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FOR THE LOVE OF LEEKS

By Engrid Winslow

Photo of sliced leeks.

Image by Susann Wagner from Pixabay

“If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek!” ― William Shakespeare, Henry V

Since you planted leeks in the spring, now is the time to pat yourself on the back and enjoy the harvest. One of the simplest ways to enjoy leeks is to sauté them in butter and olive oil with mild peppers. It is also a good idea to slice them thinly and freeze them for adding to soups and stews during the winter.

Leeks are related to onions as they are both in the Allium family) but have a much more mild flavor. The Hebrew Bible talks of leeks, and reports it as abundant in Egypt. Dried specimens have been discovered at archaeological sites in ancient Egypt along with wall carvings and drawings, which indicate that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet from at least the second millennium BCE. Texts also show that it was grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second millennium BCE. The leek was a favorite vegetable of the Roman Emperor Nero, who consumed it in soup or in oil, believing it beneficial to the quality of his voice.

Some of the most common uses of Leek are as an ingredient of cock-a-leekie soup, leek and potato soup, and vichyssoise, as well as plain leek soup. But here are a couple of other ways for you to enjoy your harvest of leeks:

 

LEEKS AND CHICKEN

Serves 4

4 TBL extra-virgin olive oil                                             4 medium leeks, white and tender green parts, thinly sliced

1 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly                      2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 2-inch pieces

¼ cup flour, plus 1 TBL more, if needed                  3 cups chicken stock

1 tsp fresh thyme, leaves only                                   2 TBL nonfat plain Greek yogurt

4 tsp Dijon mustard                                                         1/3 cup water

Salt and pepper

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a skillet and add leeks, sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt, then add 1/3 cup of water and cover. Let the leeks steam for up to7 minutes until very soft and melted, stirring every minute. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Empty leeks and mushrooms into a separate bowl or plate.

Season chicken with salt and pepper and toss in ¼ cup of flour. Heat remaining oil in skillet and brown chicken until golden brown, add stock and thyme and simmer until chicken is just cooked through (about 1 more minute). Transfer chicken to bowl with vegetables.

Simmer the stock over moderate heat until reduced by half, 4-5 minutes. If the sauce is not thick enough, mix  1 tablespoon flour into vegetables and chicken. If too thick, add additional stock. Return vegetables and chicken to skillet and simmer until warmed through, about one minute. Blend yogurt and mustard together and stir into the stew. Season with salt and pepper, if needed and serve over rice.Leek, Organic American Flag

Now’s the Time to Plant Your Cool Season Vegetables

by Heather Stone

Photo of a hand holding two red radishes.

Photo courtesy of pexels – skitterphoto 9301 (1)

Mid- August to Mid- September is the prime time to start planning and planting your fall vegetable garden. Even though it’s still hot outside, the nights are getting cooler and the days shorter. Now is the time to get those quick-growing, cool-season vegetables in the ground. For bountiful late-season harvests here are a few guidelines to follow.

-Know which crops to plant and when. Here’s a list of our favorite cool-season vegetables and their days to maturity.

  • Kale should be planted 85 – 90 days before the first frost. The leaves can handle a few light touches of frost and become sweeter each time.
  • Carrots can be planted 80-85 days before frost.  They can be harvested when young and tender.  Even after the cold temperatures shrivel the tops, they can be dug, sweet and juicy, from the ground throughout the fall.
  • Beets can do double duty with green tops for salads and tasty roots as well.  Plant seeds about 65-70 days before frost, depending on the type you choose.
  • Leafy greens such as spinach and leaf lettuces, arugula, mustard greens and Swiss chard all do best in the cooler temperatures of fall. Plant seeds about 50-60 days before frost depending on the type of green chosen. These can be harvested when young and immature for delicious baby greens.

    Photo of leafy green seedlings.

    Photo courtesy of pexels by kaboompics 5809

  • Radishes are always great to spice up salads. These are fast-growing and can be planted 30-35 days before the first frost. Pull them when young and tender.

 

 

 

 

 

-Keep moist. The garden will dry out more quickly in the warm days of late summer than it did in the spring. Keep a close eye on new plantings to make sure those seeds or seedlings stay well-watered. A light covering of grass clippings or straw can serve as mulch, helping to retain moisture. Using a light row cover over newly planted areas can also help retain moisture, provide shade and protect against light frosts further down the road.

Fertilize once a week with an organic fertilizer with nitrogen and enjoy delicious salads and veggies all fall long.

Cucumber Growing Guide

by Heather Stone

Boston cucumber on the vine.

photo courtesy of pixabay

Once the warm weather hits it’s time to start thinking about planting cucumbers. Nothing beats a fresh cucumber straight from the vine. Cucumbers are fairly easy to grow and are an excellent choice for the new gardener.

