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Ten Tomato Tips

Summer gets hot, and tomato growers anticipate their bright red crop. However, many problems might arise while waiting. Some potential issue you can prepare for and try to prevent, others you can’t. But while waiting for your crop remember:

1.    There’s no such thing as a perfect crop. A little loss is to be expected, even though some years are worse than others. So therefore don’t use chemicals in a pointless quest for perfection.

2.    A lot of problems are preventable. Choose your tomatoes carefully, plant and care for them well, and they will have a head start of protection from problems like pests. Learn from this year’s issues to do better next year.

3.    Be alert to save your tomatoes. If caught early, a lot of issues are easily corrected. Check on your tomatoes daily.

4.    Don’t stress about weather – you can’t control it. Some years are hot, some are dry, some are stormy and some have other unexpected inclement weather that could hurt your yield. But other years will be good and can make up the difference.

5.    Ugly Tomatoes still taste good. Even a lumpy or cracked tomato is going to be more delicious than one from the grocery store. Just cut off the ugly or cook it.

Most Common Tomato Problems:

1. All Leaves and No Fruit

Your tomato plant is probably receiving an overload of nitrogen which makes it grow leaves. It’s not getting enough phosphorus to grow fruit and flowers. Buy a fertilizer with a good balance of its three elements, like 10-10-10. The middle number represents phosphorus, so you could also buy a fertilizer with a bigger middle number and a smaller first number (representing nitrogen), like 2-3-1. Tomatoes feed a lot and will most likely require fertilizer. Make sure to read and do just as the fertilizer’s instructions say to prevent overkill. Remember that slow-release fertilizers, even organic ones, have a bigger margin of error than the water-soluble fast-release ones.

2. Falling Flowers

This usually happens because of cold weather. The tomato comes from subtropical regions in Central America where the plant was used to requiring warmth to produce fruit. If it’s too cold, the plant’s leaves might curl or become leathery, which won’t hurt the plant at all. Because of the tomato plant’s hate for the cold, don’t transplant tomatoes too early.

3. Puckered and Misshapen

A big scar is called the “catface.” If nights are cool during fruit growth, then the fruit often gets a catface or grows misshapenly. Some kinds of tomatoes are bred to be less likely to catface. And don’t forget that misshapen tomatoes are still good for eating. Also, a lot tomatoes that are known for tastiness are not perfectly circular.

4. Cracked Tomatoes

If the fruit is cracked, it didn’t get a constant feed of water. If water rushes suddenly, the skin might pop. Imagine an water balloon filling up too much, too fast. Instead of watering once a day, get water deep in the soil a couple of times a week, based on how much it rains. This way, water soaks up slowly. A soaker hose works well for this. Use your finger to check that the dirt is moist but not wet. Stick it into the dirt to make sure the moisture is even. In addition, put mulch on the soil so moisture won’t escape – even for potted tomatoes. In the case of pots, consider using a sub-irrigated or self-watering container. There are breeds of tomatoes that have thicker skin and are therefore more resistant to cracking. But even a cracked tomato can be eaten, so don’t fret.

5. Soft and Rotten Bottoms

If the end is rotten, your plant lacks calcium. Usually this happens because watering is irregular. If a plant is dry, then wet, then dry too often, it isn’t able to utilize calcium. You can also test your soil before planting to see if it lacks calcium. Tomato fertilizers often contain calcium. If a tomato only has a little blossom rot then just cut it off before eating.

6. Wilting, Yellow Leaves

A good soil will have a good variety of microorganisms, but there are some bacteria and fungi that make for unhealthy tomatoes. Most commonly, fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt. You’ll know your plant has this if, after cutting a large stem, you see it is discolored internally. If a plant has such a disease, it will just die. Focus on prevention. Take away any plant that has a disease and don’t throw them in your compost. Make sure to rotate crops. That is to say, don’t plant the same plant in the same place every year. This way, diseases that prey on tomatoes won’t have a host the next year and will likely die out. The same crop shouldn’t be replanted in the same place for at least three years.  If there is a potting mix that had a sick plant, don’t use it again. Make sure soil isn’t too wet, since that can help fungi grow. Don’t rely on fungicides as they only slightly helpful with prevention if used all season long, regularly from the first planting. Fungicides can’t cure a diseased plant. Get plants that are resistant to fungal infections. These breeds will be catalogued as VF, meaning disease-resistant. This may also be written on the seed packet. Many heirloom breeds are more prone to being infected, so be aware.

7. Spotty Leaves

Spider mites could cause such spots, since they group together on the bottoms of leaves, like aphids. Just spray them off with water and that takes care of the problem, usually. In case it doesn’t, get an insecticidal soap. Make sure it’s not a home-grown solution since that will strip the coating off the plants’ leaves. Brown spots may also mean there is a small fungal infection. Again, to prevent fungal infestations, don’t overwater and make sure to stake your plants so that they get great air circulation.

8. Spotty Stems

Be vary wary of brown spots, especially on stem joints, since this could be a sign of late blight – a terrible fungus that comes from potato plants. Its spores usually spread from the taters after some wet weather. This has occurred a lot in the Northeast recently. Get rid of plants quickly if you think they might be infected to prevent the spread of the disease.

9. Spotty Tomatoes

Sunscald can make your tomatoes spotty. The tomatoes need a bit of leafy shade, so don’t over-prune. Pale spots are sometimes because of stinkbugs that come by to drink from the tomato. Just eat the part of the tomato that is not damaged.

10. Chewed Leaves

Check for tomato hornworms. They are caterpillars who are two inches long. Pick these guys off your plant and kill them in soapy water. A caterpillar with little knobby bumps is a good sign, though. So let him stay. Those knobs are wasp eggs that have infested the caterpillar, will eventually hatch and eat those worms. Thank you, very much, parasitic wasp!

11. Chewed Tomatoes

Squirrels are probably thieving your juicy produce! The only real way to fend off these thieves is to cover your plant – top and sides – with something they can’t get through, like chicken wire. With an abundance of squirrels, you might just have to let them have some. Plant enough to share. Since squirrels carry diseases that can spread to humans, don’t eat an already-nibbled tomato.

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