SARAH THE GARDENER

Boldly moving forward

I normally dither about at this time of year, not wanting summer to end and ignoring the need to get the cool season seeds started now before it is too late!  Well not this season.   The sooner summer is behind us the better – it was rubbish!  Having said that, I’m not sure I’m happy with where this new season is going, but time will tell.  But we are only 5 days in, and it has me reaching for some thick socks!  The temperatures have gone from too hot, the kind of hot that makes sleeping difficult, even with the windows open to having me want to put on thick socks just two days later!

socked feet

I wasn’t expecting to required the warmth of socks so soon into autumn

The rain in between was great.  We got 11.7mm in the garden and Hubby the Un-Gardener even bought a very long ladder to clean the gutters so we were ready for it, so our tanks could be filled with fresh clean water.   The drought hasn’t broken but we are one step closer to not worrying about water again.    Autumn, you are on warning – you are supposed to be mild and gentle and ease us into the cold weather.  Enough of the crazy flip flopping – it doesn’t become you.

Kale

I won’t need to sow any kale, this one will be with us until the spring.

But enough about the weather, what I need right now is some progress.  A sense of moving forward, of growing for me and the garden.  And so, as the new season stretches out in front of me, I need to make the most of it.  And the best way to do that right now is to sow seeds.  While the options open to me aren’t as vast as it was 6 months ago as I was staring into the face of spring, all hopeful and expectant, there are still options for a winter garden and with our frostless coastal spot there are boundaries to push.

Birds eye Chili

There is plenty of scope for overwintering a range of plants as I managed to keep this birds eye chili alive all through last winter with no care and attention at all.

While I can’t see a new crop of sweetcorn or beans going in, there are still interesting things to plant out.  I may see how well a tomato and a cucumber will do in the greenhouse over winter.  It won’t be heated, but it will certainly be frost free.

Swede and turnip seeds

hmmm… this or that? or both?

As for out in the garden – I want to grow all the things – well maybe not all the things.  I have been growing turnips for a few seasons now and to be honest I don’t enjoy them as much as I do swedes, but turnips are ready faster than swedes, but swedes make a more comforting mash whereas turnips can be a bit watery.   We need to question these things honestly, so we don’t waste time and effort growing something that won’t be eaten or worse – forced upon a poor hapless family who just want something nice to eat for dinner.   Maybe I’ll plant just a few – while we’re waiting for the swedes.

Tatsoi

Now I have to ask myself some really hard questions – like to I need Tatsoi as well as Bok choi… do we eat enough stir frys to warrant it? But Tatsoi is so pretty….

The other thing to think about is how we will eat things.  The problem is seeds are so tiny, so it is so easy to just plant a few extra… and then there is more space in a winter garden than in a summer one…  so, you plant them all and end up with a mountain of Bok choi requiring the family to eat stir fry every night for weeks before the plants go too far.  I think for the family after stir fry three in a row it has gone too far!  Meanwhile the swedes are ready and demanding attention.    It is almost like you have to meal plan in advance and then work backwards to think ‘ok on the 16th of June we can have a stir fry and we will need Bok choi – not a big one, and probably some carrots and there should be some onions left and some broccoli and all going well some red peppers in the freezer.   So then to get a small sized Bok Choi I need to sow it around mid April.  The broccoli will need to be started around about the end of March, but considering things grow slower maybe now would be fine and for the carrots…  oh no – I’ve missed the window for the carrots for our meal in June.  It’ll have to be baby carrots and I need to work on my succession sowing of carrots.

Carrots

I really must do better with my carrots – this is a scrappy looking row and it is almost done. In my defense I have sown new rows several times but with the drought and the heat of summer they didn’t do well.

Gosh that is all giving me a bit of a headache.   Not only do I need to take into consideration how we eat everything, but also the crop rotation, cover crops, things I want to grow beyond the garden – I need to get onto growing a windbreak – I probably should have started that yesterday.  Actually, I should have started on day one as the first thing I did, but we’re at this point now so let’s not go there!  I thought I had the crop rotation sorted but there are lessons that have been learnt from this season and changes are needed.

