Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

223 Browning Tomato Leaves? Making Hypertufa Pots.

August 26, 2022 Fred Hoffman Season 3 Episode 223
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
223 Browning Tomato Leaves? Making Hypertufa Pots.
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A question from a listener is one you may be thinking about while you’re in the garden: why are my tomato leaves turning brown?

Possibilities include shaded older leaves; tomato russet mites; whiteflies; aphids; root knot nematodes; fusarium wilt; verticillium wilt; late blight; powdery mildew. But in most of those instances, the tomatoes themselves will show abnormalities. In this case, the tomatoes were perfect.  America’s favorite retired college horticulture professor, Debbie Flower, tackles this one. 

In the middle of that chat, Debbie mentions a use for old potting soil, just in case that is the culprit: making a hypertufa pot. We touched on that topic a couple of months ago, but it was buried inside another tomato question, so  you may have missed it. So, here it is again, one use for questionable, old potting soil:  making your own  hypertufa pot. Debbie explains.

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. And we will do it all in under 30 minutes. Let’s go!

Pictured:
Brown Tomato Leaves Surround a Healthy Tomato

Previous episodes, links, product information, topic search and transcripts at the new home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, GardenBasics.net. Transcripts and episode chapters also available at Buzzsprout

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Hypertufa Molds

Hypertufa Pots (Video)

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GB 223 TRANSCRIPT Tomato Leaves Browning? Hypertufa Pots.


Farmer Fred  0:00  

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. It's made in the USA. Visit SmartPots.com slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's SmartPots.com/Fred.

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.


Farmer Fred  0:31  

A question from a listener is one you may be thinking about while you’re in the garden: why are my tomato leaves turning brown?

There are several possibilities, including shaded older leaves; tomato russet mites; whiteflies; aphids; tomato psyllid; root knot nematodes; fusarium wilt; verticillium wilt; late blight; powdery mildew;, even smog. But in most of those instances, the tomatoes themselves will show abnormalities. In this case, the tomatoes were perfect. Is this another instance of climate change playing havoc with our gardens? America’s favorite retired college horticulture professor, Debbie Flower, tackles this one. But we have more questions than answers.

In the middle of that chat, Debbie mentions a use for old potting soil, just in case that is the culprit: making a hypertufa pot. We touched on that topic a couple of months ago, but it was buried inside another tomato question, so  you may have missed it. So, here it is again, one use for suspect or old potting soil:  making your own pottery, a hypertufa pot. Debbie explains.

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory. It’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. And we will do it all in under 30 minutes. Let’s go!


Farmer Fred  2:01  

We like to answer your garden questions here on the Garden Basics podcast. Debbie Flower is here ,America's favorite retired college horticultural professor. We get a question from Jordy. Jordy lives in the Sacramento area. And Debbie, she writes us and asks, “What's up with my Early Girl leaves, fFrmer Fred and my favorite retired horticultural Professor, Debbie Flower? I potted the plant , the Early Girl, in a 20 gallon Smart Pot in April with fresh soil topped with two to three inches of fresh mulch. I planted four different tomato varieties all on the back porch, spaced about four feet away from each other. This is the only one with weird leaves. They all have a south and a West exposure, I might start rolling them under the shade cloth every time the temperature gets up to 100 degrees. The tomatoes are absolutely flawless, but it's concerning the leaves. They're even more freckled and pale than I am. My grandpa, a longtime listener of yours, thinks it might be mosaic virus. Use the same freshly purchased and unopened outdoor potting soil for all four of the tomatoes I potted. I think it took three bags so each pot has some soil from each bag. I also use one bag of mulch equally to top all of them. I scooted The Early Girl another couple of feet away from the other three; but because the tomatoes are so good, I don't plan on throwing it out. Every week or two, I use a 6-4-4 liquid fertilizer that would be 6% Nitrogen, 4% Potassium,  4% phosphorus .  I diluted it to  use one teaspoon per gallon when the directions called for two teaspoons.” Good idea with a weekly weakly, that is with a containerized plant. She says, “I’ll get a pH test kit and let you know what I find out. Thanks for the help . wilted but delicious, Jordy . We have more questions? Yes. Then we have answers. My first thought is the tomatoes are okay. Find something else to do.


