Do you rotate your crops? Crop rotation breaks the cycle of many plant diseases that live in soil by replacing the vegetable that sustains them with one that doesn’t. It also improves soil health and fertility. Leave three years, if possible between planting the same vegetable family in the same space in your garden.
Peas and beans can be planted in the same space for several years if you must. They have very few pests and add nitrogen to the soil. The cabbage family, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and corn are heavy feeders. They should be followed by peas or beans. Or, plant garlic, onions and leeks the next year as they help reduce pests that bother the cabbages. Potatoes and tomatoes and eggplant, cousins, can be planted after cabbages, but never plant tomatoes in the same place you planted the two cousins last year. They all are subject to the same diseases and pests.
Root crops loosen soil and ideally can be followed by lettuce as it is a shallow rooted crop. You can also plant tomatoes where you had corn last year although you will need to add some type of fertilizer to replace what the corn used the year before. Well rotted compost or an organic fertilizer especially mixed for tomatoes will do the job.
Never add wood ashes to your garden. Our soils here in Otter Tail County are already slightly alkaline. Wood ashes are about 10.0 to 12.0 pH, very alkaline. A little of them on an acid soil will “sweeten” it, that is, make it less acidic for a short while. A soil test will tell you what the actual pH of your soil is, and if you need to add anything to it. The usual recommendation is nitrogen as that doesn’t usually stay in the soil over winter.
Never till your garden if it is wet. You will end up with clods that will persist all summer. Wait till you can sit on it and not get wet cheeks, then till. The same test should be used before you rake the lawn. Raking wet grass opens the soil and gives the weeds just the opening they have been waiting for. (If you have trouble getting up, kneeling will also work.)
If you let your lettuces go to seed last summer, expect to see baby lettuces pop up here and there very early this spring. Occasionally kale will overwinter and start growing new leaves in the spring. Kale buds and flowers are also edible either raw or steamed. Not too sure kale itself is considered edible.
If you have had problems with your vine crops not fruiting, it may be that they didn’t get pollinated. Take a feather and “tickle” the blossoms. As you go from flower to flower you will have pollinated them. Use a different feather for cucumbers and another for melons or you will have some very interesting crosses.
Bunkey considers himself and expert on protecting tomatoes from soil borne diseases. His tip is, as soon as you put that tomato in the soil, push a large tin can around it to protect it for about 10 days from excessive wind. This also helps keep cut worms away from the stalk. Cover the exposed soil with damp newspaper to prevent soil from splashing up on the plant. When you remove the can cover the rest of the soil around the plant with full-sized wet newspaper and cover the paper with leaves or hay to keep it from blowing away . These simple practices will reduce if not stop tomato diseases in their tracks.
Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.