Archive for July, 2010

Tomato Blossom End RotThe Cause, The Prevention & The Treatment

Friday, July 30th, 2010

blossom-end rotBlossom-End Rot, a.k.a. BER, is not a disease, but the result of a calcium deficiency that is usually caused by inconsistent watering. Both drought conditions and over-watering from irrigation, heavy rains or even high humidity levels can cause your tomato plants to suffer from a calcium deficiency and BER. It is also thought that highly acidic soils contribute to this condition and any damage to the roots caused by severe root pruning or improper transplanting can also have the same results, so handle those roots carefully.

Blossom-End Rot can be recognized by a leathery, brown rot developing on or near the blossom end of the tomato. Normally starting with a brown lesion about the size of a dime, it will increase in size as the condition gets worse. Over time those lesions may become covered with a black mold. BER not only affects the quality of the fruit, but can affect the quantity as well.

There are some fairly simple steps that you can take to reduce the possibility of Blossom-End Rot:

  • Make sure to provide adequate water. While putting on fruit, tomatoes need about 1.5 inches of water a week. You may need to increase this during very hot times, watering in the early morning to prevent leaf burn. You may also have to decrease water during periods of heavy rain. If you are not sure how much water your tomatoes are getting, place a coffee can or other similar sized container near your tomato plants but unobstructed. You can then measure the amount of water mid-week and adjust accordingly. A more precise means of measurement is a strategically-placed rain gauge.
  • Using mulch will conserve moisture. You can use newspapers, straw or rubber mulches.
  • Tomatoes grow best and the incidents of BER are reduced when you keep the soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5. A soil tester is one of the best tools a gardener can have in his or her arsenal. The lower end of the pH scale represents more acidic soil while the higher end of the scale is indicative of more alkaline soil. 7.0 is the neutral point. You can decrease the pH by adding sulfur, which is approved for organic gardening, or by adding compost or other organic matter, which takes longer but builds soil quality as well as reducing the need for additional fertilizers. Soil, over time, will revert back to its natural state, so periodic soil testing is a good idea. Organic limestone is the most common additive to raise the pH in your soil. Some lime may require adding prior to planting, so read those package directions carefully. Wood ash is also effective, but it breaks down quickly which can result in over-application, which can be devastating to your soil.
  • Apply fertilizers or essential nutrients properly and with care. Over fertilizing can bring on BER. Soil testing is the only fool-proof way to insure proper fertilization.

If your tomato plants develop Blossom-End Rot, you can treat them by spraying them with a calcium solution at the rate of 4 level tablespoons per 1 gallon of water. You can use either calcium chloride or calcium nitrate, but be aware that when temperatures are higher than 85°F calcium chloride can burn your plants. You should spray 2-3 times per week, starting as the second fruit clusters are blooming.

It is also true that some varieties of tomatoes are more susceptible than others. It might be to your benefit to grow a number of varieties, making notes on which tomato plants perform best and have the fewest incidents of BER and other issues. When making notes, also note the weather conditions, as these can also affect how your garden grows. Taking this simple step will insure that you grow the best varieties for your soil and for your climate, insuring a most bountiful harvest.

Correct Bat House Placement

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

placing bat housesThat bats are blind is a misconception; they just see much better in the dark than they do in sunlight and they hunt by echolocation, rather than by sight. Working similar to sonar, they bounce sound waves off of their prey. They are actually very clean animals and though they look similar to a rodent, but more threatening because they have wings, they are much more desirable, cleaner and beneficial than mice, gophers, moles or rats.  

The bat population, unfortunately, is on the decline due to human civilization encroaching on their habitat and, in part, because bats have received a bad rap and have been targeted for eradication in some areas. If this trend continues, we will have lost an invaluable natural resource designed to be a natural enemy to the mosquito and other noxious flying insects. These harmful insects cannot become immune to bats like they can to the numerous chemicals utilized to control them. There will come a time when sprays and treatments will be largely ineffective against mosquitoes. Where will we be without the bats?

