By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
There's nothing like watching a tomato plant grow and anticipating the ripe, red tomatoes it's going to produce. That is, until the fruit begins to rot on the vine.
To help farmers and home gardeners quickly head off problems like this, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has developed a guide to Georgia vegetable diseases and conditions.
The pocket-size guide, which sells for $15.95, has 55 pages of vegetable disease descriptions, complete with photographs. The guide covers diseases and conditions commonly found on cabbage, cantaloupes, corn, onions, peppers, squash, tomatoes and many other vegetable plants.
"There are gardening books galore. But what makes this guide stand out is the fact that it's specifically geared to our state," said Glenn Beard, a UGA Extension agent in Colquitt County, Ga. Printing the guide was Beard's idea.
Beard and UGA plant pathologist David Langston and other UGA Extension specialists had been collecting disease images for years. They shared them through the university's Distance Diagnostics through Digital Imaging system.
The Web-based DDDI system is open to anyone at www.dddi.org. But farmers continue to request hard-copy photographs and descriptions of diseases.
Meeting growers' needs
"The growers don't like digging through scientific publications for information," Beard said. "They want something they can use quickly and understand easily."
To accommodate his growers, Beard began printing a makeshift disease-identification booklet in his office. It was geared specifically for Colquitt County and the problems vegetable growers face there.
"I was using tons of ink and paper to print my version in-house," he said. "So when the head of UGA Cooperative Extension suggested we provide information for growers across the whole state, we decided to have the guide professionally printed."
Langston and a team of Extension specialists worked with Beard to create the new statewide guide. To reward his growers for their part in the project, Beard provided them a free copy.
"The commercial growers in my county think it's a very useful tool," he said. "They especially like that it's small enough for them to just toss on their dashboards."
For home gardeners, too
Although the guide was created to meet commercial growers' needs, homeowners will find the information useful, Beard said. Insurance adjusters and farm consultants also say the guide helps them conduct field identifications.
Beard cautions growers not to rely totally on the guide to self-diagnose plant problems. "The guide is, after all, just that," he said. "It will help you get it the ballpark. But you still have to confirm the condition with your county agent or other professional."
When a commercial grower is spending thousands of dollars to treat hundreds of acres, he can't afford to be wrong, Beard said. "The guide will help them narrow it down to this or that," he said. "When this disease is truly defined, then they can go ahead and tailor their fungicide applications."
Beard and his colleagues are planning a future version of the guide that will include insect photos.
To order the guide, send a $15.95 check payable to the University of Georgia in care of the UGA Ag Business Office, Room 215 Conner Hall, Athens, GA 30602.