Greenhouse space

There is certainly plenty of space in the greenhouse for a new season load of seedlings… I best get on and do it!

There is so much to think about, but I think the first thing to be done is to sow some seeds…  any seeds and get them started.  I can always give away the ones I don’t need to friends who can create their own midwinter stir fry drama in their household!

Come again soon – I’m sowing seeds!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Monday Message:

WELCOME TO AUTUMN.
The mild season… hopefully : o)

Sarah the Gardener Monday Message

As much as winter has the expectation of a new growing season ahead, spring is full of hope and promise, summer produces the goods – which is wonderful, autumn is my favourite as it has the benefits of the lingering summer, the seed sowing excitement of getting winter crops off on their way, and none of the extremes of heat and cold and is nowhere near as hectic and turbulent as the spring.  It is usually a gentle descent from summer to winter.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Summer extended by one day!

I’m leaping for joy.  Ordinarily this would be the last day of summer!  Normally, on this day I would begin to bemoan the demise of the fair weathered season and get ready for all things all things autumn.     However, this year thanks to the calendar and its leap year, we get one more day of summer!  Hooray!  I have to say, I’m quite happy with this arrangement – if a season has to extended by one day, then summer is probably the best one to do it to!   We shall spend it out upon the water, doing a bit of fishing, maybe some swimming – well the kids will probably swim.  It needs to be a bazillion degrees before I get in the water and that temperature for the most part has passed us by for the season.  We’ll probably fire up the BBQ and just enjoy the last summer day.  It just so happens to be on a Saturday – which makes things so much easier. 

Jasper the Dog out on the water

Looking forward to another gorgeous day out on the water with Jasper the Dog and the rest of the family!

But as far as summers go this was a hard one in the garden.  I tried my best, but there were several times I really wanted to pull the plug on the whole thing.  But at this point of the season I am actually happy with the garden.  It is looking good and there is change a foot.  Well not dramatically life changing change, just making life easier in the garden change.

Garden in the morning sun

The garden in the morning sun looks great. I do love this time of day in the garden the most.

The first thing is I have decided to be proactive with removing the dead and dying.  Historically I would leave the brown and crispy until the very last moment in a defiant attempt to cling to the summer.  While there are tomatoes in the garden it is still the growing season – they don’t necessarily have to be alive…  But I have decided this approach is not helpful as it makes the garden look messy and less than lush and flourishing.  So now if its fading, its gone!

Bare patches in the garden.

The inevitable happens at this time of year as crops come to an end. But all going well this is only a momentary situation.

The downside of this is the bare patches are appearing faster than normal.  I’m not a fan of bare patches, but it is inevitable at this time of year and should encourage me to get on with my winter sowing so I can have a productive garden in good time over the winter. Fortunately we don’t get frost in the new garden, so I am still exploring just what can be grown here in the middle of winter. Normally my summer ending denial means I’m a little late to the seed sowing party.  Not this time – I have gaps to fill and to be honest I just want to put this whole sorry season behind me.

New tool shed

Here is a sneak peak at my new tool shed. I think I am going to love it!

The other change is I have a new tool shed, which still needs a bit of work on it to finish a few bits and bobs, but I’ll save the details for this for another time as I really want to do a bit of a ‘Did-Dah’ thing with it.  So, watch this space.

Wet peppers

This was such a delightful sight last weekend, although it wasn’t enough to penetrate deep down into the soil.

I am also looking forward to what autumn has to offer – rain! We have had one significant rainfall (last weekend) since the last significant rainfall just before Christmas.  It hasn’t been easy to keep everyone well-watered, let alone clean!

Watermelons

It hasn’t been all bad – after a slow start, the watermelons have gone nuts! This is just from one small area that escaped the bed…. there are loads more getting fatter by the day!

