Tomato Fail – Curly Top Virus!

The garden was hit hard this year by Curly Top Virus. This was my first experience with curly top virus so I did a fair amount of research on the virus.

The virus affects mainly tomatoes, peppers and sugar beets. I had extensive damage to my tomato crop. Minimal damage to pepper plants and I had no damage to sugar beets. I planted beets that were sweet but I am not sure they are technically “sugar beets”.

I had high hopes for my tomato crop this year. I planted 120 heirloom plants from seeds. I planted 12 different varieties with approximately 10 different plants each.

 I had big dreams of fresh tomatoes all summer and canning tons of stewed tomatoes that would last me all winter. Mother Nature had something else in mind. Instead of tomatoes all winter we will be having tons of pickles…… and spaghetti squash.

I guess I can’t complain too much. We won’t go hungry I guess! Anyway back to the problem at hand. I didn’t get the tomato crop I wanted either in the spring or the fall thanks to a little virus called Curly Top.

The virus is transmitted by the sugar beet leafhopper (Curculifer tennelus). It is a tiny little grasshopper that kind of resembles a fly. I have seen several in the garden. It is an invasive species in Texas.

http://www.tsusinvasives.org/home/database/neoaliturus-tenellus

Unfortunately, insecticides are not effective. (I mean- not that I would use any insecticides! SQUIRREL! Let’s be realistic. We all try not to use insecticides! We start by using the least toxic method of killing insect like picking them off and killing them manually. Then, we move to organic insecticides like diatomaceous earth or any other commercially available organic insecticide, fungicide, any kind of -cide we can find.

Then as our plants keep dying we bring out the ……. ((whisper)) seven dust! Yup, you heard me! I’ll dust the shit out of those little insects if they push me too far! I HATE GRASSHOPPERS OF ALL KINDS BY THE WAY!~

Now, back to the problem. Since insecticides don’t work what are my other options?

https://plantdiseasehandbook.tamu.edu/problems-treatments/problems-affecting-multiple-crops/curly-top-virus/

Fine mesh….. NOPE ….. blew right off in this hurricane strength wind of Central Texas once all the cedar has been cleared off the land. See, I think that is the original problem. We have been clearing cedar to improve our grasslands which has left big open grassy / weed fields surrounding my garden which grasshoppers (leafhoppers too apparently) love!

There are resistant tomato varieties per TAMU which include: Roza, Rowpac, Columbia and Saladmaster. The problem they haven’t really been celebrated for the taste! But, I would definitely try them at least for making stew tomatoes at this point!

I reached out to Dr. Harold Kaufman listed in the article link above. He is now retired but did suggest the same varieties above but clarified the Saladmaster needed to be the cherry type. He didn’t think anyone was still doing research on curly top. He did say some people did suggests partial shade. See leafhoppers have to feed in full sun so partial shade might keep them from feeding on the plants in the shade. The problem is tomatoes need full sun. However, I don’t think people realize Central Texas has EXTRA FULL sun most of the summer. I might try a shade block of 50% this next year and see if that helps.

Insects are cyclic so I was hoping maybe the fall would be better for the tomatoes…. NOPE! They were still there…..

It starts with a slight curling of the leaves and small bumps on the main stem. The leaves become leathery and tough. There is also a gummy type feeling to the foliage. The fruit that is there will ripen but it is slow and when it does ripen the skin is tough.

Turns out the leafhopper has three morphs including: a summer morph (3-4 months), winter morph (overwintering females) and migratory morph (capable of flying hundreds of miles). So they were still lingering around in the fall.

I did get a few little measly tomatoes to put up this year despite my new arch nemesis!

I froze them initially, then we cooked them down and made some stew tomatoes. We only produced about 4 pint jars this year. I did also get this beautiful black beauty tomato. There was only one and it looked and tasted amazing!

I also got a few more tomatoes here and there but not nearly the crop I was hoping for.

Look at the leaves on the bottom left corner of the above picture. They are starting to curl. Grrr…. Nothing was more frustrating than seeing that this year! The tomato below is called a mushroom basket. I can’t tell if it was just a fused blossom or if it was infected with something? Either way, I had to pick it before the frost!

 I did get a fair amount of green tomatoes for pickling before our very early frost hit!

I still thought I had another couple of weeks! Again, Mother Nature had other plans! What she doesn’t know is this will go great with Texas BBQ!

