Early Blight on Tomato Plants

This tomato plant has severe Early Blight as it has worked its way up the plant

Now that the monsoons are in full blast, tomato fungal diseases are showing up with all the moisture. One of them is Early Blight. It is caused by a fungus called Alternaria solani. Early Blight is a fungal disease that attacks tomato plants starting on the bottom leaves of the plant and works it’s way upwards. The leaves start turning yellow and get blotchy. If left unchecked, it can take over your plant killing it although it won’t die immediately. Where does it come from? It comes from water splashing soil up on the lower leaves, allowing the fungal spores to colonize on the leaves. The culprit is a bad soil fungus (there are good soil fungus as well). That’s why you always see it start on the bottom leaves. Early Blight should not be confused with Late Blight which is prevalent in northeastern United States. We don’t have Late Blight out here in the southwest (at least not yet).

Here is a close up of Early Blight on the leaves

-There are several things you can immediately do to help with this disease if you get this. The first thing you do is trim off the affected branches where the leaves are yellow. Keep trimming up your plant as needed and spray with an organic fungicide like Serenade.

-Disinfect your shears between plants by dipping the shears and your hand in a container of water with about 10% bleach solution. Alcohol also works. Be sure to disinfect your shears between plants because you can spread Early Blight.

-I like Serenade, an organic fungicide which provides protection from a broad spectrum of common fungal and bacterial diseases. It is a biological fungicide, meaning it uses other spores that crowd out the Early Blight spores. Spray it on when the leaves are dry. It is rainproof, non-toxic for bees and other beneficial insects. Respray every 5-7 days. Spray all parts of the plant-both on top and underneath till dripping. Serenade is also good to spray on other vegetables. Spray for powdery mildew on squash, cucumbers and melons and leaf rust on beans. I use it for all my vegetables. Don’t wait till you get the disease—it works best as a preventative but you can control many fungal diseases with Serenade.

-In addition to trimming the affected leaves, trim off any branches or leaves that touch the ground. I never let any leaves or branches touch the ground, trimming them up about 12 or more inches.

-Another option is to stake or tie up any branches that might touch the ground.

Mulch with straw underneath the plant so the soil can’t splash up on plant when it rains or if you water overhead. This is key to help prevent Early Blight on your tomatoes. I do it the minute I plant my tomato plants in the spring and add more straw as the plant spreads till eventually the whole bed is covered with straw. If you didn’t do it this year, you can still add straw now. Besides it’s also great for keeping moisture from evaporating in our hot sun.

-If space allows, rotate susceptible crops every 3 years. Just change where you plant tomatoes every year.

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Why are my tomato plants dropping their blossoms?

When the temperature outside is 92°F or hotter, the tomatoes will drop their flowers (blossoms) and will not set any fruit. This is called Tomato Blossom Drop and is normal for a tomato to do. Basically they self-abort their blossoms. Why? Because they want to survive. They will continue to produce new blossoms and once the temperatures is BELOW 92°F, they will start to set fruit from the blossoms.

What can we do to prevent blossom drop? Nothing. We really are at the hands of mother nature. The funny thing is once they do pollinate (tomatoes are self-pollinating and wind-pollinated and don’t need pollinators) and they produce baby fruit, they do fine when it’s hot-it’s just while they are trying to set fruit that the temperature is critical. There is also a low temperature where they will drop the blossoms, but we don’t have to worry about that here.

Last year we had 3 months of intense heat with everyday being 92°F or warmer and the blossom just couldn’t set fruit. Finally when the monsoons came mid-August (which is one month later than normal), and it cooled down, they were able to set their fruit. Luckily for us we had a long fall and were able to harvest before we got a freeze. So don’t despair, they will set fruit from their blossoms when the time is right. Hopefully the monsoons will come in July. So for now, just surrender and chill out (if you can).

Row cover protects tomato plants and more

Here is what my garden looks like right now. Just about everything is covered with a material called row cover (also called Remay). My tomato cages are covered from top to bottom with it. This acts as a physical barrier to keep a bug called the beet leafhopper from biting them and transferring a disease called Curly Top Virus (CTV). I’ll take it off my tomatoes when the monsoons arrive.  The bug leaves when the monsoons come.

I also put row cover over my other veggie transplants while they adjust to the heat and wind when I transplant them into the garden. And I put it over other veggies that I plant by seeds like beans, cucumber and corn. I just plant the seeds in the ground and put a sheet of row cover over them tacking it down with rocks so the wind doesn’t blow it away-but don’t make it too tight.  Give the plants some room to grow under it. When the seeds germinate, row cover keeps the birds from eating the sprouts and I don’t have to replant seeds as often. Plus you can water right through it. Row cover comes in 3 weights. A heavy weight (1.0) for fall-winter, a mid-weight for summer (.5) and a light weight (.3) which does not work well here because of the winds-it rips easily. I use a mid-weight in the summer in my garden.

So basically I use row cover in the beginning of the growing season on almost everything. You can get it at most nurseries.  And you won’t have to keep it on all summer. Once your corn and beans grow up about 4 inches, and your transplants adjust to outdoor growing and the bugs leave, you can take it off and enjoy watching your garden grow. Another plus is it gives some protection against hail. Great stuff. I highly recommend it to be a more successful gardener.

