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Answers to Sheri's Tomato & Basil Plant Questions

Okiedawn OK Zone 7
16 years ago

Sheri,

BASIL

First, about the basil, since the answer is short and sweet.

You can harvest basil leaves anytime you want once the plants are a few inches tall.

It is best to harvest before the plants go to seed as the leaves will have the best flavor then. You can harvest leaves on an "as needed" basis, or you can harvest a lot at one time, and hang the leaves to dry. Some people make lots of pesto at one time when they have a lot of basil leaves, and freeze it for future use.

I cut off any flower stalks that appear on my plants in order to encourage the plants to put their energy into leaf production instead of flower/seed production. Once the plants start flowering, you can still cut them back just a few inches from the ground and they will put out new foliage. This gives you a longer harvest period.

TOMATOES

I don't know of much of anything you can spray directly on the fruit to deter pests, at least not anything that I would ever spray on food I was going to eat. Your best bet might be a non-toxic kaolin clay product called Surround. It coats the plant or fruit, depending on how you spray it, with a light coating of clay that makes the fruit or veggie less appealing to pests. Once you harvest the fruit, you wash off the clay. I have never tried it, but some people have been happy with the results, esp. on fruit trees.

I've linked some Surround info below. When it first came out on the market, you had to mail order it or order it online to get it. However, for the past couple of years, I have seen it in some full-service nurseries that have a good selection of organic products.

The yellowing of the leaves probably is early blight (Alternaria solani). Early blight is a common fungal disease and it is found worldwide, so if you grow tomatoes it will show up at some point, although often it does not show up the first year in a new garden. It always shows up at about this time of year, especially in years when we have lots of rain and higher than average humidity. In general, it will progress up the plant and completely defoliate it, causing the death of the plant. There are some tomato plants that grow vigorously enough to releaf and 'outgrow' the early blight, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

Early blight usually shows up first on older leaves as irregularly-shaped, brown necrotic lesions which expand as the disease progresses. Eventually they will often develop concentric black rings that remind one of a target. The yellow areas begin to surround the dark lesions, and the entire leaf may turn yellow as the disease progresses. Once the entire leaf is yellow, it is going to dry up and die.

To a lesser extent you may notice brown, elongated lesions on leaf stems and petioles. As the disease progresses even further, you may see fruit lesions near the calyx end. These lesions are dark brown to black, have a sort of leathery look to them, and often appear to be somewhat sunken in. They usually develop that concentric target appearance too.

Some of the tomatoes that I have grown which have been able to outgrow early blight include Better Boy, Brandy Boy, Nebraska Wedding, Cherokee Purple (some years), Sweet Million, Ildi, Sungold, Persimmon, Black Krim (some years), Aunt Ginny's Purple, Mortgage Lifter, Black Cherry, Black Prince, Whopper and Viva Italia.

Some years the early blight is more mild, although it is definitely there. Other years it is just awful. Early Blight is, in general, the reason that fresh fall plantings are a good (great!) idea. Some tomato plants do survive early blight, but they use up all their energy fighting to survive, and produce a poor crop as a consequence.

Their is no 'cure' for early blight once you have it. The best way to fight early blight is to try to prevent it. Some people spray their plants at regular intervals with a fungicide like Daconil that is labeled for early blight. Others try to prevent it organically by using Serenade, a copper-based fungicide, or baking soda sprays.

Early blight generally survives from season to season on decayed plant material in the soil. It is not just a tomato disease, affecting other wild and cultivated members of the solanacea family. If your garden space allows, a three to four year rotation can help keep early blight at a manageable level.

In a dry year, you can minimize early blight by keeping water off the foliage as much as possible. This includes only watering with soaker hoses or drip irrigation and keeping all moisture off the foliage. Mulching all areas of the garden, including pathways, helps also as it reduces soil splash. Of course, in a year like we have had in 2007, the rain, heavy dews and high humidity make it impossible to keep moisture off the foliage.

Yellowing leaves are not caused solely by early blight, or course, and yellowing leaves on tomato plants have many causes. However, in our climate, early blight is very often the cause of the yellowing leaves. I always remove blight infested leaves, and I don't like to spray anything on food we are going to eat, so I don't use chemical fungicides like Daconil. Thus, I always have early blight and always just plan to replace my spring-planted tomatoes with new ones for fall as the need arises.

Bacterial speck and bacterial spot are both common in rainy years too as they develop under the same type of weather conditions that are favorable for early blight. Often I see bacterial speck and spot diseases prior to early blight. Copper-based fungicides help keep them under control to a certain degree. However, in a year like this where we have had six to eight to ten days in a row with rain falling, it is hard for any of the foliar sprays to be really effective.

