Everyone knows that I love tomatoes, but not everyone knows that for a long time I have been dealing with soil borne diseases on my tomato plants. Despite various preventative measures I’ve tried, this year is no different. Early blight has hit several of my tomato plants. After I posted a picture of them and said that I would begin rescue operations when it was drier outside, a friend in Chicago said she had the same problem and asked what to do about it. I’m writing this post to answer that question for her and anyone else who is dealing with early blight and other fungal diseases.
As already noted, I wait until the tomato plants are dry before I do anything. Then the first thing I do is prune away all the yellowed and spotted leaves. These do NOT go into my compost. The disease moves from the bottom up, so the plants will start to look leggy as the season progresses. With clean pruners, I also remove any non-fruit bearing suckers I see higher up the plant. Removing those unneeded branches will provide better air circulation for the plants, which also helps keep the disease from spreading.
In order to avoid spreading the disease from plant to plant, I spray the pruners with Lysol whenever I move from one plant to the next. When I first took the master gardener course, I learned that bleach is not instantly effective for sanitizing tools because it requires at least 10 minutes of soaking. Who has time to do that between every plant? Moreover, bleach is corrosive, so it could damage your tools. Someone in the class suggested we do what he had heard rosarians do: spray rubbing alcohol on the pruners. I did that for years until someone in Midwest Fruit Explorers passed around a study that suggested that straight Lysol was more effective, so that is what I have done ever since. You could explore the various options for yourself. I keep the Lysol in a little spray bottle, and I use a paper towel or a clean rag for wiping off the clippers.
Then I spray the plants thoroughly with an organic fungicide to help keep the disease from spreading. Years ago I tried an organic copper fungicide, but I have had better success in recent years at slowing the disease down with an organic biofungicide called Serenade. I buy it at local garden centers and go through a bottle or two every year. After I prune each plant, I spray it from the bottom up. When all the pruning is done, I spray all the plants in the bed from every angle, all around, as best I can.
I have also taken to wearing latex gloves when I perform this whole rescue operation. I can just throw them away when I’m done and not have to wash them before I use them again (as I should with regular garden gloves). I do not recommend doing this job with bare hands–they can get irritated by the sprays and plant oils.
That’s how I fight the blight! At another time, I will talk about the measures I take each year to try to prevent these soil borne diseases.
Tomato Harvest Update
Tomatoes in our area have been slow to ripen this year due to high temperatures last month. I knew that heat could also cause them to come out more orange than red, so I went ahead and harvested these two orangey Patio Princess tomatoes today. They were not fully ripe yet after all, but they worked fine in a salad with a creamy dressing I had made with chives and dill.
Before today’s medium size tomatoes, I had so far picked only a few cherry tomatoes. The first came from the container that I won. The next ones came from the volunteer tomato plant that I have allowed to grow in a corner of the broccoli and Swiss chard bed. Finally, the Super Sweet 100s have started ripening. These are my favorite–so sweet that we eat them like candy!
Containing My Excitement Update
Speaking of the container that I won, I am disappointed that the tomatoes harvested from it so far have tasted sour–even the red Fantastico. (I do not know what variety the yellow ones are as their tag was lost.) I do mean sour, not tart! I believe this could be due to not getting enough water.
This container has been very difficult to keep watered. Unlike my other vegetable containers, it appears to be dry every single day. Most–but not all–of my own vegetable containers are self-watering pots. However, even the ones that are not self-watering have been able to retain moisture much better than this container. Perhaps that is because I used a better soil mix or because I had mixed in some compost. I tried a self-watering probe in this container, but it did not work.
The rest of the container has not done well either. While I enjoyed harvesting some of the lettuce, it did not work as a “filler” because it did not spread out. It would have been better to space the lettuce plants farther apart. The bush bean plant dried up and shriveled away, so there is no “spiller” on that side of the pot. The Swiss chard that was supposed to grow t0 18-24″ does not seem to have grown at all–some “thriller”! I am glad I had already planted Swiss chard in my raised beds. It is doing great there, and I have harvested and used a lot already.
In the meantime, I have moved this container to my herb bed since the red lettuce has bolted. I am hoping it will seed itself around the garden. My first lettuce of the season is usually from self sown volunteers like this.
Even though the plants in this container have not done well, I am glad for what I have learned. I do like the idea of mixing several different plants in a large container and trying to make even the vegetable containers a little decorative in composition. I had never thought of putting a thriller, filler, and spiller in a vegetable container before! All I have done in my vegetable containers is put basil around some of the tomato containers. I am looking forward to trying more creative vegetable containers next year.