Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wilt in the Vegetable Garden

July 21 Eggplant showing wilt on one stem

During the busy vegetable garden season, I write articles about garden harvests, problems, and solutions. There's a problem in this year's garden that deserves it's own post. The topic is wilt and I'm seeing it from early plantings through mature plants with fruits. One-at-a-time eggplant, tomato, and sunflower plants exhibit wilting as if drought-stricken. Over the course of 2 weeks, the plant shrivels, and must carefully be removed to avoid contamination of other plants.

July 21 Wilted Tomato Plant

The good news is that the wilt has followed a spaced out pattern affecting single plants. I have not had entire rows of tomatoes or eggplants wiped out at the same time, and have had plenty of vegetables for my small household.

At the time of this writing, my 12 eggplants have gradually died off to leave 3. I've lost 7 of the tomatoes except for one Cherry tomato plant.  All this has happened over the course of a 3 month growing season.

July 21 Wilted Eggplant with Squash in Background
As described in this article, "What's Killing my Tomatoes?" wilt can be caused by root knot nematodes, fungi, or bacteria.

All these causes disrupt the flow of water and nutrients up the plant's stem. This disruption is seen as wilt moving throughout the plant until it dies.

Side note:  Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and many others are part of the Nightshade family of plants and are affected by the same problems. Under watering has been ruled out because of regular rain and irrigation.

July 21 Roots of a Wilted Tomato Plant

Root nematodes leave knot structures on the roots. I examined the root system of a wilted tomato plant and found it was clear of knots.

July 21 Wilted Eggplant Cross Section
July 21 Healthy Eggplant Cross Section
In comparing the cross sections of a wilted eggplant stem and a healthy eggplant, the wilted shows a brown staining in the plant tissue. This is a sign of wilt- either fusarium or verticillium.

July 21 Healthy Tomato Cross Section
July 21 Wilted Tomato Cross Section

Shawn Bank's article (link is above) further describes a test for bacterial wilt where a cut stem is observed in a water glass. White streaming indicates a bacterial infection causing the wilt. I cut several eggplant and tomato stems and didn't observe bacterial streaming.

So there we have it. No root knot nematodes, no bacterial streaming, so the cause of my wilting is fungal. What is the solution? The article recommends (1) rotating out of the area (2) solar heating the soil (3) using disease-resistant plants.

These are all reasonable suggestions and things I can try. Most of the tags on my nursery-bought plants listed no disease resistance. However, the Cherry tomatoes listed V and F resistance, but one of the 2 wilted anyway.

Have you had an experience with vegetable plants wilting? I would love to hear about it in the comments below! Thanks for reading my blog. I post daily about garden activities on Twitter @gopamnc .

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

4 Tips for My Younger Gardener Self

Me giving advice to my younger self

If I could go back in time and offer my younger gardener-self advice, it would be as follows:

1- Plant flowering perennials. They return year-after-year. My favorites are Butterfly Bushes, Azaleas, Peonies, Rhododendrons, Daylilies, and Irises.

A Tiger Swallowtail enjoying Butterfly Bush

2- Trim flowering bushes yearly after blooming. Left alone many will increase in size and swallow up other landscape plants. Every year I struggle with the massive size of Forsythias and Camellias planted two decades ago.

"City Block" sized Forsythia bush

3- Handle invasives with care. In 20 years (or even 5) they will take over significant landscape space. My personal challenges with invasives are: Liriope (also called Monkey Grass), English Ivy, and Periwinkle. My article on the subject can be found at this link.

English Ivy climbing tree trunk

4- Only plant vegetable gardens in the sun. A successful vegetable garden requires lots of sunlight and you're wasting time otherwise.

Full sun on the vegetable garden

What about you? What gardening lessons have you learned over the years? What would you have done differently in your gardens and landscape? Please leave your comments below.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

July in the Vegetable Garden

Overgrown Yellow Squash June 2017

Overgrown Zucchini June 2017
It's early July as I'm writing this post. Just as the squash is growing at dizzying speeds, my occasional out-of-town trips have resulted in some overgrown vegetables. Even when I'm in the garden every day, though, it is easy to miss a zucchini squash hiding under the leaves.

