Preventing Uncontrollable Plant Pestilences
By Avoidance and Plant Selection
(Keeping Devastation Behind Closed Material)
Some gardeners will sacrifice entire plantings of vegetables
rather than spray one "poisonous pesticide". Today,
an Earth-Kind technique offers an effective alternative. Not
only is this technique an alternative to using pesticide applications,
it is an alternative to unavoidable annihilation from impossible?to?control
pests which defy pesticides with impunity.
Protection from environmental adversities is
also a benefit of this Earth-Kind technique. Findings show
that a breeze as little as a 15 mph can significantly slow
plant growth, delay harvest and decrease yields of vegetable
crops. From field experience, hailstones traveling at 80 mph
can also inflict a considerable amount of damage to young
plants. You can protect transplants, seedlings and fruit from
would?be devourers or destroyers with a protective barrier.
The most versatile barrier is a covering of polypropylene
spun-web fabric-material called floating row cover.
Consider this strategic scenario using cage?like
barriers. Transplant tomatoes and peppers into the garden.
IMMEDIATELY install concrete reinforcing wire cages around
young transplants and wrap the cages with spun-web fabric.
Anchor all sides of the cage by with wire attached to supports
that have been driven deep into the soil.
Cages can be concrete reinforcing wire, hog
wire or similar material formed into cylinders which support
plants and keep fruit off the ground. Make the cylinder 18
to 20 inches in diameter and 2-1/2 (called half cages) to
5 feet (the width of the roll of wire becomes the height of
the cage) tall. It takes a 5?foot length of wire to make a
tomato cage 18 to 20 inches in diameter. Cages are held together
by bending and crimping ends of horizontal wires around the
opposite end vertical wire. Keep the cage supported and standing
by snipping the bottom ring of the cage and pushing prongs
into the ground. You can also leave the bottom ring of the
cage intact. Wrap cages to the ground with a single layer
of translucent, spun?web material, then pile soil 6 inches
high around base and firm the soil. Supporting the cage with
soil serves as a berm to keep irrigation water from escaping
the first few times you water the enclosed transplants.
The fabric is the pest barrier. Do this wrapping in a warm
place where cloth relaxes and stretches easier. The ends of
this material are folded, then stapled, taped, glued or folded
and then clothes-pinned to the vertical wire. Make sure the
fabric fits cages snugly to prevent tearing by wind. Adequate
anchorage is essential for cages covered with plastic or fabric?like
material since, when it’s windy, this structure can
also be used as a substitute for a box kite!
Let me warn you not to take a short cut by covering
or surrounding several cages at once rather than wrapping
individual cages. I recommend spun-web material because it
is thin, light weight and translucent. Because it does not
shade the plant, most blooms will get plenty of light and
will not drop from the plant.
Since no bees or insects can enter, you may
wonder if plants will set fruit when covered with the web?like
fabric. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are 85% self?pollinating??they
do not need movement of pollen by insects. Vine crops such
as squash and cucumbers MUST be pollinated by insects so once
female flowers (flowers with small fruit attached) begin to
appear, either remove the floating row cover completely or
uncover plants from 7 a.m. until 10 a.m. each morning to allow
pollinating insects to enter. Otherwise, hand pollinate enclosed
vine crops to set fruit.
Even though it is translucent with a maximum
light?transmitting characteristic, row cover can keep blooms
from setting if the growing location is partially shaded.
Initially, row cover was tested on plants receiving full sun
(8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight) conditions daily. When
used on plants growing in a full sun condition, row cover
can remain in place on a crop for the entire growing season
without decreasing yields. In partial shade, row covering
may reduce fruit set. To avoid bloom drop, uncover plants
when foliage begins to touch the sides of the structure. This
will usually be about the time the plant has marble?size fruit.
Wind and Cold Protection
In some parts of the state particularly North
and West Texas, March and April may be too early to transplant
tomatoes and peppers, especially. The soil is cold, the wind
is fierce and a late frost may annihilate plantings. Yet most
gardeners feel "nothing ventured, nothing gained."
If you want to plant early, at least hedge
your bets and use the floating row cover. One of the advantages
of the spun-web fabric?like material over a plastic film covering
is that the floating row cover never requires ventilation.
If supplemental heat is provided, the cloth?like material
does not capture or hold in as much heat as plastic. If temperatures
fall below 28 degrees F., provide supplemental heat for fabric?covered
plants using Christmas lights or heat lamps.
