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Preventing Blight On Your Tomatoes

CAN YOU RELATE TO THIS?

I long for ripe tomatoes, Not just in my dreams, Flea beetles munching all they can,

The beauty of a home garden is that everybody gets a chance to grow tomatoes. Today, some Triple Ts; (Ted Tomato Tips) including one tip I’ve never shared before.

EARLY AND LATE BLIGHTS

… appear to be the greatest concern among tomato gardeners everywhere.

Let me refer to part of an email from back on January 14, 2011. “Hello, Ted. I have been reading your page for so many years that I feel I can call you “Ted.”(For sure, please do; everybody does, says Ted.)

“I was wondering if you might know of a source for Heartland tomatoes. My daughter has a greenhouse at Pincher Creek and one of her client’s keeps asking for them but they aren’t listed in seed catalogues.”(Ted says: Heartland tomato seeds are available from Early’s Garden Centre, 2615 Lorne Ave., Saskatoon, Sask., S7J 0S5; Ph. 1-800-667-1159; email [email protected] or website www.earlysgarden.com.)

“I was concerned to read in your last page about potato blight at Glenn Mainland’s Raven farm. My one daughter lives in Spruce Grove and last year her tomato crop was completely demolished by blight — no fruit to can.

Her potatoes looked good when she had them curing in a wheelbarrow but when she went to put them into the cold room, they had rotted from the outside in. Another complete loss. I understand there were several cases of blight in Edmonton area. What happens if these seed potato farms are struck by blight? That could be a disaster. I’m an old gardener too, but I don’t sing too good. I have quite a good-size garden here anyway so will continue to play in the dirt.”

Ethel Turner, High River, Alta.

WHAT IS LATE BLIGHT?

The fact that it can appear so early in the season makes a gardener wonder why it’s named late blight. It’s an airborne fungal disease that can be spread by old infected plant debris, diseased seeds, wind, birds or insects. It starts out as leaf spots and then extends to stems and fruits, followed by brown cankers. Infected tomatoes may often smell fishy. Even a greyish mould can appear on undersides of blighted leaves. Finally, the plant can appear as though to collapse.

UNDERSTANDING THE CODES

… on tomato name tags. Hy indicates the tomato is a hybrid variety. VFN indicates the variety is resistant to common soil-borne diseases. If a variety has none of these labels, it has not been bred for resistance. An “S” means it’s a standard variety. That is, it’s an old-timer that’s been around for a while. A “CO” beside the name refers to seeds grown by a certified organic grower.

“Ind.” indicates the tomato is tall growing or vining in nature and will ultimately need frequent pruning, staking or caging. “Det.” means the plant is bushy growing in nature and requires minimal pruning or no pruning with short staking, or no support at all. It’s best however, to never let fruits lie on the ground. Prop them up with something.

WHAT’S WRONG

… with my tomatoes? By now, gardeners know that tomatoes can be prone to a wide range of problems. Don’t wait for visual symptoms to appear. Exercise preventive action.

While preparing and working the soil, sprinkle some horticultural dolomite lime (calcium and magnesium) on the surface. Stir some dried, powdered eggshells and/or skim milk powder into the bottom of the planting hole. Then, dissolve a handful of Epsom salts in four litres of water and add a cupful or two of the liquid on top. Before transplanting tomatoes out into the garden, let them sit in pure liquid skim milk for 20 to 30 minutes first. These steps help prevent a calcium deficiency and a better distribution of this mineral throughout the entire plant. If root development is improper, calcium mostly goes to the newest-growing leaves and nearby tissue.

MORE SUGGESTIONS

If you’ve been saving your own seed from open-pollinated and heirloom varieties, I’d suggest you buy some fresh seed instead. At the appropriate time, pick the brightest, hottest location in the garden, with a full eight hours of direct sunshine daily, if possible. Place young tomatoes deeply (about half the stem) in the planting hole. Give ’em space between each other… at least two feet apart or even more. New roots will develop all along the buried section of the stem and produce stronger, sturdier plants. Tomatoes require a slightly acidic pH between 6.0 and 6.8. A one-time feeding of seven per cent iron chelate will help with soil pH and prevent yellowing of leaf growth.

Good air circulation between plants is absolutely essential. Avoid smoking and working in the garden when tomato leaves are wet, as disease spores can travel and make any potential for infection worse. Keep tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant well apart, as any one of these can infect the other.

OXYGENATE YOUR SOIL

You can buy a tool called an Oxy-Bubbler at Home Hardware. It delivers an abundance of oxygen to the root zone and uses up to one-third less water than other watering tools.

