Tag Archive: Tomatoes

  1. Beating Tomato Pests and Diseases

    Nothing’s better than a happy, fruitful tomato, but keeping pests and diseases at bay can be a challenge.

    All winter long, tomato lovers suffer, eating supermarket fruit with the taste and texture of foam packing peanuts.  Finally summer arrives, bringing a harvest of tart, sweet, sunshiny tomatoes.  You can buy these edible jewels at the local farmers’ market, but there is something incredibly satisfying about growing your own.  A just-picked tomato, still warm from the sun is nirvana in a red wrapper.

    But the path to that nirvana can be strewn with obstacles.  Tomato plants are subject to a host of pests and diseases.  Bacteria, viruses and fungi attack stalks, leaves and fruit, while insects make every attempt to rob gardeners of hard-won harvests.  Even the best-regulated vegetable garden is not immune to tomato maladies.

    Knowing the enemy, whether it is a pest, disease or disorder, is the first line of defense.  Following good cultural practices is the second, and learning effective treatments for specific problems is the third.

    So who are these enemies of the tomato?

    Tomato Fungal Diseases

    Early blight is a common tomato disease that puts a damper on plant health and productivity.

    Fungi thrive in humid weather and poor air circulation.  Several different types afflict tomatoes, most often manifesting themselves in the form of brown or black leaf spots.

    Early blight generally starts on older foliage and shows up as small brown spots.  Left untreated it can defoliate plants and rot fruit. Leaves also drop in the case of septoria leaf drop and leaf mold, both of which cause brown leaf spots.  Buckeye rot and anthracnose show up on fruit, with brown spots in the case of buckeye rot and spots with salmon-colored spores in the case of anthracnose.  Fusarium wilt kills the entire plant, with leaves losing color as the infection progresses.  Southern blight also kills the entire plant and is distinguished by brown lesions on the lowest part of the stem.

    Possibly the worst tomato disease is late blight, which not only kills entire plants, but is highly contagious, with spores that spread by wind.  Caused by the Phytophthora infestans fungus, the disease manifests itself in the form of bullseye-type spots on leaves.  If you suspect late blight, get a positive identification from the nearest cooperative extension agent.  Once the identification is made, all infected plants should be destroyed (not composted).  If neighbors raise tomatoes or potatoes, it is helpful to notify them as well.  Keep vigilant for signs of the disease on unaffected plants.

    Tomato Bacterial and Viral Diseases

    Tomato spotted wilt virus is a disease spread by small insects called thrips.

    Tomatoes can also be stopped in their tracks by bacterial and viral diseases.  One of them is bacterial wilt, which causes a generalized decline of affected plants.  Another is bacterial spot, which produces brown leaf spots and scabby patches on fruits.

    Spread by thrips, tomato spotted wilt virus shows up in the forms of spotted leaves and discolored fruits that fail to ripen properly.  Whiteflies harbor tomato yellow leaf curl virus, which results in curled, misshapen leaves, sudden blossom drop and stunted fruit.  Tobacco mosaic virus causes mottled, misshapen leaves and plant weakness.

    Tomato Pests

    Tomato hornworms are one of the most voracious tomato pests!

    Insect predators of tomato include aphids, which attach themselves to stems and leaves and suck out the plant’s juices.  Tomato fruitworm larva develop inside fruits, making them inedible, and large, ugly tomato hornworms dine voraciously on stems and leaves, before taking on fruits.

    Colorado potato beetles are another pest that will go for tomatoes when potatoes are not available. The striped yellow and brown beetles lay clusters of golden-orange eggs below leaves and orange and black larvae quickly emerge–both will eat tomato leaves and fruit.

    Other Tomato Problems

    Blossom end rot can be fixed by feeding tomatoes with calcium-rich tomato fertilizer.

    Tomatoes can also be afflicted by blossom end rot, which causes rot that begins at the bases of fruits. It is caused by calcium deficiency, so feeding your tomatoes well will stop this common physiological problem.