In order to be sure to attract bats, there are a few simple steps to follow. First, choose the type of bat house according to the number of bats that you wish to have working in your back yard. If you have a large area, or both a back and front yard, you may want to locate numerous Bat Houses strategically around your home. Bat Houses should be mounted about 15 feet above the ground, preferably facing south or southeast to take advantage of the heat of the morning and early afternoon sun. Most people prefer to locate them a number of feet from the house, but some will even hang their Bat Houses right on their own house or garage, convenient to a viewing area where they can watch the bats at work. Bat Houses placed on poles and structures tend to become occupied quicker than those placed on trees, most likely because they prefer not to have to navigate branches when flying in and out. If you find that you have bats living in your belfry or attic, place the bat house in close proximity to this area in order to lure them into a more suitable living arrangement, unless of course, you don't mind them in your house. You can relocate the Bat House a little further away once they have established habitation there.

Bats will normally be very abundant throughout the summer and into late fall, either hibernating or migrating to warmer areas with a more abundant food supply in the winter, returning again in early summer. Winter or early spring will be the best time to relocate your Bat House if you choose to.  

Most new bat houses will be occupied in the first 1 to 6 months. If you find that bats do not roost in your bat house by the end of the second summer, simply move the house to another location.  Thanks so much for helping these airborne friends!

Red Cedar Safe For Raised Beds

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

garden bedI am wanting to build some raised beds and I see that a lot of people use the pressure-treated lumber that is no longer treated with arsenic. How about red cedar…would it be safe to use for raised garden beds or does it contain some type of chemical also?


Nancy L.

Answer: Western Red Cedar is naturally bug and decay resistant so the lumber is not treated with any chemicals. It is very durable and has a long life expectancy compared to other softwoods. For this reason, it will be considerably more expensive than standard pressure-treated lumber, especially for large-dimensioned pieces. Today’s pressure-treated lumber is acceptable for use in gardens since treating it with arsenic was banned several years ago.

Either choice is fine. Cedar is a much more attractive wood but if it’s not going to be in a very visible location, that might not be a consideration.

Good luck with your beds!



Monday, July 26th, 2010

Now that Nemacure is not available anymore, how does one control nematodes? Information would be most appreciated. Thanking you in anticipation, George M

Answer: Nematodes, which are microscopic, worm-shaped, plant-parasitic animals, are highly damaging and can be widespread. They can be found in all major field crops, and on turf, perennials and legumes. In large crops, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the best practice, including prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression. There are some chemical management controls for large operations but you would need to identify the species of nematode and degree of infestation you have, and for this you need to contact your local extension office for guidance.

If you are dealing with a single plant infestation, there are a couple of things to try. I was able to rid a hosta of the foliar nematode parasite by super-heating the root system.  This is accomplished by removing the plant and washing off all soil from the roots and removing any diseased foliage, then dipping the plant roots up to the crown in water of no more than 123F for 4-8 minutes, followed by dipping in cold water. Some suggest using a 1% bleach solution. Repot or plant immediately. Since nematodes can survive in the soil for a period of time, it’s wise to replace the soil in the area or replant in a different location. I took this one step further with my hosta by replanting in a pot and leaving it in my greenhouse/barn where temps get quite high in the summer.  I made sure it had sufficient moisture for survival then left it in the pot isolated from other plants through the winter before returning it to the garden after new growth showed no signs of infestation.

Another option is total soil sterilization or adding organic matter in the soil to increase the amount of microbes that provide some natural control for nematodes. Without knowing exactly what form of nematode you are dealing with, foliar or root, any products on the shelf for ornamental landscape plants may or may not be effective.  Most products are labeled for root nematodes. The effectiveness of these products is still in question.