Most years, Early Blight begins to rampage through the plants at about the time they are covered in green tomatoes that are just beginning to ripen. You can usually keep the plants alive a month or two longer, or at least long enough to harvest most of the fruit as it ripens. It is rare, though, to get the average plant with early blight through the entire summer. Even those plants that survive early blight are so stressed that the spider mites tend to attack them quite vigorously, since spider mites are attracted to stressed plants.

I don't usually have an early blight problem on fall tomatoes. By the time the fall tomatoes are in the ground, the rain has stopped (most years) and the plants don't have much if any moisture getting on their leaves. Of course, the way things have gone this year, it is possible we will continue to have rainfall all summer and will have to deal with early blight on the fall tomatoes too.

Early Blight is one of the main reasons that it is so much easier to get a good crop of tomatoes in drought-type conditions and it is so much harder to get a good crop of tomatoes in rainy conditions. That seems backwards, I know, but it is what it is.

I hope you get a good crop before the early blight wins the war.

Dawn

Here is a link that might be useful: Surround At Home Information

Comments (23)

  • sheri_nwok
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Dawn,

    Thank you for your help! You said the Serenade and baking soda sprays are preventive, since the blight and bacteria have already set in, can I still use those sprays to help slow down the decay? I looked at the plant disease solver you posted earlier, and it looks alot like blight and bacteria spots.

    I am going to plant some fall tomatoes as well, and am wondering if I sprayed the ground well with seranade or neem oil before tilling it up, and also spray the ground around the plant after it is planted, on a regular basis, would that help control the fungus from infecting the plant in the first place?

    Also, I know the dates for fall tomatoes is July 1-15th, but I wanted to know if it would be ok, to go ahead and plant them now, I am tilling a different place for them. I hate to ask so many question, but I have read alot of your older postings, and still need to clarify a couple of things. Just out of curiosity, how many pounds have you had a tomato plant put out? I was reading on another forum, some ppl were claiming a single plant can produce over 100 #'s of tomatoes? Thank you so much!! Sheri

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sheri,

    Oh, please, never apologize for asking questions! That is the only way to learn.

    First of all, to the extent that anything I say is helpful, you are so very welcome!

    You can try Serenade and baking soda on unaffected foliage, or on new foliage that comes out after you remove the yellowing leaves. On some plants some years, it seems to help slow down the progression of early blight, and on some plants some years, it does not.

    I don't think that anything you spray on the soil will help or at least that is my understanding of it. There are not good soil fumigants available. There used to be some, but they were removed from the market because they killed EVERYTHING in the soil, including earthworms and microbes. Your best bet is probably a good bark mulch of some sort to serve as a barrier between the soil and the plant leaves. Also, scattering corn gluten meal on the soil surface or the mulch surface may help with the bacterial speck and bacterial spot.

    With the fall tomatoes, if you spray them with a baking soda spray or with Serenade, every 7 to 10 days from the moment you plant them, you may be able to prevent the foliar diseases.

    It is perfectly OK to go ahead and plant your fall tomatoes now if you have the space available. As a result of the earlier planting, you may not get tomatoes any earlier, since bloom and fruit set are mostly temperature related, but you will have bigger, healthier plants, so they ought to produce like crazy once the late summer and early autumn temps fall into the proper range.

    If you want to try to fix your soil that this year's tomatoes grew in, google 'soil solarization' and read about it. It might work, if you can bear to leave that soil bare and unplanted for the length of time it takes to solarize it.

    I don't track my plant production by number of fruit per plant or by total number of pounds. That kind of tracking appeals to some people (mostly guys, I've noticed, who seem interested in 'bragging rights' or in scientific study) but it is all so variable, depending on the variety chosen, the amount of soil preparation, the amount of space between the plants, the annual rainfall, the daytime and nighttime temps, etc., etc., that I don't think it is worth messing with.

    Some plants are heavy producers, some are not. Some years I get oodles of fruit from a given variety, and in another year that same variety doesn't produce well at all. Why drive myself nuts comparing this year's number of pounds to last year's, or whatever? I know which plants tend to produce a lot most years, and which ones don't. I also know that some of the best-tasting tomatoes can come from a plant that produces a relatively small number of tomatoes, but I like to choose the quality of fruit over the quantity of fruit.

    I'll give you an example. There are two tomato varieties I have grown that produce literally hundreds of fruit per plant, and they produce all summer long. They don't seem bothered by the heat, insects or disease. They are "4th of July" and "Super Boy". I call them throwaways, though. Why? To me, as grown in my garden with my soil and my weather, their taste is only so-so, only slightly better than grocery store tomatoes. So, some years I grow them and give away literally every single fruit they produce.