    Tomatoes with growth cracks and catfaced tomatoes with abnormal bulges and cavities are not diseased. Instead it’s environmental factors that mar the appearance and viability of the fruit. Water cracking is also a problem that occurs on fully developed fruits after heavy rain. Excess water fills the fruits and causes them to crack on the vine. And if defoliation occurs on plants, tomatoes are susceptible to being marred by sun scald, which causes fruits to develop light watery spots in high sun exposure.

    So…What Can You Do?

    The first line of defense against pests and diseases is extremely cheap and relatively easy—good cultural practices.  Start with the tomato seeds or visibly strong, healthy plants and choose disease resistant varieties.  Remember that not all varieties are resistant to all diseases.  Local cooperative extension or nursery personnel can help with questions about tomato diseases prevalent in your area and which varieties are most resistant to those diseases.

    Once you choose your tomatoes, plant them in good soil, enriched with a high-quality amendment like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend.  Space plants so that they have plenty of air circulation (15-24 inches apart) and use tomato cages or other supports to get plants and fruits up off the ground.  Water regularly, especially during dry periods, and prevent the spread of spore-borne diseases by using soaker hoses to water at ground level.

    Water cracking happens to ripe tomatoes on the vine after a heavy rain.

    Be alert for signs of fungal diseases and if they appear, remove and destroy affected plant parts.  Do not compost them.  At the end of the growing season, remove all plant parts and debris, so that spores do not overwinter in the soil.  From year to year, practice crop rotation to discourage pathogens.  If you are growing tomatoes in containers, start each season with fresh soil, after washing containers with a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts water.

    Anti-fungal solutions, including organic mixtures, are available at nurseries and garden centers.  Depending on the compound, the anti-fungal remedy can be used as a preventive measure or to stop the spread of fungus on affected plants.  Either way, follow manufacturers’ directions carefully.

    Some people swear by homemade fungal deterrent sprays, including one made with one tablespoon of cider vinegar per gallon of water.  Apply every few days to stems as well as tops and bottoms of leaves.  Another popular kitchen-based fungal remedy calls for one tablespoon of baking soda per gallon of water, augmented with two tablespoons of vegetable oil and a few drops of dishwashing liquid.  Shake the mixture will and apply with a spray bottle every few days and after rainstorms.

    Dispatch aphids with a strong spray from a hose, or spray plants with insecticidal soap, following package directions.  Watch for tomato fruitworms and hornworms on plants.  Check for holes in leaves or fruit and destroy any that show signs of damage.  Hand pick the worms and drop them into containers of soapy water.  Wear gloves for this job.  If you are squeamish about handling these wriggly creatures, remember that when it comes to beating pests and diseases, the end justifies the means.  The taste of a sweet summer tomato will make you forget all about worms and wilts.

  2. New Vegetables for 2016

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    The new slicing tomato ‘Black Beauty’ is darker than any other black tomato and has incredible flavor. (photo care of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)

    Each year I boost my passion for vegetable gardening by adding some of the latest new varieties to the garden repertoire. Those that pass the flavor and productivity tests may have a permanent place in my yearly garden while those that don’t shine will make space for new plants to trial next year. Last year’s winner was the flavorful, uniform, and high producing, AAS-winning ‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ slicing tomato. (Its deepest orange fruits were so sweet!) Just glancing at my growing pile of vegetable garden catalogs makes me excited about the fresh suite of new vegetables for 2016.

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    The new AAS Winner ‘Candyland Red’ is a sweet new currant tomato for the garden. (Photo care of All America Selections)

    Let’s start with tomatoes and close relatives, like tomatillos, eggplants, and peppers. By far, the most exciting tomato being offered is the succulent, pure black slicing tomato ‘Black Beauty’. The Wild Boar Farms introduction has meaty flavorful flesh that is dark red to black. A classic red tomato on the table is the hybrid ‘Madame Marmande’ from Burpee that boasts beautifully lobed fruits packed with rich tomato flavor. Cherry tomato lovers should consider ‘Candyland Red’—a high-producing red currant tomato that’s super sweet. Pair it with the golden currant tomato ‘Gold Rush‘ for fun, colorful snacking.

