Bacterial wilt -- suggestions please!

bcfromfl(z8a NW FL)July 3, 2008

Hi everyone --

After all my trials and tribulations trying to get an 8x12 tomato plot going, with birds, moles, caterpillars, mole crickets, etc., and my construction of a "plant prison"...completely enclosing it with a 7-foot high frame covered in chicken wire and an underground barrier of aluminum flashing around the perimeter, I discovered the cause of my plants' failure this afternoon. The cuttings I placed in a clear glass of water streamed the telltale milky white ribbons of death.

This is such a shame, because I had 6-foot tall plants loaded with blossoms and ripening fruit! Once the wilt starts, within 2-3 days the plants are completely gone. I had about 20 plants, with less than half remaining: Big Beef Hybrid, Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, Solar Set Hybrid, Sweet Baby Girl, and Tami G Hybrid. There's been no rhyme nor reason which plant goes can go, yet another a few inches away remains untouched. When the plant collapse first begun, I quickly took cuttings so I could restart, but I'm realizing the reason some of the cuttings are doing so poorly is because they are infected also.

So, now that I know my enemy, I'm trying to organize my plan of attack next year. I already have drip irrigation out there, so what I was thinking was container-growing and retrofitting my drip system so that it takes care of the individual pots. The only possibility of reinfection could be from my well, although it is a deep well (220 feet) so such a pathogen would be unlikely from that depth.

I'd appreciate it if those of you with experience here could answer a few questions:

* What size pot would you recommend? Am I going to have issues with the sun hitting the black plastic pot and making the roots too hot? If so, I can figure out how to hang shade cloth over the pots somehow.

* I'll purchase a commercial mix that I know will be sterile. Which one(s) would you recommend, or, should I mix my own with lots of perlite, and...what else?

* I've done some Googling, but can't seem to find a listing of varieties that ARE bacterial wilt resistant. I shouldn't invite trouble by trying in-the-ground cultivation again, but if there is a good selection of decent varieties, I may consider it. Or, should I go with the varieties I prefer and do as I'm proposing above?

* Couldn't find any articles discussing successful fumigation. Is this a possibility, or are these chemicals not available for retail purchase?

I wouldn't wish this upon any gardener. :( I'm really bummed right now. I especially hope the infection doesn't reach my large banana patch on the other side of the yard!

Thank you for your help.

-Bruce C.

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Neptune is a variety developed in Florida and is listed resistant to bacterial wilt.

I would also check out Actigard--as I have read that it does help with BW when used in conjunction with a resistant variety. Also add organic material. Don't overwater.

You will get many answers related to size of container--I prefer 15 gallons (10 at the mininum).

Soilless mixes- Lamberts, pro-mix, there are others primarily peat, vermiculite, and perlite.

There is no fumigation chemical available to homeowner that I am aware of.

You really have my sympathies--I know having experienced tomato spotted wilt virus how devastating a serious disease can be. A persistent soilborne disease would really be hard to take but as you discussed there are things you can do to get around it. Good luck next year.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 2:59AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I'm assuming you have already read through all the info available about it on the web so you likely already know that even soil solarization provides only limited benefits. I know some recent research has shown that soil fumigation with Messenger has been somewhat effective, at least in stalling its development and allowing for a crop, but it is heavy dosages and it isn't really something geared toward the home grower.

Neptune and Tropic Boy are the only resistant varieties I have seen listed tho again, there are on-going breeding programs trying to develop more resistant varieties.

So IMO containers would be the way to go as farkee said above. And I agree with the other recommendations too: Pot size for individual indet. plants: 10 gal. minimum or larger for the best success. Many argue that 5 gallon is sufficient but that is all it is - sufficient - for a minimal crop with lots of extra work. For smaller varieties in the dwarf and bush variety you can get by with smaller containers. Drip irrigaion systems are a real benefit with containers too. Soil-less mixes - any good quality mix will do. I have tried many of them with equal results. I add a good dose of slo-release ferts to mine before planting.

I wish you luck.


Here is a link that might be useful: BW Resistance in Tomatoes - Varietal Parentage

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 4:51PM
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bcfromfl(z8a NW FL)

Thanks so much both of you for your suggestions -- I really appreciate it. After all the time and expense I've gone through to get this tomato garden set up, it would be a shame for me to throw the towel in at this point! I was so looking forward to a bountiful harvest this year, but I guess I'll have to wait one more year.