    Most of my friends and neighbors like the fruit from these varieties just fine, but that is because any homegrown tomato tastes better to them than grocery story tomatoes. To someone like me who grows numerous varieties of heirloom tomatoes with all their amazing flavors, these two heavy producers just can't match up, flavor-wise. So, in that sense I am spoiled. If I was going only by # of pounds produced, these plants would win, hands down. But, going by flavor, they don't even make the list. I didn't plant either one this year, by the way.

    Now, for someone else with different soil, different water, different weather and, yes, even different taste buds, perhaps 'Super Boy'and '4th of July' have a wonderful flavor. That is how it is in the tomato world.

    On the Tomato Forum, some of the people who get high fruit production per plant seem to live in much kinder climates than ours....you know, the kind of places where a hot summer day tends to be 88 or 90 degrees, and their summer nights often stay in the 60s and 70s all summer long. I believe that contributes to their high productivity. Many of them do an extraordinary amount of soil prep, spray regularly with Daconil or a similar product, and some of them use pesticides. Different conditions. Different results.

    Some people may be exaggerating results to impress others. Most of them, though, probably get just as many fruit as they claim they get, because I have seen photos of their plants loaded with tomatoes. Simply loaded. Is it likely to happen in our climate? Rarely. Just my opinion.

    Happy, happy growing!

    Dawn

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  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sheri,

    Sometimes I wonder if we try too hard. Last year, in admittedly horrendous drought conditions, who had the best-looking tomato plants?

    Was it my neighbor who is in his late 80s and has farmed, ranched and gardened his whole life, and who is not organic? No.

    Was it me, who has successfully gardened for most of my 48 years, and who always has an amazing crop of organic veggies, especially tomatoes? No.

    Was it the guy up the road who has over 200 tomato plants a year and is incredibly successful with them? No.

    It was a mom in her mid- to late-30s who didn't do anything special. She just dug holes in the ground in the middle of the lawn and stuck the tomato plants in the soil. No soil prep. No special treatment. She had the best-looking plants around. I don't know that she had the highest number of fruit per plant, but she had the best-looking plants for sure.

    The next best looking plants were raised by an elderly gentleman who had exactly three plants, spaced 8' apart, in a very large garden bed in which nothing else was grown. He had beautiful, lush, green plants. When I saw them around July 4th, they didn't have any fruit visible on them, though. The plants themselves were absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.

    So, sometimes you see things that surprise you and also make you wonder.

    That's how it goes.

    Dawn

  • katyar
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I'm a big-time lurker, and I've been following your postings, especially about tomatoes, during all the crappy weather we had this spring. Your hints about feeding the tomato plants and spraying them as well saved my poor, pitiful seedlings. They are growing quite well now and are even starting to bloom.

    I'm a balcony gardener (I live in an apartment) in OKC, and this year I swore to not buy any tomato plants--I would raise them from seed. My persistence and your help has paid off--not only do I have tomato plants, but eggplant, zucchini, peppers, flowers, several herbs, and a huge tub of hand-grown sunflowers. The work and worry has definitely been worth it, but I wanted to thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

    This is a great forum--I've learned a lot from everyone here.

    Thanks again.

    (Photos of my 'garden' are on my blog.)

    Here is a link that might be useful: Plains Girl

  • sheri_nwok
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Dawn,

    Thanks for being so considerate to answer all our questions, and not being annoyed, you are greatly appreciated!!! Your neighbor who threw some tomato plants in the lawn, that sounds like me 2 years ago, and I did have better tomatoes than everybody else!! Just Beefmaster, but everybody loved them....last year was a different story, I got one good tomato ate 1/2, then found a big bug in it, eek, I was traumatized!! I will read up on the soil solarization. I'm excited to try the heirlooms for the first time, and am planting alot of your fav's, and what some of the others from this forum liked. I will let everyone know how they turn out. Thanks a million, Sheri

    Katyar,

    It looks like you made good use of your sidewalk! Who needs a yard anyway? Maggie looks exactly like Mia, my Boston Terrier. Merryheart suggested earlier, that we should post some pics, so everyone will know who they are talking too, I think it's a good idea too, I'll try to post a pic of me and Mia and our garden on MY PAGE tomorrow. Sheri

  • hank1949
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hello Katyar. For an apartment dweller you got a lot of growing going on. Looks good. I looked at your blog out of curiousity, what exactly are fiber arts?

    Dawn, just where are those places "where a hot summer day tends to be 88 or 90 degrees, and their summer nights often stay in the 60s and 70s all summer long". Sounds delightful.

    Yesterday I was reading about basil, it said in part "but in the heat of summer it will produce abundantly." And this was referring to zone 7 too.

    My experience last year was that it went to seed rather quickly by late July. How do you get it to produce "abundantly" in the summer heat? If you cut off the flowers when they start to form, will that stop further flower aka seed production and trigger new and vigorous leaf development?Seems like I'm hearing a bouble message. Basil goes to seed fairly quickly Vs it will produce abundantly in summer heat. Which is it?