    There’s a great pick of peppers for 2016, hot and sweet. Promising hots include the Brazilian ‘Biquinho’ hot pepper, which looks like a bright red teardrop when ripe and is said to have a fruity, smoky flavor, and the fire-red ‘Flaming Flare’ pepper with its sweet, slightly hot flavor. Sweet pepper lovers should check out the golden sweet ‘Escamillo’ pepper. This prolific early bearer is an AAS winner for 2016. All of these peppers will pair well with the new, heavy-bearing ‘Gulliver’ tomatillo for salsa making.

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    The golden yellow pepper ‘Escamillo’ is another AAS winner with great taste and performance. (Photo care of All America Selections)

    Though eggplant can have challenges due to susceptibility to flea beetles and Colorado potato beetles, I am excited about the new ‘Meatball’ hybrid eggplant from Burpee. The large, meaty fruits are supposed to be extra tasty.

    Gardeners seeking something unusual may consider the Mexican sour gherkin, also offered by Burpee.  The tiny fruits are crisp and sweet but also slightly sour. Add these to a salad along with slices of the remarkable ‘Sakurajima’, the world’s largest radish. Offered by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, these massive daikon radishes can reach 15 pounds and just beg to be grown by adventurous vegetable gardeners with lots of mouths to feed.

    Spring greens are some of the first veggies to go into the ground and new varieties, such as the super spinach ‘Gangbusters’ and/or beautiful heirloom lettuce ‘Yugoslavian Red’, are sure to make easy work of the salad garden. Throw in some vigorous Fidelio flatlead parsley or unusual saltwort Japanese greens for added interest and flavor.

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    The bright, uniform ‘Yellowbunch’ Carrot is a sweet new offering for 2016. (Photo care of Johnny’s Selected Seeds)

    Unusually colored carrots are becoming more and more popular and Johnny’s ‘Yellowbunch’ Carrot looks like a real winner with its straight, crisp, sweet roots of bright yellow. Other new root crops of interest include the pure white ‘Avalanche’ beet, an AAS Winner with mild, sweet flavor and uniform roots.

    This list would not be complete without something sweet. Said to have the highest Brix score (15!) of any other canteloupe, Park’s Select ‘Infinite Gold’ hybrid is bursting with flavor and highly disease resistant. Vines are high-yielding and fruits have very deep orange flesh.

    Whether growing greens, tomatoes, or melons—your vegetable garden will only be as good as the soil and nutrients you provide. Give this year’s new offerings and old favorites the best chance possible for success. Feed your soil with quality garden compost, such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, or quality manure, such as Fafard Garden Mature Blend. Both will enrich garden soil to the maximum for large fruits and big roots. Feed with a fertilizer formulated for vegetables—we like Black Gold Tomato and Vegetable Fertilizer—and your new garden vegetables will perform to their fullest.

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    Adventurous gardeners should consider growing the giant ‘Sakurajima’ radish. (Photo care of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)

  3. New Vegetables for 2015

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    The compact grape tomato ‘Fantastico’ is a super sweet, high producer that received an AAS award in 2014. (Photo care of AAS Winners)

    One of the highlights of the gardening season comes in the depths of winter, with the arrival of new catalogs brimming with enticing new varieties. The following are among the best of the new vegetables for 2015.

    Tomatoes

    A hybrid of two long-time favorites, ‘Jersey Boy’ produces bright red, half-pound tomatoes that “brilliantly join ‘Brandywine’s sublime sweet-sour tang with ‘Rutgers’ classic rich color, shapeliness, yield and performance.” It debuts in the 2015 Burpee catalog, as does ‘Cloudy Day’, which reputedly bears good crops of 4-ounce fruits even in areas too cool for most tomatoes. 2014 All-America Selection Winner ‘Chef‘s Choice Orange’ wins plaudits for its “deep orange, beefsteak shaped fruits” with “firm, sweet, mild flesh.” They ripen relatively early on tall, 5-foot vines. Smaller in all its parts is another 2014 AAS winner, ‘Fantastico’, which yields 10 or more pounds of rich red, grape-sized tomatoes on compact plants suitable for large containers. For lovers of old-time tomatoes, Johnny’s Selected Seed now offers the Heirloom Collection, a seed mix comprising ‘Brandywine’, ‘Striped German’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Amish Paste’, and other classics.

