Tomatoes ripening on the vine – Image Credit Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension
It is late-February, so the spring growing season is just around the corner. Now is the time to be thinking about which tasty tomatoes you want to plant in your home garden! Although tomatoes are a favorite kitchen staple, they prove challenging to grow in the Florida Panhandle climate.
While many tomato diseases can kill plants, damage fruit, and reduce yields, genetic resistance or tolerance to select diseases exist. The following are three of the most common diseases and viruses home gardeners face, for which resistant and tolerant varieties exist.
Tomato spotted wilt affects tomatoes, and numerous other vegetables, ornamentals, field crops and weeds. The disease can cause significant yield losses of tomato. Image Credit UF/IFAS Plant Pathology UScout Site
Tomato Spotted Wilt (TSW) is a viral disease which is transmitted by thrips, a species of insect that is very small and not always visible when checking the garden for insect pests. They love to feed on the sugary juices of the tomato flowers, and while feeding, they have the opportunity to transmit the virus through their piercing and sucking mouth parts. Lots of different symptoms may occur with TSW. Initially growers will notice light or dark brown spots on leaves of affected tomatoes, next wilting or stunting will occur, along with brown or purple streaks on the stems. Finally, fruit will exhibit unsightly brown rings throughout. The good news is that home gardeners can get a head start on this disease by planting resistant cultivars. When shopping for seed or transplants, growers should look for plants listed with the codes TSW or TSWV, because these have demonstrated resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus.
Another viral disease often found in the tomato garden is Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl (TYLC) Virus. TYLC first appeared in Miami in 1997 and was brought to Florida by infected whiteflies. Much like TSW, TYLC is spread from plant to plant by feeding whiteflies. As the name indicates, TYLC symptoms include curled leaves and stunted growth. Infected plants produce little to no fruit. Strategies to reduce the possibility of virus transmission to the garden include reducing the population of weedy plants, which may harbor whiteflies. Fortunately, resistant cultivars are available in plant catalogs, and are denoted by TYLC to indicate resistance.
Spread of TYLC is by the feeding of TYLCV infected adult whiteflies. Mechanical or seed transmission is not known to occur. Upward curling and yellowing of the leaves is an early symptom. Credit: UF/IFAS Plant Pathology UScout Site
Blighting of leaves and wilting of part or entire plant can expose fruits to sunscalding thereby further affecting yield of affected plants in production. Credit: UF/IFAS Plant Pathology UScout Site
Fusarium Wilt is one of the oldest diseases to affect tomatoes in the state of Florida and is caused by the fungal pathogen Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. lycopersici races 1, 2, or 3. This pathogen is often present in regional soils and moved by wind. Once it enters the roots of tomato plants, fusarium wilt proliferates and clogs the vascular system, much like a clog in the plumbing of a building. Thus, the primary symptom is the wilting of the plant, which will first be noticeable on hot days, despite adequate irritation. Once infected, there is no cure, and infected plants should be removed and destroyed to stop the spread. The good news is that resistant cultivars are available to the various fusarium races. They are usually denoted as F-R 1, 2, or 3 in seed catalogs. Additionally, look for plants labeled VFN. These cultivars are resistant to a different kind of wilt, called verticillium, as well as fusarium and nematodes.
Fortunately, the UF / IFAS publication “Tomato Varieties for Florida—Florida “Red Rounds,” Plums, Cherries, Grapes, and Heirlooms” by Monica Ozores-Hampton and Gene McAvoy has provided us with a handy chart of tomato varieties with disease resistance. Codes in the columns indicate disease resistance to specific pathogens. While there is no single tomato variety resistant to all possible disease pathogens, planting different varieties with several different types of resistance will allow growers to hedge against attack by a number of potential disease problems. Some of the more common disease resistant tomato varieties planted in this area are ‘Quincy’, ‘Bella Rosa’, ‘Amelia’, ‘Tasti-Lee’, ‘BHN 602’, and ‘Volante’.
For a further look at the various diseases of tomato, the EDIS publication “A Series on Diseases in the Florida Vegetable Garden: TOMATO” offers more detail. Another resource UF/IFAS offers for disease diagnosis is the NFREC U-Scout website. U-Scout provides information on more than 40 potential disease issues in tomato. Additionally, any plant disease can be diagnosed through your County Extension Office or by submitting samples to the Plant Pathology Clinic, at the North Florida Research and Education Center, for only $30/sample for basic services.