Here’s an alternate option for oxygenating tomato plant roots and one of my best Ted Tips ever. I’ve never mentioned this previously. Buy a full 450-ml bottle of three per cent topical solution antiseptic hydrogen peroxide (H202). Add it to a clean, empty four-litre milk jug and fill it with water. Place the lid back on the jug and shake it vigorously to mix well. Or, place the H202 and water in a clean four-litre ice cream pail and whip it up well with an egg beater, then put the lid back on. Allow the H202 and water solution to sit overnight. Next morning when setting out your tomato seedlings, pour two cupfuls into each planting hole so the solution sinks down to the roots. Makes enough for about eight or more tomato plants.

Once established, (about 10 days after transplanting out) foliar feed tomato plants weekly by sprinkling water-soluble seaweed fertilizer or kelp, diluted in water 50 per cent of strength according to label directions. Cover the entire foliage before sun sets, so leaves are dry.

BER AND CRACKS ON TOMATOES

The above steps will help prevent blossom end rot (BER). As the name suggests, fruits become leathery, soft, sunken, then rot and blacken at the blossom end. There can also be other multi-combo factors that contribute to BER such as excessive nitrogen fertilizer, insufficient moisture, too wet, or poor drainage.

Cracks on fruits can occur as a result of rainy periods when temperatures remain high, or if the soil is allowed to dry out and then followed by a heavy watering or rainfall. Daily, even watering is the key, although not always possible to achieve.

BLOSSOMS FALL OFF OR DON’T SET FRUIT

Day-or nighttime temperatures that are too cool can inhibit pollination and cause blossom drop. As soon as those distinct yellow flowers appear, daily shake each tomato plant for a few seconds by holding it at the firmest part of the central stem. Or, with a small artist’s paintbrush, go from flower to flower and hand pollinate. If unseasonable weather is prolonged, get a hormone product such as Tomato Fruit Set or Blossom Set at your garden centre.

AH YES, REMEMBER — MAIL AN ENTRY TO:

Singing Gardener Draws, c/oGrainews,

1666 Dublin Ave.,

Winnipeg, Man. R3H 0H1.

See myGrainewsJanuary 10 and February 7, 2011 columns for a list of items to be drawn for. No strings attached. No questions to answer. Share a gardening tip or two with me, if you wish. Include your full name and mailing address… but please… NO email entries for the draws.

TODAY’S FINAL TOUCH

Want to get some not-so-easy- to-find and old-time heritage tomato seeds? Doucet’s Early Quebec Market is famous for tasty red fruits two to three inches in diameter. Short vines are very productive and real early.

Another early one is Beaver Lodge Slicer. It’s a very prolific producer of 2-1/2-inch unblemished, good-tasting fruits. Also among the early to ripen is Sugawarra. This red-fruiting tomato was developed in B.C. and quickly comes into season with lots of sweet-tasting, medium- size fruit. If all else fails and blight has been an issue in the past; I, Ted, recommend early-ripening tomatoes.

The above three are on a list of about 100 early-maturing tomatoes, along with numerous mid-season and late-maturing varieties.

Don’t the following tomato names intrigue you? Montreal Best, (a Canadian heirloom) Ten Fingers of Naples (ribbed so each tomato resembles 10 red fingers) and Peppermint (robust vines more than four feet, with low-acid, one-pound fruits). All are available from:

Upper Canada Seeds

44 Macklingate Court, Toronto, Ontario M1V 1A1. Ph. 416-447- 5321, email: u[email protected] Order online at uppercanadaseeds.ca.

Here’s another source for old-timer tomatoes. Peacevine is an early, small red cherry tomato with an unusual trait. It has a uniquely high level of gamma amino butyric acid that acts like a sedative to calm nerves and jitters.

Pomme d’Amour (apple of love) is a very old heirloom with pale-red skins and terrific flavour. Fruits grow in large clumps.

Tappy’s Heritage produces large-size red fruits borne in clusters up to four fruits. Note that Tappy’s has good disease resistance with excellent sweet flavour and meaty texture. The last two are mid-season. Seeds for aforesaid trio are available from: Terra Edibles, Foxboro, Ont. K0K 2B0. Phone 613-961-0654; www.terraedibles.ca.

ThisisTedMeseytontheSingingGardener andGrow-ItPoetfromPortagelaPrairie, Man.HellotoChristinaandMichaelMooney intheheartofCanada’swheatprovince; nearImperial,Saskatchewan!Christina’s cousinLesley-AnnefromOzsentalonga poem:Thenicestplacetobeisinsomeone’s thoughts!Thesafestplacetobeisin someone’sprayers!Andthebestplaceto beisin…God’shands!You’reinallthree. (Tedadds:andCanadaisaprettydarngood placetobetoo.Thebest!)Myemailaddress is [email protected]

About the author

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Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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