    Peas

    Royal Snow Pea

    The new ‘Royal Snow’ snap pea has pretty purple pods and pinkish flowers. (Photo care of Johnny’s Seeds)

    New introductions for 2015 also include many veggies from outside the tomato aisle. Among the most notable are two pea varieties from the hand of Dr. Calvin Lamborn, father of the snap pea. The fleshy, 3-inch, deep purple pods of ‘Royal Snow’ make a tasty and ornamental addition to salads and other dishes (and the pink flowers are pretty too). They are also good lightly cooked. Vines of ‘Petite Snap-Greens’ are harvested when young for tossing into salads or using in stir-fries. Both varieties are available from Johnny’s.

    Beans

    The bush bean ‘Mascotte’ holds its long, slender, tasty pods on stems that rise above the plants’ low, mounded leafage. With its compact habit and long harvest season, it’s perfect for containers (in a fertile, humus-rich growing mix such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix) or narrow garden beds. Its many virtues earned it an AAS award, the first for a bean variety since 1991.

    Pumpkins & Squash

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    The new ‘Cinderella’s Carriage’ pumpkin is a beautiful deep orange red and very high performing. (Photo care of AAS Winners)

    AAS winner ‘Cinderella’s Carriage’ derives its name from the flattened, carriage-ready shape of its large, reddish-orange pumpkins, arrayed on vigorous, powdery-mildew-resistant vines. As many as seven mini-carriages are produced per plant. Similar in shape (but much smaller in size) are the fruits of a new summer squash variety from Burpee, ‘Cupcake’. Their tasty, savory-and-sweet flesh and tender dark green skin suits them for many uses including roasting, grilling, and slicing into stir-fries.

    Peppers

    A panoply of peppers debut this year. Two AAS winners head the list: zingy-fleshed ‘Giant Ristra’, whose fire-red, 7-inch-long fruits are perfect for stringing into swags or wreaths; and gold-fruited, sweet-flavored ‘Mama Mia Giallo’, which also offers the virtue of a compact plant habit. Its long, conical, often curved peppers are delicious fresh or roasted. Burpee introduces an 8-inch, pale-green Italian frying pepper (‘Long Tall Sally’); an early-fruiting banana type (‘Blazing Banana’); a large, moderately hot, Ancho-Poblano variety with dark glossy skin (‘Big Boss Man’), and a jumbo, foot-long, sweet red Marconi-style selection (‘Thunderbolt’).

    'Giant Ristra' hot peppers look like sweet Marconi peppers but have the heat of a cayenne. (Photo care of AAS Winners)Cucumbers

    And of course there are cucumbers. Compact-growing, early-bearing ‘Pick a Bushel’ is a great fit for cooler regions (as well as container gardens), producing basketfuls of cukes early in the season. Firm, flavorful, and sweet, they can be harvested young for pickles or allowed to mature to slicing size. Matures in 55 days from sowing. Fellow AAS winner ‘Saladmore Bush’ offers many of the same virtues, but bears over a longer season on somewhat longer vines.

    Bon appetit!

  4. Hot New Vegetables for 2014

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    The pretty ‘Mama Mia Giallo’ is a new, AAS winning sweet pepper worth growing in 2014. (image care of All-America Selections)

    Vegetable gardeners love seed selection time. The seed catalogs are simply brimming with good new things to eat.  New tomatoes and peppers are always at top on my list, with great new melons and squash coming in second, followed by root veggies, brassicas and so on. With seed starting time just around the corner, there’s no better time to get your list together and design those new vegetable beds for 2014.

    The beautiful ‘Blue Gold’ tomato is an exciting new slicer from Wild Boar Farms. (Image care of Wild Boar Farms)

    Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes! There’s never a shortage of great new cultivars to choose from. So where do you start? I always go for flavor and utility (a paste, a cherry and a slicing tomato or two). Good looks are also welcome but only if the fruit has flavor to match.  One great new selection with all the bells and whistles is ‘Blue Gold’, bred by Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms. The golden-fleshed, medium-sized fruits are flushed with blue-black, and the dense, juicy flesh is said to be sweet with a full tomato flavor. Two other Wild Boar tomatoes I’ll be trying include the super sweet, small fruited ‘Yellow Furry Boar’, which has lovely yellow stripes and fuzzy skin that I know my daughters will love, and the delectable looking ‘Amethyst Cream Cherry’, which bears lots of purple-kissed creamy cherry tomatoes.