Some gardeners have decided to take advantage
of the superior daytime heat?capturing, nighttime heat?retaining
properties of plastic coverings in combination with the slow?thawing,
pest excluding properties of floating row cover. These gardeners
use a combination of covering materials. The spun?web material
(floating row cover) used to wrap tomato cages to provide
protection from pests (deer, insects, birds, neighbors) and
environmental adversities (wind, hail, cold) will provide
a 5?degree F.?below?freezing protection for plants. This means
that cages wrapped with floating row cover and anchored to
avoid blow?over by March and April winds will usually provide
all the protection the early?planted transplants will need
in areas of Texas where temperatures seldom drop below 28
degrees F. after March. However, when an outer layer of plastic
is added to the floating row cover?wrapped cages, warm-up
during the day and heat retention at night will be enhanced.
Just as important, the inner lining of floating row cover
allows a slow thaw of plant material, avoiding cell damage
caused by rapid heating of the morning sun. The insulating
effect of the floating row cover layer will also lessen the
chance of foliage burn, caused when leaves touch the freezing
temperatures of the plastic.
The tops of these plastic-covered miniature
greenhouses should be left open during warm days to avoid
excessive heat build?up. Leave the tops of the plastic?covered
cages open when daytime temperatures rise above 65 to 70 degrees
F. Temperatures will be 30 degrees warmer inside the plastic?covered
cages. If a cold night is expected, the tops of the plastic?covered
cages should be closed several hours before sunset so enough
heat can be collected to provide extra protection. The outer
covering of plastic should be removed when temperatures regularly
reach above 80 degrees F. The remaining floating row cover
material will never overheat plants since temperatures are
not increased more than 10 degrees F. above daytime highs.
The spun-web floating row cover material can also be used
for a fall crop planted in July since it will ventilate so
plants will not overheat.
Transplants and seedlings can be covered with
floating row cover to prevent loss from predation by birds.
Row cover can be draped over plants and allowed to "float".
The material can be supported over the plants by a super?structure
of wood or wire if you fear plant damage caused by wind whipping
Controlling Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV)
Gardeners blame everything from vengeful neighbors to dishonest
nurserymen for stunted, non?productive plants that are infected
with viruses. No person is to blame. Thousands of insects
such as thrips and aphids are the culprits that spread viruses.
Insects feed on virus?infected weeds and garden plants, then
transmit the virus to another plant. Not all insects spread
viruses. Insects known to cause problems include aphids, thrips,
white flies and leaf?feeding beetles. Aphids puncture an infected
plant with their mouth and draw the virus particles and cell
contents into their body.
Some aphid?borne viruses are carried only on
mouth parts but others are taken into the gut, circulatory
system and eventually the salivary glands. All the aphid has
to do is "slobber" on a healthy plant to cause infection.
This is why virus prevention is so difficult ?? 100% insect
control is impossible as well as impractical using chemical
pesticides. Even if you could grow a plant that was full of
pesticide and would kill any insect immediately if it damaged
the foliage, the virus is delivered the instant the plant
tissue is penetrated. Insect sprays are not the answer!
Covered transplants will be protected from
virus?carrying thrips and aphids until plants begin to crowd
in the cage. Then, remove the floating row cover. Plants covered
with spun-web fabric?like material do not require uncovering
except to let in pollinators. Unless threatened by devouring
pests (deer, rabbits, etc.) or not growing in a full sun condition
(minimum of 8 hours direct sun), cross?pollinated plants such
as squash, melons and cucumbers thrive better uncovered. Uncovering
is recommended once fruit set is underway. An effective degree
of virus control will have been achieved and infection delayed
a sufficient length of time to insure adequate production
since larger plants suffer less severe virus symptoms than
smaller ones after becoming infected. Protect young, tender
transplants as soon as possible from virus?carrying insects
and environmental adversities with the covered cages. Plants
that grow to a larger size before being infected show less
severe virus symptoms such as foliage distortion, fruit abnormalities,
pinto?striped red and yellow, or black and cracked immature
fruit, along with a lack of production.
With the onslaught of so many pests and so
much pestilence these days, a person has a full time job just
trying to stay healthy. Since plants are virtually defenseless,
and in lieu of a “Plant Protection Society (PPS)”,
gardeners have an obligation to protect their plants. Protected
plants will reward gardeners with an abundance of fresh produce.
However, plant protection is easier said than done.
