Growing season busy for tomato man

To many in Ascension and St. James parishes, Craig Roussel is the tomato man.

As the LSU Agricultural Center’s horticulture agent for the two parishes, Roussel is the man folks call when they see bugs or have wilting plants this time of year.

Roussel, who joined LSU AgCenter in December 2011, shared some of his tomato expertise during a June 13 vegetable garden field day at his office at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

Roussel and the Ascension Master Gardeners also honored youths taking part in the 2013 4-H Youth Garden Contest.

Roussel has been busy this growing season visiting area gardens and diagnosing problems gardeners are having “mostly due to the erratic weather we’ve been having.”

“Weather was just perfect for disease,” he said, pointing to late-season cold snaps coupled with periods of heavy rains.

“There’s a lot going on this year that we just can’t explain,” he said.

Roussel said he tries to diagnose problems and come up with solutions.

From early blight to septoria leaf spot, Ascension and St. James vegetable gardens have seen a variety of diseases attack tomato and bell pepper plants, he said.

Roussel has also had to fight the bugs, fungi and diseases at his demonstration garden planted near his office on “the hill,” an abandoned mound of dirt near the expo center’s chapel.

Roussel planted the garden last year with plans of expanding the plot to an educational and demonstration garden.

“We want it to be a showplace for fruit and vegetable plants for the spring and fall,” he said.

He displayed some of the vegetables he’s harvested this season.

The Master Gardeners club plans to apply for grants to fund a drip irrigation system and supplies to expand the garden.

Until recently, the garden didn’t have a water source nearby and water had to be carried in buckets to the site, he said.

About a dozen adults and youth gardeners attended the program, which included suggestions on treatments for some of the problems seen in gardens in recent weeks.

Roussel said registration is underway for a new Master Gardeners class set to begin in August.

The class costs $150 and includes instruction on a variety of gardening issues.

For information on plant problems, call Roussel at (225) 621-5799 or email