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Home From the Home Show

What a weekend! The Hudson Valley Backyard Farm Company had its ready-for-prime-time debut at the Hudson Valley Home & Landscape Show. It was busy, exciting, exhausting and very productive. I met a lot of people very excited about the upcoming season after the disappointments of last year with all of the rain and almost no tomatoes (let’s face it, a fresh garden tomato is the biggest reason most of us have gardens).

At Home Show with Sample Lasagna Garden Bed

With Sample Lasagna Garden Bed

The two most common responses I got to my introductory spiel (“We install and maintain organic vegetable gardens in your backyard and can also teach you how to preserve your harvest if you grow more than you can eat fresh) were “But that takes all the fun out of it” from the experienced gardeners and “You maintain them too!!” from the busy and less experienced.

The other topics that came up most frequently were what to do about deer and groundhogs and questions about the problem with last year’s tomatoes. The basic answer to the first one is fencing and I’ll address the overall subject of deer and groundhogs damage prevention in a later post. As for the tomatoes it was an epic issue of a disease called late blight.

A Late Blight Primer
Late blight is caused by a fungus and is the same disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s & 50s. Every year there’s a small amount of late blight, but last year was an epidemic of historic proportions, exacerbated by the rainy weather and a large shipment of plants contaminated with the disease sold at a number of big box stores. It is difficult, though not impossible for the disease to survive over the winter and given the extent of the problem last year I’m going to assume that more late blight will be present this year than usual.

Since I can’t go two years without a good tomato crop. I’m going to be very careful with my tomato plants this year and recommend the same steps for everyone. Allowing the tomato leaves to dry off quickly is very important so I’m planting my tomatoes further apart (36” vs. my usual 24”) and I’ll prune them more than I usually do. This will allow better airflow and will help dry the leaves quickly. I’m also planting them in brand new beds in the sunniest spot in my yard.

New Tomato Beds for 2010

New Tomato Beds for 2010

Other late blight do’s and don’ts include:

  • DON’T plant your tomatoes this year where you planted tomatoes or potatoes last year unless you have no choice.
  • DO water your plants from below with soaker hoses or drip irrigation (which you should do for all of your plants) to keep the leaves drier and less susceptible to many diseases, not just late blight.
  • DO plant Broccoli and/or Brussels sprouts where you planted tomatoes or potatoes because both will suppress late blight in the soil.
  • DON’T buy your tomatoes (or any other plants) at a big box store, but from your local nursery or raise your own from seed.

Now that the Home Show’s over it’s time for the real gardening to start. Spring is less than two weeks away. Seed starting season is here. Time to go finish my cold frame. Be back soon.

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