Freakin’ Fungi

Show of hands, please. Who here has watched with horror as the leaves of their formerly healthy tomato plants suddenly turn yellow, cankerous, and then wither up and die? Well, join the club.

Arrgggh!!!
Arrgggh!!! (stock photo, not 2009 POD toms)

Here’s a primer on what POD’s tried and trying.

Supposedly these fungi (early tomato blight, fusarium wilt, and verticillium wilt) spread through contaminated soil or seeds.  So conceivably POD’s initial years of  infections could well have come with the well-started plants. Since new soil is purchased each year,  it’s unlikely contamination comes from the soil. Last year’s disaster is a mystery since the plants were started from seed in fresh soil. Unless, of course, the seeds themselves were contaminated. Hmmmm. The containers weren’t scrubbed clean this year, so perhaps there’s still some cause for concern. Something to remember for next year. We shall see.

Shop Wisely: Look for the following information on your plant’s tag or seed description (it means the variety is resistant to that particular evil disease)A – Alternaria leaf spot, F – Fusarium wilt, FF – Race 1 & Race 2 Fusarium, L – Septoria leaf spot, N – Nematodes, T – Tobacco mosaic virus, V – Verticilium wilt

An apple a day: Keeping plants well fed and happy will increase their resistance to fungus. A little calcium, and a fertilizer solution that’s not too heavy on the nitrogen. Next year we’ll try fish meal and more seaweed but for now, I guiltily confess, very diluted Miracle-Gro Tomato food is doing the job. (The nitrogen seems a little high, so this year I’m diluting it to half the strength they recommend.)

Patience, young Skywalker, patience: Wait until temperatures have stabilized and your seedlings have been properly hardened-off before planting. This increases immunity.

Thirsty Suckers: Tomatoes are 90-95% water and therefore, need water. Containers dry out quickly. Fun times. Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Stick your finger into the soil. Is it dry an inch or two below the surface? Water. Is it wet? Don’t.

Rise and Shine: Watering at night is like sticking a big “Fungus Welcome Here” sign on your tomato. Do it in the morning. Avoid getting water on the leaves. Mulch to avoid splash back. Do not touch the plant when it’s wet. Step away from the tomato.

Fumigate: Okay, POD can’t bear to use industrial fungicides and has been using Neem. Perhaps we’ll brave a baking soda, dish soap, and milk solution this year.

Give ‘em a Buzz Cut: So you’ve practiced your due diligence but suddenly, leaves are turning yellow. Nip ‘em off as soon as they begin to turn yellow. Avoid touching adjacent leaves with the diseased cast-offs. Hope for the best.

No Smoking: Tomatoes don’t like tobacco. Don’t smoke and don’t plant those pretty tobacco flowers anywhere near a tomato.

Tough Tomato Love

Since POD is new to the scene, an opportunity to rattle on about growing tomatoes from seed was missed. Consider yourselves spared.  Still, it’s not too late to share a word or two about hardening-0ff. Honestly, it’s not something I’d been patient enough to do properly before. For those of you in cooler climates than Philly and whose tomato seedlings are still snugly secured in the safety of your home, you’ll want to make sure you give the little guys time to acclimatize to a life on the mean streets. Or deck or patio or whatever.

First, be patient. (Which is really not something for which POD is known.) Make sure your average low temperature for the next 10 days hovers around the mid-50s. Then start by placing your seed trays outside, in the shade, for a few afternoons in a row. Remember to take them inside in the evenings. Then, expose them to a few hours of sunshine  and spring breezes for increasing lengths of time. After five days or so you can leave them out overnight.  After 8-12 days they should have gotten over the culture shock and have readied themselves for life as a plant on deck.

Wait for a cloudy day and then transplant your seedling deeply into the soil — only about 25-30% of the plant should be above the soil line. This will strengthen the plant immeasurably. Then, cross your fingers and hope the weather holds.

UPDATE: What’s with these cold temps???? 47 degrees tonight, really? In late May?