Battling Tomato Wilt

Gardeners have often heard the importance of rotating vegetable crops during seasons. Rotate your crops! Your plants will drain the soil of needed nutrients otherwise! Rotate your crops! Your plants will become more vulnerable to disease otherwise! I have gardened with this maxim in the back of my head, but often have found the tasty homegrown tomato bounties’ siren songs too difficult to resist. And so, bucking common wisdom, I grew tomatoes in the same spot as tomatoes years past. Until this year, all was well. Tomato plants flourished in the same locations year after year.

Well, the time has come to atone for my gardening sins. How I rue my confidence now, thinking that a major disease could never strike my plants. Well, fusarium wilt, or verticillium wilt, came this year with a vengeance. I guess I was due for my lesson from Mother Nature.

Wilting Yellow Pear Tomatoes Disease
What bucking common wisdom will get you.

Both fusarium and verticillium wilt share many characteristics, making it difficult for a gardener to distinguish between the two. Both are soil-borne fungi, so the disease travels from the roots of the plant through the stem. [1] , [2]  Both brown the vascular tissue of the tomato plant, and choking the leaves off from nutrients from the soil. These leaves yellow, then brown, and then die. Individual plants are affected, with symptoms appearing when the plant begins to set fruit.

Fusarium and veticillium are distinguished from each other based on their ranges and based on how quickly the plant succumbs to the fungus. Fusarium wilt is much more common in the southern range of the United States. Veticillum wilt is common in the north, so much more than Fusarium wilt that the University of Illinois Extension office only has a website on the former. [3] The streaking that accompanies verticillium wilt is lighter than that of fusarium wilt and typically does not extend all the way up the stem. Veticilum wilt also proceeds more slowly.

photo of yellow pear with streak in leaf stem
Dark vascular streaking on Yellow Pear stem.)

There is no easy solution for either fungus. Instead, crop rotation and disease management is the only way to control the spread. This year, I have pruned the first foot of each tomato plant of foliage and have cut back watering to every other day. Without those lower leaves, the tomatoes have more airflow close to the ground.  Also, the drier soil prevents the fungus from spreading. Finally, in desperation, I have also treated each tomato with powdered copper fungicide below the fruiting level. This is risky because the plant is also in danger of being damaged by the fungicide and the copper never leaves the soil (it is a heavy metal after all). [4] I have also pruned all diseased leaves from affected plants on a weekly basis.

Kims Civil War Oxheart Tomatoes
Pruning foliage has the added benefit of giant tomatoes!

 

My efforts seem to have stymied the spread of the disease in all of the tomato plants but the Yellow Pears. Yellow Pears are my mother’s favorite variety of homegrown tomato, and so she has been particularly disappointed with this year’s crop. I have grown the variety for her before and never had any problems with them.  Foolhardily, I only planted one Yellow Pear this year. Well, Mother Nature, I have learned my lesson.  Next year I will take heed of old gardening wisdom and rotate my tomato crop!

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Why have we lagged on posting? Beets me!

Much like every summer before this one, time has gotten away from us. Fun trips, graduations, intramural sports… they make the summer. People are more social and pleasant during the summer.  In general life just seems so much easier. So here we are. Finally at the end of July, Capt Capsicum and I have a weekend free from social obligations. Time do to some relaxing. And of course, some seriously overdue weeding and harvesting in the garden. Last week, we pulled up the remainder of the beets we had sowed in the spring. The particular variety we were growing come from Poland and are called the “Okragly Ciemnoczerwony” Beet. This means “round dark red” beet. And it certainly lives up to the name.

okragly_ciemnoczerwony_beet.JPG
A small snapshot of the okragly ciemnoczerwony beets

As so many Chicagoans, I am Polish. I remember being young and getting forced to go to polish school on weekends. I remember the May 3rd parades on Belmont Ave celebrating Polish Constitution Day. I remember midnight mass on Christmas. And I cannot forget all the beets I used to eat. As a kid, I was a picky eater and neither parents have ever been very passionate cooks. Beets were consumed in two ways. Borsch (barszcz) or buraki ćwikłowe — a boiled grated beets with horseradish. And while I absolutely love barszcz, I hate hate hate buraki cwiklowe. Suffice it to say, it was a long time after I left home until I was ready to eat beets again.

And what better way to get back into a food you used to hate as an eight year old picky eater, than to grow it yourself? That’s what I was thinking when I was browsing seed catalogs this winter and looking at all the beautiful photos. I ended up choosing a Polish variety, the okragly ciemnoczerwony, because it seemed like the most poetic option given my history. Fast forward to the early spring, just as I was getting ready to cast the packet of seeds aside, Capt Capsicum planted two long rows when I wasn’t looking! I am so glad he did because these beets are beautiful.

The Okragly Ciemnoczerwony variety is smooth a deep dark variety that is astoundingly free of blemishes and perfectly beet-shaped when picked at the right time (one of ours also got freaky big). Like all other beets, these are a cool weather crop that is easy to take care of. We planted ours kind of late, but before these past two weeks, summer was pretty cool. We were careful to stay on top of our seedling thinning so that we had 4 or more inches between each plant.  It was a truly no fuss growing operation. Just as the heads were visibly sticking out from the soil, we pulled them and ate.

Chopped_okragly_ciemnoczerwony_beet
Big cziemnoczerwony beet before being cubed and roasted

Our cooking method was equally low fuss. We ended up using one of my favorite cook’s, Ina Garten’s, recipes for roasted beets.  It went well with some roasted chicken drumsticks spiced with paprika, and a few blanched garden green beans as well.

Don’t you love in the summer when you don’t buy any produce? Do you guys eat beet greens? How do you prepare them? What kind of beets do you grow?