Debbie Flower  4:07  

Yeah, don't worry about it. Yeah, she's doing so many things, right? Good size container. Good type of container. Fresh media. We don't know what it is. They're good bagged stuff that you can buy and put in containers and there's others that are not so good. That's where the key may be. but she said she used it for all of them. And she's not seeing the same symptoms in all of them. The fact that she's not seeing the same symptoms in all of them is the number one clue that this is an environmental problem, not a disease or insect problem. Because the host is  a tomato. if it were a disease or insect problem, the host tomato  would likely be in all of the plants. However, different tomatoes have different resistances and this one, the Early Girl , is resistant to a lot of the funguses not necessarily to mosaic virus. mosaic virus typically enters through a sucky insect carried from another plant into it or from people who smoked.


Farmer Fred  5:11  

There are tomato varieties, and I think that Early Girl might be one of them, that is resistant to TMV, tobacco mosaic virus.


Debbie Flower  5:17  

Early Girls have always been one of my favorites because it's so reliable, and it really does not succumb to many diseases. From her pictures. I also think we're seeing I think we're seeing micronutrient deficiencies, possibly. The yellowing of the leaves is occurring at the tips, and sort of an irregular pattern. It's not just on one side, it's not just on the new stuff. It's not just on the old stuff. It's not just the top, it's not just the bottom, but it looks like green veins, and yellow between the green veins and then there are some dead spots there. There's some black once it's dead, it's dead, it's really hard to tell what's causing the problem. micronutrient deficiencies are often occur when the pH of the soil gets too high. Because the ions in the soil then tie up these micronutrients. Number one, micronutrient  deficiency we see is iron deficiency. And that's when the pH gets very high. Is that what it is? It's really hard to tell.


Farmer Fred  6:17  

Yeah, and usually, if it is some sort of deficiency, it would also manifest itself in the fruit. But the pictures of the tomatoes she sent us, they look very good. And from the other pictures, there's plenty of tomatoes on those things.


Debbie Flower  6:29  

But that happens at some point that you know you can have a deficiency, but the plant will still produce the fruit. The plant's job in this world is to reproduce itself to make seed. In order to make seed it makes fruit and so it will sacrifice from itself into the fruit. In some cases. In other cases, it sacrifices the fruit to save itself. But those are typically perennial plants. However, tomatoes are perennials, just not in our environment.


Farmer Fred  6:56  

Correct. So what should a poor gardener do?


Debbie Flower  7:00  

Good question. The other thing besides some micronutrient deficiency that occurred to me was the Southwest exposure. In the Central Valley, California, Sacramento Valley,  that's hot. That's very hot, and it's on a porch. So there's a wall nearby that's absorbing and reflecting more heat. But again, she says all our other tomatoes are handling it and this one is not. why this one is not I can't say.


Farmer Fred  7:28  

especially since we're dealing with four different varieties. Yes. And we don't know the other. And they may be more heat resistant than Early Girl, although Early Girl was developed in California, so you would think that you would be have some sort of problem. But of course, in this day and age with heat, All bets are off.


Debbie Flower  7:45  

Yes. So it's very difficult to tell. I wish we had more information. 


Farmer Fred  7:51  

Yeah, but I think as long as tomatoes are producing, and they're flawless, and they're tasty, enjoy the season. And then you may want to just next year, try a different potting soil. And clean out your Smart Pots thoroughly.


Debbie Flower  8:05  

Right. the media that's around this Early Girl, it may need to go into the green waste bin, rather than  be used to make tufa pots, rather than be reused for plants in the future.


Farmer Fred  8:18  

Did we do an episode on tufa pots? 


Debbie Flower

I think we did. 


Farmer Fred

Yeah. Okay. I will find that and post a link to it. In today's show notes. If you want to do hypertufa pots.


Debbie Flower  8:27  

With your leftover media. that's good for hypertufa pots.


