Let’s Talk About Tomato Diseases

August 18, 2015

There is nothing quite like the flavorful, juicy bite of a tomato you have grown yourself. Don’t let common tomato diseases take that moment away from you this harvest season! Let’s talk tomato diseases and how to treat them.

Early/Late Blight

What is it?
A common tomato disease, caused the fungus Alternaria solani, Early Blight can weaken or kill your tomato plant, or cause fewer tomatoes to set than normal. The fungus originates from the soil or seeds, and it can over-winter in debris for at least a year. This disease likes damp conditions, but can occur at any time. Late Blight is a plant disease that occurs when a fungus called Phytophthora infestans infects and kills the tomato plant. It can be introduced to your garden from infected seeds, transplants, or can be blown from a neighboring garden, and can happen throughout the growing season, especially in cooler and wet weather.

What does it look like?
Tomato plants infected with Early Blight show a couple tan spots with yellow halos appear on leaves. The fruit becomes dark and has sunken spots. The stems also grow darker and have sunken cankers right above the soil line. Characteristics of Late Blight include spots that begin as a pale green color by the edges of the leaves, then turn a brown or purple color in humidity. Mold will appear on the underside of the leaves. Your tomato fruit will have brown spots on the top and sides and white mold might form. Late Blight also causes brown and black spots to appear and spread over the stem.

Late Blight on a Tomato Plant (Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Late Blight on a Tomato Plant (Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

How do I treat it?
Spray leaves (top and bottom) until dripping wet with Espoma Earth-tone® Garden Fungicide, a copper soap fungus treatment, anytime you see fungus. Avoid spraying fungicide in full sun to prevent burned leaves. Instead, spray in the early morning or when it is cloudy. This garden fungicide can also be used in organic gardening.

Fusarium Wilt

What is it?
Fusarium is a tomato-specific disease caused by a fungus called Fusarium oxysporumsp lycopersici. Originating in soil, Fusarium Wilt develops faster in high-nitrogen, low-potassium or sandy soils. Infected plants often die before they are mature.

What does it look like?
Fusarium Wilt causes one side of the plant’s leaves to turn yellow, and then wilt. Overall growth is stunted by this disease, and fruit development diminishes. The stem has internal brown vascular tissue.

Fusarium Wilt (Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Fusarium Wilt (Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

How do I treat it?
While there are no chemical based treatments available, you can slow down the disease by maintaining pH levels between 6.5 and 7.0 in your soil. Test your soil with the Sunleaves Digital 4-Way Soil Meter. Since soils that are high in nitrogen and low in potassium can leave your plant vulnerable to fungus, use Happy Frog® Tomato and Vegetable (7-4-5). It has the optimal ratios between nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that allow plants to feed vigorously while producing abundant high quality fruit. This mix also contains calcium, which helps prevent blossom end rot and boosts stronger cell walls, helping tomato and other plants fight off disease. Use a nitrate-based nitrogen fertilizer, as oppose to an ammonia-based nitrogen fertilizer. Botanicare Cal-Mag Plus (2-0-0), with its custom blend of calcium complex with nitrate nitrogen and a highly-soluble form of chelated magnesium, works great as a foliar application to prevent and treat Fusarium Wilt.  

Septoria Leaf Spot

What is it?
Also called Septoria Blight, Septoria Leaf Spot is a common disease tomato plants experience caused by a fungus called Septoria lycipersici. Septoria Leaf Spot spreads quickly, defoliating and weakening plants, hindering the ability for the plant to bear fruit. Living on tomato plant debris and weeds, and in the soil, the fungus spreads by wind and water. Like other tomato plant disease, Septira Leaf spot loves damp conditions.

What does it look like?
Septoria Leaf Spot causes a plethora of brown spots with black specks and a yellow halo to pop up on tomato leaves. While there is generally no stem or fruit damage, the loss of foliage can cause sunscald.

Septoria Leaf Spot (Image Source: gardeningwithtomleroy.com)

Septoria Leaf Spot (Image Source: gardeningwithtomleroy.com)

How do I treat it?
Septoria often starts at the lower leaves. If the disease is caught early, you can remove these infected lower leaves. If the higher leaves are infected, removing them can cause your tomatoes to suffer from sunscald. Improving the air circulation around your tomato plant can help dry foliage faster and prevent the disease from spreading. To accomplish this, try a stake or cage to raise your plant off the ground.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus

What is it?
The Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) is a viral infection that disrupts cellular functioning, causing a reduction in plant stamina, but does not generally kill the tomato plant. Spread predominately by contaminated hands, caused by touching infected tobacco products, plants and weeds, spreading the virus to otherwise healthy tomato plants.