    Of the new sauce or paste tomatoes, Burpee’s giant ‘SuperSauce’ hybrid is one I cannot resist. Its huge sauce tomatoes are supposed to be bountiful and delicious—just what I need for midsummer sauce canning.

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    ‘Numex Suave Orange’ is a milder habanero with fruity flavor and great color. (Image care of The Chile Pepper Institute)

    Many new hot and sweet peppers are available this year. Two sweets are on my list: the 2014 AAS winning golden sweet pepper ‘Mama Mia Giallo’, which bears lots of long, golden sweet peppers on compact plants, and the big, blocky, red bell pepper ‘Currier’, which is highly disease resistant. Hot peppers are increasingly popular, and the famed ‘hottest of the hot’ ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) is popping up as a new introduction in practically every seed catalog, but at 20,000 Scoville units it won’t have a place in my child-friendly garden. Instead I plan to grow the relatively mild, orange habanero ‘NUMEX Suave Orange’. This New Mexico State University Chili Pepper Institute introduction is sure to be a winner for hot sauce making.

    Romaine lettuce is satisfying to grow, and super crisp dwarf varieties tend to have extra dense, sweet hearts, so I was excited to discover the compact, crispy ‘Dragoon’, offered by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. In addition to good texture and flavor, it boasts resistance to downy mildew and lettuce mosaic virus. Another nice new salad green is arugula ‘Dragon’s Tongue’,  offered by Park Seed, which has spicy, red-veined green leaves.

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    ‘Tronchuda Biera’ kale is a Portuguese heirloom that stands up to heat. (image care of Renee’s Garden Seeds)

    Heart-healthy kale has become more and more popular, and the newer, heat tolerant kale ‘Tronchuda Biera’ is a Portuguese heirloom that gardeners can continue to grow through summer. Offered by Renee’s Garden Seeds, it produces many large, blue-green, paddle-shaped leaves that are said to remain tasty and mild during the summer months when most other kales flag and start to taste bitter.

    No garden is complete without root vegetables, and the purple daikon radish ‘KN-Bravo’, also offered by Johnny’s, is a crisp, sweet, eating radish that I can’t wait to harvest. Johnny’s also offers a red, baby beet, aptly named ‘Babybeat’, which looks and sounds delectable for the spring garden.

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    The pinkish ‘Porcelain Doll’ pumpkin is perfect for kids and delicious to eat. (image care of Renee’s Garden Seeds)

    We always make space for pumpkins. This year, my girls are very excited about the new pinkish ‘Porcelain Doll’ offered by Renee’s Seeds, among other vendors. Not only are the blocky pumpkins pretty, but their deep orange flesh is said to be great for cooking and pie making. Many of the proceeds also support the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation to cure breast cancer.

    Sweet, seedless watermelons are always expensive to buy, so I’ll be growing my own this year. The new, small, seedless, red melon ‘Sorbet’ is a Johnny’s exclusive that looks perfect for my family’s needs. Each vine yields two to three ice-box melons with sweet, crisp fruit.

    No garden is complete without zucchini or summer squash; the golden, round ‘Summer Ball’ looks cute and tasty. The space-saving, compact bush squash is offered by Harris Seeds and looks ideal for stuffing.

    These are but a few of the great new vegetable offerings for 2014. And before planting any of them, I will be sure to amend the garden soil with Fafard Premium Organic Compost. It’s the best way to give vegetables a great start each year.

    ‘Yellow Furry Boar’ is a fuzzy yellow striped tomato with exceptional sweetness. (image care of Wild Boar Farms)

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    The unique ‘Amethyst Cream Cherry’ is a lovely new cherry tomato. (image care of Wild Boar Farms)