10 Natural Ways to Protect Your Tomatoes from Blight

The late blight epidemic that decimated tomatoes fields across the country last year has already been spotted in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Let’s not all freak out just yet though.

There are things you can do to strengthen your plants and give them better protection this year against the blight, without resorting to toxic pesticides and unsafe copper sprays.

Here are a few ways to give your tomatoes a fighting chance:

Act Now

The best time to start protecting your plants from late blight is 2 to 4 weeks before they show signs.

Apply Compost Tea

Making compost tea is so simple—-just put a gallon of organic compost in a five gallon bucket, and fill with water. Let sit for 5 days and stir often (it’ll look you’re brewing a big cup of coffee for your garden). Then dilute, and put in a sprayer and apply. You can also buy compost tea online.

Apply to your plants several times each week and after every rainfall. The beneficial microorganisms in compost tea act as a fungicide that one German Study showed to be almost as effective as metalaxyl in treating blight.

Use A Milk Spray

Milk is a natural fungicide, and although I only found one study supporting the use of milk for fighting fungal diseases, there are tons of messages in newsgroups and forums talking about how great milk is for killing spores and helping tomatoes build up an immunity to fungal diseases.  So, give it a try—mix one part milk to two parts water and spray directly on your plants every week.

Water Carefully

Blight spreads through dampness, so water your plants only at the base, and in the morning.

Apply Your Milk/Compost Spray Frequently, and Every Time it Rains

The synthetic sprays used by commercial farmers are translaminars, meaning they don’t wash off the plant, and only have to be reapplied every three weeks or so. While effective, these are seriously toxic chemical cocktails that are  absorbed by your tomato plants  (which to me kind of defeats the purpose of growing vegetables to be healthier if they are filled with chemicals).  So, every time it rains, re-treat your plants with compost tea and milk spray.

Check Your Plants

Late Blight starts at the stem, and spreads to the leaves of your plant. Check often to look for the first signs of blight.

late_blight_tomato_stem

Prune Blighted Leaves and Stems

If you catch it on your plant early enough, and prune off the late blight, you can help delay the spread. Make sure to throw any infected plant leaves and stems in a garbage bag, seal it up, and throw it out. Some people have also had luck by covering their plants up.

Remove Plants with Blight

If your plants get overtaken with the dreaded B, they gotta leave the garden immediately (I know, it’s so sad, but for the best). Spores spread quickly, so throw the plant in the trash bags—do not compost the plant or it will breed more blight. Then keep spraying with compost tea and/ or milk spray and hope the rest of the plants stay safe.

Don’t Purchase Plants from Big Box Stores

Although the weather conditions were oh-too-perfect for blight, infectious plants being sent to big box stores across the country didn’t help matters. Last year, an Alabama-based distributor called Bonnie Plants distributed diseased plants to chain garden centers across the Northeast, which were then sold to home gardeners, helping spread the disease quickly. Stick with your locally-owned nursery run by knowledgeable gardeners, and only purchase healthy looking plants with no signs of blight or leaf damage.

Keep the Faith

Now, let’s not all panic just yet—–late blight thrives on cold, rainy and damp weather, so let’s hope for sun!

June 17, 2010 at 5:28 pm 2 comments

From the Grow Indie Test Garden

grow indie test garden, May 24, 2010

It’s the end of May, and the test garden is in full swing—it’s all pretty exciting. And kind of amazing what a group of 8 or so of us can accomplish by meeting just twice a week. In our 1/2 acre test garden, we’ve planted more than 75 varieties of tomatoes, 9  types of heirloom spuds, more than 60 varieties of pumpkins and winter squash, 17  types of summer squash and cucumbers, a plethora of greens, and that’s just a start. We also scored a bunch of bamboo off of Freecycle (thanks Cindy!), and are experimenting with growing vertical cucumbers, squash, and of course, pole beans.

Since March, we’ve been getting the plot ready, and are already harvesting lots of  heirloom radishes, mustard greens, lettuce, broccoli raab and Ching Chong Baby Bok Choy. I used all of the extra Bok Choy to make kimchi, so stay tuned for a recipe soon as it’s ready. In the meantime, here are a few pics of what we’ve been growing:

i love love love this red merlot colored romaine.

Anney picking spring mix

First tomato goes to the Chiquita!

walla walla onion starting to bulb

first broccoli!

Lacinato, or as I like to call it, dino kale

purple globe turnip and a large sluggo hanging out

May 25, 2010 at 4:54 am Leave a comment

Make it: Free Downloadable Plant Markers

Here’s a new batch of grow indie seed markers, just in time for transplanting!

These are super easy to use—-just download the Word doc template, pick a cool font, add your plant name, print and cut out.  To make the plant “sign” itself, just cut out a few pieces of plastic (like from those salad containers) and tape the plant marker on. You can even laminate them to make them waterproof and last a few seasons.

These nifty plant markers come in two sizes, long or square, so pick what’cha like:

Click here to download the new growindie small plant markers.

