Vegetables


This summer has been, as they say, one for the books. High temperatures that went on for weeks and limited rainfall certainly did a number on our gardens, containers, and flower beds. Many calls to the Home & Garden Education Center were from gardeners bemoaning the sad state of affairs. Plants were stunted, didn’t set flowers or dropped them early when they did, leaves were scorched looking, and in general plants just performed poorly.

What a relief when the temps dropped into the 80s and rain actually fell in measurable quantities. Plants rebounded, lawns revived, and gardens began to produce once again. My window boxes and some hanging containers did not quite survive though and I refilled most of them this week with some beautiful flowering vinca and a plant that is new to me, evolvulus, a member of the morning glory family that produces tiny, bright blue flowers that last just a day.

Vinca and evolvulus 2

The squash plants that I thought were done for have now taken over their areas and are producing copious blossoms and fruit. I am happy to see that the Powdery mildew resistant variety (Success PM) has proven its worth as there are very few signs of the disease.

The squash bugs however have yet to give up the fight. There are still egg masses every few days and the odd grouping of nymphs that I am not sorry to say do not last long once I have spotted them.

The cucumbers and the eggplants are loaded with blossoms and have started bearing fruit. The tomatoes, which hadn’t suffered as much as some of the other plants, have been slow to ripen but they can continue to produce into October if they are covered at night.

I had moved some potted basil plants into a shady area a few weeks back and they have shown their appreciation by filling out nicely. I detect pesto in our near future! A second planting of arugula looks great as does the kale.

 

 

And we are not the only ones that are enjoying the kale. This differential grasshopper was munching away happily, not even caring that I was filming him. This species of grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) has been known to do some substantial damage to crops such as grains, hay, and alfalfa, especially during hot, dry periods which increase the likelihood of survival of the nymphs and adults. They will also feed on annuals such as sunflowers and perennials including one of their favorites: ragweed. Maybe they are not all bad. They don’t cause enough damage in a home garden to warrant insecticidal control.

 

A striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum) was also enjoying the kale even though the cucumber plants were not far away. The adult feeds on the foliage and the larvae feed on the roots but the biggest problem that they bring with them is the bacterial wilt known as Erwinia tracheiphila which can be fatal to cucurbits. The feeding of the adult beetle opens wounds in the plant but it is through the frass (excrement) that the bacteria enter the vascular tissues of the plant. As the bacteria multiply they block the xylem and prevent water and nutrients from reaching the shoots and leaves. The striped cucumber beetle is definitely a bigger concern than the grasshopper or squash bugs as they move so quickly that it is hard to just squish them out of existence like I do with the squash bug nymphs.

Striped cucmber beetle

Over on the asparagus fern a red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) stood out brightly against the delicate ferns. As with other insects that also feed on milkweed the red milkweed beetle accumulates alkaloid toxins in their flesh that protect it from predators. The black spots against that bright red-orange background are the insect equivalent of a large ‘Do Not Eat” sign. These can be picked off and dropped into a container of soapy water. Don’t use a spray or systemic insecticide on the milkweed as it will harm the beneficial insects that also visit, especially the Monarch butterfly.

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The Asian lady beetle has that same bright coloring and also uses a defensive chemical to deter predators. Some humans are allergic to this foul-smelling liquid that can be exuded from their legs. But this one was very busy doing what ‘ladybugs’ do best, munching on some aphids that were on the underside of a squash leaf.

 

The lady beetles may start to congregate both inside and outside of houses and can be a nuisance. Visit our fact sheet for information on the Asian lady beetle if you experience an infestation and consider the non-lethal ways to remove them, keeping in mind how beneficial they will be in next year’s garden. Although the nighttime temperatures can start to dip into the 50s as we progress into September the garden will enjoy the still warm days into October.

Susan Pelton

All images and videos by S. Pelton

 

 

Cracks in tomatoes, black rotten spots on the bottom of tomato fruit, and a hard yellow or white area on the inside walls of ripe tomatoes are all physiological problems, not caused by insects or disease.  It is a sad sight for gardeners investing so much time and energy to see the actual fruits of their labor turn into less than perfect tomatoes.

