Category Archives: Growing food

“Plants for Pollinators,” the LI Gardening Calendar for 2017

Now’s the time to buy the Long Island Gardening Calendar 2017, a perfect gift or stocking stuffer for the passionate gardeners in your life. Plants for Pollinators is filled with tips for creating pollinator-friendly gardens on Long Island. With beautiful photographs every month, this calendar features information on how to support bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, moths and birds by planting native habitat for them. Blueberries, strawberries, apples, carrots, broccoli, and pumpkins are among many plants that require pollinator services to produce fruits and vegetables — which means we need pollinators, too!

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A flower fly visits a Rosa virginiana, a native rose. Photo © Mina Vescera.

This high-quality calendar discusses how to analyze your landscape to plan a pollinator garden and how to include nesting habitat for insects, and gives you a resource list of organizations and websites where you can learn more about sustainable horticulture and pollinators. There’s even a list of where to buy native plants on Long Island! Purchase calendars at the front desk at CCE Suffolk, 423 Griffing Avenue in Riverhead for $5 each; or use this order form to have them mailed to you for $7 each to cover their cost with postage.

Whether you’re a beginner or advanced gardener, there’s something here to inspire everyone who wants protect and support pollinators. It’s time to start planning for next year’s garden, and calendars are limited, so pick up or order Plants for Pollinators today!

Robin Simmen is Community Horticulture Specialist for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at rls63@cornell.edu or at 631-727-7850 x215.

Does Your Basil have Downy Mildew?

If your basil leaves have turned yellow and display a dark-brown sooty growth on their underside, then your plants have downy mildew, a regularly occurring disease on Long Island since it first appeared here in 2008. Click on the photo gallery on my Vegetable Pathology – Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center webpage to look at pictures of diseased basil to help determine if your herbs are affected.

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Photo © by Dr. Margaret McGrath

There’s also lots of information about basil downy mildew on my webpage at Cornell Vegetable MD Online. If you’d like to log a report of your diseased basil to help me with a study on basil downy mildew, click here at Basil Downy Mildew Monitoring Records 2016. And for a national perspective about where it has appeared in the United States, visit Where in the USA is Basil Downy Mildew? This is a good web reference to visit in the future to learn when other gardeners are starting to find the disease on Long Island and elsewhere, too.

Downy mildew is hard to manage in basil plants. My recommendation for gardeners is to grow basil in pots and not expose them to high humidity (above 85%) which the pathogen requires to be infectious. Low humidity can be maintained by keeping plants indoors overnight and on rainy days. For more information, visit my webpage How Gardeners Can Manage Downy Mildew in Basil

Starting in late July, I grow my second planting of basil in pots because downy mildew typically begins developing for me on Long Island during August. Also, since basil is very cold sensitive, bringing plants into a warm house overnight maintains basil quality when night temperatures start dropping to below 55F.

If your basil is still green and healthy, consider yourself lucky and go knock on wood! And then drop me an e-mail. Cheers!

Dr. Meg McGrath is Associate Professor at Cornell University’s Long Island Horticulture Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, New York, where she conducts research and extension activities to help farmers manage diseases.

Tomato and Potato Late Blight: What to do NOW!

Late blight is arguably the worst problem that can appear in a vegetable garden! Its highly contagious and very destructive nature means everyone growing susceptible tomato and potato plants – gardeners and farmers alike – needs to take action to prevent late blight from occurring and needs to respond quickly when it appears. The major epidemics of this disease on Long Island in 2009 and 2011 are thought to have started with just a few infected plants.

Sungold cherry tomato can be devastated by late blight, as it was here in my garden in 2013.

SunGold cherry tomato can be devastated by late blight, as it was here in my garden in 2013. Photo by Meg McGrath.

Early Season Action Steps to Prevent Late Blight:

  • Select varieties that have resistance to late blight. For example, the popular SunGold cherry tomato is susceptible to it; Jasper cherry tomato is not. Information about tomato varieties can be found at http://www.extension.org/pages/72678/late-blight-management-in-tomato-with-resistant-varieties#.VRNfGkZwfsM
  • Plant certified potato seed. Do not plant potatoes from last year’s garden or from the grocery store. There is a higher probability for the late blight pathogen (Phytophthora infestans) to be in “table-stock” potatoes.
  • Destroy any potato plants that grow as “volunteers” in compost piles or in the garden from potatoes not harvested last year.
  • Inspect tomato seedlings carefully for symptoms before purchasing them. The pathogen as it exists in the United States is not known to survive in tomato “true” seed and then infect the seedlings, so if you grow your own seedlings, late blight is not a concern until they are planted. Seedlings become infected by growing near other affected plants.
  • Become knowledgeable about the different symptoms of late blight and its imitators. I have posted photographs of this at http://livegpath.cals.cornell.edu/gallery/tomato/tomato-late-blight/.
  • Monitor the occurrence of late blight in the United States at usablight.org. You can sign up on that website to get an alert by text or e-mail when a report has been logged nearby, so you can be one of the first to know when late blight has been found on Long Island.
  • Inspect your tomato and potato plants for symptoms at least once weekly.
Inspect tomato plant leaves for symptoms of late blight, such as the discoloration you see here. Photo by Meg McGrath.

