Well if there’s one thing not subject to the vagaries of fashion or the passing of time it’s the nasties that can befall tomatoes. Mr.Cuthbert details ten and they’re all still with us – but on the other hand I don’t think their number has grown. Today we start with Damping-off and Foot Rot. Both of which sound dank, squelchy and not the sort of thing you’d want hanging around for long.
Tomatoes are subject to a number of pests and diseases, but this need not deter the amateur. Some of the known troubles are not serious and for those which are there are inexpensive remedies. I have tried to describe the commonest and most important troubles in such a way that I hope you will be able to identify them at an early stage and then deal successfully with them.
“Damping-off” and “Foot Rot”
Everyone who has raised seedlings under glass must, at some time or another, have experienced the trouble where the seedlings whilst still only a quarter to three-quarters of an inch high suddenly shrivel at the “collar” or soil level, fall over and wilt away. A somewhat similar trouble may occur when apparently healthy plants are potted up or planted out; in the same way they shrivel at the collar and either wilt or collapse altogether.
These two troubles are known respectively as “Damping-off” and “Foot Rot” and are caused by fungi with long Latin names which need not worry us here. What we need is to know how to identify the troubles and how to deal with them.
Tomatoes are very prone to attack by these diseases which are spread by spores which may be carried in the soil, on the boxes or pots, or in the water supply. It is therefore a very wise insurance to sterlize all soil by by steaming, baking or by treatment with formaldehyde, and also to sterlize pots and boxes with formaldehyde.
When “damping off” suddenly appears in a batch of seedlings it can often be stopped by watering with Cheshunt Compound. This can be prepared at home by mixing 20z. finely ground copper sulphate with 11oz. ammonium carbonate and storing in a tightly closed jar for twenty-four hours. There are, however, several excellent ready-prepared proprietary brands now on the market and I advise the use of one of these in accordance with the maker’s directions. To be fully effective, Cheshunt Compound must be watered over the seedlings until the soil is throughly saturated. It will not cure infected seedlings – in fact it seems to hasten their end – but it does fortify unaffected seedlings against future infection.
Whilst none of us like to be reminded of disease – the good thing is all this seedling talk is a reminder that sowing, germination and the emergence of those green shoots is somewhere just over the currently dispiritingly grey horizon.