    Hank

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi Everyone!

    Katyar: It is so nice to see you here on the forum and I am glad that you stopped lurking and decided to reveal yourself to us! Now, you do know the rules, right? Once you stop lurking and post a message, you have to pop in periodically and let us know how things are going so that we won't worry about you.

    I am glad you are finding this forum helpful. I love it and I love the people here. I learn so much from everyone here. I so enjoyed seeing your photos of your balcony garden. What a wonderful container garden you have! I bet your neighbors love having all your beautiful plants to perk up that long, dull expanse of concrete.

    Sherri,

    Now, you know how I am--I could talk about tomatoes all day long, so when you ask me a question, you are doing me a huge favor by giving me a chance to go on and on about tomatoes!

    One of the things I have learned the hard way over the years and decades is that the best-looking tomato plants do not always produce the best-tasting tomatoes. That is a hard lesson to learn, and a hard lesson to absorb and retain.

    Sometimes, in a difficult year (like this one), I get really discouraged and think to myself 'Oh, the tomato plants look like crap..." and I am ready to pull them out and do something else. Then I look closely at them, and in spite of the crappy-looking foliage with its early blight and bacterial speck, I see lots and lots of tomatoes. So, I really have to work hard on myself to remember that I grow the plants for fruit and not for foliage.

    Last week we had a fundraiser at the fire department, and one of our fire board members kept telling everyone to drive past our house and look at the garden. And, you know, I was JUST DYING and begged him to stop, telling him that the rain and soggy soil had destroyed my garden and it was the worst yet and please, oh please, don't tell people to go look at it. He looked me right in the eye and told me that it was still a beautiful garden. Sigh. I suppose he is right. I'm not happy with how it looks, though, and I don't think anyone will change my mind this year. I just expect it to look a certain way, and this year it isn't.

    Sometimes writing about gardening is as much fun, or more fun, than going outside and doing it. That is sort of how I feel this year. Between the rain and the fire ants and the foliar diseases, and the heat and mosquitoes too, I'd rather be inside today. So, my DH is out there in the heat mowing like a madman and being eaten alive by skeeters. What a way to enjoy his day off! I'll be out this evening, picking tomatoes and slapping mosquitoes, once it cools off a little.

    Hank,

    I was specifically thinking of places like New York and Pennsylvania, where summers are often very mild in comparison to ours.

    I'll give you an example. One year we went to Pennsylvania to visit my in-laws the week of July 4th. It was cool, cloudy, rainy, and the high was about 80 degrees with the low in the lower 60s. I was cold the whole time we were up there. Another year we were up there for Memorial Day, and the temps were in the 30s near Lake Erie. Being from Texas and being very young, I took summer clothes. I had to borrow a coat and gloves to wear there the last weekend in May! So, heat is relative.

    Another year, some of the in-laws came here the first week in August. That week, Ardmore (30 miles north of us) was the hottest place in the nation, with high temps in the 110 to 114 degree range. The in-laws were just dying. And, of course, the nights were incredibly hot too. No clouds. No rain. NO relief. Just plain old hot.

    What place sounds like a better spot to raise tomatoes? I think Pennsylvania does, but I wouldn't want to put up with their winter weather!!!!

    Heat is relative. So are zones. Zone 7 in Oklahoma is quite different from Zone 7 in Oregon and both are different from Zone 7 in Tennessee. The differences can be enormous, because temperatures, humidity and rainfall have a huge influence on plant behavior, as does the amount of sunshine versus cloudiness.

    All zone 7 growing conditions are not the same. Not at all. That is why you see conflicting information. Also, it is a reason I tend to avoid most gardening books and magazines that are aimed at a nationwide audience. Their information is too broad and generic and often slanted towards the cooler conditions experienced on the East Coast. They will be discussing a plant that they say 'blooms all summer' and I will just laugh, because that plant will bloom here in March thru May, and then it fries and dies. In gardening, as in real estate, it is all about location. Location, location, location.

    My basils always TRY to go to seed. I try just as hard to keep them from going to seed by cutting them back. It is an endless battle. Sometimes I win. Sometimes they do. I am trying a new basil called Summerlong that is supposed to handle the heat better than most basils. Supposedly it will produce leaves the whole summer without going to seed. Time will tell.

    In some places and under some conditions, basil will produce all summer long without going to seed. But here? With our heat and our long hot days of virtually endless sunshine. No way. MAYBE if it gets lots of nitrogen to push leaf growth. MAYBE if it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. MAYBE if it gets abundant moisture. Really, really abundant moisture. Under our standard heat, sunlight and rainfall, though, it will go to seed. That is the way it is!