Farmer Fred  8:30  

All right. But we are at this time of the year we're in the height of tomato time. Yeah. And oddly enough, here, it's not too late to even plant tomatoes. If you have a tomato plant sitting in a container that you haven't planted yet. Or if you go to a nursery, you can still find tomato plants in five gallon or 15 gallon containers. And our season is so long, you could put in an early maturing variety like Early Girl, that's something that matures in 50-60 days, because 50-60 days from now it'd be late October. And actually a lot of gardeners say that’s the best tomato time around here. Tomatoes come in October and even early November.


Debbie Flower  9:08  

I always like to have at least one at my Thanksgiving dinner. 


Farmer Fred  9:13  

Gardeners Delight. Yeah, I guarantee it.  Alright, Jordy, I hope that helps. And enjoy the tomatoes while you have them. Debbie. Thanks so much.


Debbie Flower  9:21  

You're welcome Fred.


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Farmer Fred  9:27  

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Farmer Fred  11:20  

Now I realize in that previous segment with Debbie Flower, we started to talk about hypertufa pots, but we didn't really talk about it. I mentioned that we'll provide a link in the show notes to where we did talk about it in the recent past, back in episode 203. But, you know, it was kind of buried in that show. So here it is. If you want to know more about hypertufa pots, here’s our chat with Debbie Flower about making your own pottery with old potting soil, also known as hypertufa pots.


Farmer Fred  11:58  

Can we talk hypertufa pots? 


Debbie Flower  12:00  

Oh, sure.


Farmer Fred  12:00  

Okay, let's talk hypertufa pots, since we're in a pot frame of mind here, so to speak. hypertufa. You mentioned that on an episode awhile back that  in your college classes, the students would be making hypertufa pots. what is a hypertufa pot?


Debbie Flower  12:18  

It's kind of a trough. I don't know where it started. The reason we started it was we had lots of leftover media. And we always want the students to be successful. And so we we started a lot of seeds. So we didn't want to reuse the media. That's one place where I will not reuse media, is when I'm starting seeds, because seeds starting from seeds because  seedlings can get diseases from the media that mature plants would not get. And specifically that's called damping off. So we had a big pile of use media at school that we didn't know what to do with. And it was made primarily of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite, which is a very classic mixture for container plants. You'll find it at Cornell University, you'll find a UC Davis mix. And they contain those three ingredients: peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. So I was looking for something to do with them and the hypertufa pot idea came up. And what you do is take one part cement, and it has to be cement, not concrete, and three parts of that leftover container media. And if you don't have leftover container media, then you can make those three parts with half volume of peat moss and half of volume of perlite, that would be your least expensive combination, you could probably use coir and perlite as well to make your three parts. And so we got a big wheelbarrow and we had containers and we just had the students picking up containers of cement, throw it in, add a little water, fill up three containers of the same size of the leftover media, mix it together. You can get concrete dye, cement dye, it's expensive, it's the most expensive part of the job, it's coloring it, and you can make them into color. So you can color the mix. Depending on how wet it gets. If you have it like slick oatmeal,  and you're very artistic or whatever, you can just form the pot yourself freehand. We used molds. We took grow pots and oiled them with vegetable oil and then put the media in side the Grow pot and then had another smaller so let's say we used to number five and a number one. The number five would be our outside mold. We grease with the vegetable oil the inside of the number five, then set the number one in the middle of it and the number one would have grease on the outside of the pot. And before we set that number one and we took a little piece of PVC pipe we would cut it into about two inch thick, two inch long pieces of one inch thick PVC pipe, any kind you got lying around doesn't matter what grade PVC it is, that's for your drain hole. We didn't grease that maybe we should have because sometimes it didn't come out at the end. So two inches thick is important as well because the walls of the hypertufa pot need to be two inches thick or they will break once you take it out of the pot. And then so we set up our molds. But the two inches in the bottom stick the PVC pipe into that two inches, put the number one on top of it and then fill in around the edges. And we let it set. setting time varies by humidity temperature. How wet your media, your hypertufa media, was one day sometimes often in teaching it would be a week because I wouldn't see the students in lab for another week. And then we'd take them out and typically out of plastic pots, they came out fairly easily. And depending on how wet they were, we would then mold the edges, the corners. If they're real dry, you just use a brick. And you can take those  90 degree  edges and sand them down to be softer. It was a fun, it was an artistic thing. I've had the pots and we didn't quite know what we were dealing with. So we planted in them to see what happened. We could grow anything, I was worried that the cement would lead to a high pH. And so, acid loving plants would do poorly in the pot. We had no problem with it whatsoever. We've grown all kinds of things: annuals, perennials, woody plants in these pots, and they are great insulators. Because of that thick two inch wall you can put them out where they get full sun on the side of the container and not absorb enough heat to harm the roots.


