Miss Floribunda - July 2008

Dear Miss Floribunda,

     What with prices what they are, and now the tomato botulism
scare, I am determined to grow my own vegetables.  This is first year
I've planted a vegetable patch, and the results have been  mixed.  I
got some nice peas, and some lettuce--before it turned bitter. I
understand that these vegetables have to be grown and enjoyed before
hot weather sets in.  What I don't understand is why I'm not getting
tomatoes.  The bushes  grew well and flowered, and then started to
decompose before ripening.  I planted various kinds of squash and the
stems are rotting. I had mulched with straw, so I don't think they are
getting too wet.

Instead of getting a crop, I've "come a cropper", as the old-timers say.

Cropless on  Crittenden Street

Dear Cropless,

    What you describe is blossom end rot, which is a result of a
calcium deficiency in the soil. The HHS soil expert,  Dr. Agronomosky,
suggests that you have your soil tested professionally. He supplied
the following website: www.hgic.umd.edu, from which you can select the
Suggested Soil Testing Lab link.  He estimates that It costs from
$5.50 to $27 to have testing done by experienced technicians, which he
thinks well worth while. There may be other mineral deficiencies you
may not be aware of too. He doesn't recommend the purchase of a home
soil testing kit, because considerable expertise is needed to
interpret results.

However, I speculate that you may have neglected to add lime (calcium)
to your vegetable garden, which is a necessity for various reasons in
our area.   It's not too late to dig in some bone meal, which is very
safe and will not burn plants even when applied directly. Also safe is
Chesapeake Green, an excellent soil amendment containing lime in a
safe amount. Although you have missed the HHS spring sale of it, it
can be obtained In local nurseries. Also, if you are very careful, you
can spray a calcium chloride solution on the foliage of the
tomatoes--but be sparing. It can be toxic if overused. You might also
try a fertilizer low in nitrogen but high in superphosphate, such as
4-12-4 or 5-20-5.  Dr. Agronomosky says the best thing you can do is
improve your soil tilth, adding lots of compost.  Our area's clay soil
is heavy and prevents a plant's root system from working efficiently.
So even if the soil isn't deficient in minerals your plants may not be
able to access them well.

  Your squash are afflicted by a very common problem: an infestation
of squash vine borers.  You may have noticed tiny "butterflies" around
your plant.  Well, they have lain lots of little eggs and the larvae
are devouring your stems from inside.  Having noticed that the garden
of my neighbor, Pattipanelope Vegetatas, overflows each year with a
superabundance of enormous squash and pumpkins I  asked her for
advice. She said that her secret weapon is aluminum foil. While she
suggests possible damage control by heaping soil  over what remains of
the stalks of the existing plants to encourage re-rooting, there is
still time to plant a second crop.  This time place aluminum foil
around the young plants.  The mother moths will see the sky reflected
in the foil and become disoriented. Instead of depositing their eggs
in the soil around the stalk they will turn back.  She also stresses
thorough cleanup of vines after harvest, and that you not add them to
your compost pile. She joins Dr. Agronomosky in urging the addition of
much organic matter to your soil

If you'd like to bring the damaged vegetables for positive
identification of their ills, please come to the next meeting of the
Hyattsville Horticultural Society on  Saturday, July 19. We meet at 10
AM in the ground floor meeting room of the Municipal Building on
Gallatin Street. You and other new members would be very welcome.