 

cracking of tomato, joey Williamson HGIC,Clemson.edu

Cracked Tomato

Let’s start with why tomatoes crack. Higher moisture levels after a dry period, such as lots of rain after a time of drought, will cause the inside cells to swell and grow faster than the outside skin will grow, resulting in splitting of the skin. To prevent cracking, keep soil evenly moist by watering, and use a mulch to prevent evaporation and keep soil cooler. Cracked tomatoes are still very edible, but not so pretty. Sometimes the cracks are deep, allowing rot to happen inside the meat of the fruit. Plan to use split tomatoes before rotting happen.

Blossom End Rot on Tomatoes, J.Allen Photo

Blossom End Rot, photo by Joan Allen.

Blossom end rot is expressed by a black, sunken area on the bottom, the blossom end, of the tomato. It is caused by a lack of calcium reaching the fruit. The soil could be lacking calcium which can only be determined by having a soil test done for nutrient levels. UConn does a basic soil test for $12.00 at soiltest.uconn.edu. New England is not usually lacking calcium in its soil, it is more likely the cause of blossom end rot is an interruption in the delivery of calcium from the soil to the fruit via water uptake. This is caused by irregular watering, letting the soil dry out, then watering or having a big rain event. Occasionally, high levels of potassium or magnesium fertilizers will compete with calcium uptake by the plants. Only use a balanced fertilizer to avoid an excess of individual nutrients and provide even water levels to the soil to avoid blossom end rot. Portions of the tomato not rotted are also still edible if you cut away the bad part.

yellowshoulder, hort.purdue.edu

Yellow Shoulders, hort.purdue.edu

Yellow shoulders disorder occurs on the top part of the tomato when areas never turn red, but stay yellow. The flesh underneath can be tough and corky. It can occur only on the top portion or can occur as a grey or white wall just under the skin around the whole fruit.This problem is caused by a number of different circumstances or combinations of them. We do know it is a problem at the cellular level that happens very early as the fruit is forming.  Cells in the area are smaller and not aligned normally, and the green chlorophyll areas do not develop red pigment. Causes are thought to be high temperatures over 90 degrees F at time of fruit formation, and possible pH levels over 6.7, and potassium, magnesium and calcium competition among each other. Again, a balanced fertilizer is needed.

tomato with white walls, yellow shoulders, photo by Becky M.

Tomato with white walls, yellow shoulders, photo by Becky M.

 

The take away message for all of these physiological problems are to have an adequate soil fertility and soil pH without over fertilizing, and have even soil moisture. Hope for summer temperatures to stay at or below 90 degrees F and your harvest baskets will be full of beautiful, delicious tomatoes.

-Carol Quish

 

It has been a dry few weeks in the vegetable garden resulting in dusty soil and slow-growing for those who are unable or unwilling to water. I have been watering only the vegetables in raised beds, which have responded nicely. Tomatoes are four feet tall with plenty of flowers and varying developmental stages of fruit. Cherry tomatoes seem a little behind this year compared to the hybrid larger plants.  For better fruit set and pollination, simulate the actions of a buzzing bee inside the flower releasing pollen by shaking the entire plant a little each day. This really works, especially if your garden lacks other flowering plants which attract pollinators.  A new trick I read about and will employ this year is to hang red Christmas balls on the tomato plants before fruit begins to ripen to fool the squirrels, chipmunks and birds into thinking those red orbs are not for eating.  Last year I had quite a few V-shaped holes in ripe tomatoes from bird beaks. Christmas ornaments in July might look a little silly, but worth it to keep the tomatoes free of bites except for humans. Shiny pinwheels placed around the garden to catch the wind works well, too. I found one plum tomato with blossom end rot today. Blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium in the soil, or an interruption in the delivery of calcium to the developing fruit. An interruption can be caused by uneven watering. Perhaps I was not as regular providing equal amounts of water as I thought!

tomato blossom end rot 2016, 7-8-2016

tomato blossom end rot

squash, yellow 7-2016

Summer squash

Summer squash and zucchini are doing very nicely. I have seen the squash vine borer adult flying among the plants, so I know I will have wilting vines about the time we are sick of eating squash casserole, breads and grilled zucchini. I should have planted extra squash seed every two weeks in another bed and kept it covered with row covers to replace the older plants which eventually die from the larva tunneling out the stems. (See an earlier blog for info on squash vine borer.)