And, here’s a link to download the larger version.

They also work really well if you are starting a bunch of plants in one pot, like this group of Peaceful Valley Basil that I started in those compostable salad containers.

I also sometimes like to put little markers in pots around the house, like this catnip (which already doesn’t stand much of a chance with our kitty kats.) And, of course, they add a nice touch of flair if you’re giving a plant away as a gift (which I’m notorious for since I always start too many plants)

May 11, 2010 at 3:15 am 2 comments

Thinning Rows = Tasty Microgreens

radish microgreen and feta sandwich

Next time you are thinning your beets, radishes, kale, bok choy, swiss chard and lettuces, don’t just throw those tasty little green sprouts in the compost pile—these are the fancy schmancy greens that chefs live for. They really dress up just about anything and are nutritional dynamos. Just look at the sandwich above—-that’s just cheese on a cracker, but add a few microgreens and it looks downright gourmet.

Here’s how to do it:

Start with a row of beets, radishes, lettuces, mustard greens, swiss chard, kale, etc. Below are bunches of Detroit Dark Red beets, that sprout in groups and always need thinning (this is a good thing though, just wait).

Then, pull a group out like a little flower bouquet, holding them at the stem.

Cut above the root with a scissors. (Option 2: You can also cut them right above the dirt without pulling if you want, just be careful when you’re cutting so you don’t cut too many.)

Put sprout tops into a strainer and rinse. Eat them right away, or you can store them in a plastic bag and put them in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Then, just start throwing them on soups, sandwiches, salads, you name it. Each microgreen will give you a specific flavor, or you can just mix them all up and create a micro salad. Radish sprouts and mustards are spicier, beets and lettuces are more mellow, and swiss chard and kale add a nice texture. These simple greens are one of the first harvests of the garden, and one of my personal favorites. I may have to have a dinner party just to celebrate microgreen time!

detroit dark red beet microgreens on Fleur-de-Lys heirloom egg sandwich

May 4, 2010 at 3:19 am 1 comment

In The Grow Indie Test Kitchen: The SoyQuick

The SoyQuick

By Anney Ryan

Hey you! Non-dairy milk drinker!

You may not be lactose intolerant. You may not be vegan. Some of you are concerned with your health. Some of you simply want to eat wholesome, real food. And when you turn around your little boxes of Silk and Rice Dream and West Soy and read the ingredients – what do you see?

Take, for example, the ingredients of Blue Diamond’s Unsweetened Almond Breeze: Water, Almonds, Tapioca Starch, Natural Vanilla Flavor with other Natural Flavors, Calcium Carbonate, Sea Salt, Potassium Citrate, Carrageenan, Soy Lecithin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2, and D-Alpha-Tocopherol.

And they call it “Natural.”

What is this stuff? Why do we feel like it’s okay to put in our bodies? How is it any better for us than dairy? Milk from a cow is more natural. And cheaper too.

Never have to run out and buy milk again!

There is an alternative: Buy a non-dairy milk maker. Make your own milk from scratch with just two ingredients—water and almonds (or soybeans, hempseeds, rice, etc., depending on your milk of choice).

I got a SoyQuick. It’s 179.95 and worth every cent. Seriously.

How many reasons do you want? Here are ten.

10. It comes with everything you need: strainer, pitcher, customary soy beans, even brushes and scrub pads to clean with.

9. You can make almond, hazelnut, sesame, macadamia, oat, rice, millet, quinoa, and a million other kinds of milk with it.

8. You can flavor and sweeten your milk any way you want… or not at all!

7. It comes with a recipe book, with tons of different recipes.

Almond paste is an added perk

6. The leftover pulp can be used to make vegan cheesecake, as well as many other baked goods.

5. The yield ratio is the same, or cheaper, than store bought milk.

4. You can make tofu and yogurt with it.

3. It’s better for the environment, using less energy, and leaving less waste.

2. It’s better for you. I can’t say that enough, sorry.

1. It tastes awesome. It tastes awesome. It tastes AWESOME.

Making a batch of Almond Milk

The lowdown: Now, I will admit, SoyQuick does take some work. The accompanying strainer leaves behind lots of grainy dust in the milk, so you’ll have to buy a nut bag (or use an old wife beater undershirt, like I did) to strain the milk. You gotta stand there, over your counter, and squeeze the be-jeebus outta that bag. It takes a while.

But good food takes work.

Clean up is no easy task either. But really, were you expecting it to be? If you are going to whine about convenience and time lost, then be ready to get some carrageenan in your system. If it’s worth it to you, you’ll take the time to strain your milk and clean your appliance lovingly.

Pros and cons aside, I will never live without another one of these again. The milk is so good; it’s worth the time spent.

Cost: SoyQuick Milk Maker, $179.95
Time spent: 30-45 minutes for 1 quart of non-dairy milk.
Complete control over what you put into your body? Priceless.

April 29, 2010 at 10:44 pm Leave a comment

Make It: Easy DIY Rain Barrel

By Sara Elliott

Save water, save time, and save money by making your own rain barrel this year.

