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Tomatoes and Beans - My canary in the coal mine

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GreginND

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Tomatoes and Beans? In a grape growing forum? Let me explain.

I could also title this thread: "Plans for my new vineyard, or not"

This April I acquired a very charming 12 acre farmstead with lots of character with the idea of growing grapes and fruit trees and starting a winery.

Here is an arial view of the property and a view with areas I had mapped out for planting, etc. The red area may have some higher spots that could be planted as well.





I have been planning on killing off the weeds and quack grass in the areas marked in yellow, preparing the soil and planting grapes next spring. Actually I was going to start spraying it this weekend.

One of the first things I did in April was to take the area marked in magenta between the barn and machine shed and till it up for a vegetable garden.

Here's the before and after:





I worked hard on this vegetable garden. Got a lot of things planted and when the veggies were starting to sprout realized I needed to fence out the rabbits as they were eating everything to the ground.



Last week I was looking at a newly sprouting garden. But I was seeing some signs of distress. I thought it might be lack of water since it was getting pretty dry. By the weekend, I knew it was more than water. This is what was happening to my veggies:

Tomatoes:





Beans:





Eggplant:



What is causing this damage to my plants? At the same time the corn is growing just fine and looks like it will be giving a very nice crop. I suspect one or more of these may be the problem:



These herbicides work great in the roadside ditches and along the railroad tracks to kill the leafy spurge and other broadleaf weeds while not affecting the grasses at all. The problem with these herbicides is that they can persist in the soils and grasses for years after application. They are not readily degraded even in composts. As a matter of fact they have been causing problems in municipal and commercial composting facilities for some time. Legumes and tomatoes and, unfortunately, grapes are very susceptible to these compounds at the low part per billion level.

Where do they come from? Well, in municipal facilities it is often grass clipping from lawn treatments or golf courses that contain these herbicides. On my farm? I am pretty sure it is "ditch hay" that was fed to the horses. This is hay that was harvested along the roadside ditches. These herbicides are taken up by the horses and pass intact through their urine to contaminate the ground and manure. Folks with organic gardens have had problems with contaminated horse manure from these herbicides. I have confirmed that the previous owner fed his horses ditch hay last winter. He claims they were confined to the smaller pasture between the barns and to the east. Unfortunately that yellow area to the right on my map may be unsuitable for grapes for the next 4-5 years or longer.

Laboratory tests for these at the ppb levels is very expensive. The best way to test for the presence of them is to do bioassays with soil samples. I will be collecting soil from various areas of my property and some of the manure samples and pot them up. I'll plant some peas - one of the most sensitive plants - in those pots and see if they show signs of herbicide damage when they grow. It will take a month or more to see the results. But it is the easiest way.

I've learned a lot this week researching all of this. I thought I would pass along this information so you all can be aware. Be careful using horse manure to amend your soil. And if you have horses, for heavens sake, do not feed them ditch hay. Make sure the hay you get is free of contamination.
 

WVMountaineerJack

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Was your garden area used to hold cows? Is there just too much poop? You need a regular old soil test of each of your spots and it looks like your soil is clumped up, heavy clay or to much poop or you worked it wet? We live on a horse farm and put so much horse poop in the garden that one soil test came back and told us to start to watch out for salt buildup. CC
 

Runningwolf

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Greg that is so cool and I am envious of your small farm. That is so cool to have the property and have a small stream through it also. I can't help you with the crop failure but I would say you need a soil test also. Keep this thread on going with future pictures and your progress. How's the tomatoes coming? you can always make wine from those. LOL
 

WVMountaineerJack

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I forgot to add that those damp areas are perfect for elderberries! They would be a lot easier to grow there than fruit trees that dont like getting their feet wet. Crackedcork
 

tatud4life

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I don't what is happening to your veggies!! I tilled virgin ground a couple of years ago and tilled in sand, top soil, fertilizer, and grub killer. That year and the next, my veggies did great!! Do you think that you might have a drainage problem? The sand can help with that. I stopped planting veggies on year because I was tired of watching them rot due to my lack of time. That is why I switched to grapes and other fruit. They don't need quite the attention that a veggie garden does.
 

