Friday July 13, 2012

Here’s the bad news, good news, bad news. I won’t ask which you want first, since you’re getting it all.

The bad news is contained in a report from University of Massa chusetts Extension that late blight has appeared in Middlesex Coun ty. If you recall, late blight is the plant disease that wiped out the tomato crop for most home gardeners and organic farmers in 2010.

While Middlesex County is some distance from the Berkshires, spores of late blight can quickly travel great distances when conditions are cool and cloudy.

The good news is that the current run of hot dry weather can keep late blight in check. The bad news is that this hot dry weather is taking its toll on lawns and gardens.

While hot dry conditions will kill spores of late blight, weather can change quickly to cool damp conditions that favor development of the disease. As such, protect tomatoes from late blight now. An option for home gardeners is an application of copper sulfate to tomato plants on weekly basis.

Copper sulfate works only as a preventative and will not control the disease after infections occur. Even if late blight does not appear, these applications are not wasted since copper sulfate prevents the more common tomato diseases early blight, anthracnose, and Septoria leaf spot.

With regard to drought effects on lawns and gardens, the best solution, of course, is to apply water. That’s not often a viable option for those totally reliant on well water.


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Even gardeners on public water should be conservative with water use; levels in ponds, reservoirs and streams are quite low.

In these circumstances, gardeners should set some priorities for water use. My top priority is for the vegetable garden since it supplies most of the food we eat through the year. Newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials are next on the list.

At the bottom of the list are lawns. Yes, lawns are turning brown, but that’s because the grass has gone dormant, a natural response to hot, dry weather. Let it be, but stay off the lawn since stomping around on it can damage the crowns of grass plants. When moist weather returns, so will green grass.

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Stay off the grass, but not out of the garden:

n Plant more basil to harvest in fall for making a winter supply of pesto. Plants can be started from seed sown in the garden or in pots.

n Harvest chard by pulling or twisting off the outer leaves as needed. In this way, the plants will continue to produce new leaves from the center of the crown.

n Fill the voids in the vegetable garden by sowing seeds of summer squash, bush beans, snow peas, leafy greens, collards, kale, kohlrabi, beets, carrots, radishes, Chinese cabbage, and cauliflower. Most of these crops will be harvested in fall, and will have better flavor than their summer harvested counterparts.

n Apply a spray containing Spinosad to control cabbage worms on cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi. Spinosad is a fermentation product of a naturally occurring fungus found in soils. Besides cabbage worms, Spinosad can be applied to corn for control of Euro pean corn borer and to tomatoes for control of tomato hornworm.

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Most gardeners I know enjoy a challenge and love to compare their successes to that of other gardeners. A great place to do both of these is at the annual Grow Show on Aug. 4 and 5 at the Berkshire Botanical Garden.

The Grow Show is much like the old-fashion country fair where gardeners get to enter prized specimens from their vegetable and flower gardens and be judged against those entries of fellow gardeners. Information on the show and how to enter the horticultural competition is available on the web site: www.berkshirebotanical
. org or by calling the Garden at (413) 298-3926. Go for it!