Even though the practice of harvesting rainwater has been going on for well over 4,000 years at last count, adding a rain barrel may be a novel idea in your neighborhood.  Water shortages, aging water treatment facilities and the growing cost of water across the U.S. are making the humble rain barrel an old idea that’s an enlightened solution for today’s resourceful gardeners.

No need to shell out hundreds for a rain barrel—you can buy all the materials from the hardware store to make one  on the cheap.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 55 plastic gallon barrel with an opening and stable base
  • Downspout extender
  • ¾” faucet
  • Roll of teflon tape
  • Caulk
  • Garden hose

To construct your barrel:

Prep your downspout. Once you’ve decided which downspout you’d like to place your rain barrel near, cut the downspout and add the extender. This will then go directly into your barrel.

Cut a hole in the top of the barrel that is large enough for the downspout extender to fit inside.

Drill a 1″ hole towards the bottom of your barrel with a hole saw or drill bit where you want your spigot, just off the bottom of the container.

Add your spigot. To attach your ¾” faucet, wrap the threads in tape, caulk the taped thread and insert into the drilled hole. Once it’s where you want it, caulk the area inside and outside the spigot well to reduce leakage and let set. If you want to skip this caulking step, get a spigot like this one, that just fits right in the 1″ hole.

Place your new rain barrel under your downspout extender and wait for rain!

That’s really all there is to it.  If you’re an old hand at DIY projects, you can probably make your rain barrel in an afternoon.  Check with your local utility company to see if there are rebates or other incentives that could defray the cost of installing a rain barrel on your property.

This video covers it pretty well:

The Advantages of Rain Water

Rain barrel are a great way to harvest some impressive amounts of clean, neutral water with almost no effort.  After that, the way you use it is up to you.

Collecting rainwater is good for the environment too. Rainwater washing into storm drains is often routed directly into rivers and lakes together with any oil and chemicals it picks up along the way.  Before suburban sprawl took over, rainwater reached aquifers and rivers by moving through the soil, a natural filtering system.  When you divert some of that water into your rain barrel, you help reduce the overflow and keep surrounding ecosystems cleaner.

How Much Water Can You Collect?

Most rain barrel systems capture the water that washes off your roof by redirecting it from your downspout.  In order to do this effectively, the spout is usually shortened and an extension is added to divert the flow into an opening in the barrel.

Let’s do the math.  To harvest about 300 gallons of rainwater (1,135 liters), all you’d need would be a half-inch of rain falling on a typical 1,000 square foot roof (93 square meters).  Even if you have a weighted diverter on the system to bypass the first few minutes of rainfall and allow kinetic energy to scrub particulates out of the air and off your roof before you start collecting, you could easily harvest a 50 gallon barrel full of water in less than fifteen minutes.  With the cost of water rising, and drought conditions in many areas imposing limits on when and how water can be used outdoors, this is very good news.

Types of Rain Barrels

From a functional standpoint, size and convenience are big factors when it comes to rain barrels.  Beyond the diverter mechanism we mentioned above, rain barrel systems are available with elaborate filters, anti-bacterial lights and even pumps to make distributing the water from your catchment system easier.  Any rain barrel you decide to use should be constructed from food grade and rust resistant material, like plastic, especially if you’ll be using the water on edible flowers, vegetables or herbs.  For a long, reliable life it should also be UV protected, especially if it will be situated in direct sunlight for part of the day.

April 22, 2010 at 7:00 pm 5 comments

Out in the Grow Indie Test Garden

Well, it’s been a while but we’ve been busy getting the Grow Indie Test garden ready and planted, and we’re super excited about it. It’s all part of the master plan—Grow Indie will be debuting a brand new site this summer, including seed reviews and grow guides for the diy grower, urban dweller, suburban homesteader, country peep, you name it.

So, we are planting, growing, reviewing and photographing more than 300 types of heirloom, organic, non-gmo, and hybrid seeds for the 2010 season. Quite an undertaking, but we are delirious with getting the chance to grow so many varieties of vegetables this year.

Peaceful Valley Tendergreen Mustard starts

We’re planting on two half acres at the beautiful Kutztown University Heritage Center, and it’s the perfect partnership—-we get to use their space to grow and research and harvest our Test Garden, and they get to benefit from having educational programs and fundraisers to raise awareness of heirloom vegetables and homesteading. We are also planting an heirloom pumpkin patch for the Center this year as part of their Harvest Fescht featuring more than 30 types of heirloom pumpkins and winter squash.

The Center is a beautiful space, celebrating Pennsylvania German culture, complete with an original one-room school house, a stone home and barn from the 1800’s, and  chickens (!), like this one, who was checking me out yesterday:

We already have some lettuce coming up, along with radishes, mustard greens, lots of onions (from seed and transplants), broccoli raab, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, and more.

So, stay tuned…lots of fun stuff in the works.

April 11, 2010 at 4:20 pm Leave a comment

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