Another squash pest easier to hand-pick and present also on my squash and cucumbers is the squash beetle. I scout for adults, eggs laid on top or bottom of leaves, and for the larval stage. I just squish all stages as my go to control measure. Cucumbers are climbing the trellis of arched cattle fencing re-purposed from a friend cleaning his garage.

Snow peas are just about finishing up after a late start and long spring. Flat leaf parsley needs to be picked and dehydrated or made into pesto and frozen on a cookie sheet in separate spoonfuls before storing in a ziplock and kept in the freezer. Easy way to take one or two and use in cooking.

 

Kale is growing faster than we can eat it! I find I can stay ahead of the cross-striped caterpillar and cabbage worm by interrupting their life cycle by cutting back all of the leaves except the growing tip at one time. I soak the leaves in a sink full of cold water with half cup of salt added to it. The caterpillars float to the top or sink to the bottom and the kale is clean. Although eating one or two after the kale is cooked won’t hurt us.

Kales, 7-8-2016

Kale

Hardneck garlic is proving to produce some pretty large bulbs this year, if the diameter of the stalk is any indication. I also pulled one a little early to check on the development. It was big. I am thinking the long, mild fall and winter let the root development go on a long time creating a healthy crop. Just waiting for half of the leaves to dry and turn tan signaling they are ready to be dug and hung to dry in the garage. Outside of the garden the gypsy moth caterpillars are pupating and emerging as the adult moths. The males are brownish, flitting around in a zigzagging flight seeking out the white, flightless females for mating.

garlic,hardneck, 7-8-2016

Hardneck garlic

I would love to spend the summer in my garden, but alas, I must return to work during the week. My interest in insects perks up when my basement office in a very old building surprises with the gift of a house centipede. While others may startle and run for a rolled up newspaper or fly swatter, I grab the camera for a picture to share with you. Don’t worry, they are harmless.

House centepede, 7-2016

House centipede.

-Carol Quish

Now is the time when a small pest that has the potential to do a large amount of damage will be hatching. I am speaking of the Squash Vine Borer, the larval stage of the clearwing moth Melittia cucurbitae, an insect so synonymous with the squash family that it has cucurbit in its name.

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The adult clearwing moth, unlike many other moth species, is diurnal and is therefore active during the day. With its orange abdomen and clear wings it is often is mistaken for a wasp. The adults are now emerging from the soil where they have over-wintered as pupae. Anecdotally it is said that the squash vine borer lays its eggs when the blue chicory is in bloom and a drive along any of our major interstates will confirm that it is indeed blooming now. (image by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org)

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The eggs, which are very small, are laid singly at the base of the stalks near the soil. This will make it easier for the newly-hatched larvae to enter the stalk. Seven to ten days later the larvae, which are white with a brown head, will emerge from the reddish-brown eggs and within hours instinctively burrow into the stem to begin feeding.(image by Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org)

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At this point symptoms will begin to appear starting with a wilting of the plant that recovers in the evening but progressing to a plant that does not revive in the evening or after watering. There may also be small entry holes visible at the base of the stem and sawdust-looking frass (waste). The larvae feed inside the stem for a little over two weeks, reaching 1” in length, at which time they exit the plant, burrowing 1-6” into the soil where they will pupate until next spring. I plant my cucurbits in upside-down coco coir liners that have a 2″ diameter hole in the bottom (now the top).

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The small opening and the protective coco coir make it easier to cover the base of the plant with row cover cloth and harder for the larvae to get to the soil to pupate. In warmer climates there may be two generations per year so we are fortunate that Connecticut only experiences one generation each summer.

