By Jessi Jablonski
It’s finally time to admit that our short summer has come to an end. As record-breaking precipitation is being recorded, try to find some time between the raindrops to clean up your summer veggie garden.
Several of my clients have reached out and asked about underperforming vegetables. Unfortunately, much of this is due to the moisture. Tomato blight has been running rampant in the last few years; specifically tomato blight. Blight refers to a family of fungi that can spreads during wet weather. Symptoms of blight can manifest as brown spots on leaves, stem rot, underdeveloped and rotten tomatoes, or death of the plant.
While blight will not live through the winter on tomato cages or trellises, it can overwinter in your soil. There are a few steps that you can take to prevent this fungus from ruining next year’s crop.
1. Remove all tomato and potato plants in the fall, including roots, leaves and and any unripened fruit. The spores from this fungus can overwinter in the soil if there is plant tissue left in the garden. Potatoes are in the same family as tomatoes, so be sure to find all of those potatoes that grew underground.
2. Rotate your plants. Next spring, try growing a different plant in the space where the tomatoes or potatoes had been. Green beans, corn, leafy greens, herbs, beets, turnips and radishes are a few examples of plants to rotate in.
3. Try container planting. Tomatoes and potatoes grow quite nicely in big containers. They will thrive in something as simple as a 5-gallon bucket. Don’t forget to make several holes in the bottom of your container for drainage, and don’t crowd the plants. Two tomato plants in a 5-gallon bucket will be plenty. If using a planter from the previous year, be sure to scrub it clean with a bit of bleach.
4. Keep the leaves dry. Investing in a soaker hose or small section of drip irrigation will help keep the leaves dry, and prevent the fungus from spreading. Avoid watering with a sprinkler and also avoid watering at night. The moisture that collects on the foliage can promote the growth of the fungus.
5. Plastic mulch. You can use contractor bags, tarp, or professional-grade plastic mulch made for this purpose. I like to use pond liner that is left over from landscape jobs. Because the fungus can live in the soil, it is able to spread from rain droplets hitting the ground and splashing soil particles on to the bottom leaves. Using a barrier of plastic will prevent this. Lay a soaker hose down, then put the plastic mulch over the hose. Stake everything in place and make an “x” in the plastic to plant your tomato seedlings. Be sure to leave the end of the soaker hose exposed so you can easily hook up the garden hose to it.
6. Don’t crowd the plants. Tomato seedlings are tiny, but grow quickly! Be sure to give them ample space in the garden. If in doubt, space three feet apart. Try to trellis the plants to keep good air flow between the foliage.
Hopefully you had some tomatoes to enjoy this season! This cake is one I make every fall for my husband – he has never guessed the secret ingredient is green tomatoes! It tastes just like a spice cake.
The Plant Lady is a regional horticulturalist with the goal is of making Bluff Country more beautiful one garden at a time. Follow her on Facebook at PlantLadyMn for helpful tips and tricks, or via email at ThePlantLadyMN@gmail.com.
Green Tomato Spice Cake
4 cups finely chopped green tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon apple or pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Place chopped tomatoes in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Place in a colander, rinse with cold water and drain.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 inch baking pan.
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat until creamy.
Sift together flour, spices, baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add raisins and nuts to dry mixture; add dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Dough will be very stiff. Mix well.
Add drained tomatoes and mix well. Pour into the prepared 9 x 13 inch pan.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.
Top with caramel, ice cream, or your favorite cream cheese frosting.