My wife and I had a couple Sweet Baby Girl cherries for lunch today...not thrilled with them, but OK as far as cherries go. Per pound they're probably the most expensive cherries ever grown!! ;-)


    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 5:22PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

I had about 20 plants, with less than half remaining


I'm left wondering how your plants got bacterial wilt.

And I guess you're assuming that the other half of plants will go down with it as well.

Do you grow any other vegetables?

Are there any weeds nearby?

I ask b'c BW has about 200 alternate hosts?

Did you raise all your plants from seed or did you buy them?

It sounds as though this is the first time you've used this plot of land so we can't speak of any carryover from a previous year.

Chewing insects can also transmit BW as well as pathogenic nematodes eating roots.

I'm just trying to get to the root, no pun intended, LOL, of your current problem since BW usually doesn't come in and hit all plants in a certain area where nothing has been grown before.


    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 6:30PM
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bcfromfl(z8a NW FL)

Hi Carolyn, thanks for your thoughts. This is actually my second season trying to grow tomatoes in this plot. It's a raised bed, using mostly sandy soil with some compost, and amended with greensand and organic tomato fertilizer. Last year I had tomatoes, but had fewer plants, and lost half to a tunneling mole. So, this year I really went to town to make sure that never happened again, i.e., the buried aluminum flashing.

All my plants are from seed. I don't grow other vegetables (unless one counts watermelon as a vegetable), but have considerable experience with fruits, which I have a lot of success with.

Our property abuts a 10-acre wetlands which is loaded with just about every weed and bush under the sun. Birds flock here, and I have pest problems as a result that neighbors don't.

I'm originally from upstate New York, and really miss those genuine tomatoes, which is why I'm going to all this effort to get some decent ones!


    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 7:30PM
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"Infested soil is the main source of inoculum. It is not rare to find bacterial wilt in the first crop in recently cleared land in tropical and subtropical regions. Disease-free areas can be infested through infected planting material (tomato transplants), contaminated irrigation or surface water, machinery, and with other cultural practices." (Univ. of FL. Diseases of Tomato)

Unfortunately, in our neck of the woods you can get bacterial wilt in the first crop. They say it is not rare but I don't know how common it is either.

Bruce, if you want confirmation sent or take plant to Univ. Of FL Plant Diagnostic Center. Costs $20. Though the milky stream in the glass of water certainly indicates BW according to all the brochures. Does all the other symptoms fit what you have too? (I thought I had TSWV but I still paid $20 for them to TELL me I had TSWV. Plus it helps monitor what is happening where.)

((regarding link below--don't get your hopes up about thymol as a fumigant, I already researched this a while back and it is not available in any practical way yet.))

Here is a link that might be useful: 3 soil diseases

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 9:22PM
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I have had many problems growing tomatoes in ground. (Gainesville) I don't think I have had bacterial wilt, but one section of my garden will not let a tomato plant live to produce. They get to decent size then wilt overnight and die.

My best luck so far (6th year gardening) has been with containers using new potting medium. MetroMix 500 has been best by far. Cheap stuff does not do so well. I have also had reasonable luck growing in bags of Black Kow. I did loose a Celebrity in a Black Kow bag over in the zone of death this year though (as well as every tomato and eggplant in ground there). The bags are raised above the ground by partially finished compost and insulated from the sun by more partially finished compost. All my compost starts in the fall from bagged leaves from the neighborhood, so none of my diseases have much chance to infiltrate it. My compost pile this year was a 15 foot diameter by three feet tall cylindrical pile. After its first year, the compost and Black Kow goes into the general garden plot for my flowers.

I do try to insulate my pots from the sun. Last year I surrounded the pots with leaves. This year I just used bigger pots. The larger the pots, the less danger from heat damage. 15-20 gallon-ish. It does get expensive. 2.8 cu ft of metro mix is approaching $20. That is good for one or two plants in one large container. The plastic container itself approaching $10 each. Ouch. Add the cost of water and fertilizer and you need about 35 tomatoes to get to $1 each.

I do not think I really answered your question about how to combat bacterial wilt. But my view is that you can't beat it, just avoid it. That means being vigilant about avoiding cross contamination via tools, hoses, scissors, etc.

