Tomatoes are an excellent example of the saying “nothing worthwhile comes easily”. The list of things that can go wrong with tomatoes is depressingly long, but not prohibitive. We still plant the darn things and celebrate the first harvest. Yay!
They’re not really soil born
One of the biggest set backs in the tomato battle is the way so many diseases linger in the soil, long after the tomato plants are gone. Fusarium wilt, Verticillium wilt, late blight, Phytophthora rot root, spotted wilt virus and southern bacterial wilt come to mind. These are the so called soil borne diseases. Borne is different from born. Webster’s defines borne as either the past participle of bear or an adjective meaning carried or transported by. Both apply here.
The spores and pathogens of soil borne diseases hang out in the garden soil and many can even survive the winter. When conditions are right, they attack. My area gets very humid in the summer, so conditions are often perfect.
So should we garden without soil?
Unfortunately there are water and air borne diseases too, so getting rid of the soil is not the answer. We will never avoid soil borne disease entirely. Fungicides, good garden sanitation, and some better weather certainly help. I have one more little tip to try.
Increase the distance the pathogen has to travel. Once your tomato plants are at least a couple of feet tall, remove all the branches and leaves from the bottom 8 – 12 in. Combine that with a thick layer of mulch and you’ll have far less splashing from the soil to the plant.
It won’t hurt the plant any, to lose those branches. These are the first to die off anyway. This is especially helpful for those of us who tend to plant too closely. At least some air gets through from the bottom of the plants.
Is any of this fail safe. I wish. No, we’ll still have to be vigilant. But it’s one more tip that gives you an edge, without turning your garden into a chemistry exam.