Garden Editing: Tomato Renovation and Basil Triage

tomatoes fungal lesions Knapke garden 8-10-15 resizeBy Debra Knapke

Late summer: the time of year when I look at the abundance of my garden and start taking away what is too much: pruning, thinning and removing diseased plants. I call this simplifying the garden and opening up space for ideas gleaned from seminars, trade shows and garden tours.

But first, I have to deal with nature’s effects on the edibles.

We can all agree that this has been another challenging growing year. Mother Nature has muddled the spring and summer seasons with excessive rain and unseasonable lower temperatures. By the last week in June, my tomato plants were gorgeous; loaded with blossoms and fruit… all green. We had lots of rain and little sun in May and June. The temperatures – while delightful for humans – were not hot enough to develop colorful and tasty fruit. By the second week of July early blight plus Septoria leaf spot showed up on tomato leaves – see above.

We finally had some hot, sunny days in July, but this generated severe sunscald on the tomatoes. They were not accustomed to sunny days. Low temperatures caused most of my tomatoes to ripen unevenly resulting in irregular coloration, white spotting, mealy texture and little true tomato flavor. To add insult to injury, anthracnose lesions developed on the tomatoes that were ripening well.

Left to right: Black Krim tomato with sunscald, middle Black Krim and Gold Medal tomatoes show mottled coloration that indicates low temperature conditions and lastly, an undersized Brandywine tomato with anthracnose.

Left to right: Black Krim tomato with sunscald, middle Black Krim and Gold Medal tomatoes show mottled coloration that indicates low temperature conditions and lastly, an undersized Brandywine tomato with anthracnose.

Are these tomatoes safe to eat? Yes, but after you remove all the diseased sections, there isn’t much left. What does one do with tomatoes such as these? Make tomato sauce.

Now, I have plants that are covered with disease. This calls for an experiment. I removed all diseased portions of each plant, rinsing my pruners and fingers in 91% alcohol as I moved from plant to plant. I cleaned up the area under the plants and then watered in a low nitrogen organic fertilizer. These are my Charley Brown tomato plants, and I wonder if they will be able to rebound from all of the above.

tomatoes leaves removed Knapke garden 8-10-15 resizeNext sad story concerns basil. I started my own plants this year in an effort to bypass the downy mildew disease that has plagued my favorite pesto herb. My 32 plants started off great. I kept them evenly moist and healthy with compost tea. Just as I was thinking to plant them out – late May – I noticed my plants had downy mildew.

Here, it is important to explain what downy mildew is. First, it is not a fungus. Therefore, a fungicide will not be effective on this pathogen. It is a water “mold” in the Kingdom Protista. TMI? Maybe, but if you are going to try to defeat it, you have to understand its nature. This is not a post about downy mildew, but it is important to understand that it is a difficult disease to control. We do not have a cure, instead we have to prevent it with cultural and mechanical practices:

  • Clean up all plant debris and remove infected leaves
  • Sterilize your tools and fingers frequently with alcohol when removing diseased parts from plants
  • Keep the plants healthy by side-dressing with compost
  • Do not allow the soil to dry out – avoid water stress.

Below are three infected leaves. On the left is the top of the leaf. Notice the blotchy yellowing. The other two leaves show the “gray” infected areas under the leaf.

basil downy mildew 2 Knapke garden 8-10-15 cropTake a closer look and you can see the spores; the carriers of downy mildew to the next leaf or plant.

basil downy mildew Knapke garden 8-10-15 cropThe below plant was doing well, but I was at a conference for a week and this is what I found when I returned.

Downy mildew has returned.  I missed my pesto-making window. This plant has been moved to the “bad” compost pile.

Downy mildew has returned. I missed my pesto-making window. This plant has been moved to the “bad” compost pile.

I have since destroyed my most affected plants – the triage – and then removed affected leaves from the healthier plants. I am trying a product: BioSafe Disease Control. It is based on hydrogen peroxide which has been shown to have a preventative effect on water molds. I will let you know.

There are other tales of woe, like swamped lavenders, and tales of joy: having the best summer phlox bloom ever. But that is for the next post.

