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Tomatoes looking good but no fruit for the fourth

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I had picked loads of cherry tomatoes by this time last year. The hot spring worked to the advantage of ripening tomatoes by the fourth of July. This year has played out a little differently but the tomatoes don’t seem to mind; they look great, have generous fruit set and will be ripening soon enough. Most are heirloom varieties; they were fertilized once at planting with fish emulsion and immediately mulched with newspaper and pine straw. They really perked up and put on growth after a good rainfall and a little shot of fish emulsion. If adequate rainfall and reasonable temperatures persist we may be looking at a bumper crop of tomatoes! One other advantage I may have this year is a sampling of grafted heirloom tomatoes from Harris Seeds.  I am a part of a trial to see if heirlooms grafted onto disease resistant root stock will outperform the non-grafted. The expectation is that the grafted variety will have higher yields so I will report on that later in the season. 

Many of the problems we face are weather related, which is the one thing we cannot control but we can control what our plants eat, so to speak.  At planting time be sure to add composted organic matter and a little organic fertilizer; follow up with some sort of mulching material to moderate soil moisture and preventing soil from splashing on the foliage which can spread soil-borne diseases from last year on your little plant’s first day in the garden.  

This year drainage in the garden is crucial because of some significant rain events and pop-up storms.  Tomatoes rather like being a bit on the dry side so sitting in water logged soil can cause a problem. Rapid fluctuations in soil moisture is the primary cause of the most common tomato condition known as blossom end rot (as well as being a contributor to blossom drop, leaf curl, and splitting fruit).  When plants fluctuate between too wet and too dry a calcium deficiency develops in the plant, which then causes the blossom end of the fruit to rot.  It’s quite disappointing when you grasp that first ripe tomato and discover its half rotten. You can avoid the onset of a calcium deficiency with good cultural practices; but if you do have a bout of it there are products that you can spray on your plants formulated to restore the calcium level.

Tomato or tomatoe

High heat can cause some problems for our tomatoes, as well. Daytime temperatures in the 90s typically cause plants to stop blooming. When temperatures drop back into the 80s they will rebound.  Too much nitrogen can jeopardize bloom. Nitrogen encourages leafy growth at the expense of bloom. Use a fertilizer lower in nitrogen and higher in potassium and phosphorus during bloom time to encourage good blossom set. Fish emulsion is my choice as it delivers small amounts of macro and micronutrients.

Lack of magnesium, which aids in chlorophyll production and respiration of plants, can also delay fruit set and the best way to ensure that this doesn’t happen is to add composted manure to your garden every year.  Healthy soil and a slow release source of nutrients do a great deal in sustaining healthy plants throughout the season.  

Foliar diseases like early and late blight, septoria leaf spot and anthracnose are foliar disease to watch for; many bacterial and fungal diseases linger in the soil from year to year so rotating your crop (and mulching immediately) is a good defense. Keep the garden clean and weed-free; and remove leaves as they appear infected and don’t inadvertently spread it by handling healthy plants afterwards.  

In terms of insects the best advice is a daily inspection. Early detection of aphids can be realistically controlled by using insecticidal soap. Handpicking tomato hornworms is easy (but leave the ones with the little white sacks covering the caterpillar, these are eggs of beneficial wasps that you want in the garden).  Pyrethrin and pyrethroid based botanical-based insecticides work on many pests if they become more than a pick and squish maneuver.  

Pick tomatoes when they are uniform in color and still firm. Don’t store them in the refrigerator or place them in a sunny window, this does not ripen them further. It just makes them mealy. Instead store tomatoes in a basket in a cool corner of the kitchen. To expedite ripening you can put them in a brown bag along with an apple.

(Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at Jwiche@shelbybb.net. or at  www.SwallowRailFarm.com)