Carrots are synonymous with a few things: Bugs Bunny, old wives’ tales about improving eyesight, and the color orange. For centuries, orange colored carrot varieties have been the industry standard and still dominate store shelves. These days though, choices for consumers are ever expanding and thankfully home garden carrot variety selection has participated in this phenomenon! With a little searching, gardeners can now source and plant any color and/or type of carrot they desire. For instance, this winter, I planted carrots of various types in various shades of orange, purple, and red. Through this experience, I also found that not all colored carrots look, cook, or perform the same. The following is a quick primer on carrot types followed by my review of the four varieties ‘Bolero’, ‘Red Sun’, ‘Deep Purple’, and ‘Malbec’ after a season of growing.
Carrot varieties (left to right): ‘Bolero’, ‘Red Sun’, ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Malbec’.
There are three main types of carrots regardless of color: Imperator, Nantes, and Chantenay. Imperator types are the extra-long, durable, sweet tasting carrots most often found in stores and are suited best to deep, loose soils. Nantes type carrots are medium length and cylindrically shaped, often with a blunt tip. Sometimes called “storage” carrots, Nantes types are easy to grow and tend to store well for long periods of time after harvest and retain their flavor well. Finally, Chantenay type carrots are excellent performers in shallower beds or soils as they are a bit shorter, possessing a conical shape with roots wider at the top and tapering to the tip, making a deep soil bed a bit less critical. I primarily grow Imperator and Nantes types as I find they give you a little more bang for the buck if you have a deeper (>6”) raised bed. Now, on to the variety reviews.
‘Bolero’ – I always have this carrot in my garden. An extremely versatile Nantes type carrot that has been a consistently high yielder for me whether I grow it in pots or in a traditional raised bed. Typical for a Nantes type, ‘Bolero’ stores very well in the refrigerator and will change your culinary life if you’ve only ever eaten carrots purchased from a store. They are excellent either fresh or cooked, with a complex, sweet taste. If I could only grow one carrot, it would be this one.
‘Malbec’ – Colored carrots have a poor reputation as far as flavor is concerned. ‘Malbec’ is the first non-orange carrot that changed my mind. This Imperator type is as flavorful as they come, deep red throughout, and is easy to grow. For some reason, ‘Malbec’ has been hard to come by the last two years, but if you spot seeds in a catalogue, online, or on a store shelf, it is well worth a purchase!
‘Red Sun’ – Winter 2020 was my first experience with ‘Red Sun’, a brand-new Nantes type carrot from Bejo Seeds. I only planted this variety because I initially could not source ‘Malbec’. Having said that, I was very pleased with ‘Red Sun’. The carrots were extremely vigorous, had excellent top and root growth and mostly held their own with ‘Malbec’ flavor-wise in the kitchen also. I would purchase ‘Red Sun’ again!
‘Deep Purple’ – Wow, they weren’t kidding when they named this variety! Most purple carrots are colored on the exterior but fade to a “normal” orange at their core. Not ‘Deep Purple’! This Imperator type is strikingly dark purple, almost black. Even the tops have a purple hue to them! Cooking them was also an interesting experience. Most colored veggies, peppers, carrots, and others lose their hue when cooked. Not this variety. Not only did ‘Deep Purple’ retain its color after cooking, my hands and cutting board turned a shade of indigo when preparing and, once put in a pan to sautee with other veggies, the juice from ‘Deep Purple’ dyed all the other veggies a deep violet! While I wouldn’t grow ‘Deep Purple’ as my main crop carrot, it definitely has a place in the garden as a tasty novelty.
Carrots are among the easiest to grow, most rewarding vegetables in the winter garden. Next fall, plant a variety of carrots in your home garden and enjoy the many types, colors and flavors that this tasty veggie has to offer! For more information on the above mentioned varieties, home carrot gardening in general, or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office. Happy Gardening!
Sugar snap peas prefer to be planted when the soil is cool and the pods are delicious raw or cooked. Photo by Full Earth Farm.
Leon County’s Spring 2021 Seed Library Program Starts February 13
Although we are still experiencing the coolness of winter, the spring gardening season is right around the corner. To get a head start on the heat that will start taking over by May – and certainly by June – it is important to have a spring garden plan. If you want to start your veggies from seed, certain crops, such as tomatoes, need to be seeded soon for best results. Other warm-loving crops, like squash and cucumbers, also benefit from an early start to beat the life cycles of many common pests.