    Dawn

  • hank1949
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Dawn, you wouldn't want to take a guess about where I grew up would ya? SE Pennsylvania, Reading, right next to the PA Dutch country with their horse drawn carriages. I loved the weather there. But we had lots of summers with highs in the high nineties and humidity that would match anything I've expereinced in almost 40 years in Oklahoma. But every evening the temps did drop to where you probably needed a sweater it got so cool. But that was the relief from the days heat and muggieness. And winters there go on for months but not the outrageous winds like we have here. In the 20 years I lived there we never had an ice storm. It will stay in the 20's but it is clean crisp air and no wind in the valleys where cities are located.

    Stuff like air conditioning is funny. We need it after we get used to it. The first 4 years I lived in Oklahoma I didn't have air conditioning. We didn't have it when I was growing up in PA ever. Didn't have it in our cars either. Just crank down the windows and let the air circulate, that's all.

    I miss it mostly because in a couple minutes I could go from my house into the foothills three blocks away. From there I could go all over the area. And I could take one of my rifles and do some shooting further up and away in the hills. Here you have to belong to a damn gun club to shoot outside and they aren't convenient to get to. After school sometimes we'd grab our fishing gear, get on our bictcles and ride several miles to one of the nearby lakes or dams and fish till it got dark, then ride home and put the fish in the freezer and be up ready to go to school in the morning.

    I'm making myself homesick.

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi Hank,

    Well, they keep telling me that Pennsylvania has some hot weather, but it is cold every single time I go up there! Every time! Then they say, "Oh, but you should have been here last year. It was hot here last year!" Still, I agree that it is the cool nights which help make summer bearable. They are cloudy a lot too. And, as a Texas girl who grew up under big, wide-open skies, I always feel like the sky there is 'too small' by comparison. I also get kind of 'seasick' going up and down the hills and mountains....it is like a roller coaster ride to me! You can tell I am a flatlander when I am there!!!

    My husband grew up in Butler, just a little outside of Pittsburgh, and still has family in that part of the state. His sister and her family live near Harrisburg. His dad grew up near Meshoppen and his mom was from Mt. Jewett, which is close to Kane, which is fairly close to Erie.

    It sounds like you have such wonderful memories of Pennsylvania. Have you been back lately?

    I was fascinated by all the dead woodchucks along the highways. I had never even seen a woodchuck before our first trip there. I saw plenty though. I love the trout streams and the wildlife in the mountains, although the bears sort of scare me.

    Dawn

  • katyar
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hey, guys, thanks for making me feel so welcome!

    Dawn--it's always nice to meet someone else who's owned by a Boston Terror. I wouldn't trade my girl for anything.

    Hank--"fiber arts" are things like knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving--making things with fiber. I dabble in knitting (mostly socks and small stuff like that), and I bought a spinning wheel last year and having been learning how to spin. Of course, once you start down that path, you end up doing things like learning to process and dye fibers, then there's natural dyeing using plants like indigo and such, and on and on and on . . . I've met a lot of wonderful folks through my spinning friends, and many of them live in the country and have their own animals, sheep and goats and alpacas. It's a wonderful hobby that encompasses a lot of different areas.

    I'm positive my neighbors all think I'm the "crazy plant lady." I'm the only person in this entire complex who does anything like this, and of course it has to be over the top! It's a lot of work--I think I hauled at least a dozen bags of soil up those stairs, and then all the plants and pots and stuff besides, but once it's done, I love it. It gives me something positive to look forward to in the summer. I hate the heat with a passion, so the summer can be very long for me.

    My biggest problem has been the heat--obviously last summer was an outlier, but still, at 9 am on one Saturday morning last August, it was 110 degrees on that walkway (it faces east). At least it gets morning sun instead of the afternoon scorching. Between the heat and the UV rays, I had a horrible time keeping anything alive. It's made me take a good look at what I grow and how I take care of my plants this year. Hopefully we won't have as horrible a summer as last year--I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

    Thanks again for the encouragement, and I'll be around, I promise.

  • katyar
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Oops, not Dawn, Sherri, although Dawn--you should get a Boston, too--they're great garden supervisors!!

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Katyar,

    Sorry, but the last thing I need is another dog. :) I already have seven, and they think they own us, the property, and everything on the property.

    Where are these dogs right now? The four old dogs are in the house, in the air conditioning, sleeping like babies. They range in age from 5 yrs. to 12 yrs.

    One of the old dogs is an Australian Shepherd who was given to us by a friend. The other six old and young dogs were abandoned and dumped in the country to fend for themselves. Don't even get me started on people who do that to animals.

