Could my soil be full of pathogen

fmart322(Z6SNJ)July 9, 2012

the reason I ask is because every year I seem to get a blight on my tomatoes and sometimes peppers.

In my line of work I'll sometimes work long hours with only one day off a week. During that time my wife, who has zero knowledge of gardening and doesn't care to learn, will water them overhead, with a hose, in the evening. Even though I tell her not to do it that way. (I think she hates me but that's for a different message board).

I also use the same tomatoe cages that are made of heavy wire mesh used for concrete slabs. I never clean them up before/after the season with say bleach our other chemical. I just remove all dead debris after the growing season. They are rusty.

I also water with a soaker house, under newspaper with old straw/hay that's been well seasoned.

Also, just on the other side of my fence my neighbor has two apple trees that are sickly, a sweet gum tree that's in decline and a dead box elder maple tree. I've offered to remove the trees, for free, but she won't do it. Why I don't know.

Now, I can only rotate my crops so much because of the size of my garden ( 24'x7' ). I'm pretty much married to this site for now.

Bottom line, how can I test my soil to find out if it's healthy or not? How can I cure it if it's sick? How can I get my wife to water correctly without using a shock collar?

Thanks for reading, I hope you guys can help.

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    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 9:44AM
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I suspect you are talking about Early Blight? Pictures would help, but aren't essential to talk about theory.

For early blight and most of the other fungal diseases, the spores are in the soil and can also be transported by wind and rain from miles away.

Bleaching tomato cages may not be helpful. About the only thing that does help is using an approved fungicide for fruits and vegetables and apply regularly (once a week; more often if it rains). This prevents fungal spores from attaching to receptors on the leaf surface.

Sounds like you mulch well, so that should prevent any disease that might result from splashback.

Of course, there are other diseases that affect the plants - not just fungal diseases -- and it's difficult to assess what they could be without pictures of leaves, stems, and fruits (if any).

Other things to consider are over-watering, poor drainage (most plants hate to sit in soggy soil for long periods of time), fertilizer, etc.

If the problem is environmental, as in soil and/or nutrients, you could have a soil sample tested at a local cooperative extension. You could also bring in plants and/or leaves for diagnosis.

Rutgers runs a number of cooperative extensions. Link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: NJ Cooperative Extension County Offices

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 10:36AM
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I hope this goes through.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 10:53AM
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I also have whole stems, from suckers, that have went yellow.

I started out with Serenade. Now I'm using a product with copper.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 10:58AM
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The holes look like there's some insect activity, probably flea beetles.

If you have whole stems turning yellow, you must consider either fusarium or verticillium wilt; I'm leaning towards verticillium, but it could be either. If this happens to you every year, then the disease is in your soil and there's not much you can do about it.

Both fusarium and verticillium are systemic diseases that enter the plant through the roots from the soil. It's possible that the seed was contaminated, but it's extremely unlikely that you are getting contaminated seeds every year, especially if you are using commercial seed.

If you remove one of those stems and look at the pith inside of the stem, you may see some brown tissue. you should not see that; pith should be completely white-ish.

Solanaceous crop plants (tomato, potato, pepper, and egg- plant) are affected by fusarium and verticillium. I would not try to grow these in that spot for at least another 4-6 years, assuming the diagnosis is correct. You certainly can grow other vegetables there, just not solanaceous plants.

You might try growing in containers instead of directly in the ground.

Please use the link in my above post to get info from your county cooperative extension, or use a search engine to get more information on these diseases. The cooperative extension can confirm or disprove the diagnosis.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 12:18PM
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Thank you lionheart for taking the time to give advice. I'll get in touch with my county extension and have them direct me from there.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 5:48AM
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One more thing, my cages have been used through all of this, do you think they should be replaced if soil illnesses are present in my soil?

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 5:51AM
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This is what I bought to try to stop my blight/fungus, what ever it is. So far, so good. I think between this and better weather it's helping a lot.

next stop, the county extension.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2012 at 7:02AM
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The copper spray still seems to be helping. Production is way down from years past.

I got in touch with my county extension via email. They just gave me links to general information sites about gardening. I got more information from reading this message board. I guess I'll have to keep searching for answers to my garden soil problem.

Thanks for trying to help me everyone.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 6:47AM
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I'm sorry to hear that the county extension was not much help, although I've had pretty good luck with mine here in upstate NY. It can be hit-or-miss.

Still, most extensions will do soil tests or have the soil sent away for tests. That could tell you if you're missing any important nutrients.

It certainly could be the excessive heat and drought that has been causing problems. I've seen this with my potatoes (closely related to tomatoes), but I haven't seen it with my tomatoes this year. The tomatoes have been sluggish due to the excess heat - they don't want to grow - but I haven't had much yellowing.

