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Tomato Update

Our tomatoes are generally looking great this year! After 2 years of tomato heartache and heartbreak (heat one year, herbicide injury and heat the next), we finally have some great looking tomatoes again. We’re starting to see a touch of Early Blight here and there, and there’s also a little bit of residual herbicide damage that is just now showing up. Most of the plants have fruit set and are growing like weeds! We haven’t fertilized at all, other than a little bit of a liquid starter fertilizer at planting and working in some compost this spring.

The ‘Taxi’ tomato plant (orange fruit) is the early leader as far as fruit set. I’m withholding judgement until they ripen without excessive cracking, however.

I’ll be honest that I’m excited about this funky tomato. This is one of two fruit that I’ve seen set on the ‘Limmony’ plant. It is an heirloom that can get up to 1 pound in weight! There will probably only be a few fruit from this plant anyway.

This is the ‘Arkansas Traveler’ tomato, and I’m a little confused so far by the shape of the green tomatoes. It is supposed to be a pink, round tomato at maturity, but the fruit are giving the impression of being a little more oblong. The number of fruit set so far is great for an heirloom.

This is our Chocolate Cherry plant in the Pizza Garden. It has some suspicious looking brown lesions on the stems and some brown, wilting leaves. I rather suspect it looks like Bacterial Canker, which is largely a seedborne disease. I knew I should have kept using the old batch of seeds, rather than buying new ones. A boiling water treatment before planting would also have helped. I’m still waiting for a confirmation on the diagnosis, but there’s a high probability that this plant is going to be removed. Sadness!

That’s just a quick overview of a few of our tomatoes this year. I’ll keep you posted on the poor Chocolate Cherry plant.

Troubles in Vine-Land

As I mentioned in passing on Tuesday, we have several different things going on with our vining vegetables – cucumbers, squash, etc. Actually, the melon plants are all still in good shape, so the problems are restricted to the cucumbers and various squashes.

Here’s the first one:

The cucumbers in the Family of 4 Garden are coated with these…any ideas? I’ve seen numerous samples of vine plants come in this month with the same signs and symptoms. I think what tricks folks is all of the white flecks. This is actually a severe aphid infestation. If you look closely, especially in the upper left corner of the picture, you can see the green buggers. In the middle of this picture is an ant…and ants like to “farm” aphids and protect them from predators so the ants can feed on the sticky honeydew that the aphids excrete as they feed. The white flecks? Those are the aphid “skins” as they grow and mature they “molt” and leave those white skins behind. I’m sure there’s a technical term, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.

To make matters worse, the cucumbers also have these terrible looking insects on them! Can it get any worse? Well, actually, you might recognize the one as a ladybug, and the black and orange lizard-like bug…that’s the larvae of the ladybug! These are the good guys that are enjoying quite a feast of aphids!

So, what are we doing about the aphids on the cucumbers? Well, honestly, the answer is nothing. We’ve gotten quite a bounty of cucumbers, and the plants are still doing pretty well overall. The ladybugs aren’t controlling the aphids at this point, although given a couple of weeks they might get there. Spraying would kill the ladybugs and may not do much to prolong the life of the cucumber vines. We’ll probably let them go and pull the plants out in a few weeks if they become completely unproductive.

On to the next problem… An observant Master Gardeners saw this on the underside of one of the squash leaves on Tuesday. Theses are squash bug eggs. I’ve gotten several questions about why we aren’t having problems with squash bugs in the garden this year. The answer has pretty much been that we’ve been lucky. The renovated garden may have helped that situation too. At this point, we aren’t going to bother spraying, since most of the squash will be leaving the garden soon due to the third problem we’re seeing…

Ugh…powdery mildew. This is a disease that we often see on zinnias and other common garden plants about this time of year. Usually you start out seeing round, powdery white spots on the leaves. It seems like most of our squash went from 0 to 60 in almost no time flat, because the leaves are pretty well coated on several different varieties of squash. There are treatment options, but they are most effective as preventatives or very early in the infection period. These plants just aren’t worth saving at this point. Besides, we’re tired of zucchini! There are powdery mildew resistant varieties, but they can still get the disease in a bad year.

As you can see, a lot of things are starting to go downhill fast in the garden this year. Luckily we’ve got some seeds started inside and garlic on order for later this fall!