    The three young dogs are about 18 months old and they usually stay in the 'dog yard' where they have lots of shade, toys, etc. About noon they start whining and telling me they are 'too hot' and I let them into the barn-syle garage and turn on a couple of fans for them. All my dogs are spoiled. They go swimming every day in the hot weather, usually in the large pond down back of the barn. Every now and then they jump into the lily pond near the house. It is hard to get mad at them even when they swim right through the water lilies. Duke, the Rottweiler, always holds a water lily flower in his mouth while he is swimming because he knows I can't get mad at him for being in the lily pond when he looks so cute.

    Lately the turtles in the pond are nipping at the dog's feet, and that makes the dogs get out of the lily pond pretty quickly. Good turtles.

    Dawn

  • sheri_nwok
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Dawn,

    I'm glad that you could talk about tomatoes all day long, because I've been reading as much of it as I can, as well as many others obviously are. You answer questions better than anybody on any of the other forums or websites, seriously! I think we're all grateful that you moved to Oklahoma and then found this site. I am glad that you've taken in all of the orphaned dogs, I feel the same way about ppl treating their pets as if they are disposable. I can't imagine having 7 dogs though, I've got my little girl boston terrier, and two dobermans, and they wear me out. If I lived in the country I would take in the strays too. Speaking of your fire ants, is there any thing you have found effective for repelling them from the garden, I think some of mine are fire, some are little ones. I was wondering about spraying some hot pepper wax on the tomatoes, (not leaves) to repel whatever was eating them. Will it change the taste of the tomatoes? I found it at atwoods, the clay I couldn't find. Or maybe some spearmint spray all over the garden? Also it continues to rain here......I wonder if these heirlooms are going to taste better than a hybrid with all of this rain???? I didn't do raised beds, but I will on the fall tomatoes for sure. Sheri

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi Sheri,

    I have to type this quickly as I am about to head out on a major shopping/lunch expedition with 'the girls'. If I don't answer as thoroughly as usual and anything is unclear, I'll try to further explain it tonight.

    For fire ants, there is a great organic product that contains spinosad. I found mine at Lowe's but I have seen it in Wal-Mart also. Spinosad is safe for use around vegetables, which makes it unique among fire-ant killers. You can find it in versions by several different manufacturers, including Safer and Monterrey. Be sure you get the granular product that you can sprinkle onto the fire ant mounds. Monterrey markets a spray-on spinosad also that is somewhat successful as a fungal treatment/preventative. I have had great success with the granular spinosad in the veggie garden where fire ant mounds have popped up a lot in this rainy year.

    Try to figure out why the ants are on the plants. That is the key. I HATE spraying hot pepper spray on anything, so I have never tried it on the fruit, and I am worried it might burn the fruit in the same way it burns the foliage in our temperatures. So, if you try it, limit it to one or two fruits so you can see if it affects the fruit's flavor or harms the skin. If you can figure out WHY the ants are around, then we can figure out what to do about them. Check for aphids on the undersides leaves. Most ants are searching for aphid honeydew.

    The rain will definitely water-down the flavor of your tomatoes somewhat, whether they are heirlooms or hybrids. There isn't much you can do about it either. The ones I am eating now have a little milder flavor than usual, but they are still so very good!

    Dawn

  • sheepie58
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Katyar Welcome I was a lurker for a long time too :)
    it is nice to hear that someone else does knitting and other fiber work would love to learn spinning but don't think I need another hobbie LOL
    Your garden is looking great

    Dawn I will say you have giving me a lot of good advice about tomatoes and love reading what you have to say about them it is a great help to me

    Sheri I am trying fall tomatoes for the first time this year too good luck with yours

  • hank1949
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Speaking of tomatos, I read somewhere that recommended dental floss as a cheap thing to use to tie up tomatos climbing stakes. Somehow it doesn't sound like a good idea. Dental floss is strong but extremely thin stuff. You could cut cheese with it. Seems to me dental floss woud dig into the stalk of the tomato plant, not support it. It seems like something wider is in order. I started out using the waistbands from old underwear til I ran out and then I used some jute twine.

    Comments, experiences?

    Hank

  • sheri_nwok
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi Dawn,
    I must have aphids, because the ants are getting progressively worse every day. I think I have everything, actually. I have big bites now on the tomatoes, I have catepillars, ants, aphids, crickets, flys, grasshoppers, more and more spiders everyday. I was trying to get along, but I am going to have to do something. I will start with the spinosaid, and I bought some DE, maybe that will help.

    Sheepie, Thank you, and good luck to you too, maybe the fall tomatoes will work out better, I hope less pest!!

    Hank, I have used my daughters pantyhose to support some of mine, and when I ran out, I used plastic walmart bags, and just slit them down the side, and they have worked fairly well. I would agree, the dental floss sounds pretty scary. mine are getting heavy enough, it would definetly cut into them.