grapeman

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That really sucks with the garden. Let's hope it is just that area that is affected. It is entirely possible the barnyard was contaminated with pesticides. The sick look to the weeds in the before picture shows that as suspect, unless you sprayed it. Try planting a variety of crops in that area, and see what grows. That will narrow down the range of possibilities. To me it looks a lot like atrazine injury. It is possible that the area was used to fill sprayers and they may have had spills or possibly hosed out the tank after use there. You saw corn will grow alright there- atrazine won't hurt corn. Beans won't so that takes a few sprays out of the mix. I see a largte field behind your new mini-farm. That may have been part of the farm a few years ago and the owner may have filled the sprayer there.

Good luck Greg.
 

GreginND

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The fields around my farm once belonged to the same farmer. Actually it was once part of the original bonanza farm over 100 years ago. But it was sold off in 1994. This area has only been used for horse pasture. I am now 99% sure the herbicide contamination came from the use of ditch hay for the horses in the fall and winter of 2010. I have found out where the hay came from and have confirmed with the county weed control office that it was sprayed with Tordon 22k (picloram). The sick weeds you see is the result of my application of glyphosate. My extension plant pathologist tells me that the tomatoes show the typical fiddlehead fern malformation consistent with Tordon and not glyphosate.

Some plants on the east side of the garden show fewer effects. I am hoping the pasture has less contamination. On the west side of he garden there is a large pile of composted manure that was likely taken from the barn lat year. It seems plants around this pile have the most difficult time growing. I will know more when I do my growing trials with soil samples.

Picloram is one of the most persistent herbicides and the slowest to degrade.
 

GreginND

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My extension scientist says the plant damage is not due to salinity or excess nitrogen. The beans have all died and the tomatoes will likely not survive or produce fruit.

Elderberries are definitely on my list to plant.
 
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Bartman

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Estimating from your pictures, I'm guessing your garden is about 20' x 40' ~ 800 sq.ft. I trust with 12 acres, you have some kind of tractor, or perhaps access to some dirt-moving equipment for a day or two. Assuming you have a portion of your acreage that is not appreciably contaminated and that you really want the garden to stay where you have it now, would it be feasible to dig up the top 1'-2' of soil in the garden and replace it with 'clean' soil? Perhaps you could use the contaminated soil to shape or fill in the low spots near the creek bottom to try to control any future flooding? It would probably take a full day, but a Bobcat or other small tractor might be all you need.

I would hate to have to wait years for the soil to improve enough to just keep plants alive - you want them to thrive!
 

GreginND

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Actually the garden is larger - 30 x 90. I will be taking soil samples today to grow pea seeds in. I will take it from a grid on the two potential grape areas and take samples from other locations that I think are contaminated. This should tell me the extent of the problem. I am hopeful that the bulk of the contamination is the area between the barn and machine shed where I planted my garden. This is where manure from the barn was dumped so may have the highest concentration. I am encouraged that the sunflowers I planted on the east end of the garden near the east pasture are growing. They are supposed to be very susceptible to Tordon. The owner had three horses and I think the amount of herbicides in the larger area will be much less.

I don't think it is feasible to change out the soil. As a matter of fact my soil analysis just came back and the nutrients in the east pasture are OFF THE CHARTS! I will never have to fertilize. Actually I think I may need to grow some cover crops and remove the cuttings to reduce the amount of nutrients.

According to my county weed specialist the best way to speed up the degradation of Tordon is to till the land every couple of weeks. It is decomposed most readily by the sun so the more I can expose the soil to light, the faster it will dissipate. So, for the vineyard, I think the amount is less that I may be able to plant sooner rather than later. For the vegetable garden, well I will relocate it next year to an uncontaminated spot and probably try to till that plot as much as possible for the next couple of summers.
 

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