 

How to Grow

Cucumbers are very frost tender so don’t plant seed or transplant starts until two weeks after your last frost date or when soil temperatures reach at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Your soil should be well-drained and fertile. Work 1-2” of compost into the top 4-6” of your soil before planting.

 

Pick an area of your garden that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight. If days regularly reach temperatures of 90 degrees or more provide some afternoon shade.

 

Plant seeds in groups of 4-6, 1/2” below the soil surface in rows or hills 3’ apart. Most cucumber seeds germinate in 4-7 days. Providing a trellis for the plants to climb frees up garden space and improves air flow around the plants reducing fungal and bacterial diseases. Trellising also keeps the fruits off the ground away from moisture and critters and makes them easier to harvest.

 

Cucumbers are themselves 95% water so moisture is of key importance when growing cucumbers.  Cucumbers need at least 1” of water a week.  If plants inadequate moisture the fruit will often develop a bitter taste. To help retain moisture and keep the weeds down place mulch around your plants.

 

Harvesting

Cutting a cucumber off the vine.

photo courtesy of pixabay.

Pick cucumbers when they have reached their mature length, depending on the variety, and before they begin to turn yellow. Cut or gently twist the fruit from the vine using two hands so as not damage the plant. When the weather gets warm, check plants daily for ripe cucumbers. Pick often so plants continue to produce. Pick fruits in the early morning for the best flavor and texture. Cucumbers will keep for 7-14 days in the refrigerator.

 

Varieties

We carry four varieties of cucumber seeds here at BBB Seed. Each is excellent and deserve a place in the vegetable garden.

 

Spacemaster 80

Spacemaster 80 is an excellent compact cucumber variety. At only 18-24 inches this short but hardy cucumber is a great choice for the small garden or for growing in a container. The dark green fruits reach 7-9 inches in length, have great flavor and are never bitter. A heavy yielder this cucumber is also resistant to mildew, scab and cucumber mosaic virus.

 

Boston Pickling

Boston Pickling cucumbers bear small, blocky fruits with firm flesh and tender skin that are ideal for making all types of pickles. This long-standing variety, first available in the 1800s is also great used as a slicing cucumber when allowed to reach full size.

 

Marketmore 76

Marketmore 76 is one of the finest slicing varieties on the market. A standard for the home garden. These vigorous plants produce 8” dark green, delicious fruits.

 

Suyo Long

An heirloom variety from northern China, Suyo Long grows to an amazing 10-18” long. They are almost seedless, burp-less and incredibly heat resistant. They are great for slicing and fresh eating.

 

 

 

Cherokee Purple Tomato

by Heather StoneTomato, Cherokee Purple

What’s your favorite tomato? All true tomato lovers and growers have a few tomato varieties that they just couldn’t imagine not growing and always recommend to their friends and fellow gardeners. One popular heirloom variety that continues to be a favorite among many and consistently wins taste tests across the country is the Cherokee Purple tomato.

 

Cherokee purple tomato is a beefsteak style tomato whose skin is a dusky rose- red color. When sliced its interior is an even darker red. The flavor is described as a “balance of sweet, acid and savory with a hint of smoke.” Cherokee Purple is best eaten fresh on sandwiches or in salads.

 

With a name like “Cherokee Purple” there has to be a story there somewhere. Craig LeHoullier, an heirloom tomato grower, connoisseur and author of the book Epic Tomatoes is who we can thank for bringing this delicious tomato to the masses. In 1990, Craig received a package from John D. Green of Sevierville, Tennessee containing seeds of an unnamed purple tomato. John explained that his neighbor had shared the seeds with him and that her family had been passing along the seeds since the late 1800’s when they were originally received from Cherokee Native Americans. Craig grew the seeds in his 1991 garden and gave this beauty the name Cherokee Purple. Next, Craig passed the seeds on to the folks at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They loved the taste of this tomato and first listed the seed in their catalog in 1993 and its popularity has continued to grow since.

 

Want to try this delicious variety in your garden this year? Grab some Cherokee Purple seeds today!

How To Make Easy and Delicious Sauerkraut

Photo of Green Cabbage with white text stating, "How to make delicious sauerkraut".

by Sam Doll

Everybody is fermenting! From deliciously tart Kombucha to mouthwatering sourdough, home-fermented foods are the foodie trend du jour. Fermentation projects can be intimidating though. Many require multiple steps, special equipment, and difficult to find ingredients.

Ready for a step up? Check out our guide to making your own Kombucha at home!

So where should you start their fermentation journey? That’s easy: sauerkraut!

