Tomatoes Take Off

Did you plant your tomatoes early, but notice they didn’t grow much? Now, rising soil temperatures resulting from nighttime temperatures in the 60s will change that. As your tomatoes and green peppers begin active growth, monitor soil dampness carefully, since too much water or too little stresses the plants, and may even kill them. Make a regular practice (even daily in hot weather) of sticking a finger into the soil near your tomatoes to a depth of the first knuckle. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water. Otherwise, wait. Fluctuating water levels in the soil are the number one cause of problems with tomatoes. Regular applications of organic slow-release fertilizer such as cottonseed meal and garden gypsum for essential calcium (to prevent blossom end rot) help keep your tomatoes and peppers healthy. And on any of the vegetable, flower or fruit species you’ve planted in your garden, if you notice leaves, shoots flowers or other plants parts that have powdery white splotches on them, it’s probably powdery mildew, a common fungus. This category of fungi exists on living plant tissue. If you find such evidence, promptly pull off the leaves or plant parts and dispose of them – but not in the compost bins, where spores may continue and perhaps infect yours or other garden plots in the future. Several strategies for controlling powdery mildew can help. Select resistant strains of the vegetable – squashes, for instance – if possible. Keep your garden plot free from affected tissue material. Since the fungi thrive in conditions of high humidity, when you water, keep the plants as dry as possible by watering near the soil surface. Space or trim plants to ensure the best air circulation possible. –Carol Hassell