A Beautiful Spaghetti Squash Blossom

The insects haven't killed any plants yet. The harvest has been huge so once the bugs take over, I'll start removing plants. The slower-growing spaghetti squash is hanging on in a corner of the garden. The vines are narrow and fragile-looking. Time will tell if these plants will survive to produce gourds.
Partially Eaten Tomato Left on Well Cover

The tomatoes are starting to ripen. Some plants have severe wilt and I picked the large tomatoes to ripen on the kitchen counter. The squirrels have started to steal fruit and roll it out of the garden. Outwitting wildlife is all a part of vegetable gardening so I'll be picking tomatoes earlier than I prefer.
1st Eggplant Harvest July 2017

Today I have eggplant ready to pick. Last year's 8 plants failed to produce due to severe aphid infestations. This year I started with 12 plants and treated for bugs a couple of times. As a result, the plants had many more flowers and the crop looks good. I have had to remove 4 plants because they wilted and died. Removal is handled in a sanitary way to reduce cross-contamination.

Green Beans Ready for Harvest

🌿Green beans
The green beans are producing and so easy to grow! I like sitting on my step stool, picking the beans, and listening to the birds calling to each other.

Jalapenos Over 3" Long
Jalapeno Poppers with Fresh Peas

This year's jalapeno and green peppers are producing well. I doubled up on the jalapeno numbers to make poppers. This variety is growing larger than I've ever grown before. Recipe for Jalapeno Poppers here: Jalapeno Poppers

🐜Japanese beetles are attracted to the eggplant and peppers. They are slow, clunky bugs and easy to catch and dispatch. Needless to say, they're having a field day with my hibiscus on the other side of the yard.

Having had gorgeous sunflowers in my vegetable garden in the past, this year is disappointing. First the squirrels dug up several seeds and seedlings. Then a few succumbed to wilt - not related to watering. I have about 8 plants surviving. 2015 was a great year for these flowers. This post has several photos of sunflowers.

It goes without saying that friends and family are benefiting from the garden bounty. Cooking and freezing vegetables is another option for me, but then I would have to stay inside, right? This is the time when the out-of-doors beckons with grass to cut and plants to maintain.

I would love to hear about your summer vegetable garden. How are things going? What challenges are you facing?

July will present a whirlwind of activity in the garden. I post on twitter daily about my garden activities at @gopamnc . Follow me and retweet to show your interest and comments. Thanks!😊

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Controlling Weeds in the Vegetable Garden

Vigorous Grass Growing Under Squash Plant

A joke around our house is that wherever we want grass to grow, we only need put a tomato plant. Indeed it seems that the best grass grows in the vegetable garden!

A few years ago we started placing old plastic tarpaulins between the rows of vegetables. This allowed a weed and grass-free path to inspect plants. This year we've expanded on this idea by laying weed block fabric over furrows and cutting openings for the plants. Any unplanted area is also covered with weed block or other plastic material. This gives us a rectangular garden area that does not need mowing. It's also a way to upcycle old tarps, awnings, and pool solar panels.  A few swipes with a weed eater around the perimeter and we're done.

A Combination of Tarpaulins and Weed Block Fabric Surround Eggplant

In addition to making garden chores so much more pleasant, the reduction in weeds and grass has resulted in larger and stronger plants.

Plastic Scraps Upcycled to Block Weeds and Grass

I post on Twitter daily about my garden activities at @gopamnc . Follow me and retweet to show your interest and comments. Thanks!😊

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Garden Happenings June 2017

Yellow squash 7 weeks after planting seeds

This is a fun and exciting time in the garden. It's awesome to walk through the rows and decide what to pick. Most plants are heavy with produce, and the bugs have not yet overwhelmed the garden.


Squash is a fast-growing vegetable that is easy to cook. I have 25 squash plants this year. The straight neck yellow squash started producing first. This week I look forward to picking and cooking this squash.
Zucchini produce growing at base of 7 week old plant

7 weeks after planting seeds, produce on the zucchini squash is now visible. Zucchini easily camouflages itself among the green base of the plant until the fruit grows a foot long or more. It's tricky to find it at a smaller, manageable size. I have Spaghetti squash planted in a far corner of the garden. This gives it ample room to run vines for a much longer growth period than the other squash plants.


Plants have green tomatoes now, but we're not taking this stalwart of the garden for granted. One plant wilted and had a burned appearance. Another had a partial wilt that was removed. This geographical area has a bacterial wilt virus that can contaminate the soil for years and make tomato growing impossible. With optimism, I'll hope the wilting is limited (like last year), and carry on.

First pepper harvest of 2017


I've harvested a few jalapenos already. Jalapeno Poppers prepared with cream cheese and bacon will be on the menu this week.

Both sweet peas and snow peas are growing. These make a nice, crunchy snack while working in the garden.
Flower of the sweet pea plant

Bush beans
The beans have just started flowering. This is another plant that can "hide" its fruit in the foliage. I look forward to fresh beans in a couple of weeks.

Last year's eggplant harvest was limited by a severe aphid infestation. The plants were stunted and didn't produce fruit. Allowing for problems, I have increased my crop to 12 plants. Interestingly, many of the plants have spines on the leaves and flowers. Also, insects seem to be attracted to eggplant leaves. This week Japanese Beetles made an appearance.

With screened cages to foil squirrels, a few sunflower plants are managing to grow. See last month's blog for more on that problem.

June will reveal daily surprises and challenges in the garden. I tweet regularly about my garden activities at @gopamnc . Follow me and retweet your support and comments. Thanks!😊

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Homegrown Vegetables May 2017

After a roller coaster ride of hot and cold temperatures, we started planting the vegetable garden in April. April 15 was the average last frost for this area. This guideline was helpful as frosty mornings continued close to that date.

The asparagus bed put in 3 years ago started producing in March and we harvested for 6 weeks. Now  the hard work of weeding begins. 

Fresh Asparagus

Asparagus Sauteed in Olive Oil
Nursery plants and seeds were put in between April 13th and 20th. I used notes made last year to adjust plant numbers. For example, my jalapeno plants didn't produce enough for poppers so I increased the number of plants. Tomatoes were plentiful so I decreased those. The crookneck yellow squash tended to rot at the neck so I'm replacing those with straight neck. My 8 eggplants produced very little last year so I increased the numbers and will be vigilant of bug infestations.

Every year we have an "experiment" where a new technique or plant is introduced. This year we're using barrier fabric to try and control the grass and weeds (mostly grass). There is also a new drip irrigation system cobbled from donated parts.

A summary of garden activity:
  • The straight neck yellow and zucchini squash looks vigorous and healthy.
  • The tomatoes and peppers have started flowering.
  • The snow peas have started climbing their supports. 
  • The eggplant has been treated for aphids.
Squash-4 Weeks after Planting Seeds
Squash with Drip Irrigation

In the blueberry garden, the plants are full and lush but lack flowers. The blueberries are planted beside some pine trees. The trees provide acid-rich needles, but may be blocking too much sun.

In the past, I've enjoyed sunflowers in the vegetable garden. They're wonderful photography subjects. This year a squirrel has eaten most of my planted seeds.  We're trying a fortified tomato cage barrier to try and get some flowers growing.
Squirrel Proof?Tomato Cages Covered with Netting

I hope you've found my garden update interesting. As you have read, not everything goes as planned in a garden. There's a lot of work and sometimes plants don't produce as hoped. The best thing to do is take notes and make plans for the next season.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Winter Comes Roaring Back in March

Beautiful Daffodils in February 2017

In central North Carolina, we enjoyed extremely mild February weather, and the most beautiful daffodil crop in recent memory. People were wearing shorts, and even I wore sandals on February 12 when temperatures hit 83F. The mean temperature for February was 53.3F which was higher than the record set in 1887. 1887!

It was a glorious month! We were planning our vegetable garden. Fortunately,  local meteorologists cautioned that April 15th is the average last frost so most gardeners resisted the urge to rush spring planting.

Dark-eyed Juncos Hung Around for Winter's Return

Winter came back in March. I'm writing this on the 19th, and temperatures have dipped below freezing on 7 days. I have never seen vegetative damage from a hard freeze this severe. Because February teased the plants into an early spring, more blooms and tender leaves took a beating when temperatures dipped below freezing.

Frost Damage on Leaves of Butterfly Bush

Cold Temperatures Drop Irises
Sedum was Unaffected by Cold

Young Peony Survived Frost without Damage

 Have you had unseasonable weather in your area? How has it affected your plants? Please share in the comments below. All the best everyone! Nice spring weather is just around the corner.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Winter Therapy for the House-Bound Gardener

Dark-eyed Junco in Snow

Even in the southeast, winter weather events can curtail outdoor activities. It's not so easy for outdoor-loving gardeners to adapt to winter weather. As I'm writing, North Carolina is in the middle of it's first snowfall. Schools are closed for the 2nd day.

In my Gardening Know How guest blog article, I write about activities for the house-bound gardener. Please read it at this link:

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Harvesting Loofah Sponges in the Garden

Loofah Sponge Drying

Years ago I used a loofah sponge in the shower for exfoliation. I assumed this was a natural sponge harvested from an exotic faraway sea. Actually, loofah is the fruit of a plant. This year I experimented and grew loofah sponges. Details on growing can be found in my last blog post.