What does it look like?
A yellow-green mottling on the plant’s leaves, stunted growth and curled leaves and flowers are common characteristics of TMV.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) (Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) (Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

How do I treat it?

There are no chemical-based treatments available that effectively protect tomato plants from TMV. The virus can live over 50 years in plants! The virus control for TMV is prevention. Cleaning your garden tools and keeping them sterilized will help reduce the virus from spreading. Remove any plants that appear to have TMV. Be sure to keep your garden free of any dead and diseased plant debris. If you are a tobacco user, try not to smoke while gardening. Tobacco products are a source of TMV and can be spread through your hands. Rotating your crops can also prevent TMV from showing up in your garden.

Now that you have the tools to treat these common tomato disease, grow in confidence and enjoy this favorite summer fruit!

A Breath of Fresh Air in Your Indoor Garden

July 21, 2015


With the sweltering summer heat, one of the many benefits of growing indoors is the ability to grow indoors! However, even in the cool confines of the modern home, you still have to combat stagnant air.

In the great outdoors, wind naturally exchanges, providing plants with fresh air. In indoor grow rooms, it is up to you to give plants the fresh air they need. This is done with a combination of circulating fans and simple air exhaust systems. Keeping the air moving also helps stomata (tiny pores in plant leaves that allow exchange of carbon dioxide, oxygen and water) stay relatively dust-free, so plants can breathe with ease. If your garden room happens to be equipped with a ceiling fan, circulating the air shouldn’t be a problem. If you don’t have a ceiling fan, one or two oscillating fans, like the 16-inch DuraBreeze® Orbital Pedestal Fan should be enough to reunite the warm air, which naturally rises to the ceiling, with the cooler air that’s left behind. By regularly replacing moist, stale air with drier, fresher air, we stabilize temperature and humidity levels while helping our plants maintain a proper balance of usable carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Simply mixing and moving the same air around and around isn’t quite enough for your plants. You should also ventilate the area. From the super-easy to the more complex, there are a couple of ways to take care of this. One simple method is to leave the door to your grow room open as a source of fresh air and then exhaust the stale air with a vent fan mounted in an open window. You also can install a ventilation duct and in-line exhaust fan in one wall leading through to the outside. To get a better idea, this is similar to how your clothes dryer or stove with an exhaust fan is vented.

If you do put in a special ventilation duct for your indoor garden, place it up high since that’s where most of the stale, hot air ends up. As the duct fan pulls stale air up and out, fresh air from the rest of the house takes its place. It is also easy to automate this type of system by hooking the in-line duct fan to a thermostat.

With a thermostat-controlled vent, your indoor garden becomes somewhat self-regulating. If, for instance, you’ve decided you don’t want temperatures to climb above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you can set your duct fan to come on as soon as temperatures exceed your acceptable range. To keep the environment even cooler—and to prolong the life of your equipment—you can also choose a reflector and ballast with built-in ventilation features. A good option is the Predator Lighting 6 and 8 models (Viper 6, Cobra 6 and 8, King Cobra 6 and 8), which can all be fitted with ducting and an inline fan (or fans) to actively cool the lamp and exhaust the hot air. For ballast options, the ION A/C 1000W unit that contains an internal fan to keep components cool to lengthen their lifespan, is a sure bet!

Predator Lighting at Worm’s Way Kentucky

If you already have a reflector and ballast that don’t have any of these special features, don’t worry! In many cases, you can modify standard reflectors and ballasts with ventilation kits. Aside from using simple thermostats, some indoor gardeners like to take things a step further by connecting humidistats to their vent fans or to dehumidifiers. Just as a thermostat regulates temperature, a humidistat regulates humidity. Want your plants to enjoy a constant 50 percent humidity? With a humidistat-controlled vent or dehumidifier, you can be sure your indoor garden doesn’t become too dry or too moist.

