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Managing Tomatoes Pests and Disease Without Using Heavy Chemicals
Tomatoes suffer their fair share of pests and diseases, and this can seriously affect how much fruit they produce. Weather conditions play a large role in whether or not pests or disease will become a problem. The best way to manage the growth of pests and diseases is to practice integrated pest management (IPM) and crop rotation. By using these two methods, you don’t need to rely on harsh chemicals. IPM is using physical/mechanical, biological and chemical controls to manage pests and diseases. Crop rotation falls into the physical/mechanical category, as you plant tomatoes in a different bed each season.
Viruses, bacteria and fungal diseases can enter the plant through wounds such as broken stems or roots, or through sap-sucking insects such as aphids, whiteflies, mites and mealy bugs. Pathogens can also be spread by wind and water.
Tomatoes are a summer/warm climate crop and are susceptible to fungal diseases that require humid conditions for growth. The main fungal diseases are wilt and mildew. These diseases multiply by spores. Ideal conditions: Warm temperatures, moist air and host plants such as tomatoes. Spores can also survive in soil, dead plant material, and nearby weeds.
Signs of wilting are the lower leaves turning brown and papery, looking dry and drooping, while the upper growth still looks healthy. Lower leaves require water. But this disease interferes with the ability of roots to absorb moisture. Drinking water actually worsens the problem.
There are two types of fungus – downy and powdery mildew. Downy mildew is characterized by white spots or spots on the upper and lower parts of the leaf. Powdery mildew is characterized by the appearance of fungal spores as small white spots that gradually spread over the entire leaf. It also affects buds, stems and fruits.
Pest and Disease Control Measures:
- Buy healthy seeds and seedlings
- Practice peak rotation
- Pick up and destroy any leaves on the ground, do not compost them
- Spray the soil with lemon sulfur in winter – this kills fungal spores
- Do not water from overhead as this can spread fungal spores
- water at ground level
- Plant grafted tomatoes as they are more resistant to pests and diseases
- Make sure there is plenty of sunlight
- Make sure air is able to circulate around the plants
- Do not overfeed the plants with nitrogen, this leads to soft and succulent leaf growth that is susceptible to attack.
- Make your own fungicide. See below for the recipe.
- Fungicides should be applied early in the morning
Fungicidal action:Mix one tablespoon of bicarb soda in one liter of water. Add a liter of skim milk and a pinch of condies crystals which you can get from a product agent (a person who supplies horse owners). Shake well and spray on leaves. Lasts only 1-2 days in the bottle.
Blossom-end rot is a physiological disease caused by calcium deficiency or excess nitrogen. Regarding calcium deficiency, this does not necessarily mean that the soil is calcium deficient. The soil may contain calcium, but the pH may be incorrect, preventing plants from accessing it. Tomatoes like soil with a pH between 5-7. If your soil pH is acidic and below 5, the plant will not be able to take up calcium. To overcome this problem, it is recommended to use garden lime. This will raise the pH of the soil and enable the plant to access the calcium in the soil. When you are preparing the soil for planting tomatoes, a handful of lime per plant will help.
Tomatoes also attract their fair share of pests such as whiteflies, aphids, mealy bugs and mites. These are sap-sucking insects and some have the ability to reproduce asexually. This means that the female is capable of creating many clones without the male. Controlling these pests is important because they can transmit viral and bacterial diseases.
I recommend that you use less toxic sprays such as long life pyrethrin or homemade garlic or pepper spray. These types of sprays are called contact sprays and are easily washed off after rain or watering. They are not absorbed into the plant’s vascular system like systemic sprays like Confidor. If you read my article Vegetable Pests and Diseases you will find recipes for making your own pesticides. Signs that your tomatoes are being attacked by sap-sucking insects are curled or blistered leaves or silvery discoloration. Spraying on insects is important when using contact sprays, so I suggest you look under the leaves because that’s where it’s at. Where many insects live together.
Some cultural tips for growing healthy tomatoes
- Place the plant in full sun
- Check the pH of the soil and adjust accordingly if necessary
- Do not over plant in the garden
- Prepare the soil properly before planting with compost, blood and bones, potash and animal manure.
- If the day is very hot, add a shade cloth
- water in the morning
The good thing about growing your own tomatoes is that you can control what pesticides you apply to them. If you decide to use heavy chemicals it is imperative that you follow the holding period instructions. The holding period is the number of days you have to wait until you harvest the product.
Growing your tomatoes is very rewarding but you have to manage pests and diseases, otherwise you may find your efforts wasted. Observing and understanding what tomatoes need is the secret to growing healthy tomatoes. Integrated pest management and crop rotation are valuable tools that, if practiced, will reward you with delicious tomatoes without the use of nasty heavy chemicals.
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