Simply Grateful Gardener

Gardening To Fill The Pantry!


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Early Blight – The Continuing Saga of ‘How The Tomato Grows!’

This morning as I examined my tomato plants for any damage during last nights storm I found the beginnings of what appears to be Early Blight. I dealt with this last year on nearly every one of my tomato plants and ended up cutting so many of the leaves away that the tomatoes got sun scald.

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This year I was hoping to avoid this problem by moving the tomato garden to the opposite side of the house. No such luck.

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The good news: I caught it early. It appears that the only plants affected right now are the pear tomato plants. The only plants already having a hard time keeping their leaves healthy. I swear, these little buggers (pear tomatoes) are so temperamental. I can’t catch a break with them. First, they are the only plants with the leaf curl, which has pretty much spread to every pear tomato plant regardless of where they are in the yard. Next, they are growing so tall that I don’t have cages or stakes tall enough for them. (My research, which I did just today, tells me they can grow as tall as 12 feet. Who’s going to get a ladder to pick those puppies?) And finally, they are now coming down with blight.

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Yet I have to say the one good thing about all this is at least I know these plants are not GMO.  If they were they certainly wouldn’t be having all these problems. Hubby says if I can beat all the stuff going against us with the pear tomatoes and actually get a good harvest this year, maybe next year we’ll have enough know-how to grow a healthy garden full of them — enough to sell at the local market. Being so difficult to grow they would fetch a hefty price. At the moment though it sounds like a whole lot more work than I’m up for.

As for the blight, it is a highly contagious fungi that could easily spread to all the neighboring tomatoes. To overt this, I immediately mixed up a batch of baking soda and water and sprayed each and every tomato plant. I soaked the top and bottom leaves and was sure to get the trunk all the way to the ground. This needs to be done once a week and after every rain.

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When making the baking soda and water spray I used 1 tablespoon of baking soda for every gallon of water. This should work well for the above 80 degree weather we’ve been having and are predicted to continue having throughout the next 15 days. If it were cooler I could use a higher concentration of baking soda, 2 tablespoons for every gallon, but if I were to use that now I’d risk burning the leaves.

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Before spraying the plants I inspected each plant closely and removed all infected leaves. There were only six stems on five plants (all pear tomato) that had to be removed and put in the compost bin for the trash man.

I’m not sure exactly why the plants are getting Early Blight, but one cause could be watering at night. The best time to water tomato plants is in the morning so they have the entire day to dry out. I have been doing this, but there have been a few times when I didn’t get out there until evening. From now on I will be sure to water in the morning or at the very least if I have to water at night only water the base of the plants with the watering can so as to not get the leaves wet.

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So the tomato plant saga continues. Every day brings something new to deal with. So far my spirits are still fairly optimistic, but honestly the pear tomato plants are really wearing me down. What is so disheartening is I read on the internet today that these plants are known for the high production. They have been known to regularly produce between 100 and 200 tomatoes per plant. I seriously doubt my plants are going to reach even half that. There are probably about 20 – 30 tomatoes on the healthiest plants and only flowers or a handful of tomatoes on the plants worst hit by the leaf curl. I keep thinking…what could have been.

Oh well, can’t worry about that now. What’s important is to keep the tomato plants as healthy as I can for as long as possible. The pear tomatoes were only supposed to be for fun and eating. I’ve got to stay positive if I want to be — Simply Grateful.

 


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The Cherry Slug

Having fruit trees is great! Yep, so easy, so hands-off, so ‘plant it and forget it,’ — NOT!

Fruit trees are a lot of work, and I mean A LOT!  There are so many things that can wrong, and most likely if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.

Of course the first issue when planting a new fruit tree is the stress of wondering whether or not the tree will survive the initial shock of being planted in your yard. For weeks, even months, you can keep vigil over your little trees not knowing if they are comfortable in their new home, if their roots have enough growing room, if the soil is to their liking. It’s normal for some leaf loss, but how much is really to be expected? 10%? 20%? 50%? Should I count how many leaves I started with to keep an accurate measure so as to know when I should be concerned?

Then there is the threat from Mother Nature’s cute little critters should you happen to have any fruit on the branches. Keeping the birds at bay is a full-time job. You can tie little tin plates to the branches with a washer hanging in the middle to scare them off, put up a scarecrow, or if you have the time just stand in the yard with a broom and shoo them off should they dare try to sneak some lunch from your branches.

And the squirrels, now they are a bit more stealthy when it comes to raiding your tree and eating the fruit. They sneak along the ground, sometimes hidden in the grass and dart up the tree trunk into the branches. This is where a good dog comes in handy but unless you plan on keeping the dog tied up next to the tree 24/7, there’s really no way to squirrel-proof the yard and tree.

