Tak­ing good care of toma­toes

Go Gardening - - Editorial | Contents -

At plant­ing time, sturdy young tomato plants show no sign of trou­ble ahead but wise gar­den­ers are on watch.

Toma­toes are tigers for pun­ish­ment, at­tract­ing more than their fair share of sum­mer pests and dis­eases. Espe­cially where the ter­ri­ble Tomato and Po­tato Pys­llid has made its pres­ence felt, it can be tempt­ing to throw one’s hands up in de­feat.

But the fact re­mains, there is no deny­ing the su­pe­rior taste of a home grown tomato. Bugs can be beaten. The trick as al­ways is to know your en­e­mies in­ti­mately and then take the com­mon sense ap­proach known as ‘In­te­grated Pest Man­age­ment’.


Some tomato va­ri­eties are more dis­ease re­sis­tant than oth­ers. De­pend­ing on where you live and which pests or dis­eases are more prob­lem­atic, there will be va­ri­eties that fare bet­ter in your gar­den than oth­ers. Work­ing out which are best for you is largely a mat­ter

of trial and er­ror plus shar­ing suc­cess sto­ries among friends and neigh­bours. Ideally, se­lect a di­verse se­lec­tion of va­ri­eties known for their dis­ease re­sis­tance. Grafted tomato plants of­fer dis­ease re­sis­tant roots and ex­tra vigour. Early ripen­ing va­ri­eties can pro­vide a crop be­fore the worst pests and dis­eases take hold.


Re­gard­less of va­ri­ety, a healthy, well fed and well wa­tered plant has a bet­ter chance of fight­ing off at­tacks from pests and pathogens than a sickly mal­nour­ished one. Healthy plants need healthy soil. Deep, dark and spongy soil, rich in or­ganic mat­ter en­sures water and nu­tri­ents are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble to plants and, what­ever your pre­ferred way of feed­ing them, toma­toes need a con­tin­u­ous sup­ply of nu­tri­ents to sup­port their rapid growth.


In­fre­quent soak­ing en­cour­ages young roots to grow deeply into the soil where there is a good sup­ply of mois­ture and nu­tri­ents. Fre­quent shal­low wa­ter­ing en­cour­ages shal­low root growth more likely to suf­fer in a dry spell. Ap­ply water di­rectly to the soil. Sprin­klers are best avoided as wet leaf sur­faces in­vite dis­ease. Mulching with a layer of straw or fine bark will help keep the mois­ture in the soil where it is needed.


Tomato bugs thrive and mul­ti­ply in hu­mid con­di­tions. Keep­ing the above ground parts of the plant dry and well aer­ated is key. Keep your tomato plants weed-free with plenty of space for air. Too much air move­ment, how­ever, isn’t help­ful as wind dam­age is a po­ten­tial en­try point for dis­ease.


Avoid plant­ing toma­toes or their rel­a­tives (po­ta­toes, cap­sicum, chill­ies, egg­plants) in the same place year af­ter year. The longer a gar­den bed has a rest from any one plant fam­ily, the bet­ter. If it’s too hard to change the plant­ing place, con­sider chang­ing the soil or plant­ing toma­toes in con­tain­ers.


Be aware that dis­ease spores can be trans­ferred from one plant to an­other via tools or fin­gers. Also, avoid prun­ing toma­toes on a wet or hu­mid day as mois­ture as­sists dis­ease en­try. Seed saved from an in­fected crop may carry over dis­ease to the next crop. Be sure of your source or ob­tain fresh seed or seedlings from a rep­utable sup­plier.

When lower leaves show signs of dis­ease re­move them, ideally with clean sharp tools. Some­times it may be nec­es­sary to re­move an en­tire plant. Re­frain from adding in­fected ma­te­rial to your home com­post heap, which is un­likely to get hot enough to kill all the dis­ease spores and in­sect eggs.


Ev­ery pest has its nat­u­ral preda­tors. Think care­fully be­fore spray­ing pes­ti­cides and try plant­ing a va­ri­ety of herbs and flow­ers to at­tract a range of preda­tory in­sects. Read more on page 31.


What­ever your crop, aware­ness and early in­ter­ven­tion are an es­sen­tial first line of de­fence in the bat­tle of the bugs. Ob­ser­va­tion can be a lethal weapon so keep a close look out for the first signs of a prob­lem espe­cially as the weather warms up in sum­mer. It’s eas­ier to come up with cre­ative so­lu­tions when you know how your pest’s favourite en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions and how it lives and breeds.


Spray­ing with pro­tec­tive fungi­cides such as cop­per pro­vides ef­fec­tive con­trol against fun­gus dis­eases when ap­plied early in the sea­son be­fore the dis­ease cy­cle takes hold and when wet weather or high hu­mid­ity makes in­fec­tion likely. Cop­per is an ac­cepted or­ganic spray op­tion, but its overuse is a con­cern for soil health.


When all else fails, spray­ing with the right prod­uct at the right time can be the most cost ef­fec­tive op­tion to save a crop un­der threat. Gar­den cen­tres are a good place to go for help in choos­ing the right prod­uct. To­day’s reg­is­tered home gar­den pes­ti­cides are at the very low end of tox­i­c­ity and pose no risk to hu­mans when used as di­rected. Sev­eral are also safe to bees once they have dried on the plant. Neem tree oil is a nat­u­ral prod­uct that con­trols a wide range of in­sects. It can be ap­plied as a spray or as gran­ules in the soil. All pes­ti­cides, in­clud­ing nat­u­ral sprays have the po­ten­tial to harm ben­e­fi­cial in­sects and soil micro­organ­isms.


Mesh crop cover fab­ric is now avail­able in gar­den cen­tres and is an ef­fec­tive way to pre­vent in­sect pests in­clud­ing psyl­lids from lay­ing their eggs on crops.

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