Tomato Troubles

It’s that time of year when your mouth waters for a fresh, red, ripe, juicy tomato, but sometimes when you go out to pick one, you find that they aren’t forming the way they should or that they just don’t look right. This could be due to several things and I want to highlight two common tomato problems you may find in your garden at this point in the growing season.

The first problem you may find is 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 that can also affect squash, cucumbers, and melons.

Blossom end rot can be a problem that is related to watering, so keeping moisture even throughout the growing season is optimal. However, the more common cause is a lack of calcium. Fortunately, this problem is easily fixed with the application of a calcium rich spray like Bonide’s Rot-Stop which was developed specifically for this purpose. The application of a good fertilizer that is high in calcium can also work and I like Happy Frog, but not their Tomato and Vegetable variety. Ironically, some of their other formulas actually have more calcium and seem to work a little better in my garden. While you can still cut the rotted parts off and eat the tomatoes, it often isn’t worth the effort if it’s a very large spot.

The second issue that you may find 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 of the fruit itself.

Plants contract virus in one of two ways. It can either be present in the soil, or it can be transmitted through insects, usually 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 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 is 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 incredibly small- smaller than a pin prick, so you’ll have to look carefully. By the time you see the damage, that plant will be infected and although there are sprays for thrips, there is no cure for the virus and you should simply discard that plant. Just like chicken pox in your body, once you have it in your plants, it will remain in that plant forever.

If you still yearn for that perfect red, ripe tomato please don’t be discouraged. Instead keep your eyes peeled to spot problems early on so that you can still enjoy the summer fruits of your garden.