What is Sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut is green cabbage that has undergone lactic acid fermentation. Lactic acid fermentation is when lactobacillus, a beneficial strain of bacterium, metabolizes sugars in an anaerobic (without oxygen) environment.

The lactic acid created as a byproduct of this process acts as a preservative and can keep homemade sauerkraut fresh and safe to eat for up to six months.

Dive into fermentation with this list of potential projects

What will you need?

Ok! Enough with mumbo jumbo. The beauty of making sauerkraut is how easy it is! You’ll need three ingredients:

  • One head of Green Cabbage*
  • Kosher Salt
  • Caraway seeds (optional)

* We love the Flat Dutch Green Cabbage for making Sauerkraut. It matures beautifully in cold weather and it is super easy to grow! If you don’t have the time or space to grow your own cabbage, many farmers markets have beautiful, local cabbages late into winter.

That’s it! The best part is that all the equipment required is probably already in your kitchen:

  • Cutting Board
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Mason jars with lids

Great! Let’s move on.

How to make Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is super easy to make, but it takes a little time and elbow grease to make it happen at home. Block off at least 45 minutes to an hour for this project (although you can probably get it done in less than 30 minutes if you are a Sauerkraut making machine).

1.      Sanitize Everything

Since we are fermenting, we are creating an environment that is good for microorganisms to live in. The trick is to make sure we are only getting the good bacteria! The good bacteria that will do all our fermentation are already living on the surface of the cabbage leaves, so we don’t have to worry about them.

For everything else, we want to sanitize our equipment and make sure we are working with clean hands. Sanitize your equipment by running it through a dishwasher or washing it thoroughly in hot, soapy water while making sure to rinse off any soap residue. Wash your hands following these CDC recommendations.

2.      Prepare the Cabbage

Rinse off the cabbage in cold water. Remove the more wilted or damaged outer leaves of the cabbage. Save a couple of these for later. Slice the cabbage into wedges and remove the core.

Then slice the remaining cabbage into whichever shapes you prefer. Ribbons will be the easiest to work with, but diced cabbage or even larger chunks can give your different and versatile textures.

3.      Squeeze the Cabbage

Move the sliced cabbage into a large bowl and add the salt. You want to add about a ½ tbs. of kosher salt for every pound of cabbage. It may not seem like a bunch but remember that you’re trying to create a nice home for the bacteria, not pickle the cabbage. Remember, your homemade sauerkraut will be a lot less salty and acidic than the store-bought stuff.

Now it’s time to get your (washed) hands a little dirty! Grab fistfuls of the cabbage in the bowl and begin massaging and squeezing it. Keep at it for about 10 minutes to get the best results. The cabbage will break down and get limp and watery. This water will be the brine that your cabbage ferments in.

If you like the classic flavor of the caraway seeds, add about 1 tbs now.

4.      Begin the Fermentation

Begin to pack the cabbage into your mason jars. You’ll want jars that you can comfortably fit your hand into because you’ll need to tamp the cabbage down with your fist. This releases more juice and helps remove air bubbles.

Add any liquid released from the cabbage into the jar and place one of the cabbage leaves you saved from earlier on top. This will help keep the cabbage submerged, once more juice has been released. Weigh the cabbage down with clean marbles, stones, or specialty fermentation weights (we just used some thoroughly cleaned river rocks).

Cover the top of the jar with a breathable cheesecloth or towel and secure it with twine or a rubber band. This will allow the sauerkraut to breathe, but keep out dust and bugs.

5.      The first 24 hours

Make sure that your baby sauerkraut is being stored in a dark, cool place. Too much light or heat can cause off flavors and the growth of things that you do not want in your sauerkraut. Every so often, check on the sauerkraut and push it down with a clean hand or jar that’ll fit into the fermentation container. This will release more juice from the cabbage and should end up submerging the solids.

If your cabbage isn’t submerged after 24 hours, make extra brine by dissolving 1 tsp. kosher salt into one cup of water and adding that to your fermentation jar until it is submerged.

6.      The Waiting Game

Store your sauerkraut for 3-10 days, depending on how strong you like the sauerkraut taste. Occasionally, a white film will form on the top. This is a normal part of the fermentation process. Just skim it off and continue.

Sometimes, you’ll even find a little mold on the top of the fermentation jar. Most times, this can be removed without it affecting your sauerkraut. However, if it looks or smells off, don’t be afraid to toss it. Trust your senses.

7.      Time to eat!

Once you have your sauerkraut to where you like it, you can go ahead an enjoy it! If you’re not ready to eat right then, seal the jar with a lid and store it in the fridge for up to 6 months.

If you want to store it longer than 6 months, you can go through the canning process. Follow the directions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Grow. Enjoy. Share…the beauty and the bounty!

DREAMING OF SPRING

Rows of Vegetables in a Garden.