For more information about ventilation in your indoor garden, take a look at these other articles:

The Importance of Ventilation in the Grow Room
Humidity and Temperature: What they Mean for Your Plants
Beat the Heat!


All About TDS

June 19, 2015


What is TDS?

TDS stands for total dissolved solids. The Wikipedia definition defines TDS as “a measure of the combined content of all inorganic and organic substances contained in a liquid in molecular, ionized or micro-granular (colloidal sol) suspended form.” Why is this important for hydroponics? Measuring TDS in hydroponics can indicate the strength of your nutrient solutions.

How to Read TDS

There are two types of readings for TDS in hydroponics. The first is Conductivity and the second is Parts per Million (PPM). Conductivity, the more scientific reading, is represented as Electro-Conductivity (EC), Conductivity Factor (CF) or Micro Siemens per square centimeter (MS/cm). PPM is the more common reading, especially in the United States and is calculated from Conductivity on two different scales:

 NaCL (1EC = 500 ppm)
442 scale (1EC = 700 ppm)

Plants normally require the nutrient strength to read about 1,500 to 2,000 PPM. When mixing your nutrients, it is a good idea to start fresh using purified water or reverse osmosis water, which have no PPM.

What is the best way to test TDS?

HTM500To test TDS you will need a digital meter, such as the HM Digital Handheld TDS Meter which is highly effective and accurate due to its advanced microprocessor technology. Plants normally require the nutrient strength to read about 1,500 to 2,000 PPM. If your TDS measurment is low, add more of your nutrients. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when adding the nutrients. Keep testing until you are at the level you need. However, be careful, too much nutrient can be damaging to your plant, including stunted growth and less potency. You should check the levels in your reservoir daily and adjust as needed. Nutrient solutions usually need to be changed every one to two weeks.

 What can affect my reading?

There are precautions you can take to ensure you have the most accurate reading.

  • Always make sure that your TDS meter is dry before taking a reading from a sample.
  • The meter should be perpendicular when taking a reading, avoiding the sides or bottom of the sample container.
  • The ideal temperature for a reading is 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The longer you have the meter in the water, the more accurate it will be.
  • Always clean your meter after every use.

To learn more about TDS, look at some of our other articles:

TDS Levels
Suggested pH and PPM Levels for Common Plants










Conserving Water during the Summer Heat

June 12, 2015

Sprinklerphoto credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124339301@N01/3565468091

We all have nostalgic memories of running back and forth in the yards of our childhood homes, as the water from the oscillating sprinklers chased us in the summer heat.  However, for conservation-conscious gardeners, sprinklers should stay just that—a memory. Sprinklers risk wasting water and overwatering. We have some steps you can take to keep your plants thirst quenched and your green gardener’s conscience clean!

Do your plants need to be watered?

This sounds like a no-brainer, but first you need to check to see if your plants actually need to be watered. The easiest way to do this is to simple stick your finger in the dirt. Push your finger down about two or three inches. Is the soil moist? If the answer is yes, then you do not need to water your plant just yet. If the soil is soggy, the plant has been over-watered. Over-watered soil, or waterlogged soil, deprives roots of oxygen and may even cause plants to lose the ability to take up water. If the soil is dry, then your plant is probably thirsty, and could use a drink.rapitestFor a more efficient and accurate approach try a moisture meter, like the Rapitest Digital Moisture Meter. It provides readings between 0 and 9.9, and includes instructions and a handy information sheet with the ideal soil moisture levels of hundreds of commonly grown plants.

But wait! Don’t water your plant just yet. Before you get out the hose, check to see if rain is in the forecast. There is no better way to conserve water than to let Mother Nature do the work for you. A great way to see how much rainwater your garden is getting is to purchase a rain gauge.

What time is it?

You can use your water more efficiently in the garden by checking the clock. Watering plants in the morning gives them time to drink up that H2O before the sun evaporates all that water. This will also keep your plants from wilting in the mid-day heat.

Plants watered in the late afternoon or evening may not dry before sunset. This can lead to the development of fungal diseases.

Now that you know when to water your plants, let’s talk about how.


Spray wands, like the Mondi™ Telescopic Water Wand, are a great option for small gardens and container gardens. The Mondi Telescopic Water Wand features a soft-showering head that is gentle on plants and flowers, and with an adjustable flow control, using just the amount of water you intend is a breeze!

If a sprinkler is necessary in your garden, there are some water-conserving options. The Hydro-Port Watering Manifold eliminates destructive or wasteful overspray by directing water specifically to plants. This unit converts a traditional underground sprinkler system into a micro irrigation drip system and allows you to water up to eight plants at a time. Ports can be individually adjusted with flow rates from 0 to 30 gph. Swivel arms aid in fine-tuning outlet tubing position. Manifold is pressure rated up to 80 PSI and has a built-in filter which extends system lifespan by preventing clogging from debris.

Uncompsted versus composted soil.

Now that you’ve watered your garden, you need to retain that moisture efficiently. One way to do this is to add compost to your soil. Adding compost into your garden beds conserves water by improving the soil’s moisture-holding capabilities, and gives plants more accessibility to water. This is especially true in clay or sandy soils. Mulching also keeps your soil moist. Using a fresh top layer of mulch decreases the evaporation of the water in your garden, and therefore reduces how often you need to water your plants.

Take a look at some of our other articles to help you achieve water conservation in your garden:

Drought Proof Your Garden
Plan Drip Watering Systems Early to Save Time, Money Later
Save Time and Money with Grass-Free Lawns


Hydroponics for the Green Gardener

Hydroponic gardening has drawn attention from environmentally conscious gardeners because of its eco-friendly and sustainable attributes. Using hydroponic methods, gardeners can produce higher yields and grow plants in locations of the world that would not be able to support crops (in soil) otherwise. Hydroponics also reduces the need for large amounts of pesticides, which in turn makes water, soil, air and food cleaner.  If you’re ready to make your hydroponic setup even greener, try utilizing these eco-friendly hydroponic products.

Growing Media


CheckMarkGreenThe green choice: Coco Coir
Coco coir is the clear eco-friendly winner. Coir is a processed from the strong, fibrous outer shell of a coconut. Manufactured where the coconut palm is abundant, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India as well as other tropical areas, production of coir-based products like rope, brooms, brushes and matting has sustained generations. However, production and export specifically for horticultural applications is a more recent advent, driven by both necessity and demand: necessity to free valuable real estate occupied by large amounts of slowly degrading coir “waste” from the manufacture of other coir commodities, and demand from earth-conscious consumers in search of a more renewable alternative to coir’s closest cousin, peat. Many believe peat gets harvested faster than it can renew naturally.

Nutrients, Fertilizers and Supplements

CheckMarkGreenThe green choice: General OrgGO416qanics
General Organics by General Hydroponics is an organic-based nutrient and supplement line that contains no animal derived ingredients, making it not only a green choice, but a vegan choice as well.  The line provides gardeners with a complete line of premium biological plant foods and supplements. With a combination of ingredients from traditional agriculture and sustainable and efficient methods of modern cultivation, every product is designed and manufactured with proprietary blends that supply complete plant nutrition, improve soil ecology and plant health. The line also provides essential ingredients to stimulate soil biology that help beneficial microorganisms adapt insoluble ingredients into bioavailable nutrients at the molecular level. By stimulating favorable microbiology, a living system that provides your garden with everything it needs to flourish is created. The line promises to save energy and water while building organic matter to enhance soil quality.


CheckMarkGreenThe green choice: HIDKL130
While fluorescents are the most energy-efficient bulbs at first glance, HID lights win when you factor in the increased yield that gardeners benefit from using them. The Kind LED Grow light series produces large yields, while consuming approximately half the electricity and producing virtually no heat.  They run quiet, cool and efficient. The K5 XL1000 has the equivalent lumen output of a 1000-watt HID lamp at only 650-watts, pulling nearly half the wattage!

Hydroponic System


CheckMarkGreenThe green choice: Drain-to-Waste Drip System
As for the system that conserves the most water, the winner is the drain-to-waste drip system. Despite the name, this system actually produces the least waste compared to most traditional hydroponic methods. This is because only the precise amount of the water and nutrients you need are being used. There is no dumping of old nutrient water with each reservoir change, such as the case with a recirculating system. Only as many drip lines as needed can be used from one reservoir. A lot of water can evaporate from an uncovered reservoir, and if there are multiple reservoirs, this will add up quickly!

Whether you are just starting out in the world of hydroponics or are a seasoned grower, why not consider these green choices for your indoor garden?