Monthly Archives: November 2010

Vermicomposting How Worm Composting Suppresses Disease

 Vermicomposting Video–Cornell University

This is an amazing educational video that discusses all aspects of vermicomposting or worm composting with red wigglers.  It is very interesting with excellent video shots about how wonderful red worms are and what they actually accomplish.

The video:  Vermicomposting: a Living Soil Amendment from Cornell University covers:

  1. Biology of Vermicomposting
  2. Mating Cycle of Red Worms
  3. Experiments in greenhouses with seedlings and synthetic growing mixes
  4. Detailed explanations of experiments of how worm compost’s microbial activity suppresses disease in seedlings.
  5. Creation of vermicompost at home and on a large scale.

See Cornell University’s website on worm composting research.

Tomato Diseases-Early Blight

Early Blight Confirmed in my Tomato Plants

Early Blight on my TomatoesThis year it was confirmed by a master gardener that my tomatoes were infected by the tomato disease early blight.  The leaves start turning brown and dying along with the stems.  In previous years everything kept on dying until the whole plant was dead.  This year most plants continued to grow, some better than others.  You can see the dead parts on the right mixed with healthy growth also.

This year I tried to fight it but without any fungicides.  Early blight is caused by the fungus Alternaria solani.

Techniques to Prevent Early Blight

There are several prevention techniques that I used which were recommended by the master gardener:

  1. Mulch the plant well.  The fungus can be splashed from the soil onto the lower leaves from the rain or watering.
  2. Provide good airflow around the plants by not crowding them.
  3. Pick off the lower leaves so that they are not near the soil with a chance of being infected.
  4. Don’t use any volunteer plants because they might be infected.  (This was hard for me because I like to see what a volunteer might turn out to be.)
  5. Water in the morning so the plants aren’t wet as night approaches.  And don’t splash the plants–just water the ground.
  6. If your plant has early blight pick off the dead leaves and stems to prevent it spreading.
  7. Dispose of all diseased leaves and stems, don’t let them go back into the soil and only compost if your pile is very hot.
  8. Buy resistant tomato plants, though I didn’t see any that were resistant to early blight.  The resistant varieties that I used didn’t do as well as the ones that I planted myself.

Organic Approaches to Fight Early Blight in my Tomatoes

Early Blight on Tomato The picture on the right shows the early blight just beginning.  I used a shot-gun approach so I don’t know what really worked.  Maybe a combination of everything.  I continually cut off diseased leaves and stems.  I used  different  foliar sprays that I created myself and different fertilizers.  I was hoping to strengthen the tomatoes so they could fight the disease themselves.

Early blight did not kill my tomatoes, some were very harmed and some just kept growing and producing.   I used foliar sprays of seaweed, Ocean Solution, worm tea, and  milk.  I fertilized the plants with fish emulsion, Ocean Solution and worm tea.  I used each product separately.  I didn’t combine them.  I had cherry tomatoes right up until frost.  In fact I harvested so many green cherries that I had two large aluminum pans of them in the basement ripening.  So something I did was working.

Growing Brandywine Tomatoes- A Delicious Heirloom

Brandywine tomatoes are a heirloom tomato which has that good old-fashioned tomato taste. I have grown Brandywine Tomatoes for 2 years now.  This fall, as I was cleaning out my tomato vines I found these two beauties (in the pic on the right) nestled in the leaves.  I had already harvested my Brandywine tomatoes maybe 2 months ago.  And then I had proceeded to cut out all the vines because they were diseased with early blight and I wanted to stop it spreading.  A master gardener diagnosed the early blight.Brandywine Tomatoes

Little did I realize that I had missed some of the vines and these 2 tomatoes were growing unbeknownst to me.  So I had a delightful surprise when I found them.  They are really delicious and full-flavored tomatoes.  They remind me of the tomatoes my father used to grow when  I was a kid before the extensive use of hybrids.

Growing these tomatoes has been somewhat problematic for me because they grow a beautiful first level of large tomatoes and then they stop producing so after I harvested the first group I did not expect any more so I didn’t even look for any.  Besides I thought I had cut out all the Brandywine vines.

I wrote to the extension service last year about this problem of only growing a first level of tomatoes and got this reply:

“There may be several reasons for blossom drop and failure to fruit and flower such as:  High and low temperatures, excessive nitrogen, limited sunlight, initial heavy flower set,  botrytis (gray mold) if excessive moisture and overhead watering. See our tomato publication University of Maryland Extension Tomatoes

So I didn’t really figure out what was wrong because their response  included so many variables.  After speaking to the master gardener who diagnosed the early blight, I learned that I should get more tomatoes from one plant than I had been getting.  So I was very delighted and surprised when I discovered these two “extra tomatoes”.  And then 2 weeks later I discovered 2 more like these!  So that was really great!

More on early blight in my next post…