If I had to name what I’ve found to be the toughest plant in the garden over the 37 years of growing them, I’d have to say it’s the tomato. It’s also one of the easiest to grow.
Some years back (2012) friend and reader Sandra wrote to me saying that she was having problems growing tomatoes. Only one year in ten would she manage to get enough.
The wonderful punch line to her request for help was that her 4 year old planted some tomatoes and grew much better tomatoes than she did.
As it turns out, Sandra had read all kinds of conventional advice about gardening as well as growing tomatoes and had followed it all to the letter.
Her 4 year old daughter didn’t. But rather, she planted her tomatoes in some piled up soil over what had previously been the compost bin. They didn’t get much water and didn’t get ANY “fertilizer”.
I answered Sandra with an extremely detailed post on growing tomatoes, but one simple thing I recommended was for her to forget everything she “learned” and begin looking at how her daughter’s tomatoes were grown.
Like everything in the garden and your flower borders, tomatoes are still subject to variables. In other words: changing conditions, even if they’re so subtle you’re not aware of them, can change how your plants produce and perform.
As you probably know if you’ve gardened any length of time, things can change quickly. As variables like weather and temperatures change, so does the garden. And then there are the dozens of other variables that we don’t even know anything about. But they change our garden nonetheless.
This year has been the most unusual year I remember since starting to garden 37 years ago.
On a positive note, I’m glad it was not my first year of gardening as I might have been tempted to think this is what I should expect every year.
Unknown Variable Made This Difference
I guesstimate that production is down from the norm of the past 36 years by at least 65%!! What a shocker!
I’ve had plenty of tomatoes to eat, but had I needed to restock with tomato “paste” (my roasted tomatoes) I would not have had enough. Fortunately, there’s enough in the freezer to get me through till next year.
From about mid July until late August I noticed tomatoes rotting on the vine even after things turned hot and dry. (Sometimes in extremely wet weather, tomatoes will rot.)
(If you read the post in reply to Sandra’s problem, you’ll recall that having tomatoes rot was one of the problems she experienced.)
It’s something I’m sure no gardener feels comfortable with.
In addition to just rotting, some of tomatoes got that white mold or whatever it is that is associated with decaying fruit.
I keep my tomatoes in a large flat basket on