Tomatoes and Vegetables
|The tomato, is today the most popular garden
vegetable in America. For many years, however, tomatoes (then called
"love apples") were considered poisonous and were grown solely for their
ornamental value. Tomatoes are usually easy to grow and a few plants
provide an adequate harvest for most families. The quality of fruit
picked in the garden when fully ripe far surpasses anything available on
the market, even in season. The tomato plant is a tender, warm-season
perennial that is grown as an annual in summer gardens all over the
continental United States. Spring and fall freezes limit the outdoor
Buying transplants or starting seeds indoor early, gets tomatoes off
to the best start in the garden when warm weather finally arrives and it
saves several weeks in growing time. Some gardeners transplant their
tomatoes soon after the soil is prepared for spring gardening, when
there is a high risk of damage from freezing. Be prepared to cover early
set plants overnight to protect them from frost. For best results with
very early plantings, consider black plastic mulch and floating row
covers for heat accumulation and frost protection. For best results with
minimal risk, plant when the soil is warm, soon after the frost-free
date for your area.
For fall harvest and early winter storage of tomatoes, late plantings
may be made from late spring until mid-summer, depending on the length
of the growing season. These plantings have the advantage of increased
vigor and freedom from early diseases, and they often produce better
quality tomatoes than later pickings from early spring plantings. Time
late plantings for maximal yield before killing freezes in your area (up
to 100 days from transplanting for most varieties).
The space required depends upon the growth pattern of the variety and
method of culture. Space dwarf plants 12 inches apart in the row, staked
plants 15 to 24 inches apart and trellised or ground bed plants 24 to 36
inches apart. Some particularly vigorous indeterminate varieties may
need 4 feet between plants and 5 to 6 feet between rows to allow
comfortable harvest room.
Apply starter fertilizer when transplanting. Hoe or cultivate shallowly
to keep down weeds without damaging roots. Mulching is recommended,
especially for gardeners who wish to maintain their plants for full
season harvest. Black plastic or organic materials are suitable for
mulching. Delay application of organic materials until after the soil
has warmed completely in early summer so that growth is not retarded by
cool soil temperatures early in the season.
Water the plants thoroughly and regularly during prolonged dry periods.
Plants confined in containers may need daily or even more frequent
watering. Side-dress nitrogen fertilizer (ammonium nitrate) at the rate
of one pound per 100 feet of row (equivalent to 1 tablespoon per plant)
after the first tomatoes have grown to the size of golf balls. (If
ammonium nitrate is not available, use 3 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer.)
Make two more applications 3 and 6 weeks later. If the weather is dry
following these applications, water the plants thoroughly. Do not get
fertilizer on the leaves.
Many gardeners train their tomato plants to stakes, trellises or cages
with great success. Not all varieties, however, are equally suitable for
staking and pruning.
Tomato cages may be made from concrete-reinforcing wire, woven-wire
stock fencing or various wooden designs. Choose wire or wooden designs
that have holes large enough to allow fruit to be picked and removed
without bruising. The short, small, narrow type often sold at garden
centers is all but useless for anything but the smallest of the dwarf
types. Most modern determinate tomatoes easily grow 3 to 4 feet tall and
indeterminates continue to get taller until frozen in the fall, easily
reaching at least 6 feet in height. Use cages that match in height the
variety to be caged and firmly anchor them to the ground with stakes or
steel posts to keep the fruit-laden plants from uprooting themselves in
late summer windstorms.
Trellis-weave systems have recently been developed for commercial
operations and can work just as well in a garden planting. Tall stakes
are securely driven into the tomato row about every two or three plants
in the row. Make sure the stakes are tall enough to accommodate the
growth of your tomato varieties and make sure they are driven very
securely into the ground to prevent wind damage. (The woven rows of
tomatoes can catch much wind.) As the tomatoes grow upward, strings are
attached to the end posts and woven back and forth between the supports,
holding the tops of the plants up and off the ground. This operation is
repeated about as often as the tomatoes grow another 6 inches, until the
plants reach maturity. The fruit is held off the ground as with staked
or caged plants; but the foliage cover is better than with staked
plants, and the fruit is more accessible than with cages.
Tomatoes should be firm and fully colored. They are of highest
quality when they ripen on healthy vines and daily summer temperatures
average about 75°F. When temperatures are high (air temperature of 90°F
or more), the softening process is accelerated and color development is
retarded, reducing quality. For this reason, during hot summer weather,
pick your tomatoes every day or two, harvest the fruits when color has
started to develop and ripen them further indoors (at 70 to 75°F). On
the day before a killing freeze is expected, harvest all green mature
fruit that is desired for later use in the fall. Wrap the tomatoes
individually in paper and store at 60 to 65°F. They continue to ripen
slowly over the next several weeks. Whole plants may be uprooted and
hung in sheltered locations, where fruit continues to ripen.
Tomato hornworms are large (2 to 3 inch long when fully grown),
green caterpillars with white stripes on the body. A horn protrudes from
the top rear end of the worm. Tomato hornworms feed on the leaves and
fruit. Several worms on one plant can quickly defoliate it and ruin
developing fruit. Because their green coloring so closely resembles
tomato foliage and stems, they are difficult to see. Handpick in cooler
parts of the day or use suggested biological insecticides. If you see
hornworms with small, white cocoons protruding, leave them alone. These
structures are the pupae of parasitic insects that help control the
hornworm population and the individual wearing them is already doomed.
Verticillium and fusarium wilts are soilborne diseases that cause
yellowing of the leaves, wilting and premature death of plants. These
diseases persist in gardens where susceptible plants are grown. Once
they build up, the only practical control is the use of resistant (VF)
Early blight is characterized by dead brown spots that usually start on
the lower leaves and spread up the plant. Upon close inspection, you can
see concentric rings within the spots. Although early blight is most
severe on the leaves, it sometimes occurs on the stems and can cause
severe defoliation. Certain varieties (Roma and Supersonic) are more
tolerant of early blight than others.
Septoria leafspot is characterized by numerous small black spots on the
leaves. The centers of these spots later turn white and tiny black dots
appear in the white centers. The disease starts on the bottom leaves and
may become severe in wet weather.
Blossom-end rot is a dry, leathery brown rot of the blossom end
of the fruit that is common in some seasons on tomatoes. It is caused by
the combination of a localized calcium deficiency in the developing
fruit and wide fluctuations of soil moisture. The problem is especially
bad in hot weather. Soil applications of calcium seldom help, though
foliar calcium sprays may minimize the occurrence of the problem. Make
sure the formulation is designed for foliar application or severe damage
could result. Pruning causes stress to the plants that may increase the
incidence of blossom-end rot. Some tomato varieties are much more
susceptible to this condition than others. Mulching and uniform watering
help to prevent blossom-end rot. Once the blackened ends appear,
affected fruits cannot be saved. They are best removed and destroyed so
that healthy fruit setting later can develop more quickly.
Poor color and sunscald occur when high temperatures retard the
development of full red color in tomatoes exposed directly to the hot
sun. Sunscald occurs as a large, whitish area on the fruit during hot,
dry weather. It becomes a problem when foliage has been lost through
other diseases such as early blight or on early varieties that normally
have poor foliage cover as the fruit ripens.
circular areas on tomato fruit are typical symptoms of a disease
known as anthracnose, which is caused by a fungus. Although this
fungus may attack both green and red fruit, symptoms do not develop
until the fruit ripen. A perfectly good looking tomato will often
develop these sunken areas during storage. This disease is typically a
problem on tomato fruit that are sitting on the ground and when there
have been prolonged periods of wet weather. A comercial fungicide can be
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