Bacterial wilt? Plants drowning! Onion maggots, oh my!

Long rows of Roma paste tomatoes. Photo Kathryn Simmons

Long rows of Roma paste tomatoes.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

Like many people in our area of the mid-Atlantic, we’ve had a lot of rain. 8″ in June, including a ten day dry spell, so 8″ over 20 days. Some of our 540 Roma paste tomatoes suddenly wilted, about ten days ago. Argh! Were our tomatoes drowning or was it the dreaded Bacterial Wilt?

My first response was to stop everyone touching them. No string-weaving till we figured out if the problem was contagious or not.  Then I read up about Bacterial Wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum, formerly called Pseudomonas solanacearum). ” Plants wilt and die rapidly without the presence of yellowing or spotting of the foliage”. We had the rapid wilting, with no yellowing or spotting. “The disease is most commonly found in low, wet areas of fields and is most active at temperatures above 75 degrees F.” Check, check. But drowning is most common in low, wet areas too! The affected plants were in the lowest areas, but that didn’t tell us whether it was drowning or bacteria causing the problem.

Next I counted the wilted plants in each row. The total was 81 plants the first day, 92 the second (uh-oh!), but 65 the third day, 51 the fourth day, up to 57 the next day, then 41. By this time I was concluding these plants were not dying rapidly, so maybe it wasn’t wilt. One site said plants could die within a few hours of starting to wilt. Other sites said plants could wilt a bit in the middle of the day, then recover at night. I don’t think that’s Bacterial Wilt.

The third day I sacrificed the worst plant and cut through the stem to look at the xylem (water conducting pipes). Yes they were brown, not happy. Does that happen in drowning plants or just those infected with bacteria? I don’t know. The cut ends weren’t sticky, as suggested for bacterial wilt, didn’t pull out sticky threads when pressed together and pulled apart. So next I tried the definitive test for tomato bacterial wilt: I cut a length of stem, stabbed it through with a knife and suspended it in a jar of water to watch for milky bacterial ooze streaming from the cut. Initially a small amount of something gently fell from the cut end. Then stopped. I watched for 5 minutes (some sites said it took several minutes for the ooze to leave). Nothing more happened. I’ve decided they were drowning, so we’re back to string-weaving.

Roma Virginia Select, grown at Twin Oaks. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Roma Virginia Select, grown at Twin Oaks.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We transplanted these around May 5, and tomorrow we’ll do our first harvest (about 66 days from transplanting). These are listed in Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog as 75 days from transplanting to harvest. We grow these Virginia Select Romas here in our garden and sell the seed to SESE. I’ve been selecting for earliness (as well as good yields and tolerance to Septoria leaf spot) and I’ve been wondering what impact I’m having on the “earliness” part of the equation. Seems like it’s working well.

Meanwhile, the plants are recovering from near-drowning and assaults by all manner of other disease organisms that like warm damp weather. I see some Septoria, some early blight, but abundant healthy foliage too.I think they will outgrow the current issues.


Trimming garlic. Photo Brittany Lewis

Trimming garlic.
Photo Brittany Lewis

We have been making great progress trimming and sorting our garlic. We’ve trimmed it all! In just a couple of weeks! Yay for us!

But as soon as the tomato trouble gets resolved, another problem arises. Some of our softneck garlic bulbs have onion maggots! What to do? We also had a problem with helpers bagging up garlic before it was fully cured, so we’ve spread the trimmed bulbs back out on racks to finish drying. Is there anything we can do about the maggots? If you have suggestions, please add a comment! I know what to do to reduce our chances of getting them in future: pay attention to rotations, practice good sanitation by removing all allium bits from the plot when we harvest, control weeds ahead of planting garlic (and of course while it’s growing!).

My understanding of the life-cycle of the onion maggot is that pupae overwinter in the soil, adults emerge in spring. 9 days later they lay eggs at the base of plants. Eggs hatch in a week, maggots burrow into the roots of the plants, spending 2 or 3 weeks up to no good. Then they leave the bulbs and head back into the soil to pupate. If we leave our garlic on racks for three weeks, will the larvae just drop to the ground below the racks? Can we then sort the good bulbs from the bad? Will they all be infested by then? It seems biologically determined that the larvae leave after about 3 weeks. How much damage will they do while we wait?

Or can we try sorting good bulbs from bad now? We’ll need to take a closer look at the crop and see what we can do. We also wanted to save stock for replanting, and obviously don’t want to replant infested cloves. Any there any garlic experts reading this?

Measuring garlic bulbs to select good seed stock. Photo Brittany Lewis

Measuring garlic bulbs to select good seed stock.
Photo Brittany Lewis

Events I’ll be speaking at in 2015, more new varieties

virginia-biological-farming-conference-2015-richmondLast week I listed four events I’m booked for for next year. I’ll fill you in a bit and tell you about some more I hope to be at. My first is

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  January 29-31 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. Early registration (hurry! ends 12/20) is $130 for members, $190 for non-members. So why not become a member if you aren’t already? You’ll get news all year. Conference registration covers your choice of the 25 workshops on Friday and Saturday; access to the trade show, where you can handle the tools you’re considering buying, and ask questions of the vendors; Friday dinner and Saturday lunch;

There are 3 pre-conference workshops (4 to 7 hours each) on Thursday, for $60-$75: Essential Tools & Techniques for the Small Scale Organic Vegetable Growers by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame, Urban Farming Intensive with Cashawn Myer & Tenisio Seanima, and Edible Landscaping with Michael Judd and Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure fame).

I’m giving two workshops: Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests – How to plan sowing dates for continuous supplies of popular summer crops, such as beans, squash, cucumbers, edamame and sweet corn, as well as year round lettuce. Using these planning strategies can help avoid gluts and shortages (3pm Friday); and  Producing Asian Greens – Detailed information for market and home growers. Many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens grow quickly and bring fast returns. This session covers production of Asian greens outdoors and in the hoophouse. It includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting (10.30 am Saturday). I’ll also be signing and selling books.

Bring a dish for the Friday potluck picnic at lunchtime, seeds for the seed swap, a notebook and two pens, a bag to collect handouts and so on, and if you play music, bring an instrument and some songs for the jam on Friday night.

logoThen the next weekend, I’m at the  Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015, at State College, PA. There are extra pre-conference sessions on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th, then the main conference on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I am speaking on Growing Great Garlic (Saturday 3.10 pm) and also on Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (Friday 8.30 am). I also hope to be doing book-signing and sales.

small-farm-center_bannerFebruary 26-28, 2015 I will be speaking at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference in Charleston, WV. That workshop will either be Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables, or Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests.

2012-festival-slideshowThe fourth booking I have is at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015. Too soon to name the topic.

MENFairLogoAs far as events I hope to be at, there are the Mother Earth News Fairs in Asheville, NC April 11-12, 2015, Seven Springs, PA September 18-20 2015 and Topeka, KS October 24-25 2015


 

Carioca Batavian lettuce. Credit Johnnys Seeds

Carioca Batavian lettuce.
Credit Johnnys Seeds

And meanwhile, this week on the farm we finished our seed ordering and started some shopping for tools and supplies. In 2015 we will repeat our variety trials to try to find a heat-tolerant eggplant variety. We were happy to find another Batavian heat-tolerant lettuce to try: Carioca from Johnny’s. With the addition of a few exceptions, we rely on Batavian lettuce varieties once the weather gets hot, to grow without bolting or getting (very) bitter. the exceptions are Jericho green romaine, De Morges Braun and New Red Fire, a looseleaf red lettuce which nearby grower Gary Scott told me about.

We are also growing some Eden Gem melons alongside our Kansas and Sun Jewel melons (and the individual-serving size Tasty Bites that I mentioned in my last post.

Peacework sweet pepper. Credit fedco Seeds

Peacework sweet pepper.
Credit fedco Seeds

We have high hopes for Peacework sweet pepper from Fedco, a very early (65 day) OP medium-thick-walled pepper “with good flavor and full-bodied sweetness.” We are always on the look-out for fast-ripening bell peppers. Because of the seed-growing business at Twin Oaks, at the end of the season we have tons of ripe peppers, but if you are growing a seed crop, there is no incentive to try to push the planting date early. So our main pepper-focus in the vegetable garden is on earliness and flavor – never forget the importance of flavor!

We are also trying Donkey spinach this year. For years we have been very happy with the reliable performance and productivity of Tyee, but Fedco tell us the producer of Tyee is a Multinational engaged in genetic engineering. If Donkey can replace Tyee we’ll be very happy!

 

Sowing beets, radishes and kale, transplanting cabbage.

Cylindra Beets. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Cylindra Beets.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

In line with my advice in the August issue of Growing for Market magazine, we are working on our First Chance to start again with the spring and fall crops. We sowed beets, and I found out I meant to order more seed before this point. In spring we sowed our beets with the Earthway seeder,EarthWay rather than our more usual manual sowing of lightly soaked seed. I was working on my own and rain was approaching, so I just used the seeder with dry seed. The radish plate was best for the Cylindra beets, if I remember right. Consequently I used more seed. We’ve managed to sow of the three beds we intended.

