February in the Vegie Patch

20 February 2014
Written by Kath Irvine | Images by Kath Irvine
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With another successful Summer Festival ticked off, Kath takes time to discuss what to do if your garden is struck by the havoc causing Tomato Potato Psyllid


February's news is short and sweet for I have been dashing thither and yon whipping the garden into shape for our annual Summer Gathering which, held over the weekend of February 15 - 16, has since come and gone and it was fantastic - great weather, great people great times!

In readiness for having a brunch of people in my garden, I trimmed everything back to let there be path; then with an outstanding family effort, spread a thick layer of sawdust over to protect the soils from many feet. The gardens are super tidy (and thus feel unfamiliar!) Te whanau, however are happy .... always on at me about my jungley garden.

Anyway, in a nutshell for Feb - sow another lot of brassicas. Protect them from cabbage whites by spraying dipel (kiwicare organic cabbage bio-control) fortnightly. Keep them moist. Go the extra mile and make a simple shade house over your transplanted seedlings. If you keep them out of the baking heat it'll helps grow good tight heads. (I'll be talking tips for growing beautiful brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauli) at the Summer Gathering) Direct sow another round of carrots, dill and beetroot. In the semi shade of taller crops direct sow coriander and saladings. Plant some parsley in a shady spot (one should never be without it!)

I hope you know what you're planting next as your beds empty. Go through your crop rotation notebook and figure out how you are filling the next lot of empty beds to make sure you get everything you want this autumn/ winter. It's time to sow quick turn around summer greencrops like buckwheat and phacelia and mustard to nourish the soil before planting garlic, late brassicas  and strawberries. Oats, wheat, barley can start going in at the end of summer crops to look after your soils through winter and get them ready to churn out spring crops (is there anything as simple yet effective as a greencrop?)

Summer prune your stone fruit as it finishes fruiting (if it needs it). Daffodil planting time is here - perfect for spring gorgeousness in the orchard. (We have bags of King Alfred daffs for sale at the Summer Gathering.) Please chuck some flour or diatomaceous earth or potash over any pear slug infected trees as another generation rises (I will likely run out of time to do mine so think of me!)

Yours in the Earth,


My Summer of the Tomato Potato Psyllid

Look at this poorly tomato. Tis the Tomato psyllid that's wrecked this havoc, and the result - a whole bed of Mark Christensen's special orange tomatoes pulled out and burnt.

This being my first experience of Tomato Potato psyllid, I was slow to diagnose them. My first check when the tomatoes started curling their leaves under and growing poorly was of course under the leaves, presuming a sucking bug was at work. The psyllids and their eggs/ larvae are so tiny that I didn't even notice them. Had I got onto them sooner I'm sure my orange toms would still be flourishing.

Interestingly, my good old Island Bay Italian tomatoes, Broad Ripple Yellow Currant and Bloody Butcher - all my own saved seed for many many years - also had the psyllids but have recovered and are now lookin' okay, not as abundant as usual but not too bad considering. This, in part why I believe in saving seed. In my observations resilience to a particular area develop over time, although ridiculed by science, on this I stand firm.

This is a new pest for us, so there is much learning to do. We should all be prepared to learn about this pest and how it works in our environment. It seems it will come your way at some point.

The first sign is your plants telling you something is terribly wrong. Tomatoes will turn yellow at the tops giving your plant a yellow green aura rather than a beautiful healthy dark green one. The top growths will be smaller and fern like rather than the big beaudacious leaves we're usually so proud of. The branches may twist under, leaves may cup. Flowers fall off. Fruits are slow to come in, are smaller and deformed. All in all a potential 80% reduction in fruiting - a major blow yes. Peppers, potatoes, eggplants and tamarillo are related and therefore also affected. Kumara and convulvulus are potential hosts as well.

Potato leaves get a pinky, browny colouring round the edges as well as the yellowing. The stems can also distort with brown spots and plants collapse. As per tomatoes there will be less fruits and they'll be smaller. Your spuds will be mushy when cooked and get brown stripes through them. Maori potatoes seem to be resistant.

Adult psyllids look harmless enough - a 3mm long, black cicada like insect with clear wings. There are 2 white stripes across the abdomen (get your glasses on!) They are very mobile and fly off when you disturb the plant, so make like a ninja when approaching your suspect. The yellow eggs are very obvious, hanging on a small stalk underneath leaves. The nymphs look exactly like scale but they are pale yellow turning tan, also under the leaves. Around the nymphs you will see white sugars dotted around. This is the plant sap secreted by the psyllids as they suck away. These insects are too small for my camera, so here are some helpful photos courtesy of Lincoln University.

  • Avoid the psyllid in your spuds by growing Maori potatoes or early ones only (TPP arrives as the weather warms up and flourishes in the heat.) The older your plants are when the psyllids arrive the better chance you have of getting a decent harvest.
  • Eliminate as much of the solanacae family from your property as you can to prevent pests overwintering. Nightshades and poroporo are in this family making them alternate hosts, also self seeded potatoes. Check your tamarillo and remove and burn infected leaves. Perhaps involve your neighbourhood in this project for greater success.
  • Build up your ladybug, hover fly and lacewing populations by having a spray free environment and providing year round nectar and wild areas for habitat.
  • Check every plant that you buy or get given for the eggs, nymphs and sugars.
  • Crop covers are very successful, but expensive and for tomatoes make life tricky re regular management. This is a very interesting series of articles from the BHU.
  • Save your own seed! (my own personal, non scientific advice.)

I straight away ordered Koanga Gardens Psyllid Solution which is a diatomaceous earth-based powder you mix and spray on. Unfortunately this did not go through my sprayer - it blocked up so I ended up mixing it and flicking it on with a hearth brush (old styles.) After this the plants were covered in a thick white coating which I was afraid would choke them, but hurrah they survived and following Kay Baxter's advice alternated this with sprays of Neem Oil, and it worked! Oh the relief!

In tandem with my weekly alternating sprays I also flicked off as many eggs and squashed all the nymphs and adults I could find. Removing and burning the badly infected plants is very important. These poorly plants had hardly any flowers remaining and were badly discoloured and stunted. During summer I'll keep up this regime as a preventative, but will reduce spraying to one Diatomaceous earth and one Neem per month, a fortnight apart for all solanacae in my garden.

I am very interested in trying a Dustin Mizer garden duster so I can dust the diatomaceous earth on rather than having to mix it. Its a chunk of change but will be worth it because it makes a little diatom go a long way and I can use it on all sucking pests and wonderfully on pear slug which wrecks my pears and plums every year. No mixing sprays, no cleaning back pack sprayer out - beautiful!

Unlike insecticides, there is no build up of resistance to diatomaceous earth. Overusing insecticides is on a parallel to overusing antibiotics - resistance will develop. Where does this lead - to a more powerful pest? Requiring more powerful chemicals? Please folks, I beseech you, side step insecticides and stand up for our beautiful, natural world. Follow the preventions, be a keen observer,  get some controls in place and all will be well.

An ounce of preventation really is worth a pound of cure. I will be keeping my beady little eye on all my plants now that I know what I am looking for - I recommend you do the same.


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