It is almost impossible to control the larvae once they have entered the stems. If Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is applied to the plant tissue that is near the area where the larvae will hatch then they will feed on the residues prior to entering the stalk. Bt is a common soil-dwelling bacterial organism that forms crystals of insecticidal toxins called Cry proteins or crystal proteins. When consumed by the larvae, the Cry proteins undergo a series of chemical changes to the point that they paralyze the intestinal tract and the insect starves to death. Also good to know is that mammals have no toxic or allergic reactions to Bt, it only affects species in the orders Coleoptera, (beetles), Diptera (flies), Hymenoptera (ants, bees, sawflies, and wasps), Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies, and nematodes. Bt can also be injected into the stem where squash vine borer activity is suspected making it the only treatment that may work once the borer is inside. Additionally, normal exposure rates of Bt will not harm bees so that is good news for our pollinators.

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Butternut squash, cucumbers, and melons are not as susceptible to the squash vine borer as summer squash, pumpkins, and Hubbard squash, so plant the former varieties if you don’t want to deal with the borer. There are some practices that can be used if, like me, you can’t imagine a summer without freshly picked and grilled summer squash or a winter without home-canned ratatouille.

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The best protection is to prevent the clearwing moth from laying its eggs in the first place. Row covers placed during the egg-laying period starting in mid-June can be highly effective, just be sure to remove when the blossoms are ready for pollination (or leave them on and hand-pollinate). If possible, don’t plant in the same location as the prior year. If it’s not possible to rotate, at least turn over the soil at the end of the season to expose the pupae to the freezing temperatures of winter.

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For more information and control measures please check out our: Squash Vine Borer fact sheet.

Susan Pelton

 

The Home & Garden Education Center has received an abundance of inquiries related to Japanese pachysandra, (Pachysandra terminalis) during the last few weeks. Homeowners all over Connecticut are experiencing difficulty with this groundcover. It first becomes noticeable as other things around it start to green up in the spring and we see that the leaves are remaining a sickly shade of yellowish-green.

pachy blight 2

Affected bed of pachysandra

As it catches our attention we notice that the plantings in general look a bit sad and sparse. A closer look at the leaves will reveal that there are areas of irregular brown blotches that have concentric line patterns within the affected area and pretty sharply defined darker brown edges. The center of the spots will can appear much lighter if the salmon-pink fungal spores are present.

pachy blight 1

Pachysandra leaves showing signs of Volutella blight

The browning areas will continue to spread and darken and can encompass the entire leaf as it dies. The cankers that can develop on the stems and stolons can girdle the stem and cause the plant to wither and die by disrupting the transport of water and minerals through the plants vascular system.Unfortunately this can happen in as little as two weeks, especially if the weather is wet and humid. It has certainly been wet over the last week and although the total precipitation is around the average 1” needed for growing plants it has come in a slow but steady sprinkle allowing plants little time to dry out between the showers.

This is all the work of the fungus called Volutella pachysandricola, or Volutella Leaf and Stem Blight. This fungus is considered an opportunistic pathogen that attacks weak plants. It can infect leaves, stems, and stolons and is considered the most destructive disease of pachysandra. The pink spores that appear in the spring will darken to reddish-orange in the late summer and fall when a second type of spore is produced.

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Close-ups of the Volutella damage and spores

This winter may have provided the perfect storm needed by Volutella to thrive. Drying winds and winter sun can desiccate pachysandra if there is not an adequate cover of snow to provide protection. Also, many beds of pachysandra are near roads and sidewalks where salts may dry them out further. A cover of mulch could provide just enough needed winter protection for plantings in these areas but it should be removed in the early spring. Some symptoms of winter injury or sunscald such as tan or scorched leaves may initially appear to be Volutella but they will not exhibit the characteristic concentric lines of the disease.

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Those same pachysandra beds that are near sidewalks or roads or are used as edgings can receive damage from mowers, clippers and weed whackers (Or as they are called in Australia, ‘whipper snippers’. I just love that!). Cuts from lawn equipment can provide an opening in plant tissue and when the plant is wet the fungal spores are able to infect it easily and travel to the stems where they will cause the girdling mentioned earlier.

