Steelman: 8 tips for healthy veggies

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Did you know that planting tomatoes deep into the soil, as many gardeners do, can get you into trouble if it is done before the soil warms up? This is just one of many factors that home gardeners should consider when starting their gardens this spring.
Plant diseases are caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses and nematodes. These pathogens are not harmful to humans, but they can be very damaging to plants.
To help growers of both organic and non-organic crops, a new publication available through UT Extension that includes instructions on how to apply cultural practices and protection products to grow a healthier garden. His new publication also includes a list of many of the most common plant diseases and offers suggestions on how ways to control them.
Listed below, is a selection of easy-to-follow tips from this publication:
Garden site selection: Try to plant your garden in an area with good natural drainage and full sunlight. Properly drained soil will help prevent root rot in your garden.
Optimal growing conditions: Make sure your garden has proper soil pH, adequate fertilization, good weed control and that your plants are properly spaced.
Use resistant varieties of plants: Purchase seeds that are already resistant to diseases prevalent in your garden. Be sure to purchase seeds resistant to specific pathogens, and try to avoid the varieties simply listed as "disease resistant."
Disease-free transplants: Buy only locally-grown transplants or grow your own, from disease-free seed. Infected transplants sold by the bedding plant industry are a major source of infestation in Tennessee gardens, and the types of diseases brought in on transplants are difficult to control.
Planting date: Carefully choose the best date to plant your vegetables. Planting in soil that is too cool can result in many diseases like seed rot and stem rot. Crops that are planted for late summer and fall harvest will have more disease problems because pathogens build up during the growing season.
Crop rotation: Plant your crops in different parts of your garden every year. This helps prevent pathogen buildup in the soil. Try to rotate out whole families of crops because pathogens tend to attack all members of a plant family.
Seed disinfestation: Many pathogens that are carried on the seed can be killed outright with either hot water or diluted chlorine bleach. The process must be done precisely so as to avoid damaging the seeds. Consider utilizing these services if your seed company offers them.
Mulch: This common landscaping material can help reduce fruit rot on many crops by preventing the crop from making direct contact with the soil.

Don't Let Ticks Spoil Your Summer Fun
How to Reduce Your Risk of Being Bitten
Ticks "tick off" just about everyone. They are known carriers of disease, most notably in Tennessee Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but many are becoming increasingly concerned about Lyme disease as well. Researchers with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture have practical advice for reducing your risk -- and the risk to your children and pets -- of being bitten.
Graham Hickling, a researcher with UT's Center for Wildlife Health, says that two tick species are of primary concern in Tennessee: the Lone Star tick (recognizable by the distinctive white spot on the back of females) and the American Dog tick, which is really not particular about which animals or humans it bites. Hickling and his co-authors recently undertook a large survey of Lone Star ticks that found none infected with the Lyme disease agent. "Given that result, we are increasingly confident that blacklegged ticks, also called deer ticks, are the only species spreading Lyme disease in Tennessee," he said.
Blacklegged ticks are present in most Tennessee counties, but in much lower numbers than Lone Star ticks or American Dog ticks. Hickling added, "Of the 1,000+ that we have checked, so far only two from Middle Tennessee have tested positive for the Lyme bacteria. So, the risk of contracting Lyme disease in Tennessee is not zero, but it is much, much lower than in the Northeast and Upper Midwest," he said.
Hickling also noted that blacklegged tick adults are active in Tennessee in the fall through early spring, rather than in the summer.
In addition to commercial products that repel insects when properly applied to the skin or clothing, Hickling says there are some simple maintenance tasks can help homeowners keep ticks at bay. First he confirms that having a tidy lawn is key to reducing tick populations around the home. "Keeping grass mowed and removing leaf litter, brush and tall weeds
from around the home and at the lawn's edge, will help reduce tick populations in areas where humans and pets tend to congregate," he said.
Also, adding gravel, woodchips or dry mulch as paths can help keep ticks away from landscaped areas and children's play structures.
If tick problems become severe, he recommends employing a pest management company to apply a chemical barrier treatment around such areas.

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