Cultural Methods of Vegetable Disease Control
Most vegetables are susceptible to one or more diseases. You can, therefore, anticipate disease problems sooner or later in your vegetable garden. By following good cultural practices and taking preventive measures, your chances of garden failure due to disease problems can be reduced.
Garden site selection is important to pro-duce high yields of healthy vegetables. Trying to grow vegetables on a poor site is one of the main causes of garden failure. Although few people will have ideal garden sites, they should select the best site available.
Garden sites should not be within the drip line of large trees. Avoid planting near black walnut trees, since they produce a root sub-stance that is toxic to certain vegetables, especially tomatoes. The garden site should be slightly sloped to provide good water and air drainage through the soil.
Excess soil moisture can damage vegetable roots, as well as promote root diseases caused by certain fungi. Air movement through the garden is also important to help dry the foliage, thus reducing the chances of fungal and bacterial infections. Garden sites with good air drainage are less likely to be damaged by late frosts.
Most garden vegetables require full sunlight for maximum production. Sunlight also hastens drying of foliage. Soil tillage should be done early enough, prior to planting, to allow decomposition of raw organic matter such as manure or green plant material. This usually requires about six weeks under warm temperatures and longer at low temperatures. Organic material that has not decomposed can be a source of disease organisms and can also promote development of certain diseases such as root and stem rots. Applying nitrogen fertilizer before plowing or tilling green plant material into the soil will hasten its de-composition.
Crop rotation will help prevent the buildup of disease-causing organisms in the soil. Some disease causing organisms affect one vegetable or group of vegetables, but may not affect an-other. Several vegetables of the same family, such as squash, cucumbers and cantaloupes, may be affected by the same disease. Therefore, it is not a good practice to grow plants of the same family in rotation. Table 1 gives crop groupings for rotation to control soil-borne diseases. At least a three-year rotation is suggested for vegetable crops.
Sanitation is very important in controlling vegetable diseases. Many disease-causing organ-isms survive the winter in plant debris, cull fruit or plant stubble left in the garden. Any practice that will eliminate these overwintering sites for fungi, bacteria, viruses and nematodes will reduce the occurrence of disease problems the following year. Removal or plowing-under of crop stubble and trash helps destroy overwintering populations of disease organisms. Some disease-causing organisms are able to survive the off season on contaminated equipment or containers. Equipment that has been used in disease-infested vegetable gardens or containers used in handling diseased vegetables should be disinfested before being used again.
Disease-free seed and transplants are a must in vegetable production. Seed should not be saved from diseased plants. Always buy seed from a reputable dealer, since you normally cannot tell from their external appearance if seed are contaminated with disease-causing organisms.
Certain geographical areas, such as the arid western states, can produce disease-free seed because of climatic conditions. Seed from these areas should be stipulated in your seed orders. Gardeners starting their crop from transplants should, likewise, insist on disease-free plants.
Seed treatments vary, depending on the crop as well as the disease to be controlled. Some disease-causing organisms are carried on the surface of seed and can be controlled by a simple fungicide treatment. Fungicides are not effective against those organisms carried beneath the seed coat.
Fungicides applied to seed also give young seedlings some protection from soil-borne disease organisms as they germinate and emerge. Such treatments, however, do not control organisms that attack the plant after the seedling stage.
A seed treatment is usually applied by the company from which the seed is purchased. Home-grown seed can be treated at home with relative ease. Thiram or Captan fungicides can be used as seed treatments on most vegetable crops. Use these protectant fungicides according to instructions on the label. For small quantities of seed, such as packets, apply sufficient fungicide to coat the seed surface. Simply place a small quantity (comparable to the size of a match head) in the packet, reclose and shake to coat the seed with the fungicide.
Planting dates can be an effective tool in reducing diseases of vegetables. Okra, for in-stance, requires warm soil for good germination and growth. If planted when the soil is still cold, the seeds will rot, or if they do germinate, they will probably develop damping-off or stem rot. Some crops, such as corn and beans, should be planted as early as the weather permits to escape severe virus infections. Aphids that transmit viruses are usually at lower population levels early in the season.
Mulches can be used to conserve moisture, keep fruit clean and prevent diseases. Mulches reduce fruit rot on crops, such as strawberries, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and melons by preventing direct contact with the soil. Mulching will reduce splashing of soil onto lower fruit and foliage by rain.
Staking or trellising tomatoes, pole or half runner beans and cucumbers will prevent soil contact with the foliage and fruit. Air circulation will be better if these plants are trellised, thus promoting better drying of foliage and reducing diseases. Pesticides can be more effectively applied to trellised plants.
Watering can influence the development and severity of many foliage diseases. Wet foliage is favorable for the development of most diseases. To reduce infections, apply irrigation water to the soil rather than the foliage. If water must be applied to the foliage, then it should be done in late morning or mid-afternoon to allow the foliage to dry before evening.
Maintaining uniform soil moisture can re-duce problems such as blossom end rot of pe-pers and tomatoes. Excessive soil moisture can result in increased root and stem rot diseases. It is best to work in the garden when the foliage is dry to reduce disease spread. Bacterial diseases of tomatoes, beans and other crops are readily spread on hands and clothing of workers when the foliage is wet.
Use of resistant varieties is one of the most economical ways of controlling vegetable diseases. Resistant varieties should be used in areas where diseases are present or where the soil is known to be infested with disease-causing organisms. Resistant varieties should be used even when rotation is practiced.