Ray Tyler Lettuce Series 08 – Lettuce Pests and Diseases and How to Deal with Them

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Episode Summary

The Ray Tyler Lettuce Series is a new podcast mini-series hosted by Diego Footer and farmer Ray Tyler to take a deep dive into the technicalities of growing lettuce—from why lettuce is a farm staple to how to master growing the crop consistently to how to effectively market lettuce to maximize profits.

In this episode of The Lettuce Series, Ray and Diego discuss the most common lettuce diseases that farmers must familiarize themselves with, as well as several strategies to control and eradicate pests and diseases in lettuce.

This Episode’s Guest: Ray Tyler

Ray Tyler is the farmer and owner of Rosecreek Farms, a financially successful one-acre market garden nestled in Tennessee. Ray Tyler is also an educator who has helped many farms become more profitable through his coaching services. He also offers his services in the form of his three courses: The Living Farm Course, Caterpillar Tunnel Success, and of course, his Lettuce Masterclass.


Relevant Links

            The Farmer’s Guide To Growing Organic Lettuce by Ray Tyler

            Ray Tyler’s Lettuce Masterclass

            Paperpot Co.’s Kwik Hoops

            Battery-Powered Backpack Fogger

            Holganix 800


In this episode of The Lettuce Series

  • Diego introduces the episode on common lettuce pests and diseases (01:11)
  • How susceptible to disease is lettuce compared to other market garden crops? (02:12)
  • Lettuce disease pressure at Rosecreek Farms (04:02)
  • The most common disease issue farmers would most likely face (04:58)
  • How Ray Tyler deals with a diseased bed of lettuce (07:03)
  • How diseased lettuce appears in the beds (09:52)
  • Say goodbye to sandbags forever with Kwik Hoops (11:30)
  • What is soil steaming and what does it do? (13:40)
  • Using backpack sprayers to eliminate pests and disease (18:00)
  • Other ways to eradicate disease: solarization and bio-fumigation (19:43)
    • How to solarize soil and how long it takes (19:57)
    • Bio-fumigation and its duration (21:01)

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Ray Tyler Lettuce Series - Episode 8 - Lettuce Pests and Diseases and How to Deal with Them

[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome to Farm Small Farm Smart. I'm your host, Diego, DIEGO. Today, it's episode number eight in the Lettuce Grower Series. This 10-part series is a deep dive into growing lettuce really well. For the series, I'm joined by farmer, author and educator, Ray Tyler of Rosecreek Farms. Ray's author of the book, the Farmer's Guide to Growing Organic Lettuce, and he's someone who's struggled throughout his 10 plus year of farming, growing the crop, but he eventually went on to master it.

[00:00:39] His book and this series are the things he's learned that have helped make lettuce part of the cash flow flywheel that drives his farm week in and week out. Lettuce is one of those crops they can change your farm on a profit and loss statement. It's profitable and you can sell a lot of it. And if you have crops that you can make money on and move a lot of them, that's gonna make your business make more money.

[00:01:11] Episode eight in the series focuses on lettuce pests and diseases and how to deal with them. Like most crops, lettuce has pests and diseases that target it. In episode eight, Ray's gonna talk about his experience in dealing with pests and disease issues. He's gonna cover some of the most common pests and diseases while giving various solutions to help prevent and solve those problems should they arise.

[00:01:39] If you enjoy this series and you wanna fall along at home, you can check out Ray's book, the Farmer's Guide to Growing Organic Lettuce using the link below. Episode eight, lettuce pests and diseases. Let's get into it.

[00:01:56] So like anything in farming, you can take as many preventative measures as possible in the nursery, in the field to ensure your plants are pest and disease-free, but sometimes things happen. Plants get disease, pests show up. If you look at lettuce versus other common market garden crops, how susceptible are lettuce to disease and pests versus those other crops?

[00:02:24] Ray Tyler: It's quite the opposite of most everything else. So for lettuce, what I found the lowest pest pressure on our farm.

[00:02:33] We don't really have that bad of a problem, where everything else, it's just a�it's a daily battle, it seems, of like just keeping up with everything. But for lettuce, we don't really need to do much. We have really good, healthy soil. We do have a pest issue in the wintertime with aphids that we try to stay on top of.

[00:02:54] Really from April �til November, there's just very little issues that we have to deal with. But on the disease side of things, it's the opposite. So it's like the number one crop that can have the most disease, where everything else, we don't really deal with it that much. So I'm really focused on diseases is our problems currently.

