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TONY MELTON: Problems need to be stopped before they start

March 24, 2019 GMT

Last week as I was teaching vegetables to a “New and Beginning Farmer Class,” one of the members piped up and said, “I would never farm if I knew there was these many problems.”

See, as new farmers, they need to know how to recognize the problem and how to handle it appropriately if it ever raises its ugly head. Yes, there is an almost endless source of problems that could happen, so to begin, I am going to tell you how to cure 90 percent or more of the possible problems before you ever get started.

First, rotation is the first ace up my sleeve when it comes to defending my crop from problems. Through all my years of experience in gardening and farming, I have seen that rotating my crops for just one year results in approximately 50 percent reduction of problems on average. A second year increases that to approximately 75 percent, and a third year increases that to approximately 90 percent. However, rotate properly, which means rotating to crops in different families and not as we would say in McBee “close kin to each other.”

Next, improving your soil is important in making plants happy, and I have found that happy plants have a way of missing or simply outgrowing problems. As I have said on the SCETV program “Making-it-Grow” many times, there are three ways to improve your soil: “Adding organic matter, adding organic matter, and adding organic matter.” Adding chicken or turkey litter is probably the first way most farmers think to add organic matter, but remember, it must be added 90 to 120 days before harvest, depending on the vegetable crop. Also, a part of adding organic matter is properly using cover crops, because they utilize nutrients, protect the soil from eroding and become valuable organic matter in the soil.

Finally, properly irrigating makes everything I have previously mentioned valid for many reasons, including that most vegetables are more than 80 percent water, the tremendous hot and dry weather we experience in our South Carolina summertime and over-watering causes even more problems. Therefore, I recommend that every farmer take time to think about your irrigation. Always consider the type of crop being grown, your soil and environmental conditions, and consider that wetting leaves always encourages disease.

Now it is time for me to get to all of those problems in vegetables, but since I have just helped you wipe out most of the problems, I will just mention a few of the very bad or unusual. The first in my deck of cards is tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV). I could go on and on and on, but simply plant at least part of your tomato and bell pepper crop in TSWV-resistant transplants, and you will have at least part of a crop of tomatoes and peppers.

Next, Southern stem blight is our hot-weather killer of tomatoes, peppers, beans and peanuts. If you are a small tomato/pepper grower, protect the stem at and to 3 inches below ground level with aluminum foil or sterile potting soil. The best chemical control I know of is a fumigant Vapam or K-pam that can be injected into the soil or applied through the irrigation three weeks ahead of planting. Also, Fontelis and some of our strobilurins work well if applied at the soil level. Always follow label directions – “they are the law.”

Next, the best control of downy mildew on cucurbits is planting early to get a good crop before it arrives from the more southern United States in July; thereafter, expensive chemicals must be used. Also, early planting is the best control of pickleworm.

Finally, there is no finally, because as I mentioned earlier in this article, there is almost an endless amount of possible problems, but with a little knowledge and planning, you can beat most problems. Therefore, always use IPM, integrated pest management, which simply means to stay alert, watch for problems, find out what causes the problem, use a proper control and try not to increase your problems with the control method you employ.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. Email Melton at amelton@clemson.edu.