By Engrid Winslow

Yes, it is still very cold and very dark but nothing fills the heart in the dead of winter than planning for spring. What should you be doing now that will keep those spirits up? Plan your vegetable and herb garden!

1. First of all, take a look at those vegetable and herb beds and decide what and how many varieties you want to plant next year. Do you want to start those peppers a bit earlier this year? Did you plant tomatoes there last year – rotate tomatoes every 3 years if at all possible to avoid depleted soil and issues with many diseases. What do you want to grow more of this year? Anything you want to try that’s new? What did you and your family really love? Want more tomatoes or basil for pesto or tomato sauce? [4 Tips For Keeping Your Basil Productive and Pesto Secrets] Were there any epic fails? Maybe it’s time to move on to buy those at your local Farmer’s Market and devote the precious real estate to something else.

2. Speaking of soil, this is a great time to start adding mushroom compost in a nice thick layer that can work its way into the soil during late winter freeze and thaw cycles and heavy periods of moisture. You can also cover the compost with a layer of seed-free straw that was grown organically.

3. Peruse the seed catalogs and websites. It is so fun to read those descriptions and they all sound wonderful but be aware of your space and climate when choosing seeds. Take stock of any seed that you saved from last year and organize and assess any leftover seed packets. Seed viability goes down over time. Onions, corn, parsnips, parsley and leeks should be refreshed every year, but tomatoes and lettuce can go 4-6 years and still germinate. Check out these charts if you have questions: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/1999/4-2-1999/veggielife.html/ and http://ottawahort.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Seed-Viability-Times.pdf/

4. Gather up your seed starting supplies and order more if needed. Dust off those grow lights, check the heat mats and make sure they still work and clean any seed starting containers that you plan to re-use with a weak bleach solution. Again, assess what worked and what didn’t in prior years. Did lettuce seeds that were direct-sown in the garden elude you? Try starting them indoors under a plastic dome which helps retain moisture until they are fully germinated.

5. Did friends and neighbors share anything they learned with you? Maybe it’s time to get everyone together for a Happy Hour, swap saved seeds and talk about their gardening experiences.

6. Review past blogs, books and articles that you might have saved for ideas, tips and new information. Here’s a good place to start: Care and Planting of Seedlings, Rules You Can’t Break, and Two Ways To Guarantee Your Seeds Grow

Preserving Foods

by Rebecca Hansen

Now that so many of us have all tried our hands at the new Victory Gardens and are getting back to our roots in our community’s Grow Local movements and with the flow of garden produce increasing each minute, and we have donated to the local Community Food Share programs, we are beginning to be mildly panicked at the thought of all of that work going to waste solely because we can’t use it fast enough.  With our neighbors slamming their doors when they see us heading their way with an armload of our best organically grown zucchinis we find ourselves wishing the bounty could be spread out over the year and last well beyond the late summer flush.  More and more people are turning to home food preservation as a way to keep the bounty of their hard-earned, organic, heirloom, non-genetically modified gardens coming.

Now is the time to start your research, before the tidal wave of tomatoes sweeps you away. The number of food preservation methods is exciting and a bit daunting.  Drying foods is one of the oldest methods of preserving foods. Also, canning, freezing, pickling, curing and smoking, and fermenting are ways to keep your pantry full during the winter. What could be more fulfilling than pulling out a sparkling jar of homemade salsa when the snowflakes are flying to bring back warm memories of those beautiful heirloom tomatoes growing on the vine?  CSU Extension has a couple of great publications on how to dry vegetables and fruits with all that you need to know about nutritional values, methods and safety precautions.

Also in the extension’s Nutrition, Health and Food Safety publications, are fact sheets on smoking and curing meats and making pickles and sauerkraut and preserving without sugar or salt for special diets.  Check out the one on safe practices for community gardens for tips on ensuring safe food for all gardeners.

With all of our efforts to ensure that we each have gotten the most nutritious value from our fresh produce, it would be prudent to search for the newest scientific research into home preservation methods.  We want to eat healthy fruits and vegetables even when they are not in season.  The USDA encourages us to use safe canning methods. Scientific developments have changed recommendations over time. Always use up-to-date methods and do not just rely on the practices of past generations.  A great place to start is by exploring the National Center for Home Food Preservation website from the University of Georgia.

Publications and resources are available at the center’s website with useful tips for proper preservation techniques.  Also, not to be missed is an awesome, free, online self-study course called;

Preserving homegrown food can be an economical and fulfilling way to enjoy quality, nutritional food from your garden all year long.  So when your heirloom tomatoes, squash, onions, peppers, beans, garlic, beets, and turnips cover every surface in your home and garage and the refrigerator is brimming with more fragile produce, you will be fortified with the knowledge necessary to safely preserve the bounty for the time when the snowflakes will inevitably fly.