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi Sheepie!

    Lots of rain has been falling north and northwest of us--has it been raining at your place the last couple of days?

    Hank,

    I've never used dental floss, but then I cage my tomatoes and don't generally have to tie anything. I just poke the ends of the branches back inside the cages when they try to "escape".

    I use various types of material in the garden to tie plants to fences, stakes or other supports, including jute twine, cotton twine, green velcro ties bought in a roll at the garden center, and old panty hose. I am a little concerned that something as thin as dental floss might cut little grooves into tender green plant tissue, though.

    Sheri,

    I think I will do another post on bugs in the garden in general, but let me say a couple of things quickly here.

    1) Spiders are the absolute best thing to have in the garden because they are there for one reason and one reason alone and that is to eat insects. The spiders are your friend! Well, one year I had black widows in the garden, and I had to get rid of them, but other harmless spiders took their place and that was fine.

    2) If you have a lot of pest bugs in the garden, you need more bugs and not less. Are you seeing any lady bugs or green lacewings? If so, that is great. Like spiders, the lady bugs and green lacewings are there to eat pest bugs. I bought those little bags or cartons of lady bugs at nurseries several years in a row and released them into my garden. I now have a healthy population of ladybugs and no longer have to buy any. The ladybugs and the green lacewings (I only had to release them one year to build a good population) leep most pests under control.

    3) Most ants in general are good for the garden. They scavenge and remove dead bugs, bug eggs, etc. Some of our tiny native ants prey upon imported fire ants. I have two harvester ant beds right outside my garden and they are a huge help to me. I do treat with Safer organic fire ant bait for fire ants in the garden. Try to think of ants as an important part of the natural pest control system.

    4) If your tomatoes have obvious insect bites on them, I would look for green tomato hornworms (I have had one monster-sized one strip an entire plant bare this week, including eating most of 4 tomatoes that were the size of tennis balls) or for stinkbugs. It is just about stinkbug time here.

    5) Crickets and grasshoppers are a very complicated problem. I'll go into them on a separate post specifically about them, so it will be easy for someone to find later on if they are doing a 'search' of this forum.

    6) Flies are a nuisance. I have never worried about them or tried to get rid of them, but then I am in horse and cattle ranch country where the flies outnumber the humans about a billion to one.

    7) Caterpillars are complicated. The easy way to deal with them organically is to use Bt, a bacteria that kills any caterpillar, moth or butterfly that comes into contact with it. Bt is an organic product and is often found in products labeled 'Caterpillar Killer'.

    Because I love the butterflies and moths, I quit using Bt several years ago.

    Whether to use BT or not is an individual choice and I respect anyone's right to use it to rid their landscape of caterpillars. I prefer to not use it on our property, though, and just handpick caterpillars that have become a problem.

    It is easy to see bugs in the garden and get panicky and want to get rid of them all. I understand that. I have been there myself. When I was a young child, my dad sprayed DDT and other poisons to rid his garden of bugs. When I was a teenager, my dad sprayed religiously with Kelthane to get rid of the spider mites on his tomatoes. When I was a young woman in my 20s, with a family, home and garden of my own, my dad used Sevin dust as a multi-purpose bug killer. I tried his methods when I was in my mid- to late-20s and found they really didn't work. I started looking for a better way. It took me a few years, but I finally got it right. I'll describe it in the post I write in a few minutes about bugs. I'm not saying my way is the best way, but it is the best way for me and for all the critters who share this piece of land my family calls home.

    Dawn

  • metqabutane_yahoo_com
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I have found great success with using panty hose to tie up tomatos and other plants. I just get a cheap pair of hose, cut off the toes and either cut across the leg for small loops and strands, or cut up the leg for longer strings. The material is so soft and stretchy that you'd have to TRY to choke the plant to make it cut in. I like it better than cotton twine. plus it give with force so winds and new growth don't put too much pressure on the contact spot.

    I found a new way to stake a small pepper bush by pushing three large skewers into the soil in a triangle and then hooking an uncut loop of hose on two of them, then pulling part of the loop from behind the plant, first from the left and then from the right, to the third skewer in front. The plant is restrained by hose on all sides and it can't fall in any direction. It looks similar to what they do with newly planted trees.

  • hank1949
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sherri, I hadn't even thought about using cut up plastic sacks from grocery stores etc. I end up with roomfulls of them because I feel guilty about just throwing them out in the trash. Thanks.

    I've seen books where they used pantyhose with growing eggplant on trellises to support the fruits and take the weight off the plants. I suppose there are similar uses like that for other veggies to keep them off the ground or support the heavy fruits while growing the plants up instead of spreading across the ground.