[00:03:20] When we started out, I would say pest was definitely one of our biggest issues with lettuce, mainly deer. Deer was brutal, had a little bout with armadillos there for a few summers that was rough. Moles could be problematic and yeah, I would say aphids in the wintertime. But diseases is where year round, every single week...

[00:03:44] We have to be very observant and diligent about doing preventative practice, preventive systems from diseases really causing us harmful economic damage.

[00:04:02] Diego Footer: You know, if you were agnostic about disease, and you just didn't care, weren't really paying attention, are you running�how much of pressure is disease?

[00:04:12] Is it one of those things where, you'd regularly be losing a significant chunk of crops? Is it something where, yeah, disease shows up, but it's patchy, it's not a huge factor. Like, on your farm, how big of pressure does disease apply?

[00:04:32] Ray Tyler: Back, I would say six, seven years ago, it was like in the wintertime, it would not be uncommon for us to lose 70% of our crops this winter. Maybe we're at three to 5%. So if we were to let it do its thing without doing any preventive measures, it would be catastrophic. It would not be profitable growing, at least in the wintertime. For sure.

[00:04:58] Diego Footer: Your book, chapter seven, for people following along, there's a lot of diseases. You said you face tip burn, damping off, fusarium wilt, mildew, lettuce drop. Which one of those is the biggest problem today? Or, maybe with growers you've talked to, what's the most common disease problem you think they're gonna face? That's probably a better, more targeted question.

[00:05:21] Ray Tyler: Yeah. I think it's probably lettuce drop. In 2019, we had this new disease called fusarium wilt, which came from California, blew in from a hurricane that summer. And that was brutal. So we had�that was a soil-borne disease.

[00:05:40] And that was before we had covered our field. We had this one tunnel that we could not grow anything in that tunnel until we really addressed this problem. That was like the last, probably the latest disease that we like had to really deal with because we could not grow anything in this one area.

[00:06:04] Right now, probably like lettuce drop, I would say is probably one of the most common things, which tends to be exasperated by excess humidity. If we leave the row cover on for too long, that can flare up.

[00:06:18] Diego Footer: Yeah, and looking at the picture, it looks�imagine a beautiful head of salanova, and then all of a sudden it looks fried and just laying flat on the ground. It looks like wet toilet paper.

[00:06:29] Ray Tyler: Exactly. Yep. That lettuce drop�is rough as well. Has those really hard black fruiting bodies at the base of the plant. Those are pictures that I took believe it was the winter of 2019. Maybe it's 2020 where it was really pronounced in the certain bed, and then I peeled back the base, and you could see those black fruiting bodies. And once you see those need to get burned, you don't wanna put that in your compost pile.

[00:07:03] Diego Footer: One of the things about disease is a lot of times on these short-lived crops, by the time you see it, there's really nothing you can do to treat it like Downey mildew and stuff like that. You can apply stuff, but it does become systemic and it's hard to reverse it.

[00:07:18] So disease, like many things, is a prevention versus a treatment-type problem. If you got a bed where you notice a disease, what's your process? Is it to just take it out right there? Do you try and remedy it? How do you deal with, say you got some downy mildew in one of your beds of lettuce?

[00:07:43] Ray Tyler: The first thing I would do would be to take out that crop, like in any kind of like affected leaves that I saw, and discard that. I would actually probably put that in the trashcan and throw it, make sure it leaves my farm. That's the first thing.

[00:08:06] And then in the winter, which is where we see this most commonly to be destructive, would be, I would check my soil moisture content, and I would make sure that water got turned off and stayed off. Like I would unhook the drip tapes and no one would accidentally turn that on, cuz that's one thing that's gonna keep the disease from flaring up is too much moisture. And I would leave row cover off.

[00:08:31] Even if I had a really cold night, I'd be like, you know what? I'm most likely gonna lose a lot of this already, so I would rather give it more airflow than to try to cover it. So if I covered that, then I mean, it just, in my experience, it's almost like, okay, yeah, I'm gonna lose 50% more than I would've if I just left it off and let it get really cold.

[00:09:00] But other than that, I have not done anything personally that is effective in reversing this disease, or even�I can slow it down some, but even that, I'm very limited. It's kind of okay, I messed up. My soil was too wet. I left the road cover on too long. That's usually like the two big, or maybe one of�I had some other diseases.

[00:09:27] Some guy stepped in that leaf, and they tracked it over here or. Maybe some tools that didn�t get cleaned properly, something happened, you know, if you notice one or two, I'm gonna watch for it very carefully, but it's not gonna be a big deal. But once you get that five to 10% loss range, it's like, okay, we made a growing mistake somewhere. Where was that made? And how can we eliminate that?

[00:09:52] Diego Footer: And do you notice it being patchy when the disease does come in, or are you seeing�is it focused on one section of a field or bed, or are you seeing like rows?

[00:10:05] Ray Tyler: No, yeah, it'll be like a patch, like maybe there's a patch here and a patch 30 feet down, and it's kinda like these random patches and it�s spread is what I see.

[00:10:15] Occasionally, you'll see like this lettuce like, right next to it, that just like never got affected. And I've always sigh, it�s like, man, I wish I could let that grow, collect the seed from that and say that seed cause that was resistant to�or certain wilt. So there's always those kind of one-offs, like what in the world is going on?

[00:10:37] But yeah, in general, that's been the case. Last year, we had for the first�I've actually never saw this before. We had root nematodes in our lettuces. And it was only in one bed, in this 10-foot section of this bed �cause we planted it. And I saw this section of plants that they just all died. It was very random.

[00:11:03] And so I pulled it up, and we could see where the damage was. So we planted a different crop. We did some things. I think we did beneficial nematodes is what we did. So we planted a bed on top of that same, exact same thing. So it wasn't until we steamed that bed did that actually get rid of those nematodes that were killing all those lettuces.

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[00:13:24] Yeah. Prevention's a key for a lot of these, and a lot of that is taken care of in soil fertility, applying organic matter, so you have good, healthy soils. Airflow, which you've mentioned, keeping excess moisture off plants, keeping roots so they have access to oxygen.

[00:13:40] You're doing the foliar and fertigation feeding to give plants that extra boost to help protect them. Bio-fumigation, soil steaming. Those are two things maybe people haven't actually tried before. Soil steaming. What's that like?

[00:13:59] Ray Tyler: Soil steaming is definitely a very aggressive measure for your farm and probably out of reach for most farmers, but it's very possible you could rent one for a very affordable rate.

[00:14:13] What that's doing is you're essentially�you're injecting steam through a steam sock that runs the length of your bed. And steam is trapped by a layer of poly that's held down by chains. And the idea with this is you're just trying to sterilize the top two inches of your soil. So think about if you were, if you had a race bed, right, and you went to�you wanted to buy sterile, weed-free compost and apply that.

[00:14:42] It's the somewhat of the same thing, like it�s sterile, it needs to be rejuvenated with earth worms and microbes and things like that. But so what you're doing with steam is you're essentially killing all your weed seeds, all your beneficial microbes. All your beneficial and harmful nematodes, any soil borne pathogens that's in the soil, so it's literally�you're starting with a clean soil. There's nothing. You've killed good and the bad.

[00:15:18] Now what I found is that below that two-inch mark still is teeming with life. So it's not like just your nuking soil down 20 feet, and it's just like, it's toast forever. I've seen earthworms come to the surface of soil within 24 hours after steaming. So this is 100% effective for all diseases that I've seen on the farm.

[00:15:51] And it's been pretty crazy because we've seen the whole farm last season, all but four beds. And those four beds are the worst growing beds on our farm. It's crazy. Which is insane. One thing�so there's some unintended effects that were surprising and that was the amount of nutrients that microbes release once they die.

[00:16:16] We doubled our salad mix yield right after we steamed, so we did bed of salad mix before one after, and it was double. It was insane. Tomatoes we had the year before, 250 pound of tomatoes in that one bed. We had some diseases and that one bed, after we steamed, no nutrition, we had a thousand pounds. So almost a 3x increase in yield.

[00:16:46] No disease. So we saw it erratic lettuce drop... It did. Fusarium wilt, root rot nematodes, gone, completely eliminated. But it is more aggressive and so one thing that's crazy about these microbes is that we know we have a good amount of microbes in our soil, and so when we kill those microbes, they release this massive flush of nutrients.

[00:17:18] And there's a picture there too from David's farm up in near DC. He's a certified organic farmer as well. And I made that picture there. If I remember correctly, he added no fertilizer, and that's just after summer of growing. He steamed it, grew that kale, and it's just going gangbusters.

[00:17:42] Diego Footer: So one measure to take and like has came up before, it's a business if you run into enough issue, there's only so many levers you have to pull. It may come to the stage where, like you said, let's hit the race reset button. Start over. And go from there. One other thing you talk about in this chapter seven, preventing disease and pests, spraying crops with a backpack sprayer. I don't wanna get into brands, but have you had luck? Have you found that to be successful with some of these foliar sprays of different products out there?

