October 2013
Home Grown Tomatoes

Early October in the Garden

  The good rains we had this year promoted bacterial leaf spot that has been difficult to control.

Sometimes figuring out whether a growing season has been good or bad is a toss-up. The flowers and veggies performed great! Unfortunately, the weeds performed equally well.

In Alabama, even in October, there is still a lot of great gardening enjoyment to be had.

In the past few years, the growing season for annual flowers and vegetables has been cut short by lack of rainfall rather than cold weather.

2013 brought us enough hydration to keep everything alive. Rain barrels stayed full. Unfortunately, when some of the rains came, ripening tomatoes on the vine couldn’t grow fast enough and the skins split. Summer squashes rotted on the vines and there just wasn’t enough air circulation to keep the fungi off of the eggplants.


Clockwise from left, mulberry weed is the worst weed in the Tomato Tower gardens. We call it armpit weed because the flowers and seeds grow in the pit of the leaf stems. Chamberbitter or gripeweed produces seeds on the undersides of its leaves. Cloudless Giant Sulphur larvae on senna. These plants should be managed by removing seed pods. Remember, the beautiful yellow butterflies use this as their host plant.  

Generally, the drought-tolerant plants thrive without problematic pathogen issues. When the zinnias get leaf spot, we harvest them. In a week or so, they’re beautiful and blooming again. That was the case this year; except with all of the rain, the leaf spots never completely went away.

Battling weeds is still a nightmare! With a month and a half of flower production and pepper harvests left, it is a constant fight with the usual nemeses.

In the past 3 years, we noticed that one of the annual weeds that is a problem all over the Southeastern United States survived the winter and constantly produced seeds. Mulberry weed (Fatoua villosa) grows in a variety of soils and soilless conditions. It produces flowers within a few days of its germination, followed by seeds that drop almost immediately. Mulberry weed invades row crops and field production as well as home gardens and lawns. It is extremely difficult to control without herbicides and pre-emergent herbicides. The only organic controls are manually extracting the plant from the taproot and burning it and/or heavy mulching the raw ground to smother germinated seeds. It is unknown, though, just how long mulberry weed seeds remain viable.


Clockwise from left, ornamental pepper “Black Pearl” is still producing beautiful edible hot fruits. NuMex Twilight ornamental pepper is a favorite here at the Tomato Tower. Another hot edible, this chili produces purple, yellow, orange and red fruits. Sangria is an ornamental pepper that produces purple to red fruits from June until frost. It is a hot chili, but we grow this one as a bedding plant.  

Gripeweed is aptly named. Another name for this fast-spreading noxious weed is chamberbitter (Phyllanthus urinaria). Some folks confuse this with another weed with similar leaf arrangements, mimosa. Gripeweed produces seeds on the undersides of its leaves.

The other big bad weed we battle every year here at the Tomato Tower garden is senna (Senna hebecarpa). The war with this noxious weed is a bitter sweet one though. This legume is the chief host plant for the Cloudless Giant Sulphur butterfly (Phoebis sennae). We try to pull all but a few sennas, and keep the seed pods plucked on those that we spare. One small senna plant can produce hundreds of seeds in their bean-like pods.

All in all, 2013 has been a very good season for most of the plants here in the garden beds.

Last month, I mentioned I would tell you a little bit about my used garden tool collection. For what it’s worth, I love a bargain. I began collecting garden tools more than 30 years ago and the collection is quite large now.

A friend of mine used to say, "There’s no substitute for the right tool."

He was right, too! There aren’t many duplicates in the tool collection, but there is certainly diversity.

Key elements you should know when you shop for tools is how much a tool costs new and what is the price range among sources. Also, you should be aware of when and where tools were made and which ones are the best. When you have that knowledge then you will know when you have a good deal.

Now, it’s time to shop. I have my favorite dealers I shop for certain things. My favorite marketplace is a garage sale. Sometimes you can buy good, vintage tools for pennies on the dollar. When some vintage garden tools (hoes, rakes, etc.) were made, they sold for a dollar or two. Now, those tools are worth more than the ones made today. If a tool is properly cared for then it should last you a lifetime. Look for well-cared-for tools when you shop for used equipment.

There will be more on this subject later.

I want to thank everybody who stopped by the DeKalb Farmers Co-op tent last month at Boom Days in Fort Payne. It is always great to meet the Home Grown Tomatoes readers.

Enjoy the fall!

If you have any questions or comments regarding the plants discussed in this column, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.'; document.getElementById('cloak65025').innerHTML += ''+addy_text65025+'<\/a>'; //-->

Become a fan of Home Grown Tomatoes on Facebook and keep up with the latest news. Tell all your friends, too!