Tomatoes dying 2 years in row

Discussion in 'Fruit and Vegetable Gardening' started by monkeydog, Jun 13, 2008.

  1. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Hello everyone! I'm having a bad time with my tomatoes and hoping someone might have some ideas to help.
    I live in s.e. Tennessee and have planted tomatos in my garden for 6 years with no problems other than a touch of leaf rot from time to time when too damp. Last year my toms got some strange disease. I would check my plants one day and they would be beautifully healthy. The next day I would find the same plant completly limp and wilted as if they had hot water pouered over them. Somtimes it would be just 3-4 branches on a plant, other times an entire plant would be like this.
    I took one of my plants to the nursery and they said that aphids were giving it the disease. Sold me some expensive fungicide and said to keep insecticide on plants to kill aphids. Over the course of the summer I sprayed so much insecticide and fungicide on my tomatoes that it's a wonder I didn't die from eating the fruits- but the plants kept dying from this disease. I noticed though that the plants I had in a different garden 150 feet away never got this disease even though they also had aphids.
    Now this year I'm starting to go through the same thing. Plants in garden #1 will go from being healthy vibrant plants to wilted and limp in 24 hours time and they don't recover. If its just a couple branches, I cut them off, but the rest of the plant will go the same way in a day or two. Once again, garden #2 seems to be immune.
    Last year when all this started I put horse manure in garden#1 from a source that I had never used before. previously had always got cow manure from a different farm. Am wondering if maybe there was something in that horse manure? I just don't believe that it's the aphids as this doesn't happen in the other garden, It's got to be in the soil(?)
    Here's a pic of one of the plants, I will try to get a better pic tomorrow with a different color drop behind the plant so it shows up better. Anybody have any idea what could be happening?
     

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  2. bjo

    bjo Active Member 10 Years

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    Hi Monkeydog,

    It all sounds very depressing. Presumably the problem is with the roots not supplying enough water. Have you dug up a wilted plant and looked at the roots? Just over two years ago I moved into a new garden and had a similar experience in one part of the garden. Tomato plants looked OK but wilted very easily and needed increasing amounts of water every day. The problem was root knot nematode worm. Perhaps this is the problem.It produces knobbly growths along the root and ultimately destroys the root. Tomatoes (in general) are very susceptible to this pest. It could well have been introduced with the manure.

    There is plenty on the web about this pest and pictures to help you identify it. It is difficult to eradicate. In USA there are some resistant strains of tomatoes. Note that although tomatoes are particularly vulnerable, this pest affects a very wide range of vegetables, fruits, trees shrubs and flowers. I almost wept when I found out I had this problem. Onions , leeks etc are immune and I grow these in this area and a winter crop of rocket (Eruca sativa) as this helps clean the soil. However, 2 years on it is still there - though definitely less severe.

    I hope that this is not your problem!
    Whatever it is, can I suggest that you are very careful that you dont transfer it to another part of the garden. I am always careful to clean my garden tools thoroughly after working in the affected area.

    Good luck!
    BrianO
     
  3. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Thanks for the thoughts BrianO. I went out and dug up one of the afflicted plants and the roots look normal and healthy with no signs of lumps or anything. So, I think we can rule out the nematode. I guess that's a good thing. One more plant wilted off overnight, was healthy yesterday evening. Is darn frustrating.
    I tried getting better pictures today, I don't believe it has anything to do with water as I will lose plants all summer regardless of whether it's dry and hot or rainy.
     

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  4. jeanneaxler

    jeanneaxler Active Member

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    Because it is overnight and the roots are healthy I would look into a possible chemical "burn". Any one spraying anything in that area?
     
  5. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Jeanneaxler, Thanks for the idea. I'm thinking that is probably not it though- we live in the country and have family on adjacent properties and they haven't done any kind of spraying.
    Now my neighbor closest to that garden burns his trash near to the garden and your idea of chemical burn made me think of smoke from the fire. However, this problem only started last year, never experienced it before. The other thing that makes me think it's not chemicals or smoke is that I also have cucumbers, peppers, tomatillos, okra, and watermelon in the same garden and none of them are affected.
    The tomato plants don't show any kind of discoloration when this happens. sometimes a plant will be stricken has has yellowed leaves or even a touch of leaf rot, but I also have it happen to vibrant dark green plants with no sign of any other problems.
    Perhaps tomatos are more susceptible than my other plants to any foreign substances? Would really appreciate any more thoughts you may have, Thanks!
     
  6. Acoma

    Acoma Active Member

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    Monkeydog, take a sample of your soil at this location, to the full depth and a little more, to the local soil specialist, maybe college with horticulture people that offer free advice and research.
    Do they start to turn bad at the same height you have now each year? My thought is that if your plants grow fine to a certain height, the roots then reach a specific point, then the roots connect with a soil area below that might be the concern.
    Just a thought.
     
  7. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Acoma, Thanks for the input. I'm thinking taking a soil sample somewhere probably is my best bet. I don't know why the soil might be contaminated at a deeper level as I never had a problem until last year; however, they are doing exactly what you described- growing fine until they get right at 2 1/2 feet tall.
    The other thing that perplexes me is that this "disease" strikes randomly. It doesn't go from one plant to the next one in the row...one plant will shrivel up, then the next one might be 10 -15 feet away and the ones in between may go weeks before it gets back to them. But somewhere in the garden a plant will go down every 2 or 3 days.
    Thanks again for the suggestion, i think I'll make some phone calls and see where I can take some soil.
     
  8. WesternWilson

    WesternWilson Active Member 10 Years

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    The photos clearly show a lot of white mold on the bottom leaves of your tomatoes...is this also the case with the healthy tomato plants in Garden 2?

    No matter what this is from, I would not plant tomatoes in the affected patch for a couple of years, in the hope the pathogen dies out.

    I wonder, given your location, if this is:
    SOUTHERN BLIGHT

    The fungus Sclerotium rolfsii causes this disease. The first symptom is drooping of leaves suggestive of other wilts. On the stems, a brown, dry rot develops near the soil line. White fungal growth with brown mustard seed-sized sclerotia may be visible. The stem lesion develops rapidly, girdling the stem and resulting in a sudden and permanent wilt of all aboveground parts. Frequently, a white fungal mat covers the lesions. The fungus can also attack fruits where they touch the soil.

    The fungus can survive for years in soil and plant debris. It is favored by moist conditions and high temperatures.

    Prevention and Treatment: Crop rotation with nonsusceptible grass crops and removal of plant debris immediately after harvest will help to control the disease. Do not plant tomatoes after beans, pepper or eggplant. Calcium nitrate may be applied at transplanting.
     

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  9. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Western Wilson, Thanks for the reply. I was thinking about the plants, and I've never noticed any white mold on them. I looked back at the first two pictures I posted and then I noticed what you were refering to. Actually the white that shows in the pictures is sevin dust. My apologies...I realize now that doesn't help with a diagnosis.
    However, I read a bit on southern blight just now and had a question-will a White fungus always show up or can that just be one sympton that doesn't always appear? I've never noticed it on the plants, however I have'n't really looked close at the stems at soil level when plant was wilted. Would look at some now but is way past dark and will be working tomorrow from dark to dark also.
    You suggest not growing tomatoes in that garden for a few years and that thought crossed my mind also a few weeks ago. It's rather depressing, but that may be what I have to do. At least garden #2 is still unaffected.
    Thanks again, will inspect plant stems saturday morning.
     
  10. WesternWilson

    WesternWilson Active Member 10 Years

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    Clearly, there is something about Garden 1 that is toxic to tomatoes (and is it only the tomatoes that have problems in this patch?).

    One thing that troubles me is that this happens, you say, within 24 hours. Bacterial or viral wilts don't, I think, generally act that fast. I am also not seeing typical viral or bacterial leaf discolouration/patterning. That leads me to think this is NOT a pathogen, but some kind of substance in the soil that is toxic to the tomatoes. Some chemical? And one that endures over two years, obviously.

    I think we need to put this curious case in front of a tomato growing expert, a botanist or aggie type.

    Meanwhile, would you be able to dig the entire bed out to a depth of two to three feet and replace all the soil with fresh, fertile stuff? I suspect in the long run, that will be your quickest fix.
     
