the soil to see how moist it is.  Keep strawberries moist or they will stop producing.  Water short rooted plants, beans, lettuces, cucs, more frequently.  Keep seed beds moist, water twice a day if you need to.
  • Feeding!  Epsom salts your peppers, blood meal for yellowing Nitrogen needing plants.  Scratch in a little manure to keep lettuces fat and happy.  Seabird guano (NOT bat guano) keeps plants flowering and producing!
  • Pollinators!  That’s bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, moths, and wind.  The creatures need year round food, shelter and clean water.  Selecting Plants for Pollinators – California Coastal Chaparral Forest and Shrub Province is a must see article!
  • Pests – insects and skunk prevention, gopher management.
  • Diseases – pick before you water, so you don’t spread disease.  Water in the AM to let leaves dry off to keep mildew at bay. 

Make compost, compost, compost now for fall planting!  Use trimmings, spent plants, plants that bolt, healthy but no longer wanted, in your compost!  In August we will start planting fall and winter crops, and they will be wanting your fine organic compost!  Chop things up so they degrade more quickly.  Keep your pile moist so it will decay.  A dry pile is a dead pile.  Add some red worms to the pile so you will get some worm castings as well, and your pile breaks down more fully.  Bring your kitchen trim!  Add a few sprigs of yarrow from time to time and that will speed decomposition.   

Instead of leaving the big air holes open in the rubber compost enclosures, you might decide to install a very large heavy mill plastic bag to keep your pile moist!  Put a few holes in the bottom for drainage.  When enough compost has formed, you can just remove the bag to a storage area out of the sun, or empty it where you want to plant next, incorporating it with the soil there.  Or if you don’t use a bag, just remove the enclosure and plant right there, right in your compost!

Bountiful Storage!  Freezing, canning, seed collecting, making medicinal products like creams and shampoos, teas, powdered herbs, candles, flavored oils & vinegars, or drying flowers, are all wonderful ways to extend the joy of what you grew, whether you keep them or give them as gifts!

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