I feel sorry for in ground plants in Florida. View your yard as an ocean of soil. Any tomato plant you plant in ground is at the mercy of all that is swimming around beneath it. Planting in pots is like a swimming pool. You have to put effort into monitoring the chemicals and temperature, but by and far your plants won't get eaten alive.

This year is my first year using PVC for tomato cages also. CRW has been preferred in the past, but it is rough and rusty witch I feel can carry over disease from one year to the next. The roughness creates wounds on the vine which can lead to infection. I went to PVC because it is smooth and modular. It can be broken down at the end of the year and submerged in bleach/water. I do not know how long it will last in the sun though. So far it is great. 8 ft tall cages so far. I can add more as I need to.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 9:42PM
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bcfromfl(z8a NW FL)

Thanks again, farkee, and Vance too. I smiled as I read your cost-breakdown of components. It really doesn't make much *economic* sense to grow these things, does it? ;-) I used Trex to frame the bed with, then the 2x2 lumber and chicken wire, etc., etc...I must have $400-500 in this little garden so far, and nothing to show for it!

I hadn't thought about the cost of the mix to fill each container with! Holy cow, if I do 15-20 plants, that'll about break the bank! Guess I'll have to be satisfied with fewer than that...

Thanks too for confirming for me what I suspected about the sun heating up those black pots. I'll have to rig up something to shade them.

It's possible that there were only small patches of inoculum present to begin with, but then when I excavated to put in the flashing I moved the bacterium around. It's still strange the way I'll lose one plant, but another a few inches away (for the time being) remains untouched.

I used the cuttings in the glass of water as confirmation, but the other symptoms fit as well. I had absolutely gorgeous plants with deep blue/green leaves, then, all of a sudden, the tips of the growths would start losing turgor. The first night I would notice this I would go out to check on them, and they would be plumped back up again. Then, the following day, and thereafter, they would quickly and catastrophically collapse. I pulled one up to check the roots to see if there was a cutworm, grub, mole cricket, etc., feasting away, but the roots looked fine. Transplanting to a large pot didn't help.

Thanks for the info on the diagnostic service!

From now on I'm going to be extremely careful about when and where I move soil around in my yard!


    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 11:10PM
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If they grow right, you do not need too many plants. Or so I've heard. I can't seem to limit myself. I started out with 19 tomato plants this year. The nine on the south side all died. Maybe five toms from that bunch. The north side garden is doing OK. The container plants are doing reasonable well. I am getting better with watering and fertilizing the containers. I can't get bumper crops out out containers yet. As long as I use fresh mix, they do not die, they just loose steam as the season gets longer and my fertilizer mis-steps compound. I'm slowly getting it. A well aerated mix with good drainage lightly fertilized regularly with regular flushes to remove salt buildup. Most years they are pulled up about now, but they seem to be ready to keep going this year.

As far as spreading the a beginner I had the mentality to plant too many plants, thinking that at least something would produce, but the reality is that once you plant a tomato plant in the ground, you have used up that spot for years to come. Everything that preys on tomato plants populates the area, and the populations do not diminish anywhere near as fast as they grow. At least in my backyard. I have heard many times from people in town who say they don't grow tomatoes because after their first semi-successful year, nothing else would grow.

Here are two picteres Ihave posted before. They were taken a few weeks apart in '03 of my six awesome indeterminates that all went limp and died one by one. The first pic shows the first plant limp. That was rough.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 12:00AM
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I believe it is Ami who always mention Actigard. According to the link it helps a great deal.

Non-host cover crop is another and the organic matter already mentioned.

For phenomenal yield (in ground and in containers) check out How to Grow World Record Tomatoes by C. Wilber. He used 1/2 whiskey barrels. I also should have said that I prefer 15 gallon OR LARGER. My favorite containers are actually larger than 15 gallon. You could also check out Earthboxes. A dollar a tomato is too cheap, ha ha, can be even more with all this 'stuff' but worth it.

According to U of Fl peppers don't get bacterial wilt (even though same family). OK i know they are not tomatoes.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 7:45AM
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Vance, that just looks like the perfect garden spot. How awful to plant and then have them all go down.

Did you try that stem in water test? I think I would want to know exactly what I had because if it is NOT bacterial wilt other problems can be treated.

Did the plants that wilted stay green and then go down almost overnight and or did it take awhile?

