20 July 2008

Blame it on the rain. Or the magnesium. Whichever.

Wow, you guys are good. After Kelly posted about our potential tomato and squash problems, you all responded with a million helpful and interesting suggestions—we even got the advice of a plant pathologist and a biologist (thanks, Taylor and Miriam!). Alan even put up a post about similar problems in his garden, along with photos that illustrate the curly leaf problem better than ours did.

After reading all your comments, and based on the weather so far this year and the general condition of the yard and garden, we're rooting for either a water issue or a magnesium deficiency. Whichever. Maybe both.

Lots of you suggested that the curly tomato leaves could be the result of irregular water, which makes sense because as I'm typing this the tomatoes are getting rained on for only the third time this year. Our rain barrels haven't been able to keep up with the drought, and so the garden has been running on minimal water. Vegmonkey probably said it best: "the tomatoes look like they need a damn good watering." Bloody right, VM.

The magnesium issue that many of you mentioned also seems about right—aside from eggshells and compost, we didn't add any amendments to the beds this year. The yellowing leaves seem to match with the photos we've found of magnesium-deficient plants, and even the basil (around the tomatoes) and the nasturtiums (around the squash) have some splotchy yellow leaves, which is definitely not typical for them in our garden.

Of course, we could still have an unfortunate disease—both of the consulted scientists mentioned mosaic virus, among others—but since there's nothing we can really do about that we decided to cross our fingers, buy some epsom salt, and give everything a damn good watering.

We didn't even know where to find epsom salt, so we wandered around the store for a while until we found this surprisingly large and cheap carton of the stuff:

We sprinkled about two tablespoons of it around the base of every tomato, squash, and pepper plant:

And we watered it in a bit:

We watered just enough to get all of the salt dissolved into the ground because a big storm was rolling in as we were outside. Tomorrow we'll give all the plants some fresh compost and prune some more, and hopefully within the next week or so we'll see some signs of recovery. We'll keep you posted.


Christina said...

Good luck!

Kentanner11 said...

I will be patiently awaiting your results! We have been getting irregular rain here too, and I know how annoying (but amazing) it can be!

Thanks for a great blog!

- from www.tannersnotes.blogspot.com

Patrick said...

I'm coming in a little late in this discussion, but I wanted to also suggest getting a soil test if you haven't had it done yet Most importantly this is to check for heavy metals and other contaminants, but also for nutrients. It can tell you an awful lot about the ground in your garden and give you a lot of clues in situations like this.

Do either of you smoke? The tobacco mosaic virus usually comes after tobacco comes in contact with your garden somehow.

Tomatoes in particular are very sensitive to too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen based ones. Too much nitrogen usually results in a bushy green plant with no tomatoes. Other fertilizers can cause other problems in other ways, and are probably the number one source of problems with tomato plants.

One of the best ways of fertilizing tomatoes is with foliar feeding. Tomatoes, as well as a number of other plants, can absorb nutrients directly through their leaves. This happens very quickly, often within minutes.

Among other things, what this allows you to do is verify a suspected nutrient deficiency. For example with magnesium, if you spray a very dilute mixture of epsom salts on the leaves and check the plant after an hour for improvement, it can give you a lot of clues as to if this is the problem without needing to put a lot into the ground first.

I've been recently reading about very dilute nonfat milk (1/10 with water) as a foliar feed for tomatoes and other plants. Søren (In the Toads Garden) was apparently very successful in treating garlic rust with milk, because it seems to have anti-mildew properties that no one really fully understands yet, and rust is a mildew related disease.

Milk is also high in magnesium and calcium. A lack of calcium can cause blossom end rot, for example, so you could foliar feed milk as a quick treatment of this.

Since it's so broad spectrum as it were, it's also something to test as a foliar feed if you suspect some sort of general deficiency. Just keep in mind that milk also contains a lot of N, P and K, so be careful when using it with other fertilizers that you don't end up overfeeding your plants.

I wouldn't suggest just spraying milk indescriminately all over the garden until you understand why it's needed, just test it on a few plants first. Too much of anything can be a bad thing.

Sarah said...

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog. I have been having some similar issues with my tomato plants and will have to give the Epsom Salt a try if it works out well for you. Please keep us posted and good luck!

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Taylor said...

Hope it helps! I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...

Lol...well i hope you get it sorted out!

CeeCee said...

My tomato leaves curled up about a month ago. Our long-lasting, extreme heat is the culprit. It's been above 95* every day since mid-May. Hovers near 100* most days. What's funny is that they continue to produce fruit. It's really about time to pull them and think about planting fall tomatoes.
I hope yours recover.

Twinville said...

Sounds like you received alot of great advice. Hope the Epson salts work good.
And if that isn't the right fix, at least if your plants have aches and pains or need a laxative, those salts will work wonders! hehe

I wonder if the salts will help my apple tree that has a few yellowing leaves? Do you know?