  11. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Western Wilson, to answer your first question- yes, only the tomatoes are affected. Both last year (when this started) and this year I have okra, watermelon, cukes, and peppers in the same garden. I also have tomatillos growing actually interspaced amongst the tomatoes and none of these other plants are stricken.
    I am in agreement with you that it must have something to do with the soil as no other locations on my property are affected and none of the people in my immediate area have this problem or have even heard of anything like this.
    The curious thing though is that the only thing different that I have added is the horse manure last year. I haven't had any chemicals or anything in that area of the property and it's a good two hundred feet uphill from the road.
    I hope I don't have to dig it up, as the area of the garden where the tomatoes are is about 400 sq.ft. and the entire garden probably 1000 sq. ft. Would love to find a less labor intensive fix! But...who knows.
     
  12. Acoma

    Acoma Active Member

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    Just sounds like soil issue relating to tomatoes. Definately explain this to the place that samples the soil, and show a sample of plant as well. Sooner the better, being that fall is not that far off, and you will repeat the soil prepping process this fall. Let the people know it only affects the tomatoes for now, in this patch, for now.
     
  13. WesternWilson

    WesternWilson Active Member 10 Years

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    I have used horse manure plenty over the years and have never had tomatoes wilting "on contact" like you have.

    I wonder if walnut roots or leaves got composted into this bed by accident?

    I also found this, if you have the opportunity to dissect an affected plant:

    Bacterial wilt:
    Commonest in southern states. Rapid wilting and death of entire plant without yellowing or spotting of leaves. Stem cross- sections of wilted plants will be dark, watersoaked and have a grayish exudate when squeezed. Institute 5 year rotations, avoiding including pepper, tobacco, eggplant or potatoes in rotation. Remove affected plants as soon as problem is noticed.
     
  14. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Walnuts.....yes, there is a healthy walnut tree about 20 feet from the corner of the garden. I just looked up walnuts and tomatoes on the web and of course you know what I found out!
    Now that I think about it, my tomato problem seems to be worse in the half of the garden closest to the tree- where I typically find walnuts on the ground. I have grown tomatos in this garden for 6 years, but for the first four, I only grew them on the far side of the plot. Last year and this year also I have them planted the full length of the garden- all the way to the drip line of the tree. Perhaps there is very little of the toxin on the far side where the toms grow pretty good.
    I also dissected the stem of a plant that went down today as you described, and didn't find the tell-tale signs you described. The inside of stem was wet, but didn't seem water logged and no grayish stuff when I squeezed it.
    So perhaps the walnuts are the cause of all my problems. I hated to find out that walnuts and tomatos dont mix, but I still have garden #2 without a walnut tree within 200 feet for my tomatos. I guess this means next year I can grow 3 times as much okra since I probably wont put any more tomatos down there. And I do like okra!
    I'm still going to try to get some of my soil analyzed like Acoma suggested, just to make sure there's not some other problem because what I read on the web suggested that walnut poisened tomatos typically turn yellow right before they wilt. And my plants don't neccesarily turn yellow. The one that keeled over today was a pretty healthy green.
    Sorry for rambling on a bit, Thanks to all of you! Hopefully the mystery is solved, I will definately let yall know what I find out when I get my soil analized.
    One more quick question, I was just thinking that my okra also does much better the farther down the row it is from that tree, so I probably need to get rid of the walnut tree. If I cut down the tree and put something on the stump to kill the roots, how long will the toxins still remain in the soil?
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2008
  15. WesternWilson

    WesternWilson Active Member 10 Years

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    You know, it seems a dreadful shame to cut down the walnut tree. I would think of relocating the veggies rather than that, if I could.

    However, this is really sounding like walnut toxicity. The correct term is allelopathy. I had no idea it would take the tomatoes down so fast, but I see from reading that the substance released by the walnuts is really, realy toxic to tomatoes.

    Since the bulk of the toxicity is supposed to be from the roots, you could also consider putting in raised beds that were impermeable to the roots ie. with concrete bottoms. Of course, they would have to be backfilled with soil NOT from under the tree.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2008
  16. Acoma

    Acoma Active Member

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    I agree about keeping the tree if possible. These trees are beaut's. Maybe the soil at the depth that are affecting the roots have the wrong PH levels due to the tree. Do you have a PH kit? If the PH level is way off, then there you go, and you may modify the PH levels of the soil around there for the variety of foods to grow with correct amendments. You may want to have a check around the garden for PH levels, going to the depths consistant with the affected areas. Document the PH levels to see how much corrections are needed around the garden. Worms do wonders to, as does the double clover that Durgan tends to reference for fall use when prepping for spring. Sorry, now I am rambling.
     
  17. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Acoma, and Western Wilson- thank you both again for the help and your thoughts on my problems here. Unfortunately, the future bodes ill for this tree... for a couple of reasons.
    Even before finding out last night about about the toxin in walnut trees, the old fellows future had been in question. You see garden #1 and the tree are on the extreme edge of my property, many of my plants are only about 3 feet from the line. I have two trees on the property line which lean toward my neighbor and both of them are tall enough to destroy a house trailer on his property should they ever fall. One of them, an old lightning struck oak needs to come down pretty soon. The other is this walnut. I'd say the walnut probably has many years of life yet, but my neighbor has expressed concern about it a few times, even offered to help cut it up and clean up the debris. I just have'nt gotten around to it yet.
    So, the first strike against the walnut is the potential liability involved. Of course finding out about the relationship between walnuts and many other plants just kind of speeds up it's fate.
    It is a shame to have to cut him down, he's a stately fellow that didn't pop up overnight. Perhaps I can figure a way to kind of make it up to the earth, plant another tree somewhere or try to do something to give a little back. try to stay in harmony with mother nature.
    Thanks again for all your help!
     
  18. Acoma

    Acoma Active Member

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    Your welcome. I say that if the tree must come down, plant 3-5 young ones in return. Some inevitably die, meaning that you may give back 2 in the long run. Best of luck, and I do hope all goes well. Even if you take the trees down, you should do the PH test, this way you are set for next year. And do the clover approach that is done by Durgan, that does go a long way. That and lots of nitrogen boost for the winter, and a coat of mulch.
     
  19. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Yes, I'm definately going to do some tests in all my planting areas. I'm intrigued by the clover aproach. I need to spend some more time reading through the threads here in regards to prepping for spring. Honestly, my gardens typically don't really get any attention after the last harvest. I need to change that, kind of goes back to that "give something back for what you've taken".
    Got some good rain last night, Time to go see my plants!
     
  20. Acoma

    Acoma Active Member

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    Monkeydog, has there been any further answers via testing? What's the latest?
     
  21. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Well, unfortunately there is no change in the status yet. Have been working out of town and don't get back in time of the evening to take soil anywhere.

    Tomatoes in garden one are still doing poorly. Everyday or two I'll have one or two plants afflicted. Sometimes it will be the whole plant and I'll have to dispose of the whole thing, Other times it will just be maybe half the plant. In that case I cut off the dying limbs and the rest of the plant will be ok...for a while. Started off with 43 tomato plants in garden one and am now down to 29. Of those 29 probably half of them have at least half of their branches cut off.

    The good news though is that the tomatoes in gardens 2 and 3 are thriving. I've been eating off the better boys and early girls for a couple weeks now and the black krims and purple russians are just now starting to ripen! Have also harvested some okra and will be able to pick my first sugar baby watermelon in a couple more days. So those things are keeping my spirits up.

    Hopefully I'll get some time in the near future to get that soil sample somewhere and get some more answers.
     
  22. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Update- just got ahold of my county Agriculture Extension Office and they said that I can come in and get a kit to take a soil sample and then mail it in to their lab and they will analyze it and send me back a report listing everything that's in the soil.

    I should have time monday afternoon to get the kit. Who knows how long it will take to get an answer back, but it's exciting to know that I will have some answers soon! Just wish they were open late enough that I could make it out there to get the kit right now. I can't wait to find out for sure if my problems are coming from the ground.
     
  23. Acoma

    Acoma Active Member

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    They usually take a few weeks to get the research done, depending on backlog, or other essentials. Maybe bribing with a few Better Boys will speed things up :) Glad the rest is going well. How many total plants? This is serious tomato action!
     
  24. monkeydog

    monkeydog Active Member

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    Few weeks won't be too bad of a wait, will be good to know what's going on. 57 tomato plants total, started out with 71, but had those unfortunate losses.

    I refuse to eat a store bought tomato! As you can imagine, it gets a bit overwhelming at times between the toms and all the other veggies and working full time. Am looking at a table full of tomatoes, cucumbers and figs right now so am about to start the first of many weekends of canning and putting up for winter.

    There's very few things that comare with opening up a jar of stewed okra and tomatoes in february knowing that you grew them yourself. Ahh, and those sweet pickled green tomatoes...
     
  25. Acoma

    Acoma Active Member

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    Maybe I need to learn this process of canning. For now it has been the process of friendships, so plenty of people will be fed.
     

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