(Edited from news article from May 19, 2022)
Temperatures are heating up and fresh vegetables seem to be on most people’s minds. I’ve had several calls about vegetables, and as always, tomatoes rank high on the list. Everyone is after that first red, ripe, juicy, homegrown tomato to put between two slices of white bread with mayonnaise. I don’t blame them! I’m patiently waiting on my plants to produce.
Few things are more southern than growing your own vegetables, whether you eat them or not. Vegetable farming is not without challenges though, especially when you live in an area that has almost every possible insect and disease! Here are a few common things to look out for as we get closer to harvesting:
Tomatoes – Blossom end rot is a common issue we see on tomatoes. This shows up as a leathery, brown, sunken spot on the bottom of the tomato where the flower dropped off. The first indicator is small tomatoes turning red prematurely, but when you go to pick them, you see the rot.
It is caused whenever the plant is deficient in calcium (this also affects squash and cucumber). Sometimes this is due to low levels of calcium in the soil or low soil pH (a soil test will tell you if this is the case). You can side-dress tomato plants with ½ to ¾ cup of calcium nitrate per 10-foot row when plants start to set fruit.
Even with enough calcium, keeping soil moisture consistent is key. Inconsistent soil moisture keeps plants from taking calcium up from the soil. Plants should get 1-2 inches of water a week, which means you’ll likely need to irrigate if you don’t get enough rain. Make sure the soil isn’t too wet though, or you can cause the roots to rot. If your soil is sandier, you may need to water more frequently. Consistent watering also helps prevent splits and cracks in tomato fruit.
It’s best to use drip irrigation or a soaker hose and water in the morning. This will also help prevent another common issue, early blight disease on tomatoes. This shows up as small, dark-colored, circular lesions, often surrounded by chlorotic (yellow) tissue on older leaves. Left untreated, it can cause defoliation and damage to fruit. If you have early blight, treating early with chlorothalonil, mancozeb, and copper fungicides will help control it. Repeat applications will be needed every 7-10 days, rotating between chemicals. Be sure to follow label directions.
Squash – Be on the lookout for squash vine borer. Moths lay eggs on the stems. After hatching, the larva tunnel into the base of the stems. This will cause a sudden wilting of the plant. Insecticides can help control this, but they must be applied to the stems regularly following label directions. Treat at the shortest recommended time between treatments. Read the label for required days between application and harvest.
Recommended insecticides include permethrin, bifenthrin and carbaryl. If you are an organic gardener, you can treat the stems regularly with Neem oil and/or a Bt insecticide (Dipel, Thuricide and other brands).
Cucumber – Angular leaf spot is a bacterial disease that attacks leaves, stems, and fruit during warm, wet periods of weather. Small water-soaked spots on the underside of the leaves develop into straw-, tan- or brown-colored spots with angular shapes. It is spread by insects and splashing water. Copper sprays can help control the spread. Be on the lookout for cucumber beetles too. Use a spray containing permethrin, bifenthrin, or carbaryl.Regularly checking on your garden will help you stay on top of issues before they become a problem.