One of the most beloved vegetables in the garden, the tomato, has become a staple in the home garden for many years. Whether it’s because of its versatility, flavor, stability, or just that beautiful red color, essentially all gardeners select some variety of tomato to grow. Given all of this, tomatoes are also sometimes the most difficult and finicky vegetables to grow. In this week’s newsletter we’re giving a crash course on our saucy Solanaceae.
-Tomatoes prefer slightly acidic soil. Before you plant, be sure to obtain a soil test through your local extension agent to determine your soil’s pH levels, and other nutrient levels.
-Buy your transplants locally and from a reputable source.
-Like other crops, do not plant tomatoes in the same location year after year. Tomatoes are very susceptible to fungal diseases (more on those later), and those types of diseases can reside in the soil for an extended period of time. Practice crop rotation!
-Obtain a planting guide from your extension agency to determine the safest earliest and latest planting dates for your entire garden! (The latest safe planting date for tomatoes in eastern and central KY has already passed…June 1 and June 15- see Resources)
-Do not over-fertilize! Too much nitrogen will produce heavy foliage but no fruit. Consequently, too little calcium can lead to blossom end rot. Study carefully the nutritional needs of the tomato varieties you select.
-Like the rest of your garden, tomatoes need 6-8 hours of sunlight every day.
-When planting, add in a layer of compost to the soil, and dig the holes deeper than the containers the seedlings grew in, leaving only the top few leaves exposed.
-Don’t over water! Tomato plants that are too wet are, again, susceptible to fungal disease.
-If planting indeterminate, or climbing/vining, tomatoes, they must be staked, caged, or trellised. Grow Appalachia utilizes the Florida weave trellising method. Pictures are posted below. You can also view a tutorial at this link.
-Mulch heavily! Not only does mulching retain soil moisture and reduce weed pressure, it also prevents soil from splashing up onto the plant. As mentioned earlier, many diseases common in tomatoes thrive in the soil for an extended period of time.
-Prune (remove) the lower leaves of your tomato plants, especially those closest to the ground. Ground leaves contain more soil residue and debris. For more information about pruning, refer to the sourced article below, “Should I prune my tomato plants?”
Diseases and Management:
1. Tomato blight- Blight is a term that gets thrown around often in the gardening world, but in tomatoes blight is a fungal disease that, once plants are exposed to it and become infected, is basically impossible to treat and/or save the plant. Development of blight is accelerated by warm temperatures and wet conditions. Inspect your tomato plants every day for signs of damage: yellowing or browning leaves, soft browning spots on fruit, lesions on stems and foliage). Remove and destroy infected plants immediately. Apply fungicides at the base of the plants; less product but with more frequent applications is more practical and profitable than heavy spraying. Be sure to read the label for adequate application instructions! **Remember, if you are a Grow Appalachia participant or site, your products must be organic! Look for the OMRI label!*
2. Blossom end rot- Blossom end rot is caused by inadequate soil aeration/drainage and insufficient calcium levels. The disease becomes more prevalent when plants are exposed to a period of drought; the roots weaken and are unable to uptake water and other nutrients properly, causing rot. Damage will appear at the blossom end, given the disease’s name, and the water-soaked spots, which start small at first, can enlarge to cover 1/3-1/2 of the fruit. Additionally, tomatoes planted too early in too cool of soil are also susceptible to the disease. For control, purchase a soil thermometer to make sure your soil’s temperature is of the optimum range for planting. Again, be sure not to over water. Use a fertilizer that is higher in phosphorus (also why it’s important to obtain a soil test). The disease does not spread from plant to plant, nor from fruit to fruit, so fungicidal measures are often not effective; thus, the previously described control measures are more for the environmental conditions.
3. Bacterial leaf spot- While this disease falls under an umbrella of other bacterial diseases, leaf spot diseases are most common in tomatoes and in other garden vegetables as well. Look for slightly raised, small brown scab-like lesions on foliage. The disease is spread by other infected plant debris during humid, wet weather. To mitigate the spread of this disease, remove and destroy any infected or diseased-looking plants, and also remove diseased leaves as they appear. This may slow infection. When watering, be sure to water at the base and not at the leaves; keep leaves as dry as possible. Mulch to prevent splashing and to control weed pressure.
Some tomato varieties do have resistance to blight and bacterial leaf spot. When purchasing seed, look for EB or LB on the packet (Early Blight or Late Blight), and BLS for bacterial leaf spot. Unfortunately, there are no current varieties that are resistant to blossom end rot. A more complete list of disease resistance codes on seed packets can be found at the Resources section.
To recap a few control and preventative measures:
-Mulch, mulch, mulch!
-Read ALL labels when applying fungicides or other products!
-Rotate your crops year after year.
The all-elusive tomato question: Which varieties should I plant? That depends on what you’re hoping to get out of your tomatoes! If you are interested in:
-Paste/Preservation: Romas, like Juliet and Verona (similar to the Juliet),and the Amish Paste, a popular heirloom.
-Cherry sized/for salads: Yellow Pear, Sungold, Gardener’s Delight, Grow Appalachia HQ love the Sungolds!
-Slicing/general consumption: Brandywine, Beefsteak, Cherokee Purple, Valley Girl (an early variety)
-Heirlooms/market: In addition to the Brandywine, Amish Paste, and Cherokee Purple, try Black Krim, Black Cherry, Gold Medal, and the Italian Heirloom.
For those of you who live in the Berea area, Bill Best, in addition to being a notorious and reputable heirloom bean seller and grower, also grows and sells heirloom tomatoes and tomato seed. You can visit his website at heirlooms.org.
Everyone Loves to Eat!
What would a tomato-laden newsletter article be without a few recipes of our spotlight crop?
Corn and Tomato Salad: Use up those ears of corn that will be coming in soon as well! This recipe calls for cherry tomatoes.
Chow Chow: For tomatoes that are green and not quite that red-ripe color.
Salsa: The link will direct to a salsa recipe from one of our partner sites!
Tomato Salad: This salad features fresh basil and cucumbers.
Tomato Preserves (this uses Yellow Pear tomatoes)
The Million Dollar Question
We can hear you asking it, so we’ll debunk it for you once and for all: Is a tomato a fruit…or a vegetable?
To quote the below-sourced Huffington Post article:
Botanically speaking, a fruit is a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant, whereas vegetables are all other plant parts, such as roots, leaves, and stems.
Given that, the first sentence ought to read: “One of the most beloved fruits in the garden…”
So there you have it.
And that’s a wrap for our tomato feature! We’re well into the throes of the “dog days” of summer so fairly soon you should have tomatoes by the bushel-full, or peck-full, if that is your MO. Do you have any tomatoes this year that you just have to share? Send us a snapshot through our social media sites, or shoot us an email! Do you have a foolproof secret or tip or trick for growing bountiful, beautiful tomatoes? Any unique or out-there varieties you’re growing? We would love to hear from you! Are you struggling with your tomatoes this growing season? Let us know if we can help! Until next time, happy growing and harvesting!