Tomatoes started!

Tomato seeds planted March 24. Germinated 4 days later. Picture taken April 2 at 9 days old.

It has begun!

I’m going back to the Santa Fe Farmers Market this summer with my tomatoes! I have a lot of new unusual tomatoes started as well as my stable of wonderful favorites for the public.

Pictured above, the baby tomato seeds are inside the house under lights and keep warm on a germination heat mat set at 85°F. They will be transplanted this week into 2 inch pots and later this month they will be transplanted again into 4 inch pots and then finally transplanted outside in the garden in May. Plus I will take some of the plants to the Farmers Market at end of April/May to sell.

Cool season crops have begun

transplants-2-weeks-old

When I was looking through what I plant each year, I realized I actually grow many varieties of cools season crops (like greens/lettuce). I started some seeds of cool season crops inside under lights but no heat on Jan 17!  I never put the heat mats on for cool season crop seeds, only for warm season crops and it is way too early for them just yet.

I started:
Asian greens: bok choy, pak choy, Wasabi arugula

Lettuces: 4 Season Lettuce butterhead, Yugoslavian Red butterhead, and Santoro butterhead lettuce. Can you tell I like butterheads?!

Leeks: Solaise, King Richard and American Flag

Onions: Candy (it is an intermediate or neutral variety) which is they type of onion we have to grow here.

Spinach: Carmel-Just planted the seeds today. Still have some spinach plants that have overwinter nicely outside in a raised bed with only winter weight row cover on it. By planting a crop of spinach last fall, I’m hoping I get a bumper crop of spinach in March! The variety of spinach I like the most is called Carmel which overwinter last year and looks to do the same this year. You can get seeds from Johnny’s or plants from Agua Fria Nursery.

4-season-lettuce

four season lettuce is looking good

Today I transplanted up lettuces and Asian greens to pony pots from seed trays. The plants are looking good but need to grow more before I put them out in my green house or cold frame. You can plant outside in sunny raised beds in March but all-greenhouse, cold frames or just plain old beds will need winter weight row cover on the little starts to protect them from our cold nights.  I’m hoping to put them out by beginning of March. The varieties I grow at this time of year are very cold hardy. I’m trying to get a head start as our cool season crop season is pretty short here before it gets too hot and everything bolts. And there is nothing better than spring spinach or lettuce!

More daylight hours/plants start to grow again

Growing Spinach and Lettuce in a Cold Frame

The Persephone period is over. Elliot Coleman in his Winter Harvest Handbook, coined this name. When daylight hours are less than 10 hours per day, the plants that are in the ground slow down or stop growing altogether during this time. This means that the spinach or mache you planted last fall had slowed down and by Thanksgiving stopped growing. The Persephone period can be longer or shorter depending on what latitude you live in. For us in Santa Fe, it is from Thanksgiving to Jan 14th.  In states that are further north, they are still in the Persephone period. As the daylight hours continue to get longer and longer, you should notice the plants starting to grow again. I grew ‘Carmel’ spinach last fall in one of my beds up by my house and it is still alive, covered with winter weight row cover. I did this the year before and it survived and gave me beautiful spinach by March that I was able to harvest 4 times before it became too warm. If you didn’t grow anything to overwinter, you can now start spinach, Asian greens like ‘Tatsoi‘ and ‘Baby Bok Choy’, mache and some very cold hardy lettuces like ‘Winter Wunder’ and ‘Marshall Red Romaine’ once the soil warms to 40•F+. If you keep them covered with winter weight row cover to protect them from our cold nights, you will be able harvest them in early spring barring any devastating deep freezes. If you can’t wait and want to speed up the process, start the seeds under lights inside now and transplant them next month in February. To find other extra cold hardy crops to grow, go here.

Garden Journal

journalIt might be good at the end of the year to review what happened in your garden and/or hopefully you took some notes last season. You can refer back to it instead of relying on your memory on what worked and didn’t work for future years. If you don’t like writing it down than use your computer. I still keep a notebook on when I start seeds, put them in ground, etc but I’m using the computer and my phone more and more these days for my garden notes. I like to go around throughout the season and especially at the end of the season before everything is torn out and make notes on my phone while things are still fresh, then I go back and enter them in on my computer where the pieces of the puzzle fall in place and are sometimes are very revealing as to what happened that year.

So this coming season if you haven’t been keeping a journal, write down important things like did you amend your soil, when you first planted seeds, when the first frost-free day actually occurred and did a late freeze sneak in, when you transplanted seedlings outside, did you protect them,  how hot was the weather and for how long, how cold were the nights, how much rain did we get and did it do any damage (hail), which pests and disease were particularly bad, which plants did well, were they prolific, how long you could harvest certain crops, how long was the season and when the first frost got us.

Sounds like a lot of work? Not really. It’s just recording your OBSERVATIONS through the season and by doing it, you will become a better gardener. It helped me realize a few years back that one variety of tomato got Early Blight for 3 years in a row while the other tomato plants did not (it seemed susceptible to EB- I don’t grow that variety anymore) and that this past season, I could have started my seeds indoors much earlier than I did.