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 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.