Sunday, December 30, 2012

'Tis The Most Wonderful Time Of Year!

Well, the holidays are over. There is not much that can be done in the yard right now. But as a gardener it is an exciting time!
As you can see by this picture, I get a bunch of them.

This is just what has come in so far, I am pretty sure there are still a few missing.
How many of you gardeners out there do not just sit and drool over the pictures of ripe tomatoes, pretty peppers, and golden ears of corn?
Granted, there is a bunch of crossover. Most of the catalogs sell the same varieties. I will go through them and order what I want from the one(s) that have what I want the cheapest.
WHY do I receive so many? Especially when they all pretty much sell the same things?
The wise crack answer is, “because I can”.
The true answer is, because each one will have a couple of “exclusive” or “unusual” varieties that the others don't.
However, today's article is not about what I am going to order (not sure yet anyway). No, today I am going to try to help some of the newbies to gardening. The ones that want to join us in the dark side and grow their own veggies.
All those catalogs look inviting. The pictures look great. The seeds are reasonably priced. It is almost too much to tolerate, I want to plant now!!
Wait a minute. I don't understand some of the terminology being used. Determinate/Indeterminate? Are they not sure of themselves?
Those letters after the name: VFFNTA. Are they trying to learn their alphabet?
Good questions. What in the world are these companies trying to tell you?
Most of this terminology is used for Tomatoes, though the letters can be also relate to Peppers. I will be sticking with Tomatoes today.
Determinate and Indeterminate first.
The majority of Tomatoes you will see, probably 90%, will be indeterminate. These are usually considered a vining type. They can reach lengths, or heights if staked up, of 6-10 feet. It also means, if they are well taken care of, they will continue to grow, flower and set fruit until the frost kills them. The fruit (yes, it is botanically a fruit) will ripen over a long period of time. If you LOVE a good old Tomato sandwich or like a little 'mater in your salad, these are the types you should look for.
Determinate Tomatoes are more commonly known as "bush" Tomatoes. These Tomato varieties are compact and generally grow to a height of about 3-4 feet. Determinate Tomatoes will actually stop growing when the top bud of the plant sets fruit. All of their crop will ripen near the same time over a period of 1-2 weeks and then the plant, having completed its life cycle, will begin to die. Determinate Tomatoes are good candidates for growing in a container. Those aluminum tomato cages you buy at the garden center are designed to support these kinds of plants. If you like to can your own Tomato sauce or make salsa, you need to grow these kinds.
Now for the alphabetically challenged ones.
All of those letters tell you that particular plant has been bred to resist some kind of disease or other problem.
Let's tackle a few of the big ones.
“V” Which is for Verticillium wilt. This is a disease caused by the fungus, Verticillium albo-atrum, which lives in the soil. It is often confused with fusarium wilt, bacterial canker, or early blight. Symptoms are similar in all these diseases. The fungus works its way up through the plant’s roots spreading a toxin that wilts and creates spots on the leaves. It prevents water from reaching the branches and leaves, thus starving the plant.

Courtesy of

Some things to look for include: Yellow spots appearing on the lower leaves, followed by brown veins. Leaves then turn brown and fall off. Plants may wilt during the day and recover at night. If you were to split the main stem it shows discolored streaks about 10-12 inches above the soil line. It can attack at any stage in a Tomato plant’s growth, but is most common when the plant is producing fruit. To date, there is no chemical treatment available. 

“F” This one stands for Fusarium wilt. This disease is caused by the fungus, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Lycopersici, which also lives in the soil. It is often confused with Verticillium wilt because both produce similar symptoms in Tomatoes. One of the main differences of these two diseases is, the first signs are yellowing and wilting on only one side of the plant – a leaf, single shoot, branch, or several branches. Yellowing and wilting spread throughout the plant as the fungus spreads. There is no chemical control for this one either.

Fusarium Wilt Virus

If you see two FF's, that particular plant is resistant to two different strains of the Fusarium virus.

 “N” Nematodes. Better known as Root-knot nematodes, which are microscopic worms that live in the soil and in plant roots. In a resistant variety, Nematodes fail to develop and reproduce normally within the root tissues, allowing plants to grow and produce fruit even though nematode infection of the roots has occurred . Some crop yield loss may still happen however, even though the plants are damaged less and are significantly more tolerant than that of a susceptible variety.

Typical Nematode Damage

“T” This letter is for the Tobacco Mosaic Virus. This disease can be a problem when resistant varieties are not used and frequent handling of plants is involved. Many strains of the virus exist, affecting many unrelated plants in different families. Handling plants often such as transplanting, staking them up, and pruning can effectively spread the virus. Infected leaf and root debris as well as seeds are common sources of the virus The virus can survive in the plant debris for varying periods, up to 2 years under dry conditions. This is why it is important if you are a smoker to make sure you wash your hands very well before handling your Tomato plants, it can actually remain in your cigarettes and be transmitted that way.
Symptoms first appear about 10 days after plants become infected. Symptoms appear as light and dark green mottled areas on leaves. Leaves on infected plants are often small, curled, and puckered. Plants infected early in their development are stunted and have a yellowish cast. Symptoms may vary depending on virus strain, time of infection, variety, and environmental conditions. The virus can reduce size and number of fruit produced. The earlier a plant becomes infected, the greater the loss.

Typical Tobacco Mosaic Virus Damage (noticed the puckered leaves)

A” The last one I will cover today is Alternaria Leaf Spot also known as Early Blight. This is caused by various fungi in the Alternaria family. Lesions are round to irregular spots on older leaves. Spots enlarge and concentric rings in a bull's-eye pattern can be seen in the center of the diseased area. It is best to use a variety that has been bred to resist this disease, but if it is severe enough to warrant chemical control, select one of the following fungicides: maneb, mancozeb, chlorothalonil, or copper fungicides. Follow the directions on the label, this is the law!

Alternaria Leaf Spot Damage

There are many other diseases that affect Tomatoes. This list is just some of the things that have been bred into them to help resist the problem. As you can see, finding one that has some resistance to a certain disease could be very useful.
There are also many cultural practices that you should be following already. Things such as rotating crops. I know this is difficult if you have a small area to garden in. Ideally you will want to plant things that have no relation to what you planted the previous year. Avoid planting Tomatoes in the same place as well as Potatoes and Peppers. Corn or Beans would be a good alternate crop.
Sanitation. This is a big one I have been harping on for a long time. Clean up any fallen leaves or fruit. Especially if you think you might have some kind of a disease problem. DO NOT compost. Destroy the debris completely or remove them from the area.
Plant in a well drained area. Make sure there is ample sunlight. Do not plant too close together so they can have good air circulation. Common sense is one of your biggest tools in your arsenal.
I hope this has cleared up much of the confusion when you open up a seed catalog. Once you know the lingo, it really is not hard to understand. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me. But for right now, I am going to take my leave of you, I think I just heard the mailman and he might have another catalog for me!
Happy Growing!

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