Once again, we are at the end of the growing season, and we need to discuss the things that worked well for us and the things that did not – did the vegetable varieties you chose meet your expectations? With tomatoes, if you have limited space, did you choose determinate varieties that have a concentrated fruit set that can provide a quick harvest over a smaller unit of land or did you choose an indeterminate type to give you a harvest spread out over time? Were you responsive to leaf spot fungus diseases such as early blight or Septoria leaf spot before they were able to cause damage?
Be sure to take soil samples to find out what you need in terms of fertilizer and limestone. Autumn is a good time for them to work to have the proper pH and fertility levels present next spring. Be sure to sow a cover crop which will provide soil with organic matter for next year’s crops. Remember that radishes, mustards and rye will die by the following spring and be well-decomposed. Members of the legume family (hairy vetch, Austrian winter pea, soybean) will provide nitrogen to the soil as it decomposes but will not die by the following spring and will have to be incorporated into the soil.
Tomato cages or stakes need to be pulled up, cleaned and stored. Be sure to dig up the plants and deeply plow them into the soil or dispose of them. Do not place them on the compost pile because of plant diseases that can overwinter.
One of the best ways to lessen the chance of getting plant diseases during the following year is to select vegetable varieties that have known disease resistance. We have been fortunate to have two fungal wilt diseases (Verticillium and Fusarium) that do not attack certain tomato varieties. Using those varieties will eliminate having to worry about getting those diseases. Nematode resistance is also available with some tomato varieties. As far as nematodes are concerned, if you think you have them, take soil samples and send them to a reputable diagnostic lab.
Nematodes generally colonize small “hot spots” within a field and if they are found, soil fumigation or removing soil down to a six-inch depth can be done. They generally come into a field on infected transplants or on tillage equipment that was not cleaned after using it in a nematode-infested field.
If you grow vegetable transplants in a greenhouse, now’s the time to check out your structure for next year. Make sure that your clear plastic is in good shape and has not broken down by ultraviolet rays or is ripped or torn.
Using soilless mixes to start vegetable seed has been done for decades. One popular peat-like mix is the “Cornell Mix,” containing 50% sphagnum peat moss and 50% perlite or vermiculite. The mix drains well but retains enough water to grow good transplants. They are sterile and weed-free.
When growing vegetable transplants, make sure you know how long it takes to grow a certain vegetable at the proper temperature. You can obtain a list that shows this information from your local Cooperative Extension Office.
While growing vegetable transplants, make sure your heating system is functioning properly. With gas-fired units, the heaters must be vented to the outside to prevent a build up of carbon monoxide, which can kill young seedlings. Built-up carbon monoxide is brought about by having worn out heat exchangers, which allow a small amount of unburned propane to remain in the lines after the heater turns off. This small amount can cause small seedlings to wilt and die. They can also cause flower abortion and death on older plants. The seepage of gas triggers the release of ethylene, a naturally occurring plant growth regulator, which greatly accelerates plant growth, causing death very quickly.
Usually, ethylene damage is most noticeable on plants that are located closest to the heater, and then the damage lessens on plants farther away due to the air mixing with the unburned gas, thereby diluting the concentration. Contacting a reputable heating and air conditioning person to be sure the heat exchangers are functioning properly will save you the ruination of your crop.
Good luck with growing for 2020 and hopefully these tips will enable you to get off to a good start!