I was a little concerned when you said that entire stems were yellowing, which sounded like it could be one of the wilts, but all of this heat can cause significant yellowing too.

I'm glad the plants are improving. Good job!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 1:32PM
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Well, I went out this morning to pick and water and I saw more blight like symptoms on the lower half on about 1/3 of my plants. I snipped it away and bagged it to throw it into the trash. My Roma's are done. They are wilted all over. They took it the worst. I completely romoved it altogether. Looking at one if my cuttings I noticed grey/brown marks. I know that's not good. Sad.

Most of my 11 plants are 6' or better. Production could be the lowest I've ever had in all my years growing tomato's. One plant is close to eight foot and has 3 tomato's. It just seems like when I bought this house 8 years ago, that's when all my problems started. At my last house, I didn't know what I know now. I did things that would make this forum cringe.....and never had a problem, had huge plants and loads of tomato's. Here, in my new house that once was an apple orchard 50 years ago, nothing but problems. Peppers do very well though, everything thing else, problems.

Lionheart, you say say you live in upstate NY, where at? I spent 6 months working at SUNY in Binghamton. Nice area.

To make matters worse, and pretty funny at the same time, I picked a half dozen or so tomato's. My dog just ast my 1st big boy of the season. You just gotta laugh I guess.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 7:24AM
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Dying Roma

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 8:00AM
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Cross section

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 8:01AM
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Yellowing stems

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 8:03AM
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Lower section of plant with the yellowing stems

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 8:04AM
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Shot of my 11, I mean 10, plants.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 8:06AM
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All foliage, no tomato's

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 8:08AM
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My daughter singing the blues for my garden

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 8:09AM
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By the way, all the pictures below the Dying Roma shot, besides my daughter of course, are from my big boy. The Roma's stem cross section seemed pretty clean.

Here's a worm that was eating one of my Roma's tomatos. It's not a horn worm.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 8:16AM
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I live in Albany County, but am a bit familiar with the Binghamton area.

Those larvae in the tomatoes are tomato fruitworms, which are moth larvae. They really weird me out. I hate them. There's nothing worse than finding them (and their poop) inside of a tomato. They can get pretty big after they thrive on tomatoes.

I spray an insecticide every week to prevent them because I never, ever want to see one again. :-)

I don't think we can rule out verticillium wilt or fusarium wilt, based on the pictures of yellow leaves and the browning of the stem pith. With either of these wilts, you get lots of random yellowing which includes entire stems.

If you have this problem every single year with tomato plants, that's even more suspicious. If it is one of those wilts, there's not much you can do about it as a home gardener, except to try planting in containers instead of in the ground.

Lots of people, especially in the South where fusarium is rampant, will try to harvest tomatoes before the plant dies. It's a race against the clock - can you get fruits before the plant is completely dead? They have varying degrees of success with that. Apparently, these diseases don't affect the quality of the fruit (although the fruits may be fewer and smaller). If you can get some, go for it.

Except throw out the ones with fruitworms. Nothing good can come of it.

You might get really lucky and have some tomato plants that won't get infected. It happens occasionally, but it is rare.

Assuming I might be correct, since the disease is already in the soil and can't easily be eradicated, you might as well see if you can get the plants to hang on long enough to produce fruits.

For the plants that are big and lush with no fruits -- if you are using fertilizer, try to find a fertilizer with a low N number in the NPK. They should at least be equal, such as 10-10-10 or 20-20-20. Most folks use the equal-number fertilizers. Anyhow, the first number should be less than or equal to the other numbers. If you get something like 60-10-10, that's going to encourage green growth, but at the expense of producing fruit.

That, of course, is assuming that you're using fertilizer. It may just be that it's the growth behavior of that particular variety.

Your daughter is adorable. Maybe she'll grow up to be a famous musician. :-)

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 10:08AM
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Thank you about my daughter, she is a joy to me.

The fertilizer I used was natural fertilizer. Chicken manure mostly. I did give them a couple if shots of fish fertilizer (5-1-1) in the early spring but stopped by mid june.

I think I'm dealing with one of the 2 wilts you mentioned. This morning I went into the garden and noticed it bad on one of my plants. (see pic below)
I've been getting fruit, not a lot, but not as much as I should or have had in the past when I've grown this many plants.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 6:19AM
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I guess at this point I should remove that plant? Should I just remove the affected area?

How about next year, what can I plant in this spot? Can I grow peppers and eggplant here? How about different types of beans? I won't be growing tomato's here for a while I guess. Looks like I need to develop a new plot for them and/or plant in containers.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 6:25AM
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