For those of you who have perused our blog, you can see that we have come across several obstacles in the development of our glorious garden. In our last blog post, Mae documented our battle (and subsequent triumph over) the powdery mildew on our squash. HOWEVER, we didn’t mention that our squash also had these little swarms of white flies that emerged when you disturbed the plant. They also seemed to be spreading to our tomato plants. They didn’t bite, they just landed (disturbingly) on your clothes and hung out for a while before returning to the jungle-like squash.
Anyway, I was confused as to whether the white flies were related to or separate from the powdery mildew on our squash. Yet again, Googling was not very helpful, and so I contacted Professor George Ellmore in the biology department at Tufts. Professor Ellmore has been extremely supportive since the inception of the student garden, from providing many a word of wisdom to letting us start the plants in the greenhouse. I hope he will forgive the sad attempt at a pun in this post’s title.
This is what he wrote:
I can share some of how I’ve seen gardens behave in this area. Overall, vegetable plants tend to look good in June and July, but after they produce lots of tomatoes, zukes, or other produce, they weaken and become more susceptible to insects and fungi. So an August garden tends to look a bit bruised, no matter how well you treat it. August also brings humid warm weather that favors fungal growth just when the vegetable plants are slowing down. In other words, the fungi and insects you notice are completely normal for this time of year in a productive vegetable garden.
Squash has certain mildews that attack it (after it has produced some squash), and tomato plants will resist fungi from May-July, but finally show it in August. While the tomato leaves may curl up and go yellow and brown, the *tomatoes* will continue to ripen, so do not remove the plants until you harvest all the tomatoes you want.
The insects you describe sound like whiteflies. They are small clouds of white gnat-like flies that are annoying in the garden, but tend NOT to cause significant harm. Whiteflies are attracted to tomato and eggplant (both members of the tobacco family: Solanaceae).
When these things happen in my vegetable garden, I let it go. The plants are in decline, but still yield good tomatoes. Whiteflies will disappear when nights get cool.
Don’t you just love when knowledgeable people tell you exactly what you needed to know? Thank you, Professor Ellmore!
So to the people working on the garden: keep enjoying the delicious tomatoes while you can! We have already begun the transition into fall; the last time I was at the garden, Mae and co. had planted brussel sprouts! Yum.
If you would allow me to rhapsodize for a minute, I am so gratified to have worked on the garden this summer. Despite the temperamental fences, gargantuan tomato plants, powdery mildew on squash, misplaced garden maps, the shed that took forever, or “BUNNY RABBITS AAARRRGHHHH!!!!!”, this summer has been full of discovery and challenges for all of us. Many of my favorite garden moments this summer were simple; on the way back from Davis Square, I would often stop at the garden, perch on the bench, eat a tomato (or two), and simply savor the rare quiet and solitude that our garden offered amidst the rest of bustling Somerville. So THANK YOU to all my fellow gardeners and the gardening goddess Mae Humiston for their hard work and dedication! Here’s to many productive seasons to come!