The disappointment of a bad tomato crop is always filled with hopes for next year! Curly Top -1 / Chasity -0…….

I would love to hear your thoughts for combatting Curly Top for next year!

Raise Them Right!

The garden beds that is!

We spent February preparing our gardens for spring. The weather has finally been so nice to get outside and get your hands dirty!

We have added some new raised beds thanks to some old salvaged tires and broken feed trough my husband found and placed in the garden. Raised beds allow me to amend soil quickly for growing and contain crops that may spread like mint or asparagus. I also think they are cute! In total, we added four raised tractor tire beds and one old feed trough (that sprung a leak!) bed!

Both setups had to be slightly modified before use. For the tires, Bryon cut the top rim of the tire off so we could fill up with dirt/ soil and work it. Otherwise the lip of the tire would cover a good portion of opening and would limit growing capacity. In addition, I have short arms and I don’t want to reach that far! He had to use a 4″ grinder to make a hole in the top of the tire rim and then a sawzall to cut the rim off. The top we removed I will use later to go around the base of sapling for the soon-to-be peach & plum orchards. For the old trough, he used the 4″ grinder to simply cut out the bottom. We did counter sink the trough purely for aesthetic purposes!

Now to the down and dirty- filling all these up with soil! First, we placed cardboard in the bottom for worm food and some weed control. Next we need soil. You can’t just add dirt because it will get too hard and hold too much water. You can’t add straight potting mix because it’s too light and will drain too fast. I prefer miracle gro raised bed soil. I got burned two years ago with an off brand alternative so I haven’t really ventured out much with other options. I’ve been sticking to what I know works. Originally, I wanted to completely fill each one with bagged soil but that wasn’t feasible. I didn’t realize how much dirt was required for each tire until I did the math.

For all you math/ algebra students that ask “when am I going to use this in real life?”

The volume of a cylinder is pi (3.14) x radius (squared) x height.

One tire measured 4 ft diameter (2 ft radius) x 2 ft height so…..

3.14 x 4ft x 2ft = 25.1 cubic feet

As seen above each bag covers 1.5 cubic feet for $8.98. (25.1 / 1.5 = 16.7 bags for one tire x $8.98 per bag = $149.96)

Now I have 4 tires and one trough so we are talking about $800 dollars of dirt ! WOW! Nope!

Luckily, Bryon found us a cheaper option!

For $140 dollars he got a dump bed trailer load of half top soil and half turkey manure and mushroom compost mix! BAM! With some to spare!

So we layered the raised beds with a layer of topsoil then turkey manure/ mushroom compost then the last layer was of my raised bed garden mix. I used two bags of the miracle gro to each tire and the trough. Now filling them up was a little “tire-ing” but we got them all filled! Now for the fun stuff! Planting!!

We planted a few cool weather crops!

Side note: we never use up the plastic knives in the set so I repurpose them in the garden!

Lastly, we used old hay to mulch the top!

Now we just wait for stuff to grow! Can’t wait to eat and share all our goodies !!

Prickly – Pearly Making It!

The late summer and good rains have brought a plenitude of Prickly Pear Tunas here at FCR!

PP bush

I have been trying to find as many uses as possible for this beautiful sweet fruit here on the ranch. You have to be quick though before the other animals get to them. I think the deer have been hitting it pretty hard.

eaten PP

I have had several faux pas with this little stickers! I picked them carefully with tongs the first time but still got a few stickers. My second time around I used gloves and tongs and this seemed to work a lot better. Be prepared, though, you will still get a few little stickers or glochids in your skin. They are easily removed however and are only a temporary “thorn in your side.”

 

The color of the fruit ranges from a soft pink to a deep purple color. There seems to be many different varieties here on the ranch. The color doesn’t seem to much affect the flavor. I have made my husband taste about 1000 or more and the sweetness is about the same in the soft pink ones (even better at times) and the deep purple. The thing that does seem to affect sweetness is the tenderness of the fruit, which is hard to tell with tongs but if your tongs break the skin of the fruit then it is usually really sweet. I am pretty good at squeezing them with my fingers now and not getting prickled to death. The sweetest ones are about the tenderness of a ripe plum when you squish it between your fingers.