Wishing you excellent pesto and tomatoes…

Spring Countdown: 15 days

By Debra Knapke

I’m Late, I’m Late!!  Like the White Rabbit in Alice of Wonderland, I’m running around trying to catch up – already.  Usually, Tony and I have ordered and received our seeds by now.  What happened to the winter… oh, yeah, shoveling snow.

I just ordered some seeds from Renee’s Seeds, several new, to me.  I can already imagine the flavors of summer and fall:  baked sweet miniature Honey Nut winter squash with sautéed Darkibor kale on the side complemented with a salad made of Gala mache, Black Cherry tomatoes and heirloom mesclun greens.

tomato basil combo crop resize 3


My garden, several years ago.  I look at this picture this time of the year
to remember and say to myself: soon, soon …


Designing Edible Landscapes and Gardens — Part 2

By Debra Knapke (Abridged version of an article published in the Perennial Plant, Winter 2013, a publication of the Perennial Plant Association)

Plant Selection – We often think of this first, but it should come in much later in your planning process.

tomato basil combo crop resize

Tomato and basil

There is an overwhelming selection of food plants in an overwhelming number of catalogs.  Plant what you want to eat.  If you are a beginner, choose three to five fruits and vegetables and one to three cultivars, or selections, of each.  As you become more experienced, expand your garden palette.  The gardener with the most plants does not always win.

For the more experienced or adventurous gardener, take the next step: consider using the age-old practice of companion planting.  In garden design we typically arrange plants by their physical attributes: height, width, growth rate, habit and seasonal interest.  With companion planting we group plants together that support each other.  For example: plant parsley with tomatoes.  Why?  Parsley attracts the parasitic wasp that preys on tomato and tobacco hornworms (caterpillars of sphinx moths).  These hornworms eat tomato plants, the whole plant, in 1-3 days.


Currants and garlic

David Jacke, in his two volume set Edible Forest Gardens, has categorized plants by their architecture or physical attributes and their functions in the garden:  N2 fixer, dynamic accumulator, wildlife attractor, nectary, shelter, breeding habitat, groundcover, and others.  You may be familiar with N2 fixers – many species of the pea and bean family – and the groundcovers that go a long way in preventing weeds.  You may not be as familiar with dynamic accumulators, plants that take up and store nutrients and then release them back into the soil as they decompose.  Nectary plants attract the “good” bugs that eat or parasitize the “bad” bugs.  This is the wisdom our grandparents knew and what we are now rediscovering.

Think of this as plant-profiling.   David Jacke in Edible Forest Gardens, Vol. 2, and Robert Kouric in Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally have created lists based on plant functions that will help you decide which plants will play well with others.


Asparagus and pumpkin

One final note about plant selection – while many plants support, there are some that inhibit. Plants cannot move from their rooted place, so they have developed strategies to be successful.  Consider the black walnut.  It is just as well-known for its allelopathic action on the potato/tomato and rose families as it is for its tasty nuts.  Have you noticed that plants, other than sunflowers, do not grow as well under birdfeeders filled with sunflower seeds?  The discarded seedcoats inhibit seed germination of other plants.  Antagonistic plant relationships often explain why some plants and gardens fail to thrive.

Many find the idea of creating and maintaining food gardens to be a daunting task. There is no replacement for experience, but there are many resources for the novice and expert alike.  Check out your state extension office and look around your neighborhood.  The closest “expert” may be your neighbor.

Jacke, D. and E. Toensmeier.  2005.  Edible Forest Gardens  (2 volumes).  Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, VT; Kourik, R.  1986.  Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally.  Metamorphic Press, Santa Rosa, CA.   Republished: 2005. Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, VT.; Soler, I.  2011.  The Edible Front Yard: the Mow-less, Grow-more Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden.  Timber Press, Portland OR.

Garden Resolution Fail

“Bonsai” Brussel Sprouts

New Year’s garden goals already at risk

By Michael Leach

This year I resolve to give up vegetable gardening.

