My Scheme for Beating Tomato Blight this Year
Every year it's the same sad drill for me. I choose & plant my tomatoes carefully, hopefully even, and every year one blight or another sets in and I lose them all, almost overnight. It's clear that here in Tidewater Virginia merely rotating the tomatoes from bed to bed to bed each season isn't working.
A bit of reading convinced me that most tomato blights are actually soilborne pathogens.
These fungal pathogens (most blights are a fungus) transferred from the soil to the leaves of the tomato plant by:
- careless watering or rain splash, which then splashes the soil up onto the leaves, or
- the leaves themselves dragging into the soil.
This season, I'm trying a kind of radical experiment to get tomato plant to last for the entire season.
I've failed to produce long-lived tomato plants from the standard offerings for sale at the several nurseries and discount houses around Virginia Beach. Instead, I made two small donations last winter to the University of Florida Klee Labs and received several packets of 15 seeds each. All the varieties developed at Klee are selected for taste and disease resistance from "heirloom" varieties. Because summers in Virginia Beach and Florida are so similar (hot and muggy), I am hopeful these new varieties will perform as well for me as they did for the University folks.
Klee does ask that each grower report back on his success with each test hybrid, so the varieties aren't available from the usual seed catalogs.
My varieties this year are:
- Garden Gem, determinant (100% failure to germinate), 3 oz salad tomato
- Maglia Rosa Cherry, semi-determinate, heirloom cherry
- "new" Hybrid, determinant, 6 oz slicer
- Garden Treasure, indeterminant, 8 oz slicer
All, except the Cherry (which is an heirloom used to create the Garden Gem), are resistant to Gray Leaf Spot, Phytophthora Race 3, Fusarium wilt Races 0, 1, & 2. Because the Cherry has no inherent resistance to disease, it will be planted in a separate bed from the rest of the tomatoes this year.
Preparing the Bed
I started by removing all of last winter's leftovers from the bed (except the Chard).
I then spread 40 lbs of worm castings on the bed (i'd harvested my worm bin the day before and got 50 lbs of castings)
I also added 3 cf bail of Happy Frog soil conditioner (humus, mushroom compost, bat guano, worm castings, ground oyster shells), which is slightly on the more Acid side of the pH scale, which the tomatoes like.
(Until labelling regulations, many commercial growers adjusted pH in hydroponic greenhouses with sulfuric acid (battery acid from the auto supply house). Both the sulfur and the acid shift were good for the tomatoes).
Add in a couple of bags of topsoil and some sand, then mix thoroughly.
I rolled the top stones off of the stack and laid down two runs of air & water permeable weed block.
Reset the top rocks to anchor the weed block. Added a few weed block staples along the centerline to hold the free edges down.
I purchased a Element soaker hose kit at the Blue store.
The kit came with 100 ft of soaker hose, some brown non-soaker hose, and all of these connections so that you could create any number of different configurations to fit your beds or soaker hose needs. All of the pieces are 1/2 inch.
All of the hose attachments have this blue flow restrictor. You only need one in your system (at the hydrant end). If you use any of them in other places in your project, take the blue flow restrictor out of the connector or your system will not run properly.
This hose cuts easily with a pair of scissors or a knife. Dip the pieces into water when you friction fit them. They go together easily.
Lay out your system, paying attention to where the plants will be and where you want the hose fitting to connect. The end stops screw off to allow you to screw on a garden hose and extend the system.
Brown hose does not "leak" but depending on your desires, you can use soaker hose as a connector as well.
Setting up the Tomato Cages
I gave up on cheap tomato cages some time ago. I can't find these online to link to, but they fold flat for storage (I can hang a dozen in the garage on two nails), are made of heavy welded wire, and plastic dipped. I see them at both the Blue and Orange store in the garden section.
The taller indeterminate tomatoes will go in back on the house side. The shorter determinant tomatoes will go in front. As I said earlier, since the Cherry is not resistant to any disease, I'm going to put it in a different bed.
So that's it. I'm hoping using this method that I can keep the leaves from coming in contact with soil borne pathogens.
And I've got my trays ready. I'm just waiting for the weed block to warm up the soil a bit. The tray of smaller tomatoes on the right are 4 weeks younger than those on the left. That way I will have succession plantings for when the determinant tomatoes (which tend to give all their fruit in one bunch) play out.
I'll report back on how this all works. If it doesn't work, I really don't know what I'm going to do.