Farmer Fred  16:31  

What diameter PVC pipe did you use for the drain holes? One inch? That's a big drain hole.


Debbie Flower  16:36  


Well, the PVC pipe Yeah, it is. Sometimes the PVC pipe didn't come out of the bottom of the pot. So the hole would only be whatever the senator diameter of the the one inch pipe was so that would be better. Yeah. Smaller.


Farmer Fred  16:50  

How did you remove the extraneous pipe?


Debbie Flower  16:53  

Typically, we could knock it out. But sometimes that just stayed.


Farmer Fred  16:58  

well when it stayed though. Did you cut it down. So it wasn't so obvious.


Debbie Flower  17:01  

We had two inch pieces of pipe two inch okay. And then we laid two inches of the media around it. You got to have two inch walls on these things. We had bottom and bottom inside. All right, yeah. And we've we got real creative. I think of it as real creative. We used garbage cans, that I guess they were 30 gallon, they probably were bigger. We turned 15 gallon pot upside down, inside. a number 15 Inside the bottom of the garbage can. And that gave us two inches around the outside and two inches over the top. So we had a a dome. Then we put a piece of PVC right in the middle of the flat. What was on top of the 15 the flat that was our drain hole. Then we put another 15 on top of it and created an urn a pot so we had a very tall pot that was as tall as this big garbage can. But it only had a gross base of the size of 15 gallon pot or a number 15 pot.

Farmer Fred 

A 15 Is…


 Debbie Flower  

18 by 18 inches.


 Farmer Fred 

Thank you. 18 by 18 and it just seems like it would be heavy but it's not.


 Debbie Flower 

They’re not that's the beauty of these. Yeah,  because you're using three parts media and one part cement. They're not heavy. They're heavier than those plastic ones that look like they're ceramic, but not by much.



Farmer Fred  18:26  

I liked the idea with your students of decorating the outside of it while it's still moist like doing imprints of leaves or something like that.


Debbie Flower  18:35  

Right. That's a little tricky because you have to put the leaf in first and then pour the media over it. And it but you get an impression.  I did grape leaves on one and it came out quite nice. And then across the top I told students to bring in whatever bric-a-brac they wanted. they would bring marbles or beads or whatever. We would stick in them.

Farmer Fred

I'd bring beer caps.


 Debbie Flower

Okay, well, beer caps would stick quite well. The stuff on top of it wasn't pushed in far enough. Didn't all stick. So it was a little bit squirrely up there.


 Farmer Fred  

All right. hypertufa pots. I guess I spelled it right: HYPERTUFA,  we will have a link in today's show notes, Lowe's has a video on how to make them, too. So if what we were saying sounded confusing, this might help.

Farmer Fred

I'd bring beer caps.


 Debbie Flower

Okay, well, beer caps would stick quite well. The stuff on top of it wasn't pushed in far enough. Didn't all stick. So it was a little bit squirrely up there.


 Farmer Fred  

All right. hypertufa pots. I guess I spelled it right: HYPERTUFA,  we will have a link in today's show notes, Lowe's has a video on how to make them, too. So if what we were saying sounded confusing, this might help.