Inspect tomato plant leaves for early symptoms of late blight, such as the discoloration shown here. And then act fast! Photo by Meg McGrath.

What to do when late blight symptoms are found: Immediately call our Horticulture Diagnostic Lab at our hot line at 631-727-4126 from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. Alice Raimondo and Sandra Vultaggio, our Horticulture Consultants, can help determine whether you do, indeed, have late blight, and answer questions about proper handling of an outbreak.

Best management steps for dealing with disease are based on knowledge of the pathogen’s biology and life cycle. The late blight pathogen in the United States is not known to reproduce sexually, as it does elsewhere in the world including in parts of Europe. Where it does reproduce sexually, it produces a type of spore (oospore) that enables the pathogen to survive in true seed and in soil; consequently, rotation is an important management step in Europe, but this is not necessary for controlling late blight in the United States.

Dr. Meg McGrath is Associate Professor at Cornell University’s Long Island Horticulture Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, New York, where she conducts research and extension activities to help farmers manage diseases.

Are you damaging your vegetable garden soil?

The rototiller is a popular tool used by home gardeners to control weeds, incorporate fertilizer and lime, and loosen up the soil for planting. While valuable for some purposes, it is important to recognize that rototilling does have a dark side: Earthworms and soil microbes, important for good soil health, are damaged by it. And organic matter in the soil is broken down and lost.

Farmers have learned about the negative impacts of rototillers and other tillage tools they regularly use. Today many are adopting “reduced tillage” practices to protect their soil. Cornell Cooperative Extension agriculture staff are working with Long Island farmers to help them change these practices successfully.

Since I work with farmers and CCE agriculture staff, I understand the importance of good soil health. So I decided to implement what I learned at work in my home vegetable garden, pictured below. I am excited about how my garden soil has improved. Its organic matter has increased, there are a lot more earthworms, and the soil is very friable, which makes it easy to dig holes for transplanting.

Adding a mulch cover of shredded leaves and grass from my yard and reduced rototilling has led to healthier soil and plants in my garden. Photo by Meg McGrath.

Doing less rototilling and using a mulch of plant materials from my yard created healthier soil in my vegetable garden. Photo © Meg McGrath.

Here is what I do now to protect soil health. First, I rototill only where I am directly seeding, which is currently just peas. I used to have my husband till the whole garden each spring with our big hand rototiller. Now we use a small rototiller to prepare our rows for the peas, tilling only the soil where I plant seeds and not disturbing the walkways between these rows.

Second, I cover the vegetable garden with shredded leaves and fresh grass clippings from the rest of the yard. This provides excellent weed control, so I don’t need to use the rototiller for controlling weeds. And this free mulch is a good source of organic matter that earthworms digest and move into the soil. I have a bagging, mulching lawn mower for collecting material for this ground cover. I just rake the mulch out of the way when I plant. I use a chipper-shredder to turn last year’s dead flower stalks and ornamental grasses into straw mulch to place around the base of the vegetable plants.

Third, I use a trowel or shovel to dig holes for transplanting, depending on seedling size. Often I put homemade compost and/or a little granular fertilizer in the hole, and mix this into the soil with a scratcher. Not turning over an entire row of soil when I transplant helps preserve the soil’s organic matter and improves its water retention, which is great for soil microbes and my vegetables.

Dr. Meg McGrath is an Associate Professor at Cornell University’s Long Island Horticulture Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, New York.

Cornell Courses for Beginning Farmers Available Online

Winter is a great time for farmers to rest, slow down the pace, and build new skills for the coming growing season. The Cornell Small Farms Program, whose mission is to foster the sustainability of diverse, thriving small farms that contribute to food security, healthy rural communities, and the environment, is pleased to announce a winter roster of online courses available through its Northeast Beginning Farmer Project. These courses help practicing and would-be farmers learn from the latest research-based education available from Cornell University.

Photo c Robin Simmen.

Photo © Robin Simmen

Since 2006, the program has offered high quality, collaborative learning environments online and each year educates hundreds of beginning and established farmers through these courses. From aspiring to experienced farmers, there is a course for nearly everyone. If you are interested, a handy chart on the course homepage can direct you to the right courses for your experience level. And you may qualify for a 0% interest loan to finance your farm! Participants who complete all requirements of one or more online courses are eligible to be endorsed for a 0% interest loan of up to $10,000 through Kiva Zip.

The courses consist of weekly real-time webinars followed by homework, readings, and discussions on your own time in an online setting. If you aren’t able to attend the live webinars, they are always recorded for later viewing. Each course costs $200, but up to four people from the same farm may participate without paying extra. Courses often fill up quickly, so if you’re interested, visit the Cornell Small Farms Program website to learn more today.

Robin Simmen is Community Horticulture Specialist for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at rls63@cornell.edu or at 631-727-7850 x215.