So, as we depart this growing season and pass the baton on to the Northern Hemisphere, I have to say, all the best – I hope it will be better for you than it was for me.

Come again soon – it is almost autumn…  almost, but not quite!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Monday Message:

You may still need to water in the rain!
It was nice to have some rain, but dig down to see how far it got into the soil… probably not far!
Sarah the Gardener Monday Message
The last decent rain we had was before Christmas, so it was lovely to get some good rain fall over the weekend, but unfortunately there was barely enough to make a dent in the drought or fill the tanks.
Sarah the Gardener : o)

Things have been a bit ratty around here.

Over the last wee while there has been a bit of a battle going on in the garden and up until recently I was the biggest loser.  There have been rats!  They have been so bold and brazen that they would waltz about in daylight hours like they owned the place.  I first noticed them when they ate an enormous hole in the side of the goat food bucket.  I’ve never seen anything like it here before and Snowy’s food has been stored in the same purple bin for the last couple of years.

Rat chewed goat food bin

Rats certainly don’t muck about to get what they want! The goat food is now in a metal bin.

I knew there were some in the compost heap because you could hear them squeaking and rustling about.  It’s not like I’d been putting cooked food, meat scraps or bread or any of the ‘no-no’s’ of composting.  It is all garden waste and kitchen veggie scraps.  I was doing everything right.  Maybe it was the habitat I have provided.  It is possibly a bit dry in there, but in our current water situation it is a bit dry everywhere.

Rat eaten Cucumber

It is so disheartening to come out each morning and see almost ready produce being eaten by someone else!

Another thing that alerted me to their existence in the garden was the almost ready sweetcorn was being stripped.  It isn’t like they were getting a great meal from it though, thanks to the lousy weather at the point of pollination for that batch.  But it was frustrating to have them reap rewards from my efforts.

rat proof seedlings

To protect the new seedlings from rat nibbling I put them in trays and elevated them in a way that would make it difficult for a rat to reach them.

Then they went into the greenhouse and nipped the tops out of the seedlings I had growing there.  I had tried so hard to get a beetroot crop this season and that was my last chance.  I was so cross.  Looking around the greenhouse I saw some of their droppings and this was when I realised I really needed to take decisive action.  The poop was enormous, which would mean there was an enormous rat out there – mocking me.  The final straw was when they harvested one of my unripe rockmelons and left it in the greenhouse, like they were sending me a message!  Something needed to be done and fast.

Rat eaten melon

This rock melon was dragged across the garden and left in the greenhouse. I mean…. what is this… a thinly veiled threat?

I started feeding them goat food in a location of my choosing in the hope they would be content there and wouldn’t eat anymore of my crops.  Then I made my plan.  I am not very good at checking traps, which is far from ideal and with the size of that rat I’m sure it would be able to shake them off as a mere scratch!  I don’t like using poison as we have some amazingly graceful hawks that ride the thermal air currents around here and then there is Fennel the Cat and Jasper the Dog to think of.  I would hate it if any of them became ill eating a dead poisoned rat.

Rat poop

Not wanting to be offensive – but this is the biggest rat poop I have ever seen!

So I decided to invest in a Good Nature humane trap.  It isn’t cheap but well worth it.  Firstly it takes care of itself for 25 kills at a time.  It is a set and forget kind of thing, and to be honest that is also my kind of thing.  First, it has some little detector kits that you place around the garden and wait three days.   On most of them I got evidence of rat activity as the detectors were a bit scratched up, but the one behind the compost heap got ripped to shreds on day 1.  So I had my spot and attached the device and waited.

Rat tracks

The good thing about having sand around the garden is you can notice the tracks and see who is lurking in the dead of night. I think it is safe to say these are rat tracks!

