Problems and Pests

  • Blight Be Gone

    One of the most common problems a gardener will face during the growing season is blight – a fungal infection that resides in the soil and quickly devours plants like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplants.

    What begins as a small black or brown spot on the bottom leaves of the plant will quickly spread up the stem and onto the other leaves. If left alone, the blight can prevent plants from flowering and fruit from maturing.

    What Causes Blight?

    This disease thrives in wet, humid conditions, where temperatures range between 60º-80º F. It most commonly occurs on tomatoes when over-watering occurs from above and a mixture of moisture and dirt have made contact with the leaves of the plant. This bacterial fungus can spread quickly through excessive watering or by hand and can reside in the soil for many years.

    How to Fight
    Blight – Before It Arrives

    The most effective way to fight this infection is to prevent it altogether. Here's some steps every gardener should take.

    1. Start Your Own Seeds If you grow them yourself, you'll know your plants' history. You'll have guaranteed healthy, disease-free transplants.

    2. Establish Good Air CirculationGive your plants space – at least 3 feet between tomatoes – for your plants to breathe and to allow moisture to dry quickly. It's important to keep the branches off the ground and out of the soil too.

    3. Mulch – Use leaves, grass clippings, or straw to cover the base of each tomato plant to protect the foliage from soil getting splashed and to retain moisture for the root system.

    4. Water at Ground LevelUse soaker hoses or drip irrigation to keep foliage dry and water in the morning.

    5. Crop RotationThis step is key if you've had blight in previous years. Rotate your plantings so that the same vegetable is not grown in the same place for 3-4 years if possible.

    How to Fight Blight – After It's Arrived

    Sometimes it's too late to prevent a problem. Sometimes the problems just beat us to the punch. Blight is a hard one to fix in the garden. Here's a few ways to help the headache, though, and save some of those vegetables.

    1. Visit your Local Garden Center, Hardware Store, or Nursery for a Fungicide that Fights Blight
    If you're wanting an organic, natural solution, find a copper-based fungicide. This will help control the disease, but it may not cure it.

    2. Try one of these Homemade Remedies:
    a. Mix 3 cups compost, 1/2 cup powdered nonfat milk, 1/2 cup Epsom salts, and 1 Tbs. baking soda. Add a handful of this mixture into each planting hole and put more powdered milk on the soil every couple weeks throughout the season.

    b. Mix 1 part skim milk and 9 parts water together and spray on plants to the point where it runs off. Apply early in the summer to discourage diseases from starting.

    c. Sprinkle crushed egg shells and/or compost tea around the plants to help fight the blight naturally.

    3. Discard Infected Leaves & Wash Your Hands
    It may be hard to break off those branches, but if you don't you could lose the entire plant. And do not toss them in the compost pile. The bacteria will breed in the dirt there. It's important to wash your hands with soap after handling any blight-affected plants or you could unknowingly spread the disease on to other plants in your garden.

    Blight is one of those things that simply comes with the gardening territory. You're not alone in the fight! Follow these steps mentioned above and grow a blight-free garden for years to come.

    Have you tried another method that successfully gets rid of blight? What garden diseases have your plants survived? We'd love to hear from you and learn your secret!

  • Hornworms – The Tomato's Nightmare

    These large caterpillars can be very destructive, but tricky to find.  They are one of the most common pests you'll find in the garden, proving to be a nightmare for tomatoes and gardeners alike.

    Hornworms are the camouflaged green caterpillars that like to munch on the leaves, stems, and the immature fruits of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes. Tomatoes especially seem to be their prey of choice.  That's why most gardeners call them Tomato Hornworms.

    In early summer, they hatch from moth eggs on the underside of the leaves and grow to 4 inches in 4 weeks.  They typically have a black or red horn on their body, but they do not sting.  During its growth spurts, the unnoticed hornworm can literally destroy your plants in a matter of days.  You usually will spot their handiwork first, usually in the absence or bareness of leaves, and the sign of black droppings on the plant.

    This ugly duckling, which eventually turns into the hawk or sphinx moth – also known as the hummingbird moth – is a rather stubborn intruder.  The easiest and most effective way to protect your plants is to hand-pick the worms off whenever you spot them and either step on them or toss them in a bucket of soapy water.

    Diatomaceous Earth and Neem Oil will also help de-populate the hornworm camp, but it may take a couple days to take full effect.  Go ahead and pull off any hornworms that you see before any further damage can be done.

    If the problem is reoccurring every year, till the dirt over in the fall and spring to destroy any overwintering larvae in the soil. For helpful companion plants, grow dill and marigolds near your tomatoes.  Wasps will also serve as a natural predator against these pests, so if you spot their white eggs on a hornworm, let them be.  The wasps will finish the job.