Overall however animals are really the least of your worries. It’s the disease and insects that are the real fruit tree killers. These can attack the roots, the trunk, the branches, the leaves, and the fruit. Every part of the tree is susceptible to fungus, bacteria, infestation, and rot. And every one of these things require different types of measures to control or remedy.

For about 15 years we have had an Italian plum tree in our yard. Almost from day one we have been fighting brown rot. This occurs when fruit falls from the tree, rots, and then the rotting liquids get into the soil and infect the tree. For all our efforts of picking the fruit up as it falls the ground, there is no way really to ensure that every last plum gets picked up. Therefore we learned to begin spraying our tree before it begins blooming and continue until all the fruit is done. The tree still has brown rot, but will still produce fruit and continues to limp its way from season to season.

This year we decided to add a tart cherry, a sweet cherry, and a peach tree to the backyard. At the time I was excited about the prospect of having more fruit trees in the yard and hopefully in a year or two more fruit. Well, things have not gone so easily and my hopes for healthy trees has quickly diminished.

First one of the cherry trees didn’t survive the transplanting. Within a month it was dead and we were digging it out and replacing it. If this were the only issue, I could deal with that, but that was just the beginning.

Next the cherry tree that survived the initial planting decided to lose more than 50% of its leaves more than a month after it was planted. Two branches are now dead on the tree, leaving three lower branches still alive. At this point the tree has not lost any additional leaves for two months and we don’t know why the two upper branches withered and died, so we are playing the waiting game.

Then, all the fruit that actually survived the planting and began to grow were taken by the birds. Our trees are too small right now to interest the squirrels so at least there we dodged the bullet. But the birds certainly made up for it. I did put some nice noise making tin pans on the branches, but it was too late and no fruit will be harvested from the trees this year. Actually I didn’t expect any fruit, but watching the birds make short work of the tiny cherries and peaches opened my eyes to how difficult it is going to be to get a harvest in the future.

Not allowing me to relax at all, the next challenge was dealing with leaf spot on all three trees. In my research I learned this was a bacterial or fungal infection of some kind and very difficult to get rid of, but controllable. So we began spraying the trees so they wouldn’t lose all their leaves.

For about a week everything was good. No more leaf damage, no more leaf loss, and the trees actually looked like they were getting a little bigger.

Yesterday, though, things took a turn for the worse. As I was watering the garden I noticed that many, nearly most, of the leaves on the tart cherry tree (the one that had already lost more than 50% of its leaves earlier in the season) had huge portions of the remaining leaves on the tree eaten away. A closer look resulted in me finding this:

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I snipped off the leaf and took to Hubby and asked him to investigate. Within minutes he was back and told me we had Pear or Cherry Slugs. Wonderful, just what we needed.

Apparently Cherry Slugs are the soft skinned larvae of the glossy black sawfly Caliroa Cerasi. Isn’t that nice? The sawfly lays eggs on the leaves and they hatch into the slugs. Interesting enough, as I was examining the tree for more slugs, there were a bunch of little black flies all over the tree as well. I guess these little guys have come home to roost.

Once the slugs reach full size they drop to the ground where they dig themselves into the soil to pupate. Then adults emerge, flying to the leaves to lay more eggs. This happens twice each year, getting worse the second time around if not nipped in the bud during the first cycle.

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Although the tart cherry tree had lots of damage, and fairly quickly I might add because I’d just checked the tree two days before and there weren’t any slugs at that time (the eggs obviously hadn’t hatched), the sweet cherry tree had only one or two slugs on it. Hubby told me that there were some very easy solutions to this problem. The easiest was to just squish the slugs on the leaves.

Squish the slugs? With my fingers? Like that was going to happen.

Yes I changed dirty diapers, caught my kids throw-up, and have done some pretty gross things as a parent through the years, but somehow squashing a bug goes above and beyond for me. This is just one of those jobs meant for — Hubby.

So he examined the tree and quickly squished all he could find.

Next Hubby told me to mix up a bottle of water with a little dish-washing soap. Spraying this on the leaves will supposedly dry-up the slugs. They are very sensitive to the soap, so it presumably would kill anything Hubby missed.

I did this, happily. Not only did the tree get all squeaky clean, but it had a slight hint of lemons afterward. I did find one slug on a leaf as I sprayed and when it got sprayed, it stood up on its rear for a moment and then fell back to the leaf, flattening out in a pool of water. Well, at least this was working.

So as to make sure the slugs didn’t escape if they happened to fall to the ground, I also sprayed the ground around the tree generously.

Other remedies for these little guys include dusting the leaves with wood ash, chalk, flour, or powdered clay. Also, blasting the leaves with a garden hose should knock most of the slugs from the leaves, but then you still have the chance of them climbing back up the tree. This can be averted by generously spreading some vaseline around the base of the trunk of the tree.

So my trees have now been washed, greased, and powdered — like my kids when they were babies. I guess my trees are my new babies.

Oh, and although these slugs are reportedly only attracted to pear and cherry trees and I could find no mention of them infesting other fruit trees, I found flies and slugs on the peach tree this morning. I guess we’ll have to expand the name to Pear, Cherry and Peach Slugs!

For now, my trees are enjoying another hot and humid day, sticky from their morning bath of water and dish soap and I’m preparing some flour to sprinkle on the leaves tonight, just to cover all the bases. I’d have to say that growing fruit trees is definitely not for the faint at heart, but if these little trees make it and produce like our plum tree did the past three years (averaging more than 200 pounds of usable fruit a year), it will all be worth it, and this is why I am — Simply Grateful.

 


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Tomato Leaf Curl Quandary

Growing up my father could grow tomato plants without so much as a thought. He’d put the plants he’d bought at the local greenhouse in the ground and several months later he’d have tons of beautiful red tomatoes. Occasionally he’d weed, once in a while he’d water, and on the rarest of occasion he’d prune, but for the most part it was ‘Plant It and Forget It.’

Is that the trick? Is that what it takes to grow beautiful, hearty tomato plants? Please, somebody tell me because from Day 1 I have been struggling to keep my tomato plants alive. I’ve failed miserably, picked up the pieces, started over, and stumbled my way to nearly making it and finally when I thought the hard part was behind me, I wake up one morning and find my plants looking like this:

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Research has told me that this is tomato leaf curl. Of the three culprits (disease, herbicides, or environmental) the only one that fit my location and situation is environmental. Of course, this particular diagnosis doesn’t really help because the leaves are curling either because they are getting too much water or too little. This might sound easy enough to determine which one it is, but not really.

The weather here in Michigan has been utterly terrible for a would-be hands-off gardener. Although we have had tons of sun and warmth, there has been little to no rain for over a month. This means watering is my job. Now I watered my tomato plants last year and didn’t really have any issues. At least once or twice a week it would rain, and I’d just fill in by watering every once in a while. Now all the watering is up to me.

What makes this situation even more confusing is that not every plant is affected. In the main garden one or two plants have just mild curl.

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On the side of the house there are 8 plants and 3 of them are so curled that it is hard to tell that they are even tomato plants at all.

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Other plants that are planted in pots are hit or miss. Some of these are curling, some are fine.

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To determine if I was over or under watering I read up on what is the best way to water tomato plants. According to my research if tomatoes are in pots, it is best to completely soak the soil. Watering until the water comes out the bottom of the pot and then waiting until the soil is dry about an inch down before watering again is suggested.

As for ground planted tomatoes, heavy, thorough soaking is best. If moderate or light watering is done daily or every other day, the roots will not grow deeply. Watering heavy 1 -3 times a week is better than watering light 5 -6 days.

So what had I been doing? I was watering everything light to moderately about 4 – 6 times a week. The rest of the plants in the gardens are doing well, just the tomatoes seem to be struggling.

To test the theory that heavy watering would be best I watered the ground tomatoes super heavy three days ago and have left them alone in the 90 degree, sunny weather since. Upon checking them this morning they seem to be doing okay. They aren’t any worse, which to me is success. The three plants that were severely affected by the leaf curl seem to be improving just a little, but I’m not sure if it’s just wishful thinking.

The potted plants I watered heavily and left them until the pots dried up enough so when I put my finger into the soil an inch down it was no longer wet. They have not gotten worse, but I don’t see much improvement either.

So will my plants survive? Who really knows.

Many of the plants have tiny tomatoes and most of them have flowers (less the three with severe leaf curl that are beyond recognition). Without any help from Mother Nature to feed the garden as only she can I’m struggling. Last year and the three years prior to that I never gave much thought to how I should water the garden. It rained, I watered when it didn’t, and the garden grew. Now, with no rain and all the watering left solely up to an amateur gardener, the garden might just fail miserably.

Gardening is not easy, I know that. Last year I dealt with slugs, cucumber beetles, Japanese beetles, early blight, and cabbage moths. All of these however were fairly easy fixes. Sure it took time and a little science and/or luck, but the 2015 garden was pretty much a success. I’m going to keep plugging away, watering, not watering, feeding, not feeding, until the last. I figure the worst that can happen is the tomato plants don’t survive and I have to get our tomatoes from the local farmers. Worse things have happened, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


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Keeping Your Plum Tree Healthy — Dealing with Brown Rot

Hubby and I have never agreed on the beauty of trees lining the streets, shading the house, or decorating the yard. All he sees are the leaves that collect everywhere in the fall and the mess they make. Whereas I see is the lush foliage and cool shade in the summer, the beautiful changing colors in the fall, the sanctuary for birds and squirrels in the winter, and the promise of new life in the spring.

Unfortunately, my arguments for having trees has pretty much been ignored and our property is treeless, except for the one tree Hubby wanted — our Plum Tree. The only tree he actually agreed to letting me have was some sort of prune plum variety because it was a fruit that he loved. He actually likes to eat these plums when they are still green and nearly bitter, but he does enjoy all the canning I do with the fruit once it is ripe as long as I maintain a certain tartness in the end products.

When Hubby agreed to the plum tree some 15 or so years back, I had no idea how much work one little tree could be. In fact, I just recently read in two of my gardening books that plum trees are really not recommended for amateur gardeners because of how labor intensive they are. I can certainly attest to this.

The first few years we had out tree we had just a few flowers in spring and a few plums. Actually it turned out to be just enough for Hubby to enjoy eating right off the tree. After these first few seasons of just enough to eat, we enjoyed one season with quite a few plums – enough to can jam and preserves. Then for some reason our tree stopped producing. For at least five years our tree didn’t flower at all. It was lush with leaves come summer, but in the spring there was nothing.

After some research on the internet and examining our tree closely, we discovered that our tree had brown rot. This is a fungus that forms on the branches and trunk of the tree when rotten plums are not removed from the branches or picked up after they’ve fallen to the ground. Apparently the rotten fruit pretty much poisons the tree and stops it from producing fruit.

See that clump of brown sitting on the V portion between the trunk and the branch? That's brownrot.

See that clump of brown sitting on the V portion between the trunk and the branch? That’s brown rot.

Once we figured out why our tree no longer produced fruit, we wanted to know how to fix it. Many experts immediately suggested cutting down the tree and replanting in a different location. This was not an option. It had taken me years to get Hubby to even agree to a tree, there was no way I would get him to cut this one down, remove the stump, and then plant another tree. There had to be a better way.

Researching further we discovered that there was a spray we could apply to our tree beginning in the spring and continuing throughout the blossom and early fruit stages into early summer. Deciding this was our best and basically only option, we decided to try this.

The first step was to remove as many of the branches that were infected as possible in the fall. After we pruned all the branches with brown rot, we were left with a stump and one or two branches. The trunk was infected as well, so we cut as much of the brown rot off that. Then we applied several applications of the spray we were to use in the spring to what was left and kept our fingers crossed.

The following spring when the first signs of life began to show on our little stump Hubby began the treatments. Every week he sprayed the tree, careful to hit every inch of the trunk and branches. To our surprise, we actually had a few blossoms.

Once the blossoms began to bloom, Hubby cut back to spraying the tree every 14 days. By early summer we had a handful or so of small plums.

That first year was certainly not a bumper crop, but we persisted and after several years our little stump, or rather tree, really began to flourish. The trick was to make sure that all the fruit was picked from the tree at the end of the season and none of the rotten fruit was allowed to stay on the ground for any length of time. This also helped eliminate all the tiny bees that would infest the grass in search of the fermenting fruit.

For the past three years we have picked over 300 pounds of fruit each year from our little plum tree. That isn’t usable fruit, but total fruit. I’d say about 1/3 of the fruit we harvest is usable. The remaining is rotten, spoiling, or dehydrated. This could be eliminated if we were to thin the fruit when it begins to form, but with the tree producing as it has, this is not a viable option. Instead we just have to be diligent in removing all the rotten fruit from the branches and the ground — not an easy task.

Our plum tree weighed down with fruit prior to any picking.

Our plum tree weighed down with fruit prior to any picking.

Today I finally finished picking all the fruit, rotten or otherwise, from our plum tree.

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We ended up picking 153 pounds of usable fruit and had at least 6 five gallon buckets of rotten, spoiling, or dried up fruit.

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The tree has been pruned back considerably, because after three years of bumper crops I think both the tree and myself need a break from so many plums.

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Our tree still has brown rot,

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but by cutting off infected branches, removing every plum, pit, and rotting fruit, and maintaining a regiment of spraying the entire tree during the spring and early summer and then again in the fall after we have finished harvesting, our tree survives, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.