AlOlmstead


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Member Since: 01/20/2011



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Re: QUESTION: Help! Nematodes Are Killing My Beloved Tomatoes

At 71, I'm a beginner at vegetable gardening; but I have benefited from discussions like this and this is what I am trying now.

First, you're right about spending a fortune on soil, especially since our West Texas soil is practically pure clay; but the quality of commercial garden mixes is much degraded and so I decided to invest a year in soil reconditioning before trying to plant veggies.

Second, owing to risk of infestation and in view of physical limitations of my age group, I created "units" of reconditioned soil in raised beds measuring 2'x4'x8". If serious problems should appear in one bed, it gets tossed immediately with a minimum of lost investment. The beds sit on black plastic weed block under 0.5" wire mesh (to block ground critters). A bottom-up watering harness includes an array of 4 pressure-regulating 0.5 GPH emitters per SqFt (32 per bed). Burlap cloth prevents soil from clogging the emitters. Atop the cloth, 1 CuFt of Canadian sphagnum peat moss rapidly absorbs all of about 15 minutes of watering (no run-off) per watering session. The rest of the bed (about 4 CuFt) is filled with garden mix that slowly wicks water up from the peat moss.

Third, I opted for both French marigolds (tagetes) and pot marigolds (calendula) as my "first level protection" from a wide variety of plant and animal pests, even though that means that I cannot use beneficial nematodes. I add edible diatomaceous earth (from food wholesalers) to eliminate grub worms and a wide variety of insects with exoskeletons. Baking soda mixed with ground rice (use a small coffee and nut grinder) eliminates the several varieties of ants, including fire ants, that plague us here. At the end of their growing, all marigolds are mulched back into the soil. I have been told that the soil will remain pest-resistant for up to three years.

Fourth, since marigolds adapt to pH variations, each bed can be prepared specifically for 5.0, 6.0 or 7.0 veggies. And don't forget to add just enough earth worms (not "red wigglers") to reprocess the entire bed by end of season. Since the watering harness is on the bottom, they are not ripped up when amendments are added from time-to-time with hand tools.

Since, in Zone 7B, we have two growing seasons, the beds from the warm season are ready for cool weather veggies. There is still enough warm weather for more beds to be prepared during the cool season for use for in the following warm season crop.

I intend making liberal use of companion planting (especially with alliums--every sort of onion, garlic, etc.--wherever appropriate because I love them).

So, that's my plan for remanufacturing and maintaining the most expensive investment in gardening, organically pest-free soil. Comments from those who have "been there, done that" will be appreciated.