Need seeds to start your garden? Well, if you live in Leon County, you are in luck. Starting on February 13, 2021, residents of Leon County can “check out” up to three sample seed packets per month with their library card as part of Leon County’s Seed Library Program. The vegetable seeds can be checked out from any of the seven library branch locations. Leon County residents can apply for a library card online at the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library online card application page (https://lcpl.ent.sirsi.net/custom/web/registration/).
A young volunteer helped pack seeds from home for the Spring 2021 Leon County Seed Library Program. Photo by Jeanne Breland.
Here are the vegetable seed varieties that will be available starting February 13:
- Italian Large Leaf Basil. This is a fast-growing plant, with four-inch-long green leaves that have an anise flavor and a sweet aroma.
- Jackson Wonder Butterbeans. A high yielding heirloom, these beans produce pods with three to five reddish colored beans in each. When dried, the beans develop a mottled pattern.
- A & C Pickling Cucumber. Plants are productive, producing many straight, dark-green fruits that are great for pickling when they are four to six inches long. Eaten fresh, they can be grown out to 10 inches.
- Edisto 47 Melon. Plants prosper in hot, humid climates and produce mildly sweet five-pound cantaloupes in about 90 days.
- Burmese Okra. Plants have very large leaves and at about 18-inches tall, produce slender curved 9 to 12 inch okra pods that are virtually spineless. Under 10 inches, pods can be eaten raw and are less viscous than some other varieties.
- Sugar Snap Peas. Plants produce sweet, crisp pods that can be eaten raw or cooked. Seeds germinate well in cool soil and plant growth is vigorous, requiring support.
- Corno di Toro Sweet Bell Pepper. This productive pepper, whose name translates to “Horn of the Bull,” produces thick horn-shaped fruit that is flavorful and great eaten raw or cooked.
- Butternut Waltham Squash. This winter squash produces four-to-five-pound fruits with necks that are thick, straight, and cylindrical. The flesh of the fruit is smooth and has a flavor that sweetens with storage.
- Black Krim Tomato. This Russian heirloom has indeterminate growth and produces 8 to16 ounce, brown-to-red fruit with a deep smoky flavor. The shoulders of the tomatoes are brownish green and darken with more heat and sunlight.
- Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomato. This deep-red small cherry tomato has indeterminate growth and produces soft fruit that is very sweet and full of flavor.
Whether you are located in Leon County or not, everyone is welcome to join us Saturday, February 13, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., for our Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop. Via Zoom, agents with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County will discuss spring vegetable gardening techniques and food waste prevention. There will also be a live cooking demonstration showing how to prepare healthy meals and snacks at home, featuring vegetables available in the Spring 2021 Seed Library Program.
For more information about the Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop, please visit our Eventbrite page: https://spring2021leoncountyseedlibrary.eventbrite.com. There is no cost to attend the workshop, but registration is required.
Happy spring gardening!
For all my years in the classroom, I never let students say the “d-word” when discussing soil science. In some instances, we had a “d-word” swear collection jar of a quarter when you used the term and even today, I hesitate from spelling the word out in text due to feedback from all those I have corrected. In case you still need a clue on the “d-word”, it ends in irt.
As a horticulturist for 46 years, I have read, heard, and been told many secrets to growing good plants. I still hold firm that without proper knowledge of how soil works, most of what we do is by chance. Soil is a living entity comprised of parent material (sand, silt, and clay), air, water, organic matter (OM), and microorganisms. It is this last item which makes our soils come to life. If you have pets, then you know they need shelter, warmth, air, water, and food. From this point forward think of soil microorganisms as the pets in your soil. If you take care of them, they will take care of your plants.
Sandy soil without any organic matter at the Wakulla County Extension office.
There is a huge difference in habitat from a sandy soil to a healthy soil with a good percentage of OM (5% – 10%). In one gram of healthy soil (the weight of one standard paper clip), you can have bacteria (100,000,000 to 1,000,000,000), actinomycetes (10,000,000 to 100,000,000), fungi (100,000 to 1,000,000), protozoa (10,000 to 100,000), algae (10,000 to 100,000), and nematodes (10 to 100) (1). A teaspoon of healthy soil can contain over four billion organisms (2). These microorganisms are part of the soil food web and they form a relationship between soil and your plants. They help convert nutrients to useable forms and assist with other plant functions.
