Like many gardeners across Columbia County, Tom Blalock is battling the dreadful three Ds this year: deer, disease and drought.
"This is the first year I've had problems with deer," said Blalock, who has been gardening for three or four years and is a graduate of the county's master gardener program. "But they've been a factor this year."
Blalock, who has lived in Harlem for 10 years, said construction around his property has run the deer into areas they typically aren't found. That means they are looking for food in places they haven't looked before.
An Internet search suggested a solution -- a mixture of milk, eggs, dishwasher detergent and oil -- for Blalock to spray onto his cucumber plants, a favorite with the deer.
"I've had no damage after I've sprayed," said Blalock, whose half-acre garden includes cucumber, tomato, eggplant, pepper and other plants. "It's been about a month, and there have been no problems at all."
There have been problems with his tomato plants, though.
Blalock's crop has been struck by mosaic wilt. Commonly referred to as tobacco wilt and also known as tomato spotted wilt, the virus can wipe out a crop of nonresistant plants.
According to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, tomato spotted wilt virus has increased since the late 1980s, with more incidents in tomato, pepper and onion crops.
"Depending on the season, TSWV can be responsible for up to 100 percent loss in individual pepper and tomato fields," said a 2007 UGA report on the virus.
The first signs of the virus are lesions that develop on the stems, with reddish-brown ring spots on leaves, according to the report. Purple-hued leaves, stunted plants and premature dying of the plant also are indicators of tomato spotted wilt virus.
Short of pulling up the plants, there's nothing that can be done to stop the infection after it begins. Applying insecticides early in the season, along with the planting of the virus-resistant plants now on the market, is highly recommended.
"There's are some very intense commercial sprays that can be used, but they are very dangerous," Blalock said. "They used them in the tobacco fields when I was growing up.
"I planted some 444 tomatoes last year. They were supposed to be resistant, but the plants didn't grow as well as I'd have liked and they weren't as tasty."
Blalock says he'll plant the new and improved Parks Whopper variety next year. That variety claims to be resistant to tomato spotted wilt and verticillium wilt.
As for this year's tomato crop, Blalock has decided that he'll pull up his plants, get rid of them and hope for better luck next year. He prefers the taste of homegrown vegetables.
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