Too much water brings slugs, tomato woes

When I don’t pay attention to my garden, that’s when weird problems start to take over. This is why I have a love-hate relationship with the automatic drip watering system at my community garden plot.

I don’t have to water it by hand like I do my garden at home. Boy, that’s convenient, but this also means I don’t have to see the weeds growing overnight, I miss out on the squash bug invasion and I don’t notice that, gee, I really don’t need to be watering since the garden received a downpour of rain from Mother Nature last night.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the precipitation in our arid desert environment. But I’m dealing with problems that are actually related to overwatering. Yes, that’s possible to do, even here in our climate.

For the first time ever, I have slugs. Nasty, putrid little slugs sliming up my lettuce and the bottoms of my cucumbers and basically anything that touches the soil. Ugh. A friend suggested the good ol’ beer trick where you pour beer in a bowl and they can’t resist jumping in the pool, so they drown and kind of melt into slug soup.

But I can’t bear to waste a perfectly good beer, which I’ll deserve after pulling all those weeds.

It’s just too wet. I created an environment that slugs enjoy when I neglected to alter the watering schedule when we ACTUALLY got RAIN in the desert. Oh well.

Another disappointing water-related problem I discovered is blossom-end rot in my tomatoes. This shows up as brownish to black lesions on the bottom of tomatoes (the blossom end) and other vegetables such as peppers, eggplant and squash.

Blossom-end rot results from a calcium deficiency. I find this happens during extremes in watering changes — when it’s hot and dry, or when it’s muggy and wet. When it’s really wet, the rot usually progresses to include some kind of mold on the affected area.

The watering issue comes in because calcium is water soluble, and if the plant’s roots are water-logged, they can’t use oxygen in the soil to help them absorb nutrients. This is an over-simplified explanation for the scientists out there.

Plants are also susceptible to producing fruits or vegetables with blossom-end rot if the soil wasn’t properly prepared, the roots don’t have enough drainage, or the roots have been damaged in some way, according to Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.

Although researchers have experimented with spraying tomato plant leaves with calcium solutions, they’ve found that they don’t cure blossom-end rot (so don’t waste your money on that).

Fertilizing your plants with phosphorus can actually exacerbate the problem, since most people around here have plenty of phosphorous in their soil already (and if you use a “complete” fertilizer with nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, you’ll be adding that to the soil).

Honestly, I’m going to just try to be patient and promise my tomatoes I’ll be more attentive in the coming weeks. I’m hoping the tender root tips haven’t been horribly damaged and that the situation will improve.

One more watering-related issue is starting to rear its ugly head as well.

I’m already spotting the first white, dusty-
looking signs of powdery mildew. If you’ve ever seen a plant that looks like someone dusted it with gray flour, that’s powdery mildew.

Although powdery mildew isn’t directly caused by water hitting leaves of plants, it spreads via spores when the relative humidity is high. The more moisture in the soil, the more humid it is around my garden, especially in areas I neglected to thin out to encourage air circulation.

A weedy, overgrown, moist jungle garden like mine is just asking for a powdery mildew infestation.

I’ll keep you posted on whether any of the possible solutions actually worked.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.

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