As with some human maladies, avoiding contact
with a contaminator is the key to health. Some plant pests
are so mobile, so minuscule, so elusive, so reproductive and
so resistant to chemical pesticides that they are better avoided
than faced. Now you know that avoiding contact by using a
physical barrier of floating row cover is the best, and many
times, the only answer to a healthy, productive plant. Yet
some gardeners don't like this system because they cannot
easily see their plants. I tell gardeners who love to watch
their plants every day that all they have to do is press their
face closely to the floating row cover and you can peek at
the plants any time they want. The benefit is that ONLY YOU
will know how your plants are doing and when the first delicious
vegetables will be ready to eat. This may save produce from
neighbors as well as other hungry pests!
If you understand the importance of plant protection
with floating row cover even though you can't see your plants
from a distance, you can become a charter member of the “Parsons'
Plant Protection Society (PPPS)”. Some sacrifices are
The spun-web, fabric?like floating row cover
material is sold at local nurseries as Grow?Web, Plant Shield,
Reemay and Plant?Guard Floating Row Cover.
Grow?Web can be mail?ordered from: Indeco Products
Incorporated, P.O. Box 865, San Marcos, Texas 78666 Telephone:
or 1?888?246?3326; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Floating row cover material can be ordered from
Gardens Alive, 5100 Schenley Place, Lawrenceburg, Indiana
47025 (Tel: 812?537?8650) or from the Dewitt Company. Call
1?800?888?9669) for the location of a nearby distributor.
Grow?Web, Plant Shield, Reemay and Plant?Guard
Floating Row Cover are the only tested materials that allow
enough light penetration and air movement to assure proper
plant growth and fruit set. The costs of these materials differ,
but floating row cover material is much cheaper than plastic.
However, these thin cloth?like materials are usually discarded
after one use.
How to Avoid TSWV by Using a Resistant Hybrid
Variety Named ‘Tomato 444’
Gardeners can now "protect" their
tomato crop from non?productivity and/or the odd colored fruit
caused by TSWV contamination. There is a hybrid tomato variety
named 'Tomato 444' which has natural plant resistance to Tomato
Spotted Wilt Virus and the problems it causes. The fruit is
large and the quality is excellent. '444' is the only virus
resistant hybrid that has been extremely productive as well
as resistant to TSWV. Most of the tomato varieties that have
done extremely well in this area are hybrids. These include
Big Set, Celebrity, Bingo and Merced.
A hybrid is a first generation cross of 2 genetically
different varieties. In order to obtain a high degree of uniformity,
the parent lines are usually the result of inbreeding for
several generations. Producing stock seed in-breeds is a difficult
task that may require years to perfect. The resulting crosses
produce hybrids that are often sterile. The seed company that
developed the hybrid then has an exclusive in sales that helps
pay for research, development cost and company motivation
for continued research.
Many vegetables require hand pollination to
produce the hybrid lines. Labor is expensive and often the
costs are reflected in the price of the hybrid seed. In order
to reduce costs, some companies use foreign labor and produce
their seeds in South America or the Far East. Some hybrid
seeds cost as much as 3 to 10 times the price of open?pollinated
seed. Hybrid tomato seed can sell for over $40 for 1000 seeds,
so hybrids such as '444' will ONLY be available as transplants.
The seeds will not be packaged.
Hybrid seed has the advantage of a high degree
of uniformity, as all the seeds are very similar genetically.
This factor is very important in crops such as broccoli, cauliflower
or cabbage. Hybrid crosses also seem to have an additional
spark called hybrid vigor. The plants grow rapidly with good
uniformity. By producing inbred lines with good disease resistance,
the resulting hybrid crosses may inherit these qualities.
This is why 'Tomato 444' has resistance to TSWV and other
Just the fact that a variety is a hybrid does
not make it an automatic winner, however. The horticultural
merits of a hybrid must also be proven in every growing area,
just as those of any other variety released. 'Tomato 444'
has been tested for several years by Texas Cooperative Extension
with the help of Gardening Volunteers of South Texas and has
never failed to produce a large crop of quality tomatoes.
You can find yield and size data at:
It shows that 'Tomato 444' (listed as BHN 444)
yielded more fruit that were larger than Merced, Celebrity,
Whirlaway, Bingo and Heatwave. This tendency was also repeated
in the fall season as documented at:
This selection has been test marketed as 'Healthy
Surprise' (the plant is "Healthy" and eating tomatoes
makes the grower healthy as well, and it will "Surprise"
you with an abundance of large fruit!). It is described at:
Second generation seed is also available from
Gardeners always want to know how a tomato
variety tastes. Tomato taste is an individual preference,
so you have to decide that factor for yourself, using the
growing conditions in your garden. However, in the variety
trial of spring 2000, a taste test revealed that 'Tomato 444'
was rated better than 'SunMaster' or 'Celebrity'.