We had a hard freeze late in the season (November). This forced me to get out and cut the loofah gourds off the vines.

I twisted and pressed on the largest gourd until the skin cracked. This opening provided a place to start peeling off the skin. This was a sticky job. After the skin is removed, I ran water from a hose through the loofah to wash off the sap. Afterwards, I left the sponge in a warm location to dry. Fortunately, temperatures rose to the high 60s and drying was completed in about 3 days.

Loofah with skin partially removed

Much to my amazement, this loofah looks just like the one I used years ago. Imperfections and all. I still have 4 gourds to process so I am well-supplied with loofah sponges.

Garden experimentation is fun, and I encourage you to try growing loofahs or any other unfamiliar plant. Let me know how it goes!

Note: I used the helpful website for tips on harvesting the sponges.

11-25-2016 Update: Today I processed the remaining 4 loofahs. The second time around was much easier. I used disposable gloves which eliminated the stickiness of handling. Before cracking open the loofahs, I applied pressure downward with the balls of my hands. I then rotated the fruit 90 degrees and applied pressure again. I repeated this 3-4 times. This cracked open and loosened the skin. I was able to slide my gloved hands between the skin and the loofah and peel them apart.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

State of the Garden September 2016

This is the time of year when my garden updates (concentrated on the vegetable garden) cease until the spring. I have a new crop, however, that has made a very late appearance.

In April, I transplanted a half-dozen Loofah seedlings on the side of my pollinator garden. As the rest of the vegetable garden took off and demanded more and more attention, the Loofahs seemed stunted and on the verge of dying.

One day a long vine appeared with a beautiful yellow flower. I was surprised by the traveling vine. Much like spaghetti squash, this is a plant that will wander and climb. We enjoyed the flowers, but never saw any fruit. In early September, (surprise!) small zucchini-like fruits appeared.

I am happy to report that 5 fruits are growing. 3 are longer than 12 inches. Once they start changing colors, I'll refer to the website for instructions on proper harvesting techniques.

Early Stage of Loofah Fruit

Loofah Gourd with Flower
Loofah Gourd
The website suggested growing loofah on a trellis or fence. Tips for helping pollination are also given. If you want to grow loofah, this could be a very important resource.

Green peppers continue to grow. I tried a new recipe for stuffed peppers just yesterday. I'm competing with hornworms over the jalapenos.

As the camellias fill up with buds and prepare to bloom, I think this will be my last update for the season. Now that temperatures have dropped, I'll be filling my fall days with transplanting volunteer plants (camellias, crape myrtles, butterfly bushes).

Happy Gardening Readers!! I would love to hear about your gardens!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 2016 State of the Garden

Lantana Blooms
Vegetable Garden Remnants

In my North Carolina vegetable garden, August is a month of cleaning up dead plants and cutting back weeds plus fighting bugs so the few remaining plants can survive.

Hornworm with Parasitic Eggs Attached
Tobacco Hornworm
Another Hornworm!

Squash production slowed to a crawl and plants died off two at a time. Tomatoes ripened so slowly that worms and stink bugs enjoyed them before I could. Hornworms appeared on the Green Pepper plants on a regular basis. Left unchecked, these voracious eaters will completely defoliate a plant. I always spotted the waste material before spotting the well-camouflaged caterpillars.

Spaghetti Squash
I harvested a spaghetti squash gourd in late July. Growing from seed to harvest took about 90 days. Two other gourds had to be pulled since the vines were dried up and weakened by Squash Vine Borers. Regular squash grows rapidly but spaghetti squash takes much longer. The challenge is that the vines have to stay healthy weeks longer to grow the spaghetti gourds.



I can't say enough about the beautiful sunflowers. they continue to amaze. I grew them in circles hoping large stalks would fall towards each other for support. That didn't happen. The circles filled up with tall grass and weeds. Next year I'll go back to single rows.

Mexican Petunia

A new addition to my perennial flowers is a Mexican Petunia. I brought a plant back from Georgia last Thanksgiving. I babied it in a Mason jar over the winter and planted it in late Spring. It was slow to flower, but was worth the wait.

Rain has been sparse for the last 2 weeks and that has given me a breather from grass cutting. With regular rains, this month has required lots of mower time.

How's your August/ September garden doing? I would love to hear about it. I'm already planning next year's vegetable garden with severe cuts in the number of plants. What about you?

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