 

Back To School

by Sam Doll
Back to School Learning Gardens.

What do you think of when you imagine a classroom? Do you think of rows of desks, educational posters, a whiteboard with a professionally dressed teacher at the front? There may be a few toys or tablets with games designed to teach kids their alphabet or basic math.

That traditional classroom is useful for certain things, like learning grammar and division, but it is really inadequate for teaching kids about the world they live in and interact with every day. This is especially true with food.

Most kids, especially those from low-income or urban areas have very little understanding of what food actually is or where it comes from. Kids learn through their senses, so when they aren’t given the opportunity to actually see and touch and understand how food comes from the earth to their plate, it is hard for them to have a deep understanding of the food system and it is harder for them to make healthy choices. Ketchup has no connection to a tomato and the tomato has no connection to the earth.

We know that good nutrition is linked to higher academic achievement. We also know that gardening has many positive outcomes for children, including better nutrition, social skills, and academic achievement.

That is why school learning gardens are such a powerful education tool. These outdoor classrooms can be installed either on school campuses or remotely and provide a unique, hands-on opportunity for kids to learn lessons in nutrition, science, and community while getting a tasty, healthy snack right from the garden!

One of the biggest organizations pushing for school learning gardens is Big Green. Started by Kimbal Musk, food entrepreneur and brother of Elon Musk. Big Green installs learning gardens at low-income schools across the country.

They provide dedicated garden instructors, so teachers aren’t being asked to do more than they already are and kids are getting information straight from the experts. Started in Boulder, Colorado (BBB Seed’s hometown), Big Green has built learning gardens at over 378 schools in seven states.

At BBB Seed, we are dedicated to educating people of all ages about the benefits of eating healthy, protecting our pollinators, and gardening with organic methods. To get educational materials sent straight to your email, make sure to sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of the ‘home’ page.

 

Tomato Staking 101

by Heather StoneTomato plant in a cage for support.

 The ways in which to support tomatoes are as varied as the gardeners who grow them. Staking your tomatoes is important for many reasons. Keeping your plants upright and off the ground helps keep not only insects and critters at bay but can prevent many tomato diseases as well. Click here to check out our comprehensive guide to tomato diseases. Staking maximizes growing space, makes harvesting easier and keeps the garden looking tidy. Here is a little information about three different methods you can use to successfully stake your tomatoes.

Tomato plant supported by a cage.

Cages

Caging tomatoes is an easy and efficient way for the home gardener to support tomatoes. Store bought cages come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. The smaller cages are more appropriate for determinate tomato varieties which are more compact in size averaging around 3-4’ tall. The larger cages will best suit the large, sprawling indeterminate varieties which can range in height from 6-12’.

 

You can make your own tomato cages too. Hardware stores sell rolls of wire fencing or mesh that when cut in 5’x5’sections can be rolled into a circular cage and placed over the plant. This is best done while the plants are still small. Pin the ends together with wire or zip ties and anchor the cage into the ground with stakes. Make sure your grid openings are at least four inches in diameter. This will make pruning and harvesting a breeze. These cages are sturdy and will last for years.

Tomato plant supported by a section of wire fence.

Stakes

Staking tomatoes is also an effective way to support your tomatoes. This method simply requires driving a stake into the ground near the plant and tying the plant up the stake as it continues to grow. To avoid any root damage, place stakes in the ground before planting or when plants are still young.

For indeterminate tomato varieties, stakes should be at least 7 feet tall and driven a good foot into the ground. This will keep the stake from tumbling over with the weight of the plant. Stakes can be wood, plastic, metal or made from salvaged materials. When tying up your tomatoes, it is best done loosely and with a soft material. I like to use old t-shirts cut into strips.

The Florida Weave

http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/supporting-cast-for-tomatoes.aspx

In the Florida or basket weave technique you are essentially sandwiching your tomato plants between two walls of twine. This technique works best when you are planting in rows. Begin by placing one stake at the end of each row, or space stakes every 3- 4’ apart for longer rows. Drive stakes into the ground at least one foot deep. Next, tie your twine to your end stake about 8-10” from the ground. Pull the twine past one side of your tomatoes to the front of the next stake. Loop the twine around the back of the stake and pull tight. Keeping the string taught continue down the row until you reach your last stake. Tie off at the last stake. Now, loop back the other direction until you are back where you started. Tie the twine to the first stake. As your tomatoes grow you will need to add another layer of twine about every 6-8” to keep the plants upright.

Check out this video demonstrating the Florida or basket weave technique.

Guide to Common Tomato Diseases

by Sam Doll

Nothing is better in mid to late summer than the taste of a garden-fresh tomato. However, it takes a lot of hard work and care to help your tomatoes survive their perilous journey from seed to fruit. Here are nine common tomato diseases and what you need to do to treat them.

Fungal Diseases

Many common tomato diseases are caused by fungi. These diseases often are caused by specific environmental conditions like high moisture and certain temperature ranges. They are most often spread by contaminated soil or water and are usually manageable with vigilant prevention techniques and various fungicides.

AnthracnoseRed tomato showing the fungal disease Anthracnose.

What is it?

Anthracnose (Colletotrichum coccodes) is a fungal disease that primarily attacks the tomato fruits. It will affect both green and ripe tomatoes and will appear as small, sunken water-soaked area on the outside of the tomato.

As the disease progresses, the spot will widen and turn dark and expand. Infected unripe tomatoes will not show symptoms until the fruit ripens and the disease progresses faster the closer the tomato is to maturity.

Septoria Leaf Spot

Tomato leaf showing the fungal disease Septoria Leaf Spot.

What is it?

Another fungal disease, Septoria Leaf Spot is caused by Septoria lycopersici. Unlike Anthracnose, Septoria attacks the leaves and stems of the plant but does not affect the fruit. The disease is more likely to appear on leaves closer to the ground and appears as the plant begins to fruit.

The primary symptoms are numerous round and small spots on the leaves that are dark on the outside and lighter in the center where the spore-producing bodies are. Highly infected leaves will yellow and fall off, which can expose the tomato fruit to the sun and cause sunscald.

 

Early Blight

Tomato leaf showing the fungal disease Early Blight.

What is it?

Caused by the fungus Alternaria solani, Early blight affects older leaves and appears as a small brown spot with concentric rings. As it spreads throughout the leaf, it will cause it to yellow and wither. This can weaken the plant and expose the tomato fruit to sunscald and reduce yield.

The fungus can also attack the stem and fruit but is less common than in the leaves. It often progresses upward from the bottom of the plant.

Late Blight

Tomato stems showing signs of Late Blight.

What is it?

Late Blight (Phytophthora infestans) is a disease found in tomatoes and potatoes and is most infamous for causing the Irish Potato Famine.

Late blight thrives in humid, cool weather ( >90% humidity and <80°). It appears on all parts of the plant, usually starting on older leaves and then spreading to fruit and stems. It appears as a dark, water-soaked patch that will soon enlarge and grow a white moldy substance.

Late Blight is a slightly different beast than the other fungal diseases. It can move quickly through the garden and is spread by both water and wind. You can do all the prevention in the world, but a nearby garden with infected plants can blow spores over into your yard!

Use the treatment prescribed bellow but be prepared to pull and destroy plants if it spreads too far to save to rest of your garden and your neighbors’ gardens as well.

 

Fusarium Wilt

Tomato plant showing signs of Fusarium Wilt.

What is it?

Fusarium Wilt (Fusarium oxysporum) is a warm-weather disease most common in southern regions. It appears as a wilting or drooping of the lower leaves, followed by the wilting and death of the entire plant. Oftentimes, leaves on one side of the plant will turn yellow.

The disease attacks the roots through the infected soil and will clog off the vascular system of the plant. It usually hits younger plants and there is no known treatment. The best way to prevent wilt to ensure that any soil or material you place in your bed is clean, including the soil from starts. There are also some disease-resistant hybrids.

The yellowing is a telltale sign, also check the soil. If the soil is dry, the wilt is most likely from lack of water. Water the plant to see if the wilting persists. If you are sure it is fungal wilt, the best thing to do is destroy the plant

Our blog on keeping tomatoes in hot weather will help you tell if your plants are sick or just thirsty!

How To Prevent and Treat Most Fungal Diseases

Fungi thrive in warm wet environments. The spores are transmitted primarily from splashing water, either from rain or irrigation. Poorly drained soil, overwatering, and lack of air circulation around the plant can all create conditions for the spread.

To prevent most fungal diseases, only purchase certified disease-free seeds and don’t replant seeds from afflicted plants. Make sure your bed or container is well drained, do not overwater, plant the tomatoes in full sun. Space and stake or support the plant with cages to make sure that the plant can air out properly after watering. Also, avoid overhead watering to limit water splash, which would spread the spores

If your seeds are healthy, you can save them for future use. Here is our blog on the subject.

If you do see Anthracnose in your tomatoes, make sure to harvest the fruits as soon as they are ripe. Copper-based fungicides and a few organic fungicides can be effective for treatment of infective plants.

If you see infected leaves, feel free to remove them to help slow the spread of the disease. Make sure to wash your hands and tools after handling infected plant material.

After seeing any fungal diseases in your garden (besides Late Blight, which does not overwinter), make sure rotate your planting sites on a three-year cycle with plants that are not from the Solanaceae family (i.e. tomatoes, eggplants, peppers), which are closely related to tomatoes. Make sure to remove all plant material at the end of the season and do your best to keep the site weed free. If you do not have another planting site to rotate with, switch to containers instead.

The best prevention possible is to keep the plants as healthy and vigorous as possible. Like us, unhealthy or weak plants are more likely to get sick

Check out the Clemson Cooperative Extension Tomato Disease Factsheet for more information on fungal diseases like Leaf Mold, Buckeye Rot, or Southern Blight

Bacterial Diseases

Unlike funguses, which are multicellular organisms with complex cells (eukaryotes), bacteria are simple, single-celled organisms (prokaryotes). Bacteria are the most common form of life on earth and are, for the most part, harmless.

However, there are some bacteria that specialize in infecting and living in other species. These can be harmless, like the natural bacteria in your gut that helps you digest things like cellulose, but are sometimes dangerous, or pathogenic. Just like you can get strep throat from bacteria, your tomatoes are susceptible to them as well.

Tomato Pith Necrosis

Tomato plant showing signs ofTomato Pith Necrosis.

What is it?

While mostly seen in greenhouse conditions, Tomato Pith Necrosis can occur during the early growing season in periods with cool temperatures and high humidity. Plants are especially susceptible in areas with high nitrogen levels, when the tomato starts are growing rapidly.

The first noticeable symptoms of this disease are usually wilted leaves followed by black lesions on the stems. As the disease progresses and the bacteria become more established in the stems, splits, cracks, shrinking, and other deformations are common.

If there are green fruit, the disease can cause a greasy, water-soaked spot on the blossom end of the fruit.

What do I do?

The best prevention of Tomato Pith Necrosis is to have control over your soil conditions. The main factor in pith necrosis is excess nitrogen in the soil. Don’t over fertilize early in the season and keep tabs on your soil quality.

Check out our Guide to Soil Management

Also, like with the fungal diseases, make sure your plants are properly spaced so they have room to breathe and dry out and avoid overhead watering.

If your plants do become infected, you can wait until warmer, dryer weather to see if they recover. If not, remove and dispose of them.

Make sure that you are rotating your plots on a three-year cycle and do not plant in plots that have had closely related plants like peppers. Do not put them in your compost because the bacteria can live on the diseased plant material for years.

Bacterial Spot

What is it?

Bacterial spot attacks the leaves and fruit of the tomato plant. It occurs during wet and warm conditions and can cause leave wilting, leaf and fruit spots, and defoliation. The leaves will show small and irregular spots as well as yellowing and browning as the disease persists. The fruit will have multiple dark specs that are dry and rough to the touch.

Fruit inflicted with Bacterial Spot, as with any diseased fruit, should not be consumed. While the disease itself isn’t dangerous to humans, it provides openings for dangerous pathogens to enter the fruit.

What do I do?

Spot often appears after heavy summer rainstorms. Make sure your plants are well spaced and pruned so they can air out effectively. Do not use overhead watering. If you are in an area where Spot has been seen, make sure you are cleaning your tools and rotating your plants. Preventative applications of copper-based fungicide can be effective in controlling spot.

If your plant does have Bacterial Spot, make sure that you immediately remove and dispose of it. Clean any tools you use with a 10% bleach solution or rubbing alcohol. Remove any plant debris.

 

Bacterial Canker

Tomato leaf showing signs of Bacterial Canker.

What is it?

Bacterial Canker is one of the most difficult to identify and control tomato diseases once it takes hold. It can affect plants of all ages and has a variety of symptoms that are easily confused with other diseases.

Early symptoms are spots, browning, and wilting of leaves. Later symptoms include raised spots on the stems and fruit, which often include a white “halo” around a brown spot in the center. On older plants. The stems will show cankers or open “sores”. Once this disease takes hold, the plant is essentially doomed.

What do I do?

Prevention is the best defense against bacterial canker. Buy only certified disease-free seeds. Avoid overhead watering and space plants appropriately. Copper-based fungicides can be effective in prevention.

If you notice this disease on your plant, make sure to remove it, any plant debris and its neighboring plants immediately. Bag the removed plant material and dispose of it. Clean your tools and do not plant tomatoes on the site for a few years as the disease can live in the soil.

Viral Diseases

Viruses are pathogens that are usually a piece of genetic material surrounded by a protein. Not technically alive, these diseases are usually spread by “vectors” or living things that carry the disease. Think mosquitoes carrying West Nile.

Since each virus is spread differently, each will need its own prevention plan. There is no treatment for viral infections and the best course of action is often to remove and destroy infected plant material.