Good sanitation practices can be helpful when dealing with pachysandra blight. It is too late for a good fall cleanup now but you can still remove any plant debris that remains. During dry weather remove and bag (not compost) any diseased plants to reduce the inoculum. Thinning out beds will also help improve the air circulation that can speed up drying. Fungicides can be used as preventives for new growth or when wounds occur and systemic curatives can be used when symptoms first appear although they will not correct damaged tissues. Allegheny pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens) can be less susceptible to the disease or you could consider another groundcover such as creeping myrtle or vinca.

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Vinca major, also known as variegated greater periwinkle

Another source of wounds to pachysandra that should not be overlooked in insect damage. Scale insects such as Euonymous scale, two-spotted spider mites, and root knot nematodes have been found on plant samples that have come in to the Center. Horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps applied now can help control scale, just be sure to thoroughly coat the pests with the product. A miticide can be used on the spider mites but there is currently no control chemical treatment for the nematodes.

Euonymous scale

Euonymous scale image by Joan Allen

If you are experiencing these symptoms in your pachysandra beds you can get additional information from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station fact sheet entitled Volutella Blight of Pachysandra, on our website at Pachysandra Leaf and Stem Blight, or by contacting us at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center.

-Susan Pelton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late March and early April in Connecticut are the time of year that we gardeners dream about through the long, cold winter. The temperatures are on the rise, the days have lengthened, the soil is workable, and even if we do receive a snowfall it generally doesn’t last for long. The Lenten Rose (Hellebore) has bloomed and the crocus, grape hyacinth, daffodils are in their glory, soon to make way for the tulips which will follow. Yellow daffodils paired with the deep purple-blue of the grape hyacinth is one of my favorite combinations.

The pussy willows have come out and the forsythia is in bloom which means that it is the anecdotal time to put down the crabgrass preventer. The pre-emergent herbicide needs to be applied and watered in before the crabgrass seeds that were dropped last year germinate. Please visit our page on Crabgrass Control for more information on this yearly bane of homeowners.

Pussy Willow

For me this time of year is about planning this year’s vegetable garden and starting the growing season. It starts with plotting out the area that we have allotted for our vegetable garden (its 15’ x 25’) which includes four raised beds that are 3’ x 5’ each. There are many ways to do a garden plan. The simplest way, and the way that I started some years ago, is to put pencil to paper and sketch out a rough drawing.

The next step up is to use graph paper to plot out the actual footage available. This is the manner that I have progressed to over the years. With pencil, ink, and colored pencils I draw the placement of this year’s plantings. I refer to prior year’s plans so that I can rotate varieties among the beds as much as possible although I don’t have a very large space. There are several established perennial plantings, such as asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, and chives that do not get rotated.

Chives

These crops are placed around the perimeters of the garden, mostly to the east and south, where they will not block the sun from other plantings. The asparagus spears are just starting to emerge, the chives are growing, and the rhubarb was a perfect size to divide and replant.

A recent post on our UConn Home & Garden Education Center  Facebook page shared a link to many vegetable garden planners that can be found on-line ranging from the very simple to those that allow you to enter your actual plot size, vegetable varieties and succession plantings. There is even an app!

So, plan in place, it’s time to start planting. There are so many crops that enjoy a cool weather start such as peas, spinach, kale, arugula, radishes, beets, bok choy, and carrots. I have been working with my daughter Hannah on some plans for garden beds that her early education class will be working on this spring. In doing research on some classroom-appropriate experiments I came across one that compares the growth rate of seeds germinated (prior to planting) vs. un-germinated (direct sown). I usually soak beet seeds before they are planted but this year I germinated all of the varieties that are planted in the early spring, laying the seeds out on a damp paper towel and covering them with another damp towel.

Pre-germination

Just a side note, did you know that each beet ‘seed’ is actually a hard shell that encloses 3 seeds? As they sprout you can not only see three distinct seedlings (the row on the left in the image below) but the colors reflect the variety of beet also, whether red or yellow.

2 Days Later

Within days most of the seeds were well-sprouted and I planted them in the garden in their selected spots. It will be interesting to see if this gives them a head-start and if Hannah’s class gets similar results. They will also be running an experiment that starts seeds in solutions of differing pH levels from base to acidic to see what seeds prefer. If you would like to know the pH level of your garden soil and what your crops require then a soil sample to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory.