 Debbie Flower 

There are lots of videos actually about making them. And they were traditionally used for I saw them in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and they were made into rectangles. That's another beautiful thing. We talked about using round pots. But we did one  that was rectangular, and we got a box and lined it with plastic. It did have sort of bulge in the sides because the box wasn't real stiff. It was a cardboard box. So it bulged out a little bit. At the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, they had rectangular ones that were probably six inches tall, maybe eight or 10 inches tall because you need a three to four inch growing depth for succulents. And they planted succulents, some of them hung over the sides, and so they were stacked. It is very artistic. And in a moist climate like they have there, they can grow moss on them. And there are ways you can encourage the moss to grow because they have a nice rough outside.


 Farmer Fred

You have a favorite hypertufa video?


Debbie Flower  20:27 

Yeah, there are many out there and the components of the media vary slightly and their methods of putting them together vary slightly. So yeah, it's a good idea to watch a few of them and see what you want to try. 


Farmer Fred  20:40  

to that being two inches thick. They're I won't say impervious to heat, but they're certainly more heat resistant, right?


Debbie Flower  20:46  

They're great insulators. So in a hot climate like we have, they protect the roots better. Now I have not put them out in a hard freeze or extended hard freeze. We get hard freezes here once a year, maybe. And they've been outside and they've done just fine. But in a much colder place that has repeated and extended hard freezes, you probably have to take them inside, or they would crack.



Farmer Fred  21:11  

Excuse this question, because I'm old, but you may have already said this. How many drain holes do you put in each pot?


Debbie Flower  21:16  

I've done one. I've done three. It varies. Obviously too many would make the bottom weak. So you'd want maybe four inches between them. Three to four inches between them and between them and the edge.


Farmer Fred  21:29  

All right. This is sort of trial and error thing. 


Debbie Flower  21:32  

Oh, it's it's an experimental thing. Yes. It’s freeing to be able to do it. The only ones that have failed, that I know about, are the ones where the walls were too thin. All right, every other thing we tried. Well, actually, we tried big PVC pipe as the mold and it stuck to the PVC. We could not get it out.


Farmer Fred  21:53  

Are there molds available?


Debbie Flower  21:55  

I'm not aware of any.


 Farmer Fred  

Okay. All right. For you entrepreneurs out there. Go for it. Yeah, have a good time. All right, hypertufas. We came a long way from broken pot shards  when we started, Debbie Flower. Thanks so much.


Debbie Flower 

You're welcome.


DAVE WILSON NURSERY

Farmer Fred  22:15  

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Farmer Fred  23:23  

 Coming up in the Friday August 26, 2022 Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter, Debbie Flower and I discuss a pesticide that is available to the home gardener. It’s a systemic insecticide, which means it controls sucking or chewing insect pests by poisoning the plant parts that they’re eating. Problem is, the beneficial insect population is at risk, too, when they’re around a plant that’s been treated with this insecticide, Imidacloprid. That’s the active ingredient found in many garden insecticides. We tell you how it works, what it controls, and most importantly, how to read the label correctly so you don’t misapply Imidacloprid and harm the garden good guys. 


It’s all about Imidacloprid.  Find a subscription link to the newsletter in today’s show notes, or visit our website, Garden Basics dot net, where you can sign up to have the free, Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter and podcast delivered to your inbox each Friday. Also at Garden Basics dot net, you can listen to any of our previous editions of the Garden Basics podcast, as well as read a transcript of the podcast episode you are listening to now. 


For current newsletter subscribers, look for All About Imidacloprid in the next Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter, coming out on the morning of Friday, August 26th in your email. Take a deeper dive into gardening, with the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter. And it’s free. Find the link in today’s show notes or at garden basics dot net.

 


Farmer Fred  24:45  

Garden Basics With Farmer Fred comes out every Tuesday and Friday and is brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Garden Basics is available wherever podcasts are handed out. For more information about the podcast, visit our website, GardenBasics dot net. That’s where you can find out about the free, Garden Basics newsletter, Beyond the Basics. And thank you so much for listening.





Browning Tomato Leaves?
Smart Pots!
Making Hypertufa Pots
Dave Wilson Nursery
Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter