Berkshire Garden Journal: Beware of late blight, deer ticks


In the news: UMass Extension reports finding late blight on tomatoes in Franklin County. Late blight infects tomatoes and potatoes and is the same disease responsible for the Irish potato famine of the 1840s.

I don't recall the 1840s very well, but I do remember the epidemic of late blight in Berkshire County in 2009. Many of us lost all of our tomato plants to the disease. Hope fully, the case of late blight in Franklin County will be contained. If not, the disease spreads rapidly and could be a problem here.

The best thing to do now is to apply protectant fungicides. For gardeners, the safest options are copper-based fungicides or one called Serenade, in which the active ingredient is the bacteria, Bacillus subtilis. If the disease does occur, pull up affected plants and bag and discard them in the trash or bury the plants deeply underground. For pictures and more information on late blight, go to https://extension.umass. edu/vegetable/alerts.

Yikes! If Lyme disease, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis (previously called ehrlichiosis) weren't bad enough, black-legged ticks (known to most of us as deer ticks) can also carry a virus causing a form of encephalitis. The disease can cause swelling of the brain and, in some cases, death.

A study, published in the journal Parasites and Vectors, found the disease in the mid-Hudson Valley -- that's just to the west of us for those who are navigationally challenged. Though the disease is rare -- 14 cases in New York State since 2004 -- anyone working, hiking, or frolicking outdoors should conduct a thorough body check for ticks at the end of the day.

On a happier note:

• Don't let cabbage worms get out of hand, or they'll turn cabbage into coleslaw. I like coleslaw, but I'd rather make my own. Control cabbage worms with applications of a product containing Bacillus thuringiensis. Use the same product to control cabbage worm on broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi.

 Reduce potential damage to lawns by grubs by raising cutting height of the lawn mower to at least three inches. Why? Grass mowed high has more surface area to ab sorb light and produce carbohydrate. That allows grass to produce a large root system, one better able to withstand feeding by grubs.

 Look for potatoes that may have come to the soil surface. Mound soil or place straw mulch over any exposed spuds. Potatoes exposed to sunlight turn green due to formation of chlorophyll. At the same time, they produce a toxin call ed solanine which gives green potatoes a bitter flavor. Eating too many green potatoes may cause nausea, headaches, diarrhea, and a host of neurological problems.

 Remove any overgrown squash from zucchini and other summer squash. Otherwise, the plants stop flowering and stop producing more squash.

 Groom plants in hanging baskets. Remove faded flowers and trim back shoots that have become leggy. Since soil in hanging baskets dries fast, check soil moisture level a couple of times each day. Be cause of frequent watering, plants in hanging baskets also need frequent doses of liquid fertilizer.

 Keep houseplants away from the cold drafts from air-conditioners. The cold air may cause some plants to wilt or drop their leaves.

OK, maybe not all those notes were happy ones, but this one is:

The annual Pittsfield Garden Tour is this weekend. It's a great opportunity to peek into some of the best gardens in Pittsfield without getting arrested as a peeping Tom. Tickets are available at tour headquarters at The Colonial Thea tre on South Street, Pittsfield, Sat ur day, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.


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