The great thing is the trap sends a notification to my phone when we’ve had a kill and last night I got 5 of the bug-gers!  It is just as well they send the notification as there wasn’t a pile of dead bodies lying around, so I’d never have know.  Apparently they remove their dead, goodness knows what they do with them, but I don’t imagine they have a funeral service.   The trap encourages the rat to poke his head inside to get to the bait and while it is licking the chocolate deliciousness it triggers a CO2 gas powered rod that rams into it and so it dies quickly and happy – eating some nice.

Good Nature rat trap

This cool Good Nature rat trap will save my garden!

I’ll keep feeding the goat food around the trap until I the day I wake up and see it all still lying there.   Then I may put out more detector kits and see if there is anywhere else that needs a bit of ‘special’ attention.     As we approach the autumn when rats and mice are out in force looking for a warm winter spot, it is a great time to put a dent in their populations.

Come again soon – I’ve been working on a bit of a project.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB: I’ve have not been sponsored in any way by Good Nature, I just bought the best piece of kit for my situation and I love it to bits.  Although I’m possibly a bit too delighted to receive a notification of a kill.  If you what to find out more check out their website: http://www.goodnature.co.nz.  Proudly designed and made here in Aotearoa.  Thank you Good Nature for a great product!

Monday Message:

MAKE HAY WHILE THE SUN SHINES.
The season will change soon enough and it will be too cold and miserable to want to finish projects.
 
Sarah the Gardener Monday Message

Without wanting to seem like a harbinger of doom, this warm, rain free weather won’t last for long and while I am hanging out for the rain (it has been over 40 days since the last decent drops fell from the sky), I still have loads of projects on the go…

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Use what you have.

There is one thing I haven’t managed to sort out in the garden, and it has been bothering me all season.  Actually, there are many things I haven’t sorted out in the garden, but this one is especially important and that is find a good mulch solution.

Pepper plants

Maybe the peppers would have recovered quicker from their various thrashings from the storms if they were tucked up with a nice cosy mulch. The soil looks so dry….

In this harsh environment and in this particularly dry summer where large swaths of the country are in drought and compounded by the fact, we had that huge water leak right before Christmas, watering the garden is something I have been deeply concerned about.  I love that the irrigation system only waters each bed once a week for 9 minutes and it is enough for the soil to retain the moisture locked in deep within the wonderful swamp soil I brought with me when we moved here.

Tree lupin weed

As you can see this is the perfect hiding place for a broody chicken.

But mulch is important, it helps to retain that precious moisture and it keeps weeds down by excluding light and blocking the way to the surface – however there will always be that weed that can get through even the slightest opportunity. You know the ones – you’ve seen them growing through the cracks in concrete!

Wheat as straw for mulch

I really must do something with this wheat mulch, maybe I’ll put it down around some of the winter plantings…

The problem is my garden is very large and so to buy anything in is very expensive, if I am to do a good job at mulching.  My favourite mulch is a fermented Lucerne, but one bag only does one bed!  You can use compost, but I don’t trust it in the weed reduction area, as weeds seem to love its rich organic goodness.  I never really understood its regular recommendation as a mulch, although I expect it would lock in moisture.    So essentially any thing store bought is out of the question – unless is a couple of bucks a bag.

Tree lupin flowers

I love it when the hill is filled with these sweet scented flowers.

I did toy with the idea of getting a bale of balage.  It should be along the lines of the fermented Lucerne, right?!  Then I looked into it and found it was quite acidic and in order for it to be of value in the garden I would have to experiment with the addition of lime or some other agent to bring the pH into the realms of something acceptable to plants that wouldn’t hinder the uptake of nutrients.  It all got a bit complicated and then the price shot up from $80 a bale, which would have easily done the whole garden a couple of times, to something no longer in my price range, thanks to the drought!  Then Hubby the Un-Gardener put his foot down as he was worried about the smell.  I let him think he was the reason for my back down from that option, but in reality, it just got put in the too hard basket.

Tree lupin trunk...

Yikes! Tree lupins grow very fast!

I did grow wheat from chicken food for mulch, not for the grain – although that would be cool if I had enough spare space.  I grow it over winter and then harvest it before the seed heads fill out.  Then I dry it in the greenhouse with the intention of using it as a mulch.  The problem is last season I didn’t grow enough – not enough to fill a bed and I couldn’t decide where to put it and indecision froze the project and it is still in the greenhouse.  It could make a great autumn photo prop at some point…  Ohh with some pumpkins….  I digress.  The thing is – I can’t grow enough, it is labour intensive to harvest it and prepare the soil for the next crop, which is also a problem, because there is so much to be done in spring, it tends to hold things up.

Lupin mulched rhubarb

The rhubarb doesn’t look so great now, but I will watch closely for signs of improvement with its new lupin mulch.

But what struck me as a genius idea, although time will tell if in fact it will solve all my problems is the result of a stupid chicken.  We have no rooster and yet this silly chook insists on trying to raise a family.  Last spring, she was in the wheat.  Now she is in my nursery bed, which I will need soon because it is where, I like to start my winter crops without them getting too thirsty in the greenhouse.  So, for a while I allowed her to indulge in this folly as it did no harm, except we weren’t getting any eggs from her.   But is has been well over three weeks now and I needed the bed.  The reason she liked this nursery bed for her imaginary family is it was quite overgrown.  And a month later it is very overgrown.

Disappointed chicken

Poor wee chicken – not only did I chop into one end of her haven, but nature decided enough was enough and her carefully nurtured eggs blew up! She seems a little startled… poor wee thing.

Now one of the weeds in the bed was some tree lupin seedlings that when small are easy enough to pull up.  However, I didn’t appreciate just how fast they grew.  In one season the trunk has managed to get to a whooping 15cm diameter with roots well and truly anchored to the earth.   The top is full and lush and the perfect place for a chicken to hide.    So, I thought enough was enough and decided to remove the weeds and lupin trees from the half of the bed she isn’t hunkering down in – to send a message.  And as I was chopping up the foliage to make it more compostable, I looked at the contents of my bucket and thought …  “Hang on a minute…” and the penny dropped.  I have loads of mulch all over the place and it will be perfect.

Tree lupin seeds

I certainly won’t be short of tree lupin seeds for my mulch plantation!

I quickly used some of my precious water to saturate the rhubarb bed as there is no point mulching a dry garden and so it was for the greater good.  I also took the opportunity to give it a bit of a feed with some blood and bone and then emptied the contents of my bucket all around and created a satisfying looking mulch.  If it works well for the rhubarb which, to be honest, has struggled a little in the heat of the summer, then I will roll it out across the garden.

I do like the tree lupin as it creates a nice backdrop to the garden and in the spring the yellow flowers smell heavenly.  Also, those strong roots are supporting the sides of the hill above the garden.  So, I don’t want to strip the leaves from these plants, so I may create a lupin plantation that I can harvest from when needed.  At least I know it grows well here.   Ahhh, you gotta love a creative solution.

Come again soon – summer seems to be slipping away but I’m not ready for it to do so.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Monday Message:

GROW WHAT YOU LOVE.
There is no point having a garden full of vegetables no one wants to eat!

Sarah the Gardener Monday Message

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

(with a nod to Valentine’s Day at the end of the week)

Storm Pollinated Sweetcorn

You can always tell it is a good time to harvest your sweetcorn when you notice the rats are getting into it!  I have a bit of a rat problem, but I am currently deliberately feeding them with goat food, which they seem to like, based on the very large hole in the goat food container.  The goat food is currently being stored in the back of my car, of all places, to remind us to go and buy a metal bin.   I would much prefer to feed the rats in a known area than have them run freely around the garden.  Besides I need to find a good place to position my new fancy rat trap that sends my phone a body count each time it zaps one and if I create a feeding spot near it, then it should work out well. 

Rat eaten corn cob

This is a sure fire sign the corn is ready… blimmin rats!

But this isn’t about the rat problems.  It is about a completely different problem – the sweetcorn.   The poor wee things, they had such a rough start and every time a storm rolled through, I had to stand them back upright.  It happened far too often this spring.  Then I let my guard down.  There hadn’t been a storm in a while, the corn established and was growing strong and straight.   It wasn’t as tall as I would have liked but considering the difficulties they had to face early on, I was ok with it.  It was better to have them there than not at all.  The tassels were proudly unfurling above the plants and I could see a peep of silk poking out halfway down the stalks.  It was going to be ok. 

Windswept corn

That poor corn took a hammering… I am truly surprised there was any kind of harvest.

Until it wasn’t.  I was completely blind sided by yet another storm.  The timing couldn’t have been worse – as the pollen was beginning to fall from the silks.  I think my pollen ended up pollinating the neighbouring corn as it was picked up and carried off.  I didn’t imagine much fell gently to the silks below like it should have.  

Sweetcorn harvest

The sweetcorn harvest is loaded with anticipation – a little like Christmas. The expectation is high, but it is only when you unwrap the husks do you know just how well those weeks and weeks of tending the plants has turned out.

When I felt brave enough to peek through my fingers and look at the damage I was dismayed.  The stalks were all akimbo.  They were leaning every which way, and many had been snapped.  My instinct was to just rip them all out and be done with them.  However, that would be just as bad.  The garden would have an empty spot, grinning at me like a gapped tooth 6-year-old, reminding me of the harm done.  So, ignored them for a while, unprepared to deal with the waste of time, effort and potential. 

Poor corn pollination

Sometimes beggars can’t be choosers and I certainly won’t be wasting this ‘bountiful’ harvest.

Then I noticed some of the plants were beginning to rally, they were making their own way back to vertical.  So, I left them to it in the hopes that something could be salvaged from the disaster.   In the meantime, as a back up I went to the garden centre and cleaned them out of their last corn seedlings and planted a new crop to increase the chances of fresh sweetcorn from the garden this season.  They are almost at the point of sending out the tassels and I’m watching the weather forecast with bated breath…  surely it wouldn’t be possible to get another storm at the same crucial point, but it has been a cruel summer and so I’m kind of expecting it.

Creamed corn

Waste not, want not – all those individual kernels made a good batch of creamed corn.

So that brings us to now, with the rats chewing down on a couple of cobs.  So, I did the feel test – the one that should tell you the cobs are full and fat and ready.  If I could read braille, the intermittent lumps and bumps I felt could possibly be sending me a message.  The corn was kind of poking out from the stalk at a jaunty angle, but with incomplete cobs, they weren’t compelled to push out to make room and besides, everything was at a jaunty angle.  The silks were dark brown and crispy, but this can be quite subjective – how brown and crispy is brown and crispy enough? and how long has it been brown and crispy? because I wasn’t paying attention until the rats alerted me.  So, I did the final test and pulled back the husks and gently pierced the first kennel I could find, and a milky juice flowed from it.  Perfect – the time was right now.  The rats knew what they were doing. 

Sweet corn

And these are the good ones! I guess I can’t complain, under the circumstances.

I wasn’t expecting much and got more than a fair share of toothy gapped cobs, but some did surprise me as they were 70-80% full – although in some cases only down one side.  I managed to get a harvest of sorts.  Normally the mostly misfired ears went to the chickens.  Normally there aren’t that many, but when it is the majority of the crop it is like that – waste not want not, and I cut every last kernel from their cobs and managed to get 500g of creamed corn.  I froze it, and the decent looking cobs, within a couple of hours of being harvested so it will retain that sweet delicious flavour to bring sunshine to a winter day.  We also ate some for dinner and the good thing is you don’t have to be pretty to be good.    The flavour made the drama dissolve away into a distant memory. 

Back up corn crop

The back up corn crop is doing ok… so far so good, fingers crossed at all that…

Oh – and there was another upside that made me feel great – there were no nasty surprises from the nasty, nasty corn ear worm.  There were none!   This is thanks to having some spray left over from tackling the Tomato Potato Psyllid in the tomatoes.  What I used was probably a bit overkill, but giving each silk a squirt of pyrethrum each year will definitely become a part of my annual routine.  That particular pest is disgusting! 

Come again soon – some days we’re winning with this gardening thing.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Death Valley

Ok that may be a bit of an exaggeration – but my garden is in a valley and there has been death – three so far and by the end of the season I suspect there will have been twenty with a complete tomato population wipe out.  The only advantage I can see is I will still get some tomatoes although from what I have read, they won’t be as “tasty”.

Young tomato plants

I started my growing season with such hope and each plant held so much potential.

I have a disease.  To give it its full name:  Pith Necrosis.  And to be honest I’d never heard of it until today and it isn’t one of the big three problems that strike tomatoes in their prime.  You normally think of Blight, Blossom End Rot (which isn’t a disease but a nutrient availability issue) and the dreaded TTP Tomato Potato Psyllid.  I have a problem solver book that lists 22 things that could possibly go wrong with tomatoes, and Pith Necrosis isn’t there!  It wouldn’t surprise me if it was rare, we’re always getting some kind of rare problem around here – nothing that will kill us mind you.

Tomato Potato Psyllid eggs

And I thought my troubles began and ended with the Tomato Potato Psyllid which is why I was so quick to treat their eggs, however treating them the way I did only made my other problem worse. Sorry not sorry.

I discovered the problem yesterday, unintentionally, but in doing so may have made it a whole lot worse.  I have been diligently spraying my tomatoes for the Psyllid every two weeks ever since I discovered those first tiny eggs clinging to the edge of a leaf.  I have been taking care of the needs of the tomatoes on a Monday as they are in sector one and doing the spraying then.  But last time I wasn’t able to do it on a Monday and couldn’t remember for the life of me if I had done it on a Tuesday or a Thursday and decided to wait until the next Monday to get back into routine.  But my goodness, those horrid little bugs didn’t wait for me…  there was quite the infestation, and plenty of green vegetable bugs to boot.

poorly tomato plants

I have been a bit ashamed of my tomatoes as I have felt something wasn’t quite right so I avoided showing them off too much. They are all a bit scrappy.

So, I grabbed the nearest secateurs and removed infested foliage and tied in wayward branches, making it easier to penetrate the tops and bottoms of the leaves with spray.   Before spraying I did a hard pick of anything that may come ripe in the next 7 days for the withholding period, which will probably save them from the ravages of the green vegetable bug.  There weren’t many but I thought that was because of the Psyllid.  Oh, how I was mistaken.

Dirty Secateurs

This is terrible. These dirty secateurs are completely disease laden and ready to inoculate the next tomato plant I touch.

While I was at it, I decided to remove the plants that were clearly dead.  I knew it wasn’t the Psyllid but thought it was a stem borer as it looked a little munted at ground level.  Not only did I pull them out, but I chopped them up to make it easier to fit in my weed bucket.  Little did I realise what harm I was doing.  I was spreading disease!

Clean Secateurs

Much better. Keep your tools clean and sanitise between plants. This isn’t a suggestion or recommendation, it is actually very important. The dirty world of gardening requires good hygiene practices.

You see – Pith Necrosis is a bacterial disease and Pseudomonas corrugata is responsible.  If I remember back to the days of my microbiological training, many moons ago, Pseudomonas was one of those ubiquitous bacteria that are found everywhere and if you didn’t know the answer to a question in a test or exam – if you wrote Pseudomonas down there was a high chance you’d get a point for getting the genus right.

pith necrosis

This is what pith necrosis looks like when you pull up the plant.