Did you notice any knots or bumps caused by root knot nematode on the roots by any chance? Plus fungal and bacterial blights eventually cause defoliation too but they don't cause that kind of wilt.

Anyway best of luck with your containers--big yields are possible--there is just a learning curve.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 8:04AM
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Vance, I just reread your post and it does say they wilt overnight and die. That does fit BW. What a pain.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 8:07AM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

Thanks for the photos Vince.

Bacterial Wilt is somewhat unique, I'd have to scan my tomato pathology books to confirm that, where the leaves do stay green when they wilt and then the plant does die relatively quickly. Not as quickly as Late Blight ( P. infestans), but quickly enough.

I think the move to containers at this point is a good one. Since I no longer can garden due to physical problems I'm now growing in containers myself but all the gardening is done by someone else.

For indeterminates I wouldn't use anything less than 10 gal and for determinates and dwarfs about 5 gal will work.

This year I'm trying grow bags, the white ones with handles and drainage holes and they're 12 gal. Filled with a mixture of Professional Pro-Mix and composted cow manure with humus. One 40 lb bag of the latter to one about 3.4 cubic ft of the Pro-Mix.

These grow bags are cheap compared to most conventional containers that I have.

My other non gro bag containers are even larger than 12 gal and much more expensive and I use those other veggies and fruits such as summer squash and melons and cukes and early turnips and kohlrabi and lettuce and radishes and carrots and bok choy and the like.

Until a few years ago all my tomatoes were grown inground, about 500-700 plants/season, so I had to get advice from those I know who are long term container growers as to what they use to fill their containers with, etc.

Right now everyuthing looks great and will continue that way, I hope, unless we get more hail or the deer stop eating the rosebuds and daylilies and saunter over to the tomatoes. Sigh.

I'm being visited by a bear, but have taken in all the bird feeders and I'm told that bears don't like to eat tomatoes. ( smile) Of course there are still the skunks and woodchucks and possums and moose and foxes and all else in my boonie location that could be problematic, so fingers crossed.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 8:31AM
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nctomatoman(z7/8 NC)

I am thinking chewing insects as a vector. I have everything in bleached pots with MetroMix 360 and Black Cow (both new, I don't reuse pot soil). Just this week a perfectly healthy plant came down with it, and is in serious trouble. a second is showing signs.

I now also have two potted plants with Fusarium wilt, and two with Tomato Spotted Wilt. Each year in NC is quite an adventure. Fortunately I have over 130 plants, but they are all special, and it is very frustrating.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 11:33PM
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bcfromfl(z8a NW FL)

I've been doing a lot of work outside this weekend, and came back to the Forum to find all these new and great responses. Thanks everyone, for sharing your ideas and expertise!

I am now down to three plants in the ground (from 20), but they seem to be maintaining. Perhaps they're in "safe zones" where the roots haven't touched the inoculum. It looks like I've got three Big Beef and one Cherokee Purple cuttings that are free and clear and growing in cottage cheese cups (the Solar Sets don't look so great), so I'll set up some large containers to learn a bit this season before next year. Since it's so late in the season now, and so hot, I'm not holding out for much success from these late starts.

Can't wait to try one of these "World's Most Expensive Tomatoes"!!! ;-) Thanks again everyone for your help!


    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 4:38PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

Chewing insects can also transmit BW as well as pathogenic nematodes eating roots.

.... is what I wrote above so I'm glad that Craig has posted:

I am thinking chewing insects as a vector. I have everything in bleached pots with MetroMix 360 and Black Cow (both new, I don't reuse pot soil). Just this week a perfectly healthy plant came down with it, and is in serious trouble. a second is showing signs.
I now also have two potted plants with Fusarium wilt, and two with Tomato Spotted Wilt. Each year in NC is quite an adventure. Fortunately I have over 130 plants, but they are all special, and it is very frustrating.


So Craig believes, with strong evidence, that both Bacterial Wilt and Fusarium can be spread by chewing insects and there are very few sites that even mention that either one can be spread via insects. There are a few sites that do say that Fusarium can be spread by soil dust as well. No, I don't remember which ones for over time I look at a lot of sites and don't always save every site to my faves.

So I think that it's good to consider alternative methods of spread for what some think are systemic diseases only spread by contaminated soil in the garden.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 7:44PM
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