    If you're growing tomatoes, hornworms are most likely to show up uninvited.  Make them know they're not welcome. Never let them win!

    What pest seems to be your nemesis in the garden?  What have you found that works to fight the Hornworm?

  • Blossom-End Rot

    This particular plant disorder is most commonly found on tomatoes, squash, melons, cucumbers, eggplants, and peppers.  The symptoms first appear early in the season when the fruits are about half of their full size. A decaying water spot will appear at the base of the fruit on the furthest end from the stem.  It will continue to increase in size, turning a dark, leathery brown color until the fruit must be discarded entirely.

    The “Bad Bugs” aren't to blame for this problem.  Blossom-End Rot is primarily caused by a deficiency in nutrients and is oftentimes a moisture-related problem.

    Plants rely on a heavy amount of calcium in the soil.  If the calcium levels are low, the fruit can not develop properly.  Blossom-End Rot can also be caused by too much nitrogen fertilizer, damaged roots, over-watering, and extreme drought conditions.

    This infection is best avoided with preventive methods.  Always establish a healthy foundation first or you'll regret it.  Make sure the soil has good drainage and contains a pH level around 6.5. Amendments such as Lime and compost will also contribute to balancing the soil beforehand.

    If you still happen to find yourself dealing with Blossom-End Rot mid-season, apply crushed egg-shell tea or compost tea to the base of the plant, try adding some powdered milk, and stabilize moisture levels.  Mulching with straw or grass clippings will help.  You will have to discard any infected fruits since they will not recover from the deficiency.  Use fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous.

    This problem can be a frustrating one, but fortunately it can be prevented.  Never underestimate the nutrition – or lack of – in the soil.  The vegetables depend on the dirt and the dirt depends on you, the gardener.  Don't let a small oversight steal away those valuable tomatoes.

    What problem(s) are you facing in your garden this year? Can we help?

  • Problems with Cutworms?

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    QUESTION: How do I keep cutworms from destroying my peas?
    -A gardener from Texas

    ANSWER: Cutworms LOVE to establish devastating tunnels of civilization at the base of various plants, including peas, tomatoes, and beans.  From there, they may climb up the stems and proceed to chew away the leaves and branches or they may remain in the soil to devour the roots of our precious plants.  Either way, YOU'LL RECOGNIZE THEIR PRESENCE when your plants fade to yellow and brown before getting completely severed usually at ground level.

    Here in our gardens, we're frequently defending our tomato plants against this invader, but no matter what plants are being attacked, the remedies are the same.

    (1.) Cardboard collars, made from paper towels, toilet paper rolls, and wrapping paper, will work in surrounding the base of the plant and blocking cutworms from circling in for the kill. Be sure to make the cardboard at least 3-4 inches in height and don't forget to bury at least an inch of the collar in the soil.  CUTWORMS DO MOST OF THEIR DAMAGE FROM BENEATH THE SURFACE. We have used this method and it has brought noticeable relief, but if you get any heavy rain, the collars may not last.

    (2.) To cure this possible complaint, you could wrap the stem of your plant with plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or plastic bottles - all of which create a thick barrier in deterring these pests. NOTE: Whatever method you choose, establish your "walls" in place before the plant gets too much time to form roots.  You don't want to cause more damage than you're attempting to avoid.

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    (4.) Another remedy we've tried on many various plants in our garden is applying Diatomaceous Earth and Neem Oil to control bugs and diseases. In the last year or so, we've hardly noticed cutworms at all and we believe DE and Neem Oil made a huge difference!  When you spray your plants, apply at night when cutworms are most active.  This will make the most effective application.

    (5.) Other gardeners have saved their peas with other remedies and experiments.  You can puree a large onion and blend it with 1/2 cup of water and spray the plants, quickly forcing cutworms to pack up and leave.

    (6.) Fresh, crushed eggshells, wood ash, and/or coffee grounds distributed around the plants also help rid them.

    (7.) One source even claimed that putting a wooden stick, such as a match or kabob skewer, against the stem of the plant on one or two sides will block the path of cutworms. Sounds interesting enough to try, don't you think?

    (8.) Others have tried luring frogs and birds, famous for being great insect killers, to their garden. Take caution here as too many birds around your garden may open up an entirely different can of worms.

    (9.) If you delay your planting or transplanting by a few weeks, that will help.

    (10.) Also, be sure to cut back your garden every year and clean out old vines and weeds, which invite the early worms to your garden.

    Whatever you do, don't give up.  DON'T LET THOSE CUTWORMS WIN!  Let's keep the peas!

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