The question becomes how to take care of your soil pets. For years we have performed practices that compromise these populations. Growing up we put all of our grass clippings in the weekly trash. We know now how valuable those clippings are and to leave them be. Two practices still common today though are tilling and raking leaves.
Master Gardener Volunteer vegetable bed with organic matter added.
Tilling has a limited purpose. If I place a layer of organic matter on top of the ground, then tilling incorporates the OM which feeds my pets. Excess tilling of soil introduces large amounts of oxygen which accelerates the breakdown of OM thus reducing our pet populations over time. Another adverse result from tilling is disturbing the soil structure (how the parent materials are arranged) which can reduce pore spaces thus limiting water percolation and root growth. There is a reason agriculture has adapted no-till practices.
Raking leaves (supposedly the sign of a well-kept yard) is removing large amounts of OM. Do you ever wonder why trees in a forest thrive? All of their leaves fall to the ground and are recycled by the microorganisms. Each of those leaves contains macronutrients (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium) and micronutrients (boron, copper, chlorine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc) which are necessary for plant growth. You would be hard pressed to find all those nutrients in one fertilizer bag. So recycle (compost) your leaves versus having them removed from the property.
We are in our off season and tasks such as improving soil health should be considered now for soils to be ready in spring. Remember a little organic matter at a time and never work wet soils. As your OM levels build over the years, remember to change your watering and fertilizing schedules as the soil will be better adapted at holding water and nutrients. Soil tests are still recommended before fertilizing.
If you would like more tips on improving your soil, contact me or your local county horticulture extension agents. For a more in depth look at caring for your soils, read The Importance of Soil Health in Residential Landscapes by Sally Scalera MS, Dr. A.J. Reisinger and Dr. Mark Lusk (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss664).
- Chapter 2: Soils, Water, and Plant Nutrients. Texas Master Gardener Training Manual.
- The Importance of Soil Health in Residential Landscapes. 2019.
Grow your own horseradish in your home garden. You can then harvest roots to make a delicious, spicy sauce for your favorite dish. Learn outdoor care and kitchen prep with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County. #gardentotable #homegrown #homegardening
Tatsoi is a low-growing green with spoon-shaped, dark-green leaves. Photo by Molly Jameson.
Sweet to the palate, easy to grow, and a delight to watch take shape, tatsoi is a great choice for your fall and winter veggie garden.
Tatsoi is in the cabbage family, species Brassica rapa, and is closely related to another Asian green, bok choy. It originates in Japan, where it has been grown for over 1,500 years.
Tatsoi is an annual with spoon-like dark-green leaves and cream-colored stems that grows low to the ground. It is easy to start from seed, can handle partial shade, and grows relatively fast. It can be eaten raw, like spinach, or it can be lightly cooked to add a pleasantly distinct flavor to stir-fries and soups. It has a surprisingly mild mustard-like taste. It is full of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, folate, and phytonutrients.
Tatsoi takes about 40 to 50 days to reach maturity. Photo by Molly Jameson.
Although it does well in the spring in cooler climates, it does best in fall and winter in Florida and can handle temperatures down to 15°F. It can be directly seeded into the garden and germinates in about five to 15 days. You can seed tatsoi one to three inches apart, but it should be thinned to about eight to 10 inches to reach full size, which takes about 40 to 50 days. Add the baby tatsoi you thin to your dinner salad.
Once thinned, harvest whole mature plants or individual outer leaves. If you find you just can’t get enough, seed more tatsoi every two weeks until the spring, when longer days and warmer temperatures will cause tatsoi to bolt. Bolting is when a plant diverts its resources away from the edible leaves and into the flowering stem for seed production.
For a truly continuous supply, allow your tatsoi to bolt, and it will produce many tiny, thin seed pods. Wait for the plant to dry completely and harvest the seed pods. Carefully open the pods over a plate to be sure to catch all the small round seeds within. Then, simply store the seeds in a dry, cool location, such as your fridge, in an air-tight container. Stored correctly, the seeds will last four to five years.
If you have yet to give tatsoi a position in your garden, give it a try this winter!