One thing to keep in mind when planting is done as a classroom activity is the length of the available growing season. There is little point in planting vegetables that will need care and be ready to harvest during the summer months when school is not in session. Our choices therefore were cool-weather plants that would be ready to harvest before school dismisses for the summer. Among these are snow peas that will mature in 60 days, Indian Summer spinach (35 days), Little Finger carrots (65 days), lettuce, arugula and spinach (35-40 days), Early Wonder beets (60 days) and Cherry Belle radishes that will be ready to harvest in just 22 days.

Just think about it. In a little more than a month we can be enjoying a freshly picked, tasty salad that is the harbinger of more good things to come!

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton

 

Mid March and warmer weather is descending upon us bringing a few pests currently, and some that will no doubt make a return. Inside our homes, the over-wintering nuisance insects have begun to come out of their hiding spots in attics and wall voids where they spent their winter dormancy. Now they are awake and clamoring to get outside to feed, mate and lay eggs on the their host plants. They fly to the windows and any lights trying to go outside. It is best to open the window and let them go or just vacuum them up. The list of nuisance insects which invade our homes in the fall, sleep off the winter, and awake in the spring are boxelder bugs, Asian lady beetles, leaf footed bugs and the brown marmorated stink bug.

box elder bug on gazebo 10-21-15 Pamm Cooper photo (2).jpg

Boxelder bug, photo p.cooper

AsianLady.jpg

Asian Lady Beetles.

 

Leaf footed bug

Leaf footed bug.

brown marmorated stink bug on gazebo 10-21-15 Pamm Cooper photo (2).jpg

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, photo p.cooper

Other early season pests can be found in the vegetable garden. Asparagus beetle usually appears a few days after the first spears emerge. However now they are busy feeding below ground on the stems pushing their way up. If stalks curl around above ground, chewing damage by the adult beetle has happened below ground as the stalks were developing. Feeding on one side damages the developing cells, while the other side grows normally causing the distorted shoots. Not much can be done to correct the shape, although the asparagus is still edible, just funny looking. Scout the stalks and bed for the nearby asparagus beetles. Hand pick and squish any or spray with neem oil to reduce feeding.

asparagus beetle damage.JPG

There are two types of asparagus beetles, the common and the spotted.

Another early season pest is flea beetle. They get their common name due to the way they move or jump like a flea. They feed on leafy crops of spinach, lettuce and chard of the cool season crops, and love eggplant, tomato and peppers once the soil is warm enough to accept these transplants. Row covers over the plants will keep them off of the leaves. There is a predatory wasp which does parasitize asparagus beetle eggs. The wasp is metalic green and tiny, about 1/8 inch long. The Latin name of the wasp is Tetrastichus asparagi.

What insects are appearing in you area of the world?

-Carol Quish

 

 

 

A weathered tobacco barn in the snow

A weathered tobacco barn in Enfield, CT

In northern Connecticut along the Connecticut River a quintessential image of winter is a tobacco barn in the snow. It may be bright red or a lovely weathered wood but either way it is an image of New England that many may think represents a time gone by. Although tobacco has been condemned as a health hazard the growing of tobacco is still a viable agribusiness in many towns in Connecticut, Enfield among them.

Tobacco was already being grown by the native populations when the European settlers arrived in the early 1600s. Within seven years of the town of Windsor’s founding in 1633 tobacco was being produced for both personal use and profit although the majority grown was a variety that originated in the Virginias. The rich sandy soil by the river and the short, hot summers yielded an excellent crop. By 1820 Connecticut Valley tobacco leaves were being used for cigars as the two outside layers, the binder and the wrapper.

