Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Ameraucanas and Black Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Tomato Handouts

For an easily printable version of the tomato tips handout (with photos), click Tomato Tips Handout. 

For an easily printable version of the tomato diseases handout (with photos), click Tomato Disease Handout

Tips for Growing Great Tomatoes

·         There are two main categories of tomatoes. Indeterminate tomatoes will produce fruit all season. Determinate tomatoes will ripen all their fruit over a two week period—ideal for canners. Indeterminate tomatoes can get very tall, while determinate varieties are often bushier and need less support. Choose what works best for you.
·         Tomatoes need full sun. 8+ hours a day is ideal.
·         Give your tomatoes lots of space. Good air flow can prevent many diseases. Plant at least 36” apart.
·         Plant your tomatoes deep! Plant the whole stem in the ground so that only the top set of leaves is visible. The tomato will put out roots all along the buried stem.
·         Most tomato plants need some type of support. If you like to prune your tomatoes, you can tie them to a stake. If you aren’t a pruner, use a tomato cage. Either way, pinch out the suckers that form in the intersection of two branches for a heavier yield.
·         Feed your tomatoes regularly, but read the label on your fertilizer; many fertilizers labeled for use on tomatoes are not the best choice. If you use too much nitrogen, the plant will make more leaves and less fruit. Look for a fertilizer where the middle number (the phosphorous) is higher than the first number (the nitrogen). Look for fertilizers labeled for flowers; remember that tomato flowers become fruit!
·         Blossom End Rot is a huge problem with tomatoes, as well as peppers, summer squash, and even melons. Blossom End Rot is a disorder caused by the plant not getting enough calcium. Chances are there is already enough calcium in your soil, but the plant may not be able to use it because of too much soil acidity, too much nitrogen, or fluctuating water levels. The easiest of these to fix is Blossom End Rot caused by uneven watering. Try to keep tomatoes evenly moist and never let them dry out completely, but also don’t leave them so wet that they live in water. Water deeply when the soil is dry one inch below the surface. Mulching heavily will prevent weeds and keep the soil from drying out. You can eat tomatoes with Blossom End Rot; just cut off the bad part.
·         Tomato diseases are hard to prevent. Outsmart them by rotating your crops and only using any one part of your garden for tomatoes every three years.
·         Many diseases are caused by microorganisms in soil. Prevent the soil from splashing onto the lower leaves by mulching heavily and removing the bottom 12” of leaves once the plant reaches about three feet tall. Also remove any leaves that turn yellow or spotty. Don’t put these diseased leaves into your compost pile.
·         Tomatoes need air temperatures above 60 degrees and below 85 degrees F to ripen. Very hot summer days will delay ripening and those green fruits won’t ripen in cool fall air. To ripen green tomatoes at the end of summer, pinch off the growing tip of the tomato vines, pull off all flowers, and pull off smaller green tomatoes that have no chance of ripening at least three weeks before the first frost. That will force the plant to put its energy into ripening the remaining fruit. Just before the first frost, pick and bring fruit indoors to ripen. Extended exposure to cool temperatures interferes with ripening and flavor development. Clip fruit with a very short stem piece left on but one that’s not long enough to punch holes in other tomatoes. Stems ripped out of fruit will open them to decay.
·         Some of my favorite cultivars:
a.      Brandywine Pink (beefsteak)
b.      Sungold (sweet golden cherry)
c.       Supersweet 100 (prolific red cherry)
d.      Chocolate Cherry (black cherry)
e.      Rutgers (Disease resistant workhorse slicer)
f.        San Marzano (wonderful paste tomato)
g.      Paul Robeson (black tomato)
h.      Cherokee Purple (tricky to grow but tastes amazing)
i.        Honey Delight (yellow cocktail)

Common Tomato Diseases

My favorite tomato problem solving website from Texas A&M:

Early Blight
Very common! Rings or halos around irregularly shaped leaf spots that are the signature of early blight. Causes leaf spots, stem cankers, and fruit rot, and leaves often fall off. Early blight starts on the oldest leaves and moves up.

Septoria Leaf Spot
This fungus is one of the most destructive for tomato leaves. It’s found mid-summer on, and likes wet, humid conditions. There are tiny fruiting bodies in the lesions.  Septoria Leaf Spot overwinters on infected tomato debris or on plants or weeds in the nightshade family.

Late Blight
This was the cause of the Irish Potato Famine. It’s caused by an oomycete, which is fungus-like. It reproduces by spores. Late blight spots are much larger and faster to develop compared with those caused by early blight, and they are rarely limited to the bottom section of the plant. Late Blight likes cooler (60-80° F) temperatures and wet conditions. It will reproduce in warmer temperatures if the weather is very wet.

Fusarium Wilt
Symptoms include a drooping and yellowing of lower leaves, wilting of the plant and plant death. The yellowing is evident in the midsection of the plant, not just in older leaves nearer the ground. This is a warm-weather fungal disease that is soil-borne and comes upwards from the roots. To be sure of Fusarium, cut a lower stem lengthwise and look for dark brown discoloration inside the stem.

Tomato Spotted Wilt
Stunted plants, young leaves have small bronzed spots. Fruit shows yellow discoloration. This virus is spread by thrips, and there is no cure.

Blossom End Rot
Water-soaked spots on the blossom end of fruit. Spots get larger and turn black. This is a calcium deficiency, not a disease. Calcium deficiency can be caused by fluctuations in moisture, too little soil calcium, root pruning, incorrect pH, or too much ammonia, potassium or magnesium fertilization early in the season. Correct blossom end rot by testing your soil and correcting the pH and nutrient levels, avoiding boom and bust watering, using mulch, and avoiding ammonia based fertilizers.

Ways to Limit Tomato Disease

·        Weeding

·        Spacing

·        Sanitation

·        Crop Rotation

·        Mulch

·        Pruning

·        Staking/Caging

·        Disease resistant cultivars

·        Grafted plants

·        Morning watering, no overhead watering