Another Look at the Grafted and Non-Grafted Heirloom Tomatoes

On getting back to work this week, some of the differences between the grafted and non-grafted heirlooms have become increasingly apparent.

This is the view of the non-grafted part of the bed. The two plants on the end aren’t bad, but the next 4 grafted plants in line have withered to almost nothing. In fact, we did yank them out after I took this picture. They obviously weren’t going to produce anything, so it was time to go!

Looking the other direction, the grafted heirlooms are just a bit too healthy. (The brown, crispy plant on the right side is one of the non-grafted plants.) Of course, the healthy plants don’t seem to have many tomatoes either that I could see. But they at least have the potential to produce tomatoes! That’s a step in the right direction.

I rather suspect that there are some tomatoes on the grafted plants, but it’s hard to see them in that jungle. (I just justified that suspicion by going out and finding a ripe Marmande hidden in the jumble of leaves.)

Friday PhotoEssay

Yet another Friday is here, and it is also the last Friday for Lunch in the Garden this summer. We’re featuring peppers, and we’ve definitely got a good crop of peppers in the garden!

These gorgeous bell peppers are from the ‘Big Bertha’ plants. The bell peppers seem to go in flushes, but this week was obviously a heavy harvest.

Look! The tomato plant laid a golden egg! Okay…this year, that might almost be true. The yellow “egg” is a Golden Rave Roma tomato and the red pepper behind it is actually a purple ‘Merlot’ pepper. Yes, really. We left it on the plant long enough, it turned red! Pretty neat!

Something decided that this melon was ready to eat, even if we didn’t! I think it is getting close, but I’m waiting for those dark green sutures (the stripes) to fade to something a little more creamy. It’s probably edible right now (well, obviously), but wouldn’t be very tasty. The melon are taking a lot longer to ripen than I expected them to – maybe a combination of how heavily they are set and the lovely weather.

We picked this ‘Black Krim’ tomato on Tuesday when it just had a tinge of pink. Good thing, because the rain the other night might have caused it to crack.

Here’s that same tomato this morning. It’s almost ready to eat. My past experience with the Black Krim is that it should be a more purple/brown color when ripe, but either the heat is causing the colors to be bleached out or the seeds we got were a little more genetically varied toward pink instead of purple. These tomatoes remind me a lot of the ‘Rose’ heirloom tomatoes we grew last year, at least in color. (Haven’t eaten one yet, so not sure about flavor.)

One of my coworkers brought this cool tomato in last week. Aren’t those designs artistic and cool? Anyway, this is an extremely characteristic example of Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. The tomatoes are still fine to eat, they just look bizarre. Usually the plants are infected while still in the greenhouse, and the only thing to do is to pull the plants out when you see a problem.

Have a great weekend! Posting will be light for the next couple of weeks, but don’t forget to check back occasionally!

First Seeds Started for 2011

Can you believe that it’s time to pore over catalogs and start planning the garden for 2011? We are having our first planning meeting for the Demonstration Garden next week, and I already know there are some great ideas for this summer!

One project that I’ve been meaning to try for a year and a half now is to try grafting some tomatoes. This is a fairly new and emerging technology in the U. S., although they’ve been doing it in Asia for a long time. If you want to read a very thorough article about the history of the technique and how it is done, check out this publication from North Carolina: Grafting for Disease Resistance in Heirloom Tomatoes (PDF). (The primary author on this article is our new K-State vegetable specialist, Cary Rivard. We’re excited to have him!)

Here’s the first step in the grafting procedure. I planted some seeds of 4 types of Heirloom tomatoes that I had on hand (Large Barred Boar, Rose, Brandywine, and Purple Russian). On the other side of the tray are the rootstocks, which are the variety ‘Maxifort.’ It is intended to be a rootstock variety, so it isn’t a commonly know variety. Theoretically you could use a regular hybrid that is disease resistant.

What I’m hoping to learn from this planting of seeds is how long it takes all of them to germinate. (This will be even more exciting, since all the seeds are older!) If they all happen to germinate within a 2 day window, then I will try the grafting technique when the plants reach the right size. If they don’t germinate within a 2 day window, then I will replant, staggering the plantings to get them to germinate at the same time. It should be a fun experiment for the late winter!