The late 19th century saw a variety from Sumatra that began to replace the wrapper from this area. Local farmers created the ‘shade’ conditions that mimicked the sunlight and humidity of Sumatra. 1920 saw a cultivation height of 20,000 acres in the Connecticut River Valley although it is currently just over 2,000 acres. My husband’s great-uncle, Frank Burton, farmed tobacco in South Windsor during the 1930s and 40s. The following images are from a 1938 booklet that he used called ‘Hubbard’s Handybook for Growers’ from the Rogers & Hubbard Co. of Portland, Connecticut:

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Tobacco is part of the genus Nicotania from the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, a family that includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Tobacco mosaic virus is a disease that affects tomatoes and peppers in addition to tobacco. It can be transmitted through the debris of infected plants in the soil or through contamination of smoking materials on workers hands. It has been known to survive up to 50 years in dried plant parts. Avoid using tobacco products while handling or transplanting plants in the solanaceous family. Tomatoes will have foliage that has mottled yellow and green areas, reduced fruit set, dwarfing, and distortion. There is currently no control for TMV.

Another disease that can attack tobacco is blue mold, Peronospora tabacina, a downy mildew disease caused by a fungus-like organism that is highly destructive to seed beds, transplants, and fields.  Initially it can be confused with cold injury, malnutrition, or damping off. According to an Enfield tobacco farmer they did not have an issue with blue mold in 2015.

Insect pests of tobacco include aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, snails, slugs, wireworms, budworms, hornworms, and thrips. Many of these insects are common pests of tobacco’s relatives in the solonaceous family. Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) is vectored by tobacco thrips. Tobacco and tomato hornworms are large caterpillars of the Manduca species that can strip a plant of foliage in a short period of time. As with tomato hornworm, tobacco hornworm can also be parasitized by wasps.

The end of the tobacco growing season is not the end of farmer’s work. Little has changed over the centuries in the way that tobacco is harvested. The entire plant is cut off the stalk at ground level and brought to curing barn by way of slow-moving tractors.

Freshly cut tobacco leaves

In our neighborhood following a wagonload of newly cut tobacco is a common occurrence.

Tractor with a loaded cart of tobacco leaves

When the harvested plants reach the barns they are speared through the base in groups of four to six and hung to cure. The curing process allows for the slow oxidation and degradation of the carotenoids in the tobacco leaf that give it the aromas such as sweet hay, tea, rose oil, or fruits when smoked. Starch is converted to sugar which oxidizes into advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), the inhalation of which during smoking contributes to atherosclerosis and cancer.

Tobacco in the barn

Air-cured tobacco is allowed to dry in well-ventilated barns over a period of four to eight weeks. Fire-curing takes three days to ten weeks. The tobacco barns used for these methods have openings along the long sides that can be adjusted to control the heat and humidity in the barn during the curing process.

Ventilation slats open

Cured leaves are then sorted for use as filler or wrapper based on their appearance and overall quality and sent on to cigar manufactures.

Cured tobacco

For over 350 years tobacco has been omnipresent in this area. Many a Connecticut teenager worked on a local tobacco farm and although I never had that experience personally I understand that it was not pleasant work. Currently most tobacco work is done by seasonal employees although their numbers may also dwindle in the future as the land is turned over to more economically viable pursuits such as real estate development. The tobacco barns that dot our landscapes may be no more than curiosities to future generations.

A beautiful red barn in the snow

A beautiful red barn in winter.

 

Susan Pelton

(all images by Susan Pelton)

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January can be a disappointing month for vegetable gardeners if they are used to eating fresh food they produce. An unusual crop to get us through this  lean growing time can be mushrooms. I received an exciting Christmas gift of a home mushroom farm making it possible to grow a crop or several crops of mushrooms in my home. These kits are readily available online and sometimes at better garden centers. The one I received is sold by Backtotheroots.com. This is not an endorsement of any one product, just reporting on the one I am using. Other companies also have different varieties of edible mushrooms available. Mine grows oyster mushrooms, comes with several recipes and enough growing medium impregnated with spores for at least four consecutive crops.

Directions said to remove the front cardboard panel revealing the plastic bag filled with growing medium and mushroom spores. After cutting an X in the plastic, I removed the bag from the box, placing it in a bucket of warm water, cut side down, for eight hours. This is to moisten the growing medium. At the end of allotted time, I replaced the bag into the box, cut plastic side exposed through the hole in the cardboard. It said to scrape the exposed surface of the medium, which I did. Included in the kit was a small water misting bottle for spraying the area twice per day to keep the medium and spore well hydrated.