    Any of you here heard of or thinking about practising SPIN farming? The concept is interesting. Are any of you involved with your legislators trying to get parts of the farm bill changed in Washington or the state ag dept to make things easier for small farmers, CSA programs, roadside stands, farmers markets, small animal producers, etc?

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hank,

    I use panty hose to support all kinds of muskmelons, cantaloupe, and other melons that are grown on trellises. They are great. They work well for anything that needs support. I have even used them for mini-watermelons grown on trellises like Sugar Baby or Yellow Doll.

    SPIN is pretty much just the standard old biointensive farming that many of us have been doing forever. I began farming biointensively while still living in Texas after reading John Jeavon's classic work "How To Grow More Vegetables and Fruits, Berries, Grain and Other Crops Than You Thought Possible in Less Land Than You Can Imagine".

    The "Old Farmers" and "Old Ranchers" thought I was crazy when I moved here and began gardening biointensively. I got a lot of grief because, they told me, I was 'doing everything wrong'. You know, my paths were too narrow, my beds were too wide, I spent too much time and money building the soil, and I planted my crops too close together.....not to mention that I interplanted crops and 'wasted' space on what they called 'weeds" (flowers and herbs to attract beneficials). Then there was the whole issue that I couldn't even get a tractor into my garden with its narrow paths, and I mulched everything which they considered a total waste! I was flabbergasted. It was like they felt threatened by my different ways of doing things.

    However, time and gardening success have shown them that there's more than one way to skin a cat....and most of them don't give me much grief any more. Well, except that I still don't use chemicals, so they think I am a fool, but I don't care. I produce 10 times as much as they do in the same space. And, because of interplanting and succession cropping, I always have plants still producing when theirs are done. AND, in a wet year like this, they can't even get their tractors into their large vegetable gardens because the ground is too wet. Thus, they are having major weed problems. I can to into my garden any time and not even get muddy, because all my beds and paths are mulched.

    I have NEVER tried to convince them that they ought to do things my way, but some of them have spend years trying to convince me to do things their way. THAT drives me nuts. I wish they would just accept that my way works for me.

    I love growing biointensively. It is the only method that makes a lot of sense to me. I think American agricultural has become too huge, too mechanized and too expensive and the result is that many family farmers are being forced out of farming and ranching. I think CSA, market growers, etc. will save agriculture by showing more traditional farmers that you can make money in a different way.

    I don't bother trying to influence the legislature. I'm too busy just doing what I do and keeping up with the weeding, the planting, the harvesting, etc. I do read several of the farming magazines, though, and stay up on the issues.

    Dawn

  • hank1949
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Dawn, what issues are of concern to families like yours?

    Hank

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    Original Author
    16 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hank,

    Farming type issues? I can't speak for my family, only for myself. Here's how I feel about a few ag issues:

    I am opposed to genetically modified crops.

    I don't think huge industrial farming conglomerates should be able to qualify for agricultural subsidies. I'd much rather see those subsidies keep American's farm families IN the farming business. The conglomerates can do just fine without the subsidies. The family farmers need them.

    I am not real crazy about the current organic certification process. It is VERY time consuming and VERY expensive and VERY difficult for small growers like CSAs and market growers to become certifed organic, so a lot of them opt out of doing that, and choose to market their products as 'naturally raised' or 'raised without chemicals' or with some other descriptive info that lets you know they follow organic practices but haven't been through the certification process. The whole certified organic process bothered me as the guidelines were being written. Some questionable practices and so-called organic products are allowed that I didn't think should be included.

    I wasn't crazy about the NAIS as it was proposed, but I think that battle has been won, at least to the extent that it affected average residents who have livestock-type pets and certain types of small farmers/ranchers.

    I support the slow food/eat local movement, but don't think it will ever catch on nationwide. We are too spoiled.

    I hate that the the mega-conglomerate seed companies are buying up all the small seed companies and we are losing so much of the seed diversity.

    I think that Roundup Ready crops are a mistake and believe glyphosate products will ultimately be implicated in some of the reptile and amphibian deformities which are so common these days.

    I think Terminator Technology should be banned from the seed industry.

    I would like to see ALL LEVELS of government support community gardens. Imagine how wonderful it would be if every single person who wanted to grow at least some of their own food (or flowers) had access to a plot in a community garden so they could do so!

    I would like to see our government get SERIOUS about energy independence and put a lot of money into developing Biofuels and other 'alternative' energy forms.

    I would like to see less dependence on cheap foreign food imports.

    Water rights are a huge local issue here in southern OK. North Texas is after our water and is determined to have it, and I think it would be short-sighted to sign a long-term contract to sell it to them. We need to keep our water here in this state for our citizens. Texas should be developing more reservoirs and building them NOW so they can take care of their citizens and leave our water alone.

    Well, that's a few ag issues on which I have an opinion.

    Dawn