The summer heat has hit its peak and what used to be a collection of small and growing vegetables is now an array of garden produce. Despite the best efforts of some overly-friendly groundhogs, the gardeners are enjoying the fruits of their labors.
Members are picking all sorts of goodies. There are summer squash in crisp green, bright yellow, and neon orange. Ruby red tomatoes and cool green cucumbers. Ruffled rich leaves of kale, deep purple eggplant, and emerald string beans. Pepper plants are looking healthy, as are the clumps of red and green Swiss chard. Rows of carrots with their airy foliage floating above the ground are showing crowns of bright orange carrots below the soil.
So far, three groundhogs have been trapped and relocated. They caused some damage before they were sent on their way, but luckily both the heat of the sun and the gardeners’ diligence in watering and reinforcing their fences has allowed the hardest-hit crops to recover and even thrive.
As you may notice in your own home gardens, many of the tomato plants this year have yellowing and dead leaves toward the bottom of the plants. This is most likely caused by a fungal disease.
Verticillium wilt is caused by a fungus that lives in most soils of the Northeast. It enjoys the long stretches of cool soil temperatures and lives on the dying underground parts of plant. When it infects the tomato plant, the leaves, especially on branches closest to the soil, turn yellow and then brown, and then they die. Sometimes a whole branch is affected.
Even though the affected plants look pretty sickly, the upper part of the plant usually continues to grow. Tomatoes that were growing on infected branches may drop before they ripen. What is a gardener to do?
There is not much you can do during the season after you notice this wilt. But to make sure the next year’s plants are not infected, don’t plant tomatoes in the same location for three years.
And just the way you need to keep the balance of good microbes outweighing the bad ones in your body, it is important to keep the soil microbes rich and diverse. The best way to do this is to continually add rich organic matter and compost to your soil every year. The foundation of a healthy garden is healthy soil.
You can also grow resistant types of tomatoes. Many gardeners have found that heirloom tomatoes are resistant. Our Brandywine tomatoes, for instance, are not showing any effects of the wilt.
“What is an heirloom?” you might ask. Perhaps the word is familiar but you don’t know what it really means. Stay tuned for the next installment of news from the community garden!