Mosaic Virus

What is it?Tomato leaves showing signs of the common tomato disease, Mosaic Virus.

Mosaic Virus is a family of viruses that can affect tomatoes, peppers, and other plants in your garden. The most common one that might impact your tomatoes is the Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV), the Tomato Mosaic Virus (ToMV), and the Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV). Despite their names, all of these can seriously infect your plants.

The symptoms of both TMV and ToMV are varied and difficult to tell apart. The most common symptoms include irregular growth, strange leaf shapes, and mottled coloring in the leaves and fruit. You may still get yield from tomato plants infected with Mosaic Virus, but it will likely be stunted and fewer than you would have gotten normally.

CMV is spread by aphids and create a stunted, bushy, sometimes yellow plant with severe leaf malformation and mottling. Tomatoes with CMV produce very few fruits.

What do I do?

TMV and ToMV can be easily spread through touch and soil. Even handling tobacco products like cigarettes can contaminate your garden with TMV. Monitor seedlings closely for signs of the disease and make sure to remove any possibly infected plants.

If you are concerned at all, you can make a solution out of skim milk to spray the plants with. Proteins in the milk bind to the virus and make it unable to attack the plant. If you know you have handled any plants, wash your hands and tools with the same milk solution or soap and water to prevent transmission. The virus can live for over two years on surfaces and in the soil, so do not replant in soil that has been infected and make sure to remove all plant material from the site.

Since CMV is spread through aphids, the best prevention is to control the weeds in your garden to prevent aphids from jumping from plant to plant. Insecticides are not effective because new aphids can easily pick up the virus and spread it seconds from coming in contact with the plant. Surrounding the tomatoes with taller plants that are not attractive to the aphids can create a buffer and using aphid predators, like ladybugs, can keep the general population of aphids in check.

 

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV)

Photo of tomato thrips on a leaf.

Thrip

What is it?

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV) is a highly contagious pathogen that can infect over 1000 different species of weeds, native plants, and ornamentals. It is transmitted through an insect pest known as thrips, which will feed on a variety of different plants.

See this video on the Thrip lifecycle

The symptoms of TSWV vary from one variety of tomato to another, but often result in stunting and dead (or necrotic) spots on the leaves. They can also cause low plant yield, mottled fruit, and wilt.

What do I do?

Unless your garden is contained within a greenhouse, it will be difficult to control the spread of TSWV. The most effective management is to eliminate the weeds in your garden that can harbor thrips throughout the winter. Remove any remaining plant material and weeds, then till and mulch the garden for winter to remove any habitat for the thrips.

If you have plants that are infected with TSWV, you can remove it to prevent it from spreading the disease to nearby plants. Insecticides are relatively ineffective against thrips because applied insecticides are unlikely to come in contact with thrips on the plant and systematic pesticides are not fast enough to stop the thrip from infecting the plant. Insect predators like ladybugs, minute pirate bugs, and lacewings will all feed on thrips.

 

Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus (TYLCV)

What is it?

Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus (TYLCV) is a virus that is spread through seeds and whiteflies that causes yellowing and curling of leaves, stunting, flower drop, and severely reduced yield in tomatoes and peppers.

While TYLCV can be spread between seeds, the primary risk factor for your garden would be the spread of the virus through whitefly pests. Whiteflies are small, white flying insects that feed on the undersides of leaves.

What do I do?

Like TSWV, the best prevention is to keep whiteflies off of your plants. Do your best to keep weeds under control to limit available habitat for the whiteflies, till and mulch during the winter, and introduce natural predators.  Products that use canola oil or horticultural oil can act as a whitefly repellent. For how to make your own, check out this article.

Another option you may want to consider is to use reflective mulches. These mulches reflect light back up at the plant and disorient insect pests.

Learn more about reflective mulch here

If your plants do become infected with TYLCV you really only have two options. You can wait it out to see if you do get any harvest, and then remove all susceptible plants at the end of the season. The other option is to remove infected plants immediately to try to limit the spread of the virus.

When you do remove your plants, bag them as soon as you can to contain the whiteflies on the plant that are carriers for the virus.

 

Disease Prevention Checklist

 

  1. Buy only disease-free seeds
  2. Rotate your tomatoes and like crops on a three-year cycle
  3. Make sure the plants are properly spaced and pruned so they can dry out properly
  4. Avoid overhead watering
  5. Remove diseased plants
  6. Control weeds in and around the garden bed to prevent pests from harboring in them
  7. Do not compost infected plant material
  8. Sterilize your tools
  9. Keep vigilant
  10. If you are unsure about something, check with your local extension office

 

Are your tomatoes healthy and beautiful? Read this guide on how to tell when they are ready to pick!