I ran into a friend the other day, and she said to me, “Oh, I’d be so embarrassed to show you my garden this year. It hasn’t done well at all!”
I started laughing and said, “Welcome to the club! Neither has mine!”
It’s been a tough year. Not only has it seemed exceptionally hot, but the bugs have been having a field day in our yard. In fact, those two things have been what most of the questions at the garden center have revolved around.
Tomatoes have been especially problematic. We switched to putting ours into large pots a few years ago to save growing space in the vegetable garden for things like squash and cucumbers that needed more room. Overall, it worked beautifully – so well, in fact, that I still have sauce in the freezer from last summer. But this year it’s been a different story.
There are some things to try to salvage your crop before the end of the summer.
One of the biggest problems in tomatoes is splitting and cracking. Although they can still be eaten and used in cooking, it doesn’t make for a pretty appearance. The skin is vulnerable as tomatoes begin to reach peak ripeness, and that is when they tend to split. Splitting is actually a water problem. Think about your skin in the winter. If you don’t drink enough water, your skin will tend to dry out and crack, and it is the same with tomatoes. If they have been used to being well watered, then are allowed to dry, then you resume the watering, they fill with water and burst.
Although there really isn’t anything wrong with using them, the split can allow bacteria or fungus to get into the tomato, so it’s best to prevent this before it happens. Prevent cracking by keeping plants watered evenly, on a regular basis. The application of a layer of mulch can be helpful too, as this will help to retain moisture and keep plants from drying out between waterings.
The next question we are most commonly asked is about blossom end rot. Blossom end rot is easily identified when your tomatoes begin to form, but on the end where the blossom was, instead of a solid, ripe tomato, a dark, rotting spot forms. This is a common garden problem and can also affect squash, cucumbers and melons as well as tomatoes.
Blossom end rot can also be a problem that is related to watering, so even moisture throughout the growing season is optimal. However, the more common cause is a lack of calcium. Fortunately, this problem is easily remedied by a calcium-rich spray like Bonide’s Rot-Stop. The application of a good fertilizer that is high in calcium can also work. While you can still cut the rotted parts off and eat the tomatoes that are affected by this, it often isn’t worth the effort if it’s a very large spot. You might want to save them to use for sauce though.
The third issue that we’ve seen in large numbers this summer is virus, and it could be tobacco mosaic, tomato spotted wilt or another virus. Virus in your plants is identified by one or more of the following symptoms: yellowing of the plants, stunting, curling of the upper leaves, a mottled pattern on the leaves or discoloration.
Plants contract virus because it is present in the soil or is transmitted through insects such as western flower thrips. If you have been planting your tomatoes in the same spot for years and end up with the same problems each year, then I would suspect the virus is in your soil. The remedy is to move the tomatoes to another place or dig out and remove that soil and replace it with fresh topsoil.
Thrips are rampant this year and are most likely the cause of your virus. These little critters are tiny, and you won’t be able to spot them with the naked eye. The way to check for thrips are to take some of the leaves and shake them over a piece of white paper. You should be able to see them scooting around on the paper, but again, they are the size of a pin prick, so you’ll have to look carefully. By the time you see the damage, that plant will be infected. Although there are sprays for thrips, there is no cure for the virus, and you should simply discard that plant.
If you’ve felt like it’s been you versus the bugs this summer and the bugs are winning, don’t be discouraged. Although we had a lot of snow this past winter, the temperatures weren’t really cold enough for a long enough period of time to really knock the bug populations back, so this year has been one of the worst we’ve seen.
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.