[00:18:16] Ray Tyler: Very much, and I would say, where I'm at now is we're only using a fogger, so we have a battery powered fogger versus a sprayer. And the difference between the two is the sprayer has like this, it's more of a, kinda like a direct spray.

[00:18:35] So it's got this fan and wherever that fan hits, that's what's gonna get hit with whatever solution you're spraying. A fogger is, it's really, it is what that name implies. It's like this fog, right? So all those micro droplets say if you're using a regalia, right? Or fish emulsion, you're wrapping around every stem underneath the leaf, like the hundred percent of the plant in its surface will be covered by that fog.

[00:19:07] So it's a lot more effective. And that's all we're using now, except for when we apply beneficial nematodes, and we'll maybe use like a direct sprayer, but now, from that, we�re just using fertigation.

[00:19:23] Diego Footer: And that fogger, that's something you carry around?

[00:19:25] Ray Tyler: Yep. Yep. It's battery powered. It's very quiet. It's very easy to use.

[00:19:30] Diego Footer: Yeah. We'll have to link to that in the notes, but yeah, that's one of the things to help work on the preventative side, give plants all the nutrients they can get and microbes they can get to help fight off the disease-producing ones.

[00:19:43] Ray Tyler: There's two other methods of eradicating a diseased soil, or kind of like what we talked about, if you wanna hit the reset button. And the first one is soil solarization, where you're essentially taking�you're killing the bed, you're getting to make sure it has adequate moisture. You cover that with a clear poly, seal up a tunnel, and you're just basically letting time�it takes about eight weeks for this to happen.

[00:20:14] You're just really getting that soil hot, right? And that will get rid of all your weed seeds. Any soil pathogens, you'll have a beautiful, clean tunnel with no weeds. It'll be amazing. You'll have zero disease, zero weeds. So that is the cheapest, probably easiest way to get into this. The downside to this is that it takes time, right?

[00:20:41] So if you're in the middle of a high production farm, you don't have eight weeks in peak season to do this. But if you are like in your first year and you're like, it's pretty hot anyways, I wanna take the summer off. This is a really great way to do that. The next step is bio-fumigation.

[00:21:05] This takes about two weeks, so you can use�I've used grass clippings before, make sure it hasn't been sprayed. Or you can use a mustard, which has really nice gasification properties in it. And so what you're doing is you're applying this to the bed, you're tilling that in, and then you water that.

[00:21:27] Okay. If you grow mustard as a cover crop, you're just maybe getting a flail mower, breaking that in, tilling that in there, watering that, covering that with clear plastic, and that takes about two weeks for that to break down. The mustard releases gases, which kills a lot of these pathogens, and so this is highly effective as well.

[00:21:48] I have eliminated a fusarium wilt, which is one of the most toughest diseases, soil-borne diseases, that I've had on my farm. So that's been very highly effective. Again, it takes two weeks, it's a lot more attainable to pull that off than something like a steaming, and it takes a lot less time than soil solarization.

[00:22:12] So those are the three methods that I've tried that I've had 100% success with. So, you've got three. And the biggest difference between the three, the biggest ones for us as a business is time, right? Steaming takes a couple hours, and you're done. Next day, you can plant. Bio-fumigation takes two weeks. Unless you grow mustard as a cover crop, then you're probably gonna be out eight weeks, but you're adding organic matter to your soil, so that's a plus.

[00:22:44] And the longest is your soil solarization, which, to be clear, the soil solarization can only happen in the hottest part of the summer, so it needs to rely on just heat to kill off any of those soil-borne pathogens and weed seeds. But all three are very effective. I've tried it myself on my farm and have had great success, and I've seen no negative implications on soil biology.

[00:23:13] The one caveat with all that is that I use a product which is called Holganix 800. It has 800 species of micros, protozoa, fungi, mycelium. It's just great. It just really helps reinoculate your soil with just good biology that'll really help jumpstart your farm.

[00:23:38] Diego Footer: Thanks for listening to the episode today. For any tools and supplies referenced in this episode, please visit the show description below. There, you'll also find a link to Ray's book, The Farmers Guide to Growing Organic Lettuce, as well as a signup link for Ray�s lettuce masterclass. Those are two additional ways to go even deeper into growing better lettuce for your farm.

[00:24:02] I hope you enjoyed this episode, but more importantly, I hope you use the information in this episode to make a major impact. On your farm business. Thanks for listening. Until next time, be nice, be thankful, and do the work.

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