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Growing Green

Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes

What would life be without homegrown tomatoes

Only two things that money can't buy

That's true love and home grown tomatoes."

-- Guy Clark

Fresh tomatoes are the reason I garden. There's nothing like that first juicy, sweet bite to remind you what summer is all about. You've planted your tomatoes two feet apart, staked them and pinched off the suckers, watered them in the morning, removed any stems touching the ground and have made sure there is good air circulation. And yet, you are finding spotty, yellowing leaves. Oh no! Disease has entered the garden. As tomatoes begin to set fruit, diseases are out there just waiting to attack. What to do when disease strikes? The following is a primer of tomato diseases and some strategies to handle them.

Most diseases that affect tomatoes are fungal. Septoria leaf spot, early and late blights, anthracnose, fusarium and verticillium are all caused by different fungi. (The most common ones you'll find in your home garden are Septoria and early blight.) Leaves may look spotted, wilted, yellow, black or brown; and fruits will also look spotty, brown or inedible. Identification of a particular fungal infection isn't necessary because treatment for each is the same. Remove affected plant material, water only in the mornings; make sure no foliage touches the ground, increase air circulation around plants and spray with fungicides approved for use on vegetables. (An organic, copper-based fungicide is effective against fungal infections and some bacterial diseases.) Fungicides don't cure diseased branches, but keep the fungus from spreading to disease-free plants. Fungal diseases can spread rapidly, so quick response is needed to save your tomatoes.

Bacterial diseases of tomatoes (Speck, Spot and Canker) have symptoms similar to fungal infections, and are treated similarly. Garden weeds can be a host for the bacteria that causes these diseases, so make sure your garden patch is weed free. Copper sulfate can somewhat reduce the spread of the disease, but good garden culture practices are key to keeping your bed disease free.

Clean your garden beds in the fall, and remove all plant material. Next spring, be sure to select disease resistant varieties, and rotate your tomatoes so they don't occupy the same spot in the garden for four years. This may be difficult to accomplish in small gardens, but not impossible. Consider container plantings. Here's hoping your tomato patch is weed and disease free.

Until next time, happy gardening!

It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato."

-- Lewis Grizzard