Always check plants for damage when shopping for new additions to your landscape. Do not purchase any stock that shows signs of disease or infection, and if in doubt, quarantine the plants before integrating them into your landscape.

Good luck with the nematodes,


Support for Climbing Rose Bushes

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

rose plantI have 2 rose bushes that need some type of trellis.  I don’t like wooden ones because of the upkeep.  The distance between the 2 poles is about 10 feet.  Could this Trellis Netting support 2 John Cabot rose bushes? (It is on the side of a pergola, so there is no wall behind for support.)  If not, do you have any other ideas?

Thanks! Lori U.

Answer: Climbing roses are a beautiful addition to a sunny garden. Roses, unlike other vines that like to climb, don’t have actual tendrils or specialized branches that attach themselves to a wall or trellis. In the wild, the main shoots or canes would just arch out and the smaller shoots that produce the blooms would grow from there. To tame these canes in our gardens some sort of structure is required and the main canes need to tied with a flexible material. Try to tie them in the most horizontal manner possible. Since the wind, rain and snow will put a considerable stress on the canes and therefore the support system, you want to make sure the system is something that will endure this abuse. Wood or metal structures are the favorite choice because of this. Replacing the supports after the rose has reached mature size would not be pleasant or easy. 

The Garden Trellis Netting we sell is a fabric type and is not the perfect solution, however if you want to try it for a temporary measure I would suggest doubling the netting and making sure it is secured firmly to the posts. The netting is perfect for seasonal vines like clematis or annuals like beans, cucumbers, or morning glories.

Happy Gardening,


Hot-cha-cha-cha! Hot Peppers and Spicing Up Your World

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Hot peppers on displayAs is the case with all produce, fresh-picked homegrown peppers have more flavor, color and nutritional value than their commercially grown counterparts at the supermarket. If you are new to growing hot peppers, look for the Scoville heating units that are listed for each variety. The higher the number, the hotter the pepper.

Every chef should have at least a few varieties of hot pepper plants in the garden or potted on the patio. They're easy to grow, add a ton of flavor to foods, and are amazingly versatile in the kitchen. From the hottest varieties, like Ghost, to the milder Anaheim, there are countless reasons to grow these flavorful fruits. Most hot peppers can be added to recipes raw, roasted, sautéed, steamed, or baked, and they can be preserved in many ways. Drying hot peppers causes some of their flavors and heat to be lost but allows the gardener to enjoy the fruits of the harvest for up to a year after ripe peppers are picked.

The best varieties of hot pepper to dry are the thin-skinned ones with the lowest moisture content. They can be sun-dried, roasted, or quick-dried in a food dehydrator. Once they're dry, crush the flesh into flakes or powder, and store in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. Peppers can also be frozen whole or diced, and straight off the plant, or blanched first. The meatier, thicker-fleshed varieties will freeze better and retain a nicer texture when thawed.

Some peppers ripen all at once, while others generate new fruits throughout the summer. For the chef who wants fresh-picked heat for each meal's preparation, choose a type that will keep producing ripening peppers. For preserving peppers by pickling, canning, or using salsas and hot sauces, choose a variety that ripens all at once.

Peppers are a cinch to harvest. They snap right off the stem of the plant when they're ripe, and they don't have spines or thorns, so gloves aren't needed to pick them. However, it is recommended that chefs wear latex kitchen gloves when preparing spicy peppers to add to dishes, to avoid getting the hot capsaicin oil on hands and then accidentally touching the face. Hot peppers will burn sensitive skin and eyes, and the sting is excruciating.

It's easiest to gauge the heat of your finished dish if you remove the innards and cook with only the green, red or orange fleshy part of the fruit.

Peppers are ripe and ready for picking as soon as they reach their full length, as suggested in their growing instructions. Their ripe color can vary. For example, jalapeños can be light or deep green, purple or red at maturity, although most purists prefer their flavor when they're firm, shiny and deep green.

How Can I Get Rid Of Snakes

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

I live in Bryan, TX right near Texas A&M in College Station.  I am so looking forward to constructing a vegetable/fruit garden for next season.  We have a well-fenced backyard that is perfect.  BUT there is a matter of concern and safety.  Copper Head, Coral and Rattlesnakes are common in this county.  Just the other day for the VERY FIRST TIME EVER, since moving to Texas and even living previously in Houston…we were informed by a neighbor that they had observed a snake going up our fence and into our backyard.

Because it was about dusk, it was not known the type of snake…and now I am REALLY concerned not only for our dog’s safety, but our very own, as we grill in the backyard, as well.

We don’t have a deck or any kind of crawl spaces. It’s a solid brick foundation.  I do however have a wildflower/butterfly garden on each side of the interior fence and against the back of the house.  The foliage is rather thick and flowers are in full bloom…so pretty, but now this.

We were planning to construct raised gardening along the back of the fence within each corner, planting an Elderberry ‘Black Beauty’ and a Goji Berry to enjoy not only the blooms but also the fruit–then various vegetables along the left and right sides.  Now I am wondering how we can, with having to contend with snakes?


Can ANYONE help with remedies they have used?

Thanks so much…

Julia R.

Answer: Julia, we appreciate your question. The product you need is called NocDown III. You will have to spray this in the  areas of grass and fence you want to keep the snakes out of. Since they may already be in your backyard, I would spray a section each day, starting at the back of the house and working all the way to the outer edges of the yard. A couple of days after all the backyard is sprayed I would spray both sides of the fence and then the grass on the outside of the fence. I would spray the entire area once per month to ensure the snakes stay away.

Sincerely, Karen

Protecting Tomatoes from Extreme Conditions

Friday, July 16th, 2010

tomato plantsEvery tomato lover knows homegrown are in a class of their own. Luckily, tomato plants are vigorous growers that require very little effort on the gardener's part.

Tomato plants prefer full sunlight and a warm environment, but extreme heat can alter their ability to be pollinated and produce fruit.  During periods of high temperatures, garden vegetables need more attention than usual.

High heat quickly evaporates the soil's moisture, so vigilant daily watering is mandatory. Plants will droop and wilt to let you know they're thirsty and stressed from the dry, hot climate. Swan's Soaker Hoses are available in different lengths and are made of environmentally friendly recycled rubber.  These hoses lie flat on the ground and maximize watering efficiency by minimizing evaporation.  They deliver a steady and consistent flow of water where you want it, directly to the soil.

Maintaining soil health throughout the growing season is also necessary to fortify plants against harsh conditions. Tomatoes need a fertile growing medium and they respond with noticeable results to products like Espoma's Tomato Tone or Hi-Yield Garden Fertilizer.   Follow manufacturers' instructions about feeding or fertilizing plants during drought periods.

Better Reds is a red plastic mulch that is touted to promote better growth and production in tomatoes by reflecting far-red light frequencies (like the sun's) to the undersides of the plant's leaves and fruits.  It helps to hold moisture in the soil and keeps weeds at bay, as well.

Extreme conditions can also include unexpected frosts in late spring or early fall.  Protect your plants and extend their lives by covering them at night when temperatures are expected to dip to 40 degrees or less.  The Season Starter Plant Protector is a plastic, water-filled ring that surrounds the plant.  It absorbs heat during the day and holds it in at night to guard against cooler ambient temps.

Plant and seed blankets, garden row covers, sheets of cotton or natural burlap, and even tall piles of extra mulch can help protect plants from extreme hot or cold. Greenhouses aren't an option for every grower, but they also provide a more controlled climate for young plants that are awaiting optimum spring planting in the ground.

One other option for protecting tomatoes from harsh temperatures or erratic rainfall is to plant in containers.   That allows the grower to move the plants to areas where they'll have temporary shelter from extreme hot or cold, or be closer to a source of water, or even be more easily found by the insects that pollinate them.