Too often I’ve been victimized by foolish, optimistic voices (usually the loudest and most persistent is in my head). But no more. 

This chorus promises that growing your own food is rewarding. You can: try varieties unavailable at the supermarket, harvest at peak flavor, save money, share with friends, take pride in doing it yourself, and preserve the surplus to savor summer in bleak January.  

While I have had success in one and sometimes all these areas, it’s only because the plants grew to harvest stage. Hardly a given. 

Misconceptions about the ease of productivity are fueled in part by our quest to become more proficient gardeners. We turn to books, fact sheets, websites and articles. As with other how-to manuals and user guides, the ideal world of the information rarely matches the messy reality of withering foliage and moldy spots. “What caused this?” we cry, but to no avail. 

That’s because gardening sources usually divide various aspects of our delightful addiction into specific sections: Water, Light, Temperature, Weeds, Pests, Pruning, and so forth. Such broad topics are further divided into specific issues, topped with bold-type subheads: Prune for More Bloom, Fertilizing Containers, … . Peppered throughout are bits of jargon such as bones, texture and evenly moist.

We learn about a host of insect, animal, bacterial, fungicidal and even alien pests in tidy, bulleted lists under subheads in smaller bold type.

It’s as if all these things are independent agents acting alone.

Nature behaves differently. Nature conspires against us with diverse enemies acting in concert, not neatly defined issues treated rationally in a book or article. How else to explain those withering leaves and moldy spots when you followed the bulleted how-to list to a T?

I have ignored this conspiracy theory for the last time.

On August 20, 2019, I tallied a range of woes and a couple successes:

No leaves on the sweet potatoes; tomatoes eaten off, one plant pushed over; fresh sowings of basil, kale, cosmos failed to sprout due to heat and drought.

Garlic, a runaway success, unlike 2018 when monsoons rains dissolved most heads, leaving barely enough “seed” for a new crop.

Brussels sprouts have lacy foliage due to countless generations of cabbage worms.

The asparagus died out.

Turnip greens riddled with flea beetle holes and leathery due to scorching weather. 

The last straw — the groundhog ate off the zinnias, leaving nearly leafless stumps. 

Unlike Scarlett O’Hara, who confronted a similar scene of dismal ruin, I headed to the farmers market for fresh, local produce and hoped for better things to come.

That’s because Ohio gardening sources say cooler and moister weather usually returns in September. It didn’t turn cooler and moister for weeks. The parched brussels sprouts became bonsais, complete with miniature cabbage heads.

Remarkably leaves emerged for the second (or third?) time on the sweet potatoes, sufficient to produce a few fist-sized tubers. Some were pocked by a combo of subhead issues concerning pests and soil.  

Two of the scraggly tomato plants (worthy of Charlie Brown’s garden) were imbued with survival instincts rivaling cockroaches. These managed to produce a handful of cherry tomatoes before frost. Scant inspiration for planting toms again. 

Cooler-moister arrived just in time to induce planting of the choicest garlic cloves for harvest next summer, and jump-start the turnips into lush, spot-free top growth. By then frost had forced the flea beetles to scurry for winter digs.

Floating Row Covers and Turnip Greens

Come mid-February, when days grow longer, the leaves should resume growth, assuming my paltry efforts to protect with floating row cover shields them from harsh winds and rapid temperature swings. (I don’t think rollercoaster temperatures are found under any chapter subheads, but it’s a fact of Midwest gardening life.)

Some will argue that turnip greens and garlic make me a vegetable gardener in 2020, thus breaking my resolution. Technically though, these were planted in 2019, well ahead of the resolution-making season. 

OK! I’m waffling as usual. Tomatoes have been grown by my family for generations. Can I halt such a tradition for a silly snit on a blazing August afternoon?

Maybe not.

Suggestions anyone?

House And Garden Fight Over Paint Colors

By Michael Leach

When it comes to choosing house paint colors, a gardener must satisfy personal tastes and those of the plants. This seems a snap, considering one generally grows plants with blooms in colors that please one’s eye.

Not so fast.

My decision to paint the house is resulting in a brain freeze of indecision. Those 50 shades of gray represent only dab of what awaits in the Sherwin Williams color “fan”. The company takes all the strips of color chips found on a paint store wall and condenses them into a holder that suggests a lady’s fan of yesteryear. Open this at your own risk.

Some might say I’m stalling or being overly obsessive, which is saying a lot for a particularly picky sort. Whatever, I defy anyone — including the most laid back and colorblind — to decide how to redo a white house into a pale yellow one with white trim and some third accent color to highlight  its few crumbs of Victorian gingerbread.

Will the colors enhance or spoil the garden? The house, after all, is a mere accessory that must flatter the flowers. This should be easy for me, given the three primary colors of red, blue and yellow are represented but generally only in their softest shades. Pink, burgundy, lavender, navy, butter, lemon and such colors blossom here.  

Looking at paint with flower names seems a good starting point. Daffodil, Daisy, African Violet and Gladioli don’t work.



Move to another part of the color wheel.

Radish and Cherries Jubilee, not quite in my range. I almost turn Heart Throb red when looking at pinks called Hot, Eros and Desire. These might please the naked ladies (Lycoris) but what about the sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and my demure chaste tree (Vitex)?

In desperation I thumb through shades of orange. Aggressive, rather than lusty tendencies await. There are Stinging, Forceful, Raucous and Laughing oranges. I presume the laughter is derisive, not a friendly chuckle for a gardener perhaps a bit too concerned with a suitable backdrop for his flowery performers.

Blues. Can’t get beyond Undercool and Pulsating. If one combines Pulsating Blue and Forceful Orange, would this be construed as a pro-Florida Gator stance and so bring a horde of rabid Ohio State Buckeye fans posing as an “environmental cleanup” posse? Can’t risk this. 

Green should be a soothing place to seek inspiration. Alas, no. 

Witty and Humorous greens promise a jocund note —on someone else’s house. Certainly these are better than Nervy Hue or Impetuous. Does Kermit the Frog realize that being green is more difficult than ever?

Some of the “Fundamentally Neutral” shades bring clandestine operations to mind with Secret Garden and Shade Grown. These almost black greens might compliment the camo gear of a survivalist gardener but not me. Meanwhile, Sagey, Clary Sage, Dried Thyme, Rosemary and Basil make me hungry and think of kitchen duty, hardly the thing to enhance garden zen time.

At least these quieter hues have soothed me enough to consider stopping for lunch.  That Basil is making me think of a sandwich with a sun-warmed tomato from the garden as a star attraction.




Designing Edible Landscapes and Gardens – PART 3

2011-09-14_12-26-07_745By Debra Knapke

(Abridged version of an article published in the Perennial Plant, Winter 2013, a publication of the Perennial Plant Association)

Plants for the Edible Garden that is in partial sun:

Not all of us have full sun (6 + hours) areas for our food gardens.  Below is a list of plants that will tolerate less than ideal light conditions.

Paw paw fruits

Paw paw fruits

Fruits  (caveat – production may be decreased)

currants; gooseberries; many of the brambles

(blackberries, raspberries, etc.); chokeberry; rhubarb; pawpaw

Vegetables   beets; cole crops: broccoli, cabbage, collards,

kohlrabi, turnips, etc.;  greens, especially in the summer months;

Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights'

Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’

horseradish; peas; potatoes; spinach;  Swiss chard


Vegetables that are the fruit of a plant usually require

more sun; 6-10 hrs. – eggplant, tomatoes, chilies, beans

vegetables that are a vegetative part of the plant tend to be more

tolerant of part sun/shade – 3-6 hrs.

Herbs (some prefer shade)   angelica, anise hyssop, basil, borage,

calamint, catnip, chamomile, chervil, chives, cilantro/coriander,

fennel, horehound, lemon balm, mints, oregano, parsley, rosemary,

sage, scented geraniums,  sorrel, summer and winter  savory, sweet bay,



sweet cicely, sweet woodruff, tarragon, thyme, valerian, violas, wintergreen

Garden Topics

%d bloggers like this: