This year the seeding soil has been sterilized and containers have been washed with lots of soap and hot water. Even the styrofoam pellets have been washed and rinsed. (Although pellets from last year will not touch this year’s tomato and bean planters.)
Each year POD ties to walk the delicate line between trying new things, planting a nice variety of edibles, and planting enough of any given vegetable to make a meal. When your garden is a 10×10 roof deck and a bunch of pots, it makes things tricky.
And, every year, some things work and some things don’t. This year’s experiments included four cherry tomato plants versus the standard planting of two traditional plants. Good thing, too. The chocolate cherry got tossed before it could offer much to the table but the remaining three were pretty vigorous producers (despite an impressive case of early blight). Producing enough, in fact, for an almost-weekly dinner starring or, at the very least, co-starring sweet homegrown tomatoes.
The year’s biggest regret, however, is the inconsistent stream of green (or purple) beans. Next to tomatoes, beans are simply one of the summer’s greatest gifts and next year POD really needs to do something about this. Filet nickel bush beans are pretty marvelous: they’re tasty and prolific, but because of their short life span they take a lot of dedication to keep an even yield on the table. Two rotating pots (with a total of three plants) simply couldn’t come close to keeping up with the demand.
The wonderful Colorado State University Extension provides a terrific online tool for diagnosing a myriad of tomato diseases. Take, for example, the following:
So, okay, POD has Early Blight. No surprise there — it’s a recurring theme on deck.
Yeah, you may have thought you were off the hook. Your tomatoes were thriving and then, suddenly, they weren’t.
Symptoms become more obvious during the hotter months, so June and July spell tomato doom in Philly.
Now, what to do?
- Prune diseased leaves (as POD does oh-so-conscientiously) but keep an eye out for sunburned fruit. If you have to harvest it early, wrap it in newspaper and it’ll ripen in a few days.
- Since this is a fungus (soil, wind, or seedborne), sanitation is your best best: Remove all diseased plant leaves from the soil, clean your trimming tools, space your containers judiciously, avoid touching healthy leaves with the sick ones, wash hands before touching healthy plants.
- At the end of the season, clean and dry containers and drainage materials thoroughly.
- Use fresh potting soil each year. (POD dumps her used dirt on the local community pocket park…is this bad? No vegetables are grown there, the park desperately needs something besides city-provided wood chip mulch, and it truly hurts to throw the soil away.)
- Good air circulation is key, but the gusty winds on deck do a good job of ensuring this.
- Water the soil in the morning — avoid watering the leaves. Philly’s cold, rainy May and June didn’t help with these efforts…at all.
- If the infestation is heavy, use sulfur dust, Neem, or copper spray — it may help protect new leaves from infection.
- Fertilize! POD could be much more diligent on this count. Next year, POD’s gonna’ stick a calendar on the fridge and use an organic 5-6-5(ish) fertilizer every couple of week.
- Demonstrate patience: properly harden-off seedlings, transplant when evenings are consistently over 55 degrees, and trim leaves before sinking them into the soil. Refer to Return of the Fungi.