PP angle

PP bucket

The first batch I made, I burned all the thorns off over an open flame burner. This was very cumbersome doing them one at a time. Prickly Pear is found all over Texas and into Mexico. I was talking with a friend who grew up in Mexico and she kinda laughed at me when I told her I was burning the glochids off each fruit. She said you only have to rub them on the ground and they will come right off. Voila, it worked! The only problem was when I rolled them on the ground with my boot gently, as my husband pointed out, I had cow manure all over my boots. He ate it anyway, BTW!  I found the second batch worked best if I just gently rubbed each fruit with a thick old towel. Still time consuming, but worked better than an open flame for me. Note: put the towel away so your husband doesn’t use it to wipe his hands off later! Uh oh, sorry!

The first batch I made with the skin on just cutting the ends off. They are full of tiny stone like seeds and the meat or mesocarp part of the fruit is relatively small so I thought peeling them would be futile.

PP inside

However, after my first batch of jelly I found out that it was really slimy. Doesn’t really matter that much with jelly because it just makes it come out a little more syrupy than usual. It was still usable for toast and such. It also had an amazing flavor and beautiful golden color when finished.

PP jelly

The second batch I was planning to juice and save for making jelly, syrup or margaritas at a later date. I did not want to have slimy juice, so I decided I would take the seeds out because I thought the slimy consistency was coming from the gel around the seeds inside, similar to tomatoes. While I was doing a little internet research on a way to easily remove seeds, I found a blog post from 2011 by The Pink Cowgirl: http://thepinkcowgirl.blogspot.com/2011/06/prickly-pear-juice.html. In the article she explained the sliminess was coming from the skins, not the seeds. Damn it! I have to peel all these tunas! I got a little overzealous and picked two five-gallon buckets and now I had to peel them all!! It turns out the handy-dandy potato peeler did the job pretty easily.

The next batch of juice was perfect with no slime at all. The juice was relatively easy to make:

  1. Pick fruit
  2. Rub off glochids
  3. Wash
  4. Cut off ends & peel with potato peeler
  5. Quarter fruit
  6. Place in non-reactive pot with small amount of water
  7. Bring to boil
  8. High simmer for about 5 minutes
  9. Mash with potato masher
  10. Strain through cheese cloth after cooled

SIDE BAR: My ex-mother-in-law used to give me vague cooking instructions like this when I was young and newly married. “Chasity- Gravy is just some flour, water and grease.” No measurements or time frames at all given. That is exactly what it tasted like too……. FLOUR……. WATER…….. GREASE! However, this juice is really easy and can be tweaked to meet your needs.

Then you will get this beautiful red juice to use for jelly, drinking juice, cocktails, syrup or any other type of fruit flavoring you need. It has a taste that is similar to a strawberry/watermelon/honeydew melon mix.

PP juice

I like to make treats for the holidays that are homemade so the jelly is a good gift because I think people rarely get homemade items anymore. I hope my family, friends and co-workers enjoy it! If not, I hope they lie and say they did!

I used my juice that day to make an excellent prickly pear margarita. I figured I was owed it after all that hard work. It was delicious and super easy! I just placed the following ingredients into a shaker with ice and poured over a salt-rimmed glass:

  1. 2 oz. gold tequila (ok, 3 oz!)
  2. 0.5 oz. prickly pear juice
  3. 0.5 oz. simple syrup
  4. 1 oz. fresh lime juice
  5. Garnish with lime wedge

PP margarita

Despite all the work involved I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about the prickly pears on the ranch. Prickly Pear, I love you too!

PP heart

Hot Damn! I can!

Well the garden is in full swing! We are collecting the fruits of our labor! We have more stuff than we can eat! So, it is time to start canning it up!

I really feel like canning is a lost art and skill! I feel a little nervous every time I do it because I am hoping no one dies from eating this if I don’t follow the step exactly! I am about three years into this and everyone is still living so that is a good sign! This week I worked on canning peppers! My husband likes it hot! Hotter than hot actually.

Last years peppers:

Me: Bryon are they too hot?

Bryon: NO!

(( I look over and he is sweating with hiccups ))

Me: Bryon? Really?

Bryon: What? they aren’t too hot. I just need to remember to use less of them next time!

My son-in-law also likes it hot too! So, I made a batch for him as well! I also threw in some banana peppers for my oldest daughter.

My advice on canning……. 1. Do it! Its a great skill to have! The food taste great fresh and it is so beautiful going into the cans! 2.Research it, we don’t want people getting sick! 3. Be careful and don’t always trust those pinterest recipes for this type of stuff.

 

-Chas

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