QUESTION: Every year we seem to lose our tomatoes to blight. Is there some kind of spray we can apply to prevent the disease?

ANSWER: Your question is certainly timely in view of the fact that late blight fungus has already been reported on potatoes this year. Our unseasonably wet weather has been ideal for the development of this disease which is notorious for destroying both potatoes and tomatoes. Fortunately, home gardeners can do a couple of things to prevent both their tomato and potato crops from becoming infected. Placing a temporary roof made from a plastic drop cloth over tomato plants, thereby keeping moisture off the foliage, will do much to prevent infection. Staking and pruning plants to provide good air circulation will also help.

Fungicide sprays applied before the disease begins, is the only method which can prevent complete destruction. Fungicides registered for use include Bravo Weather Stik and Kop-R-Spray.

When applied now, these fungicides used according to labeled directions will protect plants from infection.

This is the same fungus disease that was responsible for the great Irish potato famines from 1845 to 1847. The disease is equally devastating to both tomatoes and potatoes. The fungicides Bravo, Maneb, and Mancozeb are all registered for use on potatoes and provide an effective protectant against the disease when used according to labeled directions. Several applications at ten day intervals may be necessary depending on weather conditions. Cool, wet weather favors disease development; hot dry weather prevents it.

QUESTION: We have a garden shed which the barn swallows insist is the perfect place to build a nest. What is the best way to discourage them?

ANSWER: Barn swallows can prove to be a real nuisance when they decide to nest in the gables and under the eaves of houses and farm buildings. Despite the messes they create one must remember their good qualities. A major portion of their diet consists of common garden insect pests. Combined with the fact that they are a protected species, elimination is not a viable option. Probably the easiest solution is to go ahead and allow nest building in areas which cause little or no concern. Areas where nesting is not desirable can be controlled through the use of bird netting (the same kind used to protect your strawberries) or using plastic to prevent nest establishment. Plastic's slippery surface will not allow nest building material to stick to it and birds will soon become frustrated and move to another area. Washing away nests on a daily basis may help to eliminate messes, but does little to discourage birds.

QUESTION: We are so disappointed that we have so little fruit on our trees this year. Our cherry tree didn't have a single cherry despite being loaded with blossoms and it looks as though our plums didn't produce anything either. Why?

ANSWER: Blossoms but no fruit is a common report from people with a home orchard. Cherries are probably most frequently reported. The principle influence on pollination, good or bad is weather. Cherries bloom earlier than most other kinds of tree fruit. Temperatures are most likely to be low enough at blossom time that bees are not active, and they are the most important pollen carriers. Even if there is a long enough period of warm weather during blossoming for pollination to occur, cold weather following may delay growth of the pollen tube and fertilization may be incomplete. The fruit may then form, become half-grown and drop.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For answers to local gardening questions, contact Master Gardener Rachel Gana at 642-8723 or e-mail her at Donald D. Tapio is WSU Area Extension Agent based in Grays Harbor County, (360) 482-2934.

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