of the Untidy Gardener
“Cleanliness may be next to godliness,
but trashiness is nature’s way”
Adventures with Curly Top
Last year was “The Curly Top Year” and this year
was supposed to be an easy one. Thanks to a dry winter and
very little London Rocket growth. Well, not in my tomato patch!
Last year the row covers and leafhopper barriers did their
work, but this year I planted tomatoes without them and got
the old curly top virus.
However, as is often the case, tribulations in the garden
lead to innovations, solutions, and occasionally delightful
surprises. Last year’s heirloom Roma Tomatoes produced
so well, in spite of some early fungal problems, that I decided
to grow them again this year from my own seed. All went well
with the seedlings and the young transplants and the blossoms
set fruit right through those early hot spells. Then the Curly
Top hit after the tomatoes were well formed but still green.
I could see lots of promise but little sauce.
Out of my own blend of stubbornness and curiosity, I refused
to pull out the infected plants and start over. My plan was
to sustain the plants long enough to ripen the fruit and hope
the tomatoes were not too badly affected by the virus - seemed
little to risk, except for spreading the disease. In years
past, I have brought Yellow Pear Tomatoes through bouts of
Curly Top by cutting back the infected new growth until the
plants recovered. However, they are the weeds of the tomato
world. Could other, more sophisticated varieties be nurtured
back to health?
While trimming the infected new growth from my Romas seemed
an obvious beginning, it just didn’t feel like enough.
Therefore, I took a gallon of very mature worm compost out
of the storage box, added a couple cups of dry crushed breadcrumbs
and a little water and let it set for a few days. The additional
starch increases the fungal activity in the compost. When
it was ready to use, I added a half gallon of cottonseed meal
and enough water to make a slurry and watered it in under
the tomato plants.
And the results? The tomatoes ripened mostly without brittleness
in the fruit, made great tomato sauce and the plants started
growing again. The old parts of the plant are now smothered
under new growth, blossoms, green tomatoes and promises of
sauce until first frost.
Waltzing with Squash Bugs
I had a theory about squash bugs and built my planting and
management practices on it. That worked for a couple of years
– planting late in spring and keeping the plants under
row covers until July, but this year put holes in my theory
and bugs in my squash. I quickly discovered that the theory
is easier to kill than the infestation. Nevertheless, there
My first treatment was to remove all the egg clusters that
I could find, not an easy task in a rambling patch of spiny
Hopi Pumpkin. The next treatment was a meticulous dusting
of diatomaceous earth. In my ungodliness, how could I not
enjoy the slow irritating death inflicted by these ancient
creatures on my current nemesis? However, when it rains that
treatment stops working and a new killer is required. During
those rainy spells I patrolled the squash patch, sprayer loaded
with Insecticidal Soap – sap, they are clean and dying.
I don’t expect to kill them all. There will always
be some around, now that they are breeding throughout the
summer, but I will continue to have squash to eat. Variety
matters, and in this case it matters a lot. Hopi Pumpkins
are not easy to kill. There are some dead leaves in the most
infested parts of the patch, but farther out on the runners
those plants continue blooming and setting fruit, oblivious
to the age old battle between gardener and bug raging farther
down the vine.
So, what’s the moral to my trashy tale? Simply that
every gardener has a style and that style has consequences.
My style is a bit trashy and weedy, so curly top and squash
bugs are bound to show up. Figuring out how to manage my garden
with them included is just another part of the challenge and
reward of gardening.
Dona Ana Co. Extension Master Gardener
garden well - eat local