Mushroom Farm in a box, Day 1, photo C. Quish

Mushroom Farm in a box, Day 1, photo C. Quish

The newly formed mushrooms were growing fast. By day four, grey tips and white stems could be recognized as future oyster mushrooms. And I envisioned mushroom risotto, mushroom and pasta toss, and mushroom soup. I was not sure of the overall numbers and weight I could expect from this one foot tall box of a ‘garden’, but I had hope.

Day 4 spore germination.

Day 4 spore germination.

Day 4

Day 4

 

By day seven, the shape of the oyster mushroom was clear. I kept misting with water, kept the box on the kitchen counter pointed away from the west-facing window, and things seemed to be going well.

Day 7

Day 7

On day ten the mushrooms had grown so much the box opening was crowded to point harvest was needed. Picking was easy by just cutting off the stem at the base. New mushrooms should sprout to give another crop in 10 more days.

Day 10

Day 10

Oyster mushrooms are kind of airy, light in weight, but flavorful. After all that dreaming of incorporating my mushroom crop into many different recipes, I decided to just saute them in a little butter and olive oil, low and slow in a cast iron pan. We savored every one of them, enjoying my little harvest during January from the kitchen counter.

Mushrooms in pan

Adventures in mushrooms will continue as I keep misting and monitoring. After a second crop on this side of the bag, directions instruct to open the other side of the bag with an X and begin again to keep the ‘shrooms’ coming. I may get more adventuresome by trying other varieties sold in kits and others already grown and being sold at markets.

Mushrooms for sale at Farmer's Market, photo by C.Quish

Mushrooms for sale at Farmer’s Market, photo by C.Quish

-Carol Quish

 

 

 

August is supposed to be the month of non-stop tomatoes. Occasionally things go awry to interrupt those carefully laid spring visions of bountiful harvests, sauce making, and endless tomato sandwiches. Blossom end rot can appear to put an end to the crop production by damaging the ripening and developing fruits. We are seeing and receiving calls in a  higher number than more recent years from backyard gardeners complaining about black rotten spots on the bottom of their tomatoes. The spots start as a thickened, leathery spot which sinks in, always on the bottom of the fruit.

Blossom end rot on tomato, ohioline.osu.edu

Blossom end rot on tomato, ohioline.osu.edu

Blossom end rot can also occur on peppers.

Blossom end rot on peppers, photo taken by client

Blossom end rot on peppers, photo taken by client

Blossom end rot is a physiological condition due to lack of calcium. Calcium is needed by plants for  proper growth in all functions of cell making, but is most important for cell walls. Without enough calcium either in the soil, or if delivery of uptake of dissolved calcium in soil water is interrupted, cell division stops in the fruit. Tomatoes are especially sensitive to a lack of calcium.

Interruptions in uptake of calcium can happen by repeated cycles of soil drying out, receiving water, then drying out again. Times of drought and hot, humid weather make the problem worse. Plants lose water through their leaves through a process called transpiration, similar to the way we sweat. They then pull up water through their roots. If there is not enough soil moisture, plants wilt. This break is water delivery also limits calcium delivery. Tomato, and to a lesser degree pepper fruits, respond by developing rot on the bottom, the end where the blossom was before the fruit started growing.

High humidity and multiple cloudy days reduces transpiration, thereby reducing water uptake. This leaves plants not able to bring up new calcium rich water to the site making new cells of the fruit. Another interruption of delivery of calcium resulting in blossom end rot. This means that even if you have enough calcium in the soil and you water the soil regularly, the plants still may not be able to move enough calcium to where it is needed to produce a fruit.

Have a soil test done to make sure soil has enough calcium and that pH levels are around 6.5 so nutrients are most readily available. Water regularly so plants receive 1 to 2 inches of water per week for optimum growth. Feel the soil around the root zone to make sure water is soaking in and reaching the roots. Humidity and cloud cover are not obstacles we can help the plant with, so monitor the fruit for rot spots and remove. There are calcium foliar sprays which claim to deliver calcium to be absorbed by the leaves for use by the plant. This won’t help after the rot has already developed, but may help deter future spots on still developing tomatoes.

-Carol Quish

 

 

 

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