It has been an odd spring at my little spot on the map. It was mild early enough to allow an early bloom of the spring bulbs, then it turned dry, which caused the lush grass to take on a hot summer appearance, and there were several freezes over two weeks past the average frost-free date for this area. I know some gardeners who replanted their tomato plants two or three times before we made it back to average temperatures.
I like to tell my gardening friends that the reason I planted my tomatoes so late this year is because I had a feeling that we would have some late freezes. But the truth is, I would have had them in if I'd had my garden spot ready for planting. I guess in this case, procrastination paid off.
Nearly every conversation I heard during these late freezes eventually entailed something about the well-being of the tomatoes in the garden. It's amazing how this common garden plant can be the topic of conversation for everyone who puts a trowel into the ground, as well as for those who don't.
A couple of questions from readers made me realize what the topic of conversation may be over the next several months.
As the first tomato fruits of the year begin to mature, it's almost a sure bet that questions will abound as to what is causing the bottom end of the fruits to sink in and turn brown. This phenomenon is aptly named blossom-end rot.
Blossom-end rot is not caused by an insect or disease, but is brought about by the lack of calcium uptake to the fruit. In most cases, there is an ample supply of calcium in the soil, but for several reasons, the plant may not be getting it from the soil to the fruit.
The first few tomato fruits are normally the only ones affected by blossom-end rot. The reason is because these fruits coincide with weather and mechanical events that are happening in the garden at the same time. Wide-range fluctuations in temperature, along with extremely wet conditions in the garden, can contribute to a plant's inability to take up enough calcium. Cultivating too close to the root system to take care of spring germinating weeds can damage the roots and reduce calcium uptake. The dry conditions of late spring can have these same effects if the plants go from moist to extremely dry moisture content.
If there is a sufficient calcium level in the garden soil, the tomato plant will quickly abandon the formation of the damaged fruits as the plant matures and becomes well-rooted. If a plant does not grow out of this problem in the garden, I would recommend having the soil tested for calcium levels.
After the conversation of blossom-end rot subsides, there will more than likely be questions of why the bottom foliage of the tomato plants are turning brown and starting to move to the top of the plant. This is caused by a number of fungus problems, collectively referred to as blight.
Selecting tomato varieties that are blight-resistant can easily solve blight problems. If that's not an option, because heirloom varieties or a personal favorite that is susceptible are wanted, there are things that can be done to lessen the infection of the plants.
Mulch and drip irrigation in a tomato garden can help decrease the infection of the plants. The fungal bodies that cause the problem are most likely present in most garden soils. Since they are in the soil, there has to be a mode of travel for them to make it up on the foliage. The easiest way for the soil to get onto the foliage is from splattering rain and irrigation on the bare ground. The mulch and low-pressure irrigation helps alleviate that problem.
Spray treatments of the foliage using products that contain fungicide labeled for tomatoes can also be used to lessen the blight problem. These fungicides normally need to be applied on a weekly basis, especially during hot, humid weather, when conditions are ideal for fungal growth.