Beware the Nematodes!
Tomato season is finally here! You’ve picked your favorite varieties, planted them in a sunny spot, lavished them with love, organic fertilizer, and compost, but you notice that something just isn’t right. The plants are stunted or growing poorly, leaves and stems are yellow, the tomatoes just aren’t happy. The culprit could be something you can’t see: nematodes.
Finding Nematodes What are they and what do they do?
Nematodes are microscopic worms which live in the soil and feed on the roots of host plants, such as tomatoes, preventing them from taking up the nutrients they need to grow into healthy, happy plants. Some forms of nematodes are highly beneficial to tomato plants, while others can wreak total destruction in the garden. Tomato plant nematodes are prevalent throughout the country, but they are most damaging to tomato plants in the Southern regions of the United States. The good news is nematodes can’t travel far on their own, so they can be fairly easy to control. The bad news is they can be carried into your tomato garden through wind, rain, infested tools, and by excess watering.
Unfortunately, the only sure ways to determine whether your tomato plant is infested with nematodes is to pull it out of the ground and check the roots for nodules or test your soil. Your friendly local Cooperative Extension office can provide information on soil testing (enter your city name and “cooperative extension” in your web browser for more information). If your tomatoes just don’t look perky and you suspect that nematodes might be infecting your tomato plants, but you just can’t bear to yank them out of the ground, there are a few simple things you can do to control this unseen pest.
Fighting Nematodes What you can do
• Plant nematode resistant varieties, designated by a “V” on the label.
• Rotate your tomato crops every two years. Planting a fresh crop in a different area of your garden will help control the damage. Treat the area previously inhabited by tomatoes by adding large amounts of organic matter.
• Give your soil a sweet treat. Tony Kienitz, author of The Year I Ate My Yard, suggests spreading a half pound bag of sugar over the garden and covering it with a thick layer of organic compost. He says the sugar kicks all the beneficial soil microbes into high gear, which then help control the damaging nematodes. Likewise, try drenching the area you intend to plant with a solution of one-half cup sugar in one gallon of water. Other sources say the sugar dries the nematodes out.
• Give your tomatoes company. Decorate your tomato garden with companion plants that help combat nematodes: Marigolds, Chrysanthemum (C. coccineum), Asparagus, even Borage (which also discourages horn worms). Be sure to allow enough space between plants for good air circulation.
• Clean your tools! Using a garden tool that has made contact with nematode infested soil will carry them to other parts of your garden. Clean them thoroughly before digging in other areas of your garden.
• Plant peppers! Kaala Bell Pepper or Waialua peppers are unaffected by nematodes.
• Let the soil where you plant your tomatoes dry out between seasons. This may be too much to ask of a gardener, so you must ask not what your tomatoes can do for you, but what you can do for your tomatoes!
posted by Debbie (4/04/06)
Samwise Gamgee had returned home from his long journey with Frodo, having helped save Middle Earth from certain doom, and contentedly resumed his role as Sam the Gardener. Spring was coming, and it was time to help his old Gaffer plant the vegetable patch; not forgetting plenty of tomatoes.
Lovingly patting the ground around a young seedling, Sam reminisced about Gandalf’s amazing fireworks at Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party. There was the glitter of silver stars, cool green showers, and the big red rocket that magically turned into a dragon. It seemed so long ago, yet the fantastic adventures surrounding the quest to destroy the One Ring, that golden gem of evil, which held the fate of all Middle-Earth in its power, were still fresh in his mind. He shivered slightly as he recalled their escape across the Brandywine River, journeying to far off and unfamiliar lands.
Staking the laden vines, Sam recalled the arduous journey across Middle-Earth and the terrible battle in the Dwarf mines. Showers of sparks flew as Gandalf battled the Balrog to his peril, after which the Fellowship mournfully continued to the land of the Elves. There they beheld the dazzling white beauty of Galadriel, the elfin queen. Sam smiled, for it was she who gave him the magic soil which nourished his burgeoning tomato patch.
Picking a creamy orb, he recalled traveling under cover of night with the creature Gollum, who abhorred moonglow and morning light. He remembered the treacherous passage over the rocky plains of Gorgoroth, always evading the gaze of the Great Eye shrouded in orange flame.
Picking a sweet cluster of juicy red tomatoes, Sam smiled at the memory of his friends’ tales; especially how Merry helped Eowyn slay the black prince. But what’s this? A strange new variety was growing in Sam’s garden, possibly the seeds of an unknown variety that stole their way in the box of enchanted soil and now flourished in his luscious garden, blushing in the warm Hobbiton sun. It was named for a far-away land that Sam had yet to know: New Zealand Pink Pear. He wondered if New Zealand was part of the Undying Lands in the West, where Frodo sailed with Gandalf and the Elves.
If the adventures of Samwise the Brave weren’t enough to secure the humble gardener’s place in legend, at least the bounty of his tomato crop was the envy of all the Shire; and that was sure to make his old Gaffer proud!
posted by Debbie (3/13/06)