I put in a hasty online order to Fedco. After clicking Send I remembered we need more carrot seed too. Argh! Happily the people at Fedco are so helpful that they agreed to my email request to add carrot seed to the order. We love buying from Fedco. They don’t waste our money on glossy catalogs. They offer great bulk discounts. And the newsprint catalog is full of pithy comments on food politics. Fedco is one of the main three seed companies we buy from – along with Johnny’s and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We did have enough carrot seed to complete our large fall planting (3 beds of five rows at 265′ – almost 4000ft). But we want to try a slightly later bed of carrots to overwinter. It worked well last year – the voles stayed away. Last August I blogged about fall carrot planting in my post Risking zombie carrots. The year before we ended up not managing to weed all our fall carrots, so we mowed them for weed control, then left them overwinter. We were able to harvest them in the early spring.

Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Vates dwarf Scotch curled kale
Photo by Kathryn Simmons

Today we sowed winter radish and two beds of Vates kale. Next up are turnips and more kale. We sow two beds every four days until we have enough established. The rain today is perfect. I think the first two beds should have no problem germinating. The rain will also help the big carrot planting. I have been running a sprinkler overnight on them, but it takes five nights to get all the way to the bottom of the patch. And one night the well meter stopped working and it stopped the water running. So that night was a loss as far as irrigation went. We did the pre-emergence flame-weeding of the carrot beds on Saturday, thinking they might germinate Monday (and no-one wanted that flaming job on Sunday), but in fact they only started germinating this morning.

Flame Weeding. Credit Brittany Lewis

Flame Weeding.
Credit Brittany Lewis

Our evening transplanting shifts have gone very well. If it isn’t raining too hard this evening, we should be able to finish tonight. That’s a mere ten shifts. Sometimes it takes us a lot longer. The unknown is how much time we’ll need to spend replacing casualties, but I think 3 evenings max. We have run the drip irrigation every evening while we are working there, and some more on dry days. We’ve had some rain too, which helps. I haven’t had a thorough look under the rowcovers, but there are shadowy green things in most of the right places, so I’m optimistic. The peculiarly mild temperatures have made transplanting the overgrown plants easier than it could have been. Feels like we are making up for lost time.

See you at Little Rock for SSAWG, with books!

Southern SAWG

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference “Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms” is coming right up. January 23-26 at the Statehouse Convention Center and Peabody Hotel, Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m surprised to find I haven’t already told you about it.

The best bit is that I will probably have copies of my book to sell (and sign, if you want!)

I’m contributing to three workshops (I’ve been busy preparing the slide shows and presentations – maybe that’s why I forgot to mention it! Right in front of my nose every day.

Michihili Chinese cabbagePhoto credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Michihili Chinese cabbage
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

At 1.30pm on Friday 25, I’m presenting this one: “Producing Asian Greens For Market — There are many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens that grow quickly and bring fast returns. Led by long-time producer and author of the new book, Sustainable Market Farming, this session will cover production of Asian Greens outdoors and in the hoophouse, including tips on variety selection, timing of plantings, pest and disease management, fertility and weed management, and harvesting. Over twenty types of Asian Greens will be discussed.”

Then at 10.30am on Saturday 26, I’m part of a panel doing:” Integrating Organic Seed Production into Your Diversified Farm: Is It Right For You? — On-farm seed production can ensure that you have access to the seed you need, diversify farm income, and provide the environmental benefits of new crop rotations and enhanced beneficial insect habitat. But managing seed crops along with a demanding, diverse production system can be daunting. Hear the success stories of other farmers who have taken the leap into seed production and learn how and why you may want to do the same. Micaela Colley, Organic Seed Alliance (WA); Ira Wallace, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (VA); Richard Moyer, Moyer Family Farm (VA); Jim Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Farm (ME); and Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks (VA).”

Seed Drying ScreensPhoto credit Twin Oaks

Seed Drying Screens
Photo credit Twin Oaks

 

And lunch is followed at 1.30pm by: “Intensive Crop Production on a Small Scale — Many farmers raise large amounts of food on small acreages. Learn about methods for close spacing, wide beds, using season extension techniques, soil-building, disease and pest management, and dealing with humidity and heat issues in crowded plantings. Presenters will also discuss developing a marketing plan to inform a planting guide and maximize profits. For both rural and urban farmers who want to maximize production on limited space. Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks Community (VA) and Edwin Marty, Hampstead Institute (AL).”

Broccoli transplants in our cold framePhoto credit Kathryn Simmons

Broccoli transplants in our cold frame
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons