I have stated before that I enjoy something about each of the seasons. I will admit when we are blessed with a warm and sunny January day, I wish for spring to arrive early.
Over the years, I have coached many softball and basketball teams. I have found that practicing and drilling in the off season along with laying out a game plan can be the key to a successful season. This can include noting the areas a player needs to improve to make themselves more valuable to the team effort.
In regards to vegetable gardening, how you manage for disease issues can be a key in increasing your chances for vegetable production success.
You need to prepare for disease and at times even change your gardening efforts. I will be sharing information from a revised UGA publication by Elizabeth Little, UGA Home Garden/Small Farm Plant Pathologist. The goal today is to not talk specifically about the different potential diseases, but to give tips on management efforts so you reduce the incidence of disease.
As a quick review, keep in mind that warm and wet weather can cause a rise in disease problems. Some diseases can be more problematic than others. The more common diseases in the garden are your root rot, leaf spots and fruit rots.
Note that fungi, bacteria, nematodes and viruses are the four primary organisms that cause plant diseases. By following certain practices, you can reduce the chance of disease in your vegetable garden.
Probably the biggest and most important decision you will make is where will the garden will be in the landscape. I know if you have limited space, your site options can be less, but this is important. Ideally, you have the garden in a full sun setting that will provide an open and well-ventilated site.
Try not to have the garden in a poor draining area of excess moisture. Excessive moisture can lead to more seedling, root and crown diseases. Too much shade and vegetation around the garden can make the area more humid thus an environment for disease pathogens to increase. Also, a full sun garden area can help keep plant foliage dry so less issues with foliar type diseases.
How many of you plant the same vegetables in the same spot in the garden each year? You should be incorporating crop rotation into your efforts. Crop rotation can reduce disease pathogen buildup in the garden site. You should only plant the same type of vegetable or closely related vegetables in the same soil once every three to five years.
The use of crop rotation can starve out pathogens that cause stem and leaf diseases. Little adds that longer crop rotation plus other management methods may be required for the soil-borne disease problems.
You should be using disease-free seed and transplants. You should note that many plant diseases can be seed-borne. If seed will be saved, it is suggested to consult seed saving guides for info on which plant species or cultivars are acceptable. A rule-of-thumb also is to only save the seeds of healthy plants.
Keep in mind that certain diseases, especially fungal and bacterial leaf and fruit spots, can contaminate the seed of the host plant. When contaminated seed is planting the next year, the new plant is susceptible to infection. Keep in mind that buying seed can be helpful in reducing disease issues.
Much of the commercial seed is produced in the western United States where seed-borne diseases are less. In addition, seed companies will often apply fungicides to protect seed. This fungicide to seed application can be helpful for germinating seed and seedlings only.
I will suggest taking advantage of disease-resistant varieties. Our literature states that planting resistant varieties is the most efficient way of managing vegetable diseases.
Keep in mind that resistance is a relative term. Resistant varieties can be either totally immune or only partially resistant depending on the disease in question and also the variety.
Another tip is to follow recommended planting dates.
One problem is when gardeners plant those spring and summer vegetables too early. The main thing is the soil temperatures can be too cool, which can reduce seed germination and can increase the chances of seed and seedling disease issues.
Using mulch in the garden can provide a barrier to reduce issues with pathogens in the soil and ones that can spend the winter in soil debris. Mulch such as straw, bark, leaves, shredded paper or plastic can keep soil from splashing on plant fruit and can also keep fruit from touching the bare soil.
Finally, we will cover more disease management tips in a future article.