April makes huge batches of her amazing salsa every year at our Tomato Tastings. The recipe is so simple, you won’t believe it. Just chop and dice as many varieties of ripe, heirloom tomatoes as you can find. April’s salsa generally has around 40 varieties in it. Add the juice of one orange per two pound of tomatoes. Add garlic salt to taste. And enjoy! It’s that simple!
Blossom End Rot is a condition whereby the fruit of a tomato plant begins to rot at the bottom (at the blossom end, hence the name) before the fruit is fully ripe. This is NOT a fungal disease or caused by any pathogen or pest. The biggest, most likely cause of Blossom End Rot is a lack of calcium in the plant. Calcium is very common in most soils and is even in most tap water! It is likely that the calcium is bound up in the soil and cannot get to the plants. The key to successfully unbinding calcium lies in the microbiology of the soil. A blooming, healthy microbial community will help to keep calcium and other micronutrients accessible to the plant. Beneficial bacteria (and Bacillus species in particular) are adept at consuming bound nutrients and processing them into a usable form. To cure Blossom End Rot, I recommend adding a soil supplement that contains large amounts of Bacillus bacteria, like John and Bob’s Penetrate. Learn more by visiting my blog post on the subject.
The biggest clue that your plants are too dry is the foliage. If they droop in the morning, chances are they are too dry. Foliage droops naturally during the heat of the day, to conserve water. But, in cool weather, leaves should be upright and vibrant. A consistently underwatered plant will have flowers that fall off and fruit that appears shriveled or aborted before it’s ripe.
The biggest sign of an overwatered plant is yellowing foliage, particularly at the base of the plant. This is a signal that the roots are too saturated and it’s time to back off a bit.
Tomatoes need a moderate amount of water. An infrequent, thorough, deep watering is the best. When a seedling is just planted, I water deeply once a week. Then, as the season progresses, I look at the plant in the cool morning air and see if the foliage is droopy or limp at that time. If it is, then that is when I apply another deep watering. Do not look at the plant in the mid afternoon heat and determine its droopy foliage as a sign that the plant needs water.
Leaves turning yellow may not be a disease but just the secondary signs of over and under watering. This, of course, depends at what time of the season this occurs. Yellowing of the leaves along with spotting is a common sign of disease. Contact me along with a photo and I can instruct you what you have and how to cure the problem. As the season progresses, yellowing foliage is a normal part of a tomato’s maturation. Once the fruit has ripened and been harvested, the foliage beneath the harvest point will automatically turn yellow and die back. The tomato plant does this to redirect all of its energy to the top of the plant, where new fruit is maturing.
Plant stress is the cause of flowers falling off. Many factors can cause a tomato plant stress. It can be due to over or under-watering. If the soil quality is poor, the plant may be suffering from malnourishment. It may be experiencing some mechanical stress due to insect and disease pressures. The weather can greatly affect a tomato’s stress level: extreme hot and cold temperatures, as well as constant exposure to wind, can cause flowers to fall off. Try to eliminate these stresses and see if your plant improves.
Indeterminate varieties indicate a large tall growth habit. They have larger root systems and need to be planted in larger containers or spaced 3 to 4 feet apart when planted in the ground. Indeterminate varieties produce fruit in stages, throughout a long season.
Determinate varieties are smaller plants that grow into a bush form about 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.This variety sets all its flowers at the same time. Then, all its fruit ripens and is ready for harvest at the same time. Determinates have smaller root systems can can be planted 1 to 2 feet apart or planted in a smaller container.
With the numerous varieties of fertilizer choices available, that choice best left to the gardener. However, the differences between organic and commercial fertilizers are enormous. Organic fertilizers have gain in popularity over the past ten years for many reasons. First and foremost is the lack of chemicals in the products. Organic fertilizers are commonly derived from animal and plant parts. These parts are recycled and used to nourish the next generation of plants. This method leaves the soil fertile and alive with microorganisms, which continue to sustain the soil for the best growing conditions possible.
Commercial fertilizers are salt-based products. The chemicals in them react with the plants in the same way that steroids react on people. Usually, plants grow rapidly, at first, and seem to produce beautifully. However, damage is being done, beneath the soil, to the roots of the plant. Chemical fertilizers expose root systems to invading pathogens and allow nutrients to leach away from the root zone with each watering. They contribute to a chemical change in soil structure which, for example, makes clay soil harder after each application. A plant may appear to be flourishing but, in reality, it is pushed to that state and reaches a peak. After that peak, the plant goes on a downward decline, as disease pressures and malnutrition render the plant useless. Most gardeners don’t know that using these fertilizers also damages the microorganisms in the soil, eventually rendering them useless and or lifeless. Commercial fertilizers deplete the fertility of the soil, while organic fertilizers add to it.
Suckering or pruning is a decision for the grower. It depends upon what the grower wants to achieve with their plant. The main reason to prune suckers is to redirect energy to the main stem. This will provide maximum nutrient availability to the fruit growing on the main branch, which will produce larger, better quality fruit. Most indeterminate plants will grow to become so full, that it would be advisable to remove random side branches to allow for increased light penetration and air circulation through the plant. This increases photosynthesis and decreases the probability of disease. Some branches that may be easily damaged through travel or tripping over can also be removed.
I recommend that indeterminate varieties should be planted in a container that can hold 2 cubic feet of potting soil or more (approximately 15 gallons). Determinate varieties can be planted in a container that hold just short of 1 cubic feet of soil or 5 gallon size.
I don’t recommend reusing soil in a container from last year. It’s best to dump that soil into a compost pile. A year spent in the compost pile will rejuvenate soil; then it can be used, along with fresh potting soil, the following year. The nutrients from potting soil get used by the plant it holds and, therefore, does not have much to offer a new plant, the following year. It’s best to start fresh.
There are several organic controls available. A newer organic control is called Spinosad, a by-product of sugarcane waste. Spinosad contains a bacterium that works quickly to attack the nervous system of worms, caterpillars, grubs and more. B.T. or Bacillus thuringiensis is another product that is very effective against the hornworm. B.T. is worm-specific. Spinosad is a large-spectrum insecticide and will kill worms and any insect with a chewing mouth part.
Leave curl is a common symptom of overwatering and cool temperatures. Suckering your plants (removing the side branch that appears at the base of the leaves and main stem) can also cause a mysterious curling of the leaves. It’s unexplained but will not affect the plants health or fruit production. Another cause of leaves curling is a possible insect problem hiding within the curled leaves.