This particular species lives in the soil and takes advantage of weak tomatoes in the perfect storm of weather conditions, with a little bit of help from an unwary gardener.

Firstly, as a bacterial disease, it is spread easily through contact and if you remove the lateral from one plant and then move on to the next plant without washing hands or sanitising tools, then you are spreading disease.  I should have known better.  It is microbiology basics drummed into students from day one.  I will no longer do or recommend pinching out laterals.  It is best to do it with clean, sharp secateurs and sanitised in between with a small spray bottle of meths.

pith necrosis

When you split the stem you can see the destroyed tissue up the middle. You can see how I would have mistaken it for a stem borer.

The main reason my tomatoes were weak is my fault…  I wanted them to grow fast as they went into the garden late and so when they shot up, I thought nothing of it.  It turned out they shot up because there was too much nitrogen in the soil.  This causes fast but weak growth and makes them a target for all sort of pest and disease that can sense weakness.  But all that lush green growth looked healthy.

Green tomatoes

Tomatoes in healthier days…. so much potential… sigh….

The first mistake I made was I thought I was doing a good thing following the tomatoes with the peas – a nitrogen rich soil must be good – right?!  Then I grew a cover crop to return organic material to the soil – only the best for my plants.  Once that had been dug in and allowed to rot down, I added compost, blood and bone, sheep pellets and Dynamic Lifter – all according to the instructions.  However, there should be instructions that says “when used in conjunction with…  then use this much…”

burn or trash diseased material

I would show you what a fully diseased plant looks like, but I’d already chopped it up. Remember burn or trash diseased material. Don’t put it on the compost or send it out with the green waste.

For the home garden it is difficult to know what state the soil is actually in as soil testing in a laboratory is cost prohibitive.  To test each of my beds individually would be well over two thousand dollars.  And there aren’t any effective home test kits readily available here – although under the circumstances I may need to investigate this further.  So, what is left is trial and error.  You know you need to replace the nutrients taken by the plant and tomato plants are big there for it makes sense to give the soil lots of love.  However not all plants have the same needs.  Corn is a big tall hungry plant and would love the preparation I prepared for the tomatoes.  Carrots on the other hand don’t like too much nitrogen and would split at the thought of it.

Pith Necrosis

The new growth is quite spindly and the small leaves can begin to look like they have a nutrient deficiency, which would make sense when the stem is being destroyed from the inside.

So, I will ease up on the additional material going into the garden and rearrange my crop rotation – again – to put the corn before the tomatoes instead of the peas.  I was going to move the corn into that cycle anyway to benefit from the shelter provided by the wind break along the fence.  I just need to make sure where I put them fits in with the timing of the early starters and the slow pokes who languish in the beds too long.  It is a bit of a puzzle.

Soil

If only you could tell if your soil was good by looking at it. This looks like good soil…

The last part is out of my control – the weather.  Cool night time temperatures, high humidity and wet conditions are the final factors that encourage this disease.  And that dodgy spring and early summer we had would have been perfect conditions for a bunch of rampaging Pseudomonas to go off looking for a nice juicy stem to climb into.  If only I could control the weather…

tomato harvest

This is the result of a hard pick from 17 plants. Not exactly abundant. I look on with envy at the bountiful harvest people are getting from just a few plants. The fruit is ok to eat but it isn’t advisable to save seeds.

So next season – I will have a gentle hand when preparing the soil, I’ll pop them into the bed where the corn once was, which will mean the corn will be where the tomatoes have been and before the peas.  This arrangement should suit everyone.  I will be slow to grow my tomatoes – there is no hurry and hope they respond by growing slowly.  I will take garden hygiene more seriously and I will pray the weather is better suited to avoiding this problem.

As a gardener you are always learning and boy have I just had a major lesson.

Come again soon – I’ll come up with something less gloomy.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  Thanks to the experts at Yates NZ who diagnosed the problem for me.

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