Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tomato Problems

 Our tomatoes are doing better than ever this year.  Our biggest problem with them is that the vines are so heavy with fruit, their supports aren't quite doing their job. 

Exhibit A: The very first tomato to get picked this year!
 It's taking a little bit of diligence to keep them going though.  You'll notice all the yellow spots on the leaves in the above picture.  That is blight.  Blight is always a problem on our tomatoes.   I don't think it's just us, because we had problems with it at our old house too.  I think it's just around.  It's a fungal disease and the spores live in the soil and also travel on the wind.  There are a few tips and tricks to combat blight:
  • Avoid overhead watering.  When water falls from above (by rain or sprinkler), it makes the soil splash up on the leaves, which infects the plant. 
  • Allow good air circulation.  Leaves become infected when they are wet and have spores on them at the same time.  The time for infection depends on the temperature (it happens faster in warmer weather).  So you don't want the leaves to stay wet for a long period of time.  Don't be afraid to cut leaves off plants.  Once they are about 2 feet tall, I start cutting off the bottom branches so there aren't leaves for the soil to splash on.  This gets pretty impossible to maintain as the season goes on, but it at least gives the plant a chance to get a good start before the blight takes hold.  Also thin branches so air can get to all parts of the plant. 
  • Trim infected leaves.   Thoroughly wash (preferably bleach) your tools after you do this.
  • Put infected leaves in your compost pile. Or don't.  The old school of thought was to remove all infected vegetation (this is what I do).  Newer school of thought is that if you properly compost down the infected plant material and plow it back into the garden, it acts as a sort of "vaccine".  I'm personally very skeptical of this idea, but do some research and see what you think.
  • Spray a fungicide.  I've read neem oil will work as a fungicide, but it hasn't done much in our garden.  I still spray it for pests, but I've had more luck with physical control measures for blight. 
  • Keep tomatoes and potatoes separate.  Blight affects both plants and they will contaminate each other.
  • Solarize the soil.  I haven't tried this before, but I think I will give it a try this year for both pest and fungal control.  As a bonus, it helps with weeds too.
Some other problems I'm seeing are leaf footed bugs.  There really aren't nearly as many of these as I've seen in past years and I attribute that to spraying neem oil about twice a week.  I do still see a handful around though.  These are sucking bugs and everywhere they pierce the fruit, it leaves a bad spot.  They're also really annoying and will fly straight at you when you're in the garden.
 Last, but not least, I found 4 tomatoes with blossom end rot yesterday:
Blossom end rot is caused by inadequate calcium.  Either from low levels in the soil, or from inadequate watering.   Our problem is water level, I think.   This happened in the garden beds we have ollas in.  While we've been consistent about turning on the drip line to water the rest of the garden, I slacked off on filling the ollas last week.   I pulled these tomatoes off the plant so energy wasn't being wasted on growing them.  I also filled the ollas, which have really worked fabulously (less fungal problem, fewer weeds, heavily producing plants), I just need to stay on the ball with filling them.

Really, things are going quite well, the plants all have A LOT of tomatoes on them.  I'm trying not to counts my chicks before they hatch though.  I sure hope all of the tomatoes ripen up and I'm slaving over the canner soon, but I'm not counting on it just yet!

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