Aug. 3, 2012
The Challenge of Growing Tomatoes
A favorite of home gardeners—urban, suburban or rural—are tomatoes.
Yet, to be perfectly honest, it can be tough to grow perfect tomatoes,
especially in Southern climates.
Often, the problem is uneven irrigation. Too much water, and you can get fungal and root maladies. Too little and leaves wither, fruit fails to develop or grows unevenly (with split skins, though some varieties split more than others). Add high heat, and the plants can just shut down on fruition.
Here are a few hints for growing tomatoes in problematic conditions.
Tomatoes Shut Down?
Mississippi’s high heat and humidity play havoc on vegetable crops, especially tomatoes. But you can extend the production of your plants by using an all-natural plant hormone, kinetin, that keeps blossoms from falling off when the heat index soars.
The active ingredient is kinetin, but it’s sold under a variety of brand names, the most popular being Blossom Set Spray. It’s available at local stores, or visit tinyurl.com/c5w98q5. (Cytokinins are OMRI-approved for organic
growing as a type of fertilizer.)
When your tomato plants flower during high heat and humidity, just squirt a little mist in each one. Essentially, the spray keeps the flower attached long enough so that bees and other pollinators can do their job fertilizing the
plant. And fertile flowers become tomatoes.
Blossom End Rot
Another common tomato malady is blossom end rot. There’s a popular spray on the market that is essentially just calcium chloride (available at local stores). It’s not OMRI-listed, so I can’t recommend it for organic growing.
However, blossom end rot is usually an indicator of a lack of calcium in the
soil. You can remedy that by adding bone meal or egg shells.
Unfortunately, tomato blight pretty much spells doom to tomatoes. It usually appears after heavy rains or toward the end of the growing season. In the South, blight often isn’t a matter of “if,” but when.
The best solution to blight is to rotate your crops; don’t grow tomatoes where you had tomatoes the year before. That’s good advice for any crop, not only to fight the various viruses and fungi that live in the soil, but for insect control, as well.
Blight can be treated, but it’s difficult. First, always wash your hands after touching a blighted plant, and never put blighted plants in your compost. Keep plants mulched and open so that air can pass between the plants reducing humidity.
You can use some copper- or sulphur-based fungicidal sprays. Visit tinyurl.com/7f2j8yd for some examples on the Ohio State University website.
VeggieGardener.com also offers some homemade, natural remedies for plant maladies on this page: tinyurl.com/7l9ymw5.
Overwatering is the cause of many problems, along with poor soil conditions. Just water thoroughly every week or so and allow the soil on top to dry out.
Well-tended soil will hold moisture and stay springy (lots of “tilth”), while poor soils will harden if dry. Work on your soil after you harvest your plants by plowing under vegetation and adding compost. Work your soil year round to
make growing in the warmest season easier.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.