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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Tomato Plant Woes – Splitting Down The Middle

Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the garden…

Last night before calling it a night I headed out to the garden to see if any plants needed a drink, some pruning, or a bit of a pep talk. It had been hot and humid, well above 90 degrees, and sunny most of the day. Having been such a hot one, Hubby and I hid out in the house catching up on anything we could find to do that didn’t require leaving the comfort of our air conditioning. Being on the inside looking out all day, the day seemed calm, almost tranquil, an illusion that would soon be set to right.

As I rounded the corner of the house and peered at my tomato garden the first thing I noticed was one of the yellow pear tomato plants that was planted right next to the house on the ground. What was strange about that, other than tomato plants don’t typically lay flat on the ground, was that the cage surrounding the plant as well as the 4-foot plant stake the tomato plant had been clipped to were on the ground too. The cage and stake had been pulled completely out of the ground.

Panic set in as I ran to the plant to survey the damage. Thankfully the stem had not broken. In fact, other than it being on the ground rather than standing its full height of more than 4 feet, it was perfect. As I picked up the cage, plant and stake and began positioning them back in place and in the ground I began to wonder how this could have happened. My first thought was that some neighborhood kids had decided to vandalize my garden. Not that this sort of thing happens often, but things do happen on occasion. I hated to place blame or even think such a thing, but it did not seem possible that wind could cause something like this.

Once the plant was securely in place I returned to surveying the remainder of the tomato plants. Looking into the garden that holds 33 of my plants I noticed one of the plants looked odd. The plant closest to the end against the house had been nearly 5 feet tall, and now I looked as if it weren’t there at all.

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Closer inspection revealed that this plant was split completely in two.

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Now I was really mad. Had some kids thrown a basketball into the garden and taken out one of my two cherry tomato plants? Had some dog chased a rabbit into my yard and barreled through the garden in so doing? What was going on?

I was devastated. The plant was full of huge cherry tomatoes, some even on the brink of turning red. There had to be more than 50 tomatoes on this plant. It was full of lush thick leaves that seemed to multiply daily even though I pruned them constantly.  There were branches full of flowers and the beginnings of yet more tomatoes. I’m not exaggerating when I say this one plant would have no doubt yielded more than 100 tomatoes on its own.

Standing there, heart-broken, I bent over and grabbed one half of the plant. Carefully I lifted it, noticing immediately how heavy it was. Gingerly placing it back on the ground I lifted the other half. This half was even heavier. The wheels in my head began to turn.

Standing back up I examined the area where the plant had stood. There was a sturdy 4-foot garden stake still standing with the plant clip attached. Reality was beginning to set in.

This wasn’t the work of some feisty neighborhood kid or rambunctious dog on the rampage, no this was far more serious. This was something that would surely threaten every tomato plant in my garden if I didn’t take action.

What was the cause of the first tomato plant falling to the ground and this tomato plant split?

Too much bounty!

Honestly, with all the difficulties I have had this summer with my tomato plants, having TOO much fruit was one problem I never thought I’d have to deal with. The heat and humidity have caused the tomato plants and their constantly multiplying tiny tomatoes to grow faster and larger than their stems and trunks can handle.

Looking closer at the other plants in the garden I noticed branch after branch laden with tomatoes bending close to breakage toward the ground. Even though every plant had been staked and most had cages around them as well, they were far too big and heavy for their own good.

Back to my split tomato plant though.

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Before I could address the rest of the garden, I needed to fix or at least try to fix this cherry tomato plant.

Tomato plants are very resilient and even when struggling against blight, sun scald, leaf curl, or any of the other countless things that can go wrong when growing tomatoes, they somehow overcome. Branches or even the trunk of the plant splitting is no exception.

My first task was to set the trunk back together as best I could so it could heal. I didn’t have anything to treat the wound with, to protect it against pests, so I set the sides as close together as I could and used additional plant stakes and clips to set it in place. It took four heavy-duty stakes and seven clips to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, but in the end I think it looks pretty good.

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With this plant now secure and off the ground I set to work on the rest of the garden. I added additional stakes to every plant, some even two or three, and placed clips to secure branches and trunks as far down as I could. Here are just a few of the other plants with the additional supports:

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This morning when I checked the split cherry tomato plant I was thrilled that it was doing fine. I had expected it to be withered and the leaves and branches to be drooping toward the ground. Surprisingly it was fine. The leaves were fresh, the branches stiff, and none of the tiny tomatoes had fallen off.

Last year my plants were heavily laden with fruit as well, but it was later in the season and the trunks and branches were developed enough to withstand the weight. This year the plants need to do a little catching up, although already many of the plants are more than 5 feet tall.

Hubby suggested I thin the tomatoes a bit, something about “too much of a good thing.” I don’t have the heart. It’s been a long road to get the plants where they are and I’m going to do whatever it takes to harvest each and every one of the tomatoes. I think they’ve endured enough and deserve the opportunity to thrive the best they can, and for this I am — 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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Saving Plants That Have Suffered Sun Scald

Consistent! I am nothing if not consistent and when it comes to my gardening this year — well, let’s just say I really need to change things up a bit!

For years I thought I had a black thumb when it came to any type of plants – house, garden, or even artificial. Hubby always joked that I could kill silk flowers, but in all honesty, he wasn’t too far off. Then a few years ago I made a real effort to grow a few tomato plants and possibly actually have a few for the family to eat. Well, that first year was tough, but by the second year I felt I was getting the hang of it and by the third year — that was last year and boy did the bounty come in. Over 1,000 peppers, 200+ cucumbers, tons of root vegetables, more beans than we could eat, and so many tomatoes that I actually had a few people who were driving who saw my plants weighted down with fruit stop by to ask me how I did it. Boy did this fluff up the old tail.

Conceit has got to be one of the seven deadly sins, and if it isn’t, well it ought to be. When I set out to start my seedlings this past spring I jumped in without giving it so much as a thought. I figured I’d done it before, so now I must be an expert, right? WRONG!

Everything and anything that could go wrong this year, has and it isn’t a matter of the weather not cooperating, my seeds not being fresh, the soil having lack of nutrients — no, it’s just me. I forgot that gardening isn’t easy. Gardening takes time, patience, attentiveness, and mostly knowledge. If you bounce around haphazardly, thinking you know everything when the truth of the matter is that you know so much about things that just aren’t so, things are going to get screwed up and screwed up fast.

This is exactly what has happened this year. I keep rushing around as if my garden has got to be done yesterday and because of this I have rushed my plants to near extinction. Even after replanting my tomatoes and vowing to slow down and learn from my mistakes, I am still killing them at every turn.

My latest fiasco was planting them outside. Did you know that you are supposed to “harden” seedlings off that are grown indoors prior to planting them outside? Well, I did, but that certainly didn’t stop me from just grabbing a tray of plants and putting them right in the ground. Can you guess what happened? Right, they began to die. Big surprise!

So, I tried to remedy my error and put my wonderful milk cartons to work. I knew to put them over the plants at night until they got accustomed to the varying temperatures, but forgot that the sun and wind would wreak havoc on them during the day. Guess what that led to? Yep, sun scald and breakage. Things just keep getting better.

To make matters even worse, I got so excited when the garden expansion was finally done and the soil looked so inviting, that I began planting my pepper plants outside. Do you think I hardened them off, learning from my tomato mistake? NO! Why would I do a silly thing like that. Can you guess what happened? Exactly! They too got sun scald and wind damage.

I swear, I am really beginning to think I should just hang up my garden gloves for the year, leave this gardening thing to the professionals and begin planning my trips to the farmer’s markets. At this point I don’t think I even deserve for my plants to live, that would truly teach me a lesson, wouldn’t it? Probably not. This dog is definitely too old to learn new tricks.

My problem is that I need to find a solution to my problem to recoup my losses and prove to myself that I am not a total failure. Googling sun scald and wind damage I found that really there is no fix for this other than luck. Some plants will recover, while other may not. This was not what I wanted to hear. I have never believed that there isn’t some solution to every problem. Even the most dire circumstances have to have a silver lining. I really can’t believe that I am being this optimistic at this point, but what the heck I’ve got absolutely nothing left to lose.

Staring out into the garden, with the sun beating down on my helpless little pepper plants, knowing that they will have at least 10 hours of full sun, I came to the realization I had two options. One, I can dig up every last plant, put them back in their little pots, hope they don’t die from the shock, allow them to recoup in the greenhouse for a week or so, and then harden them off like I was supposed to in the first place before replanting them back in the garden; or, I can find some way to protect these guys while they are still in the ground until they become acclimated to their new environment and do my best to nurse them back to health. Being the impatient sort I couldn’t see myself uprooting all those plants and trying to save them that way. No, there had to be a way to protect them.

Looking at all my wonderful milk cartons it came to me. Every plant in the garden has a stake. These stakes serve two very important purposes. One, they will help support the main stem of the plants as they grow throughout the summer (keeping my fingers crossed this happens this year) and two they hold the milk cartons in place when I cover the plants at night.  Well, maybe I could somehow use the milk cartons and stakes together to shelter the plants from the sun and wind during the day. Leaving the milk cartons over the plants all day would surely kill them. Although there is a hole at the top where air can escape, the heat of the sun would probably bake the plants and suffocate them. There had to be some way of suspending the milk cartons over the plants so air could circulate around them yet shade them from the harsh sun and gusting wind.

My solution: A simple clothespin!

By clipping a clothespin to the stake about a foot off the ground (a little more or less depending on how tall the plants were) and then sliding the milk carton back on the stake suspended the carton above the plant leaving enough space for the plants to breath and give them a fighting chance at becoming acclimated to their new home.

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Although the theory behind my idea seemed sound, it is definitely not foolproof. I have to go out several times a day to adjust the clothespins and cartons so the sun that is moving overhead doesn’t find it’s way to the tender leaves. This being said, I didn’t realize this the first day, so a few more leaves got scalded. Quite a few plants however have managed to avoid scalding altogether. Perhaps there is a little light at the end of the tunnel.

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Why is it that for weeks it was too cold out to even think about gardening and the first nice days we have when I stupidly put my plants directly in the garden, the sun shines in a cloudless sky and the temperatures reach the mid-80’s. No doubt this is one of those wonderful Murphy’s Laws.

I planted 24 peppers and 20 tomatoes outside without hardening them off. All of the peppers are still alive, but some with severe sun scald. Four tomato plants have died and a few others are pretty iffy. The remaining tomatoes have sun scald on about 50% of their leaves. Today is the first day that I believe there has not been any additional deterioration of the plants, although the day is not yet over. The peppers have at least another four hours of sun to endure.

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The remaining pepper and tomato plants I started inside have had two full days on the patio in the shade out of the wind and look pretty happy. I’m hoping by the weekend to be able to put them in the garden. The weather is supposed to become cloudy later in the week with a chance of rain. Why couldn’t that have been the case after I put those other plants in the ground? Just my luck. That’ll teach me, or not.

So, my milk cartons continue to be functional and will hopefully save the day, or in this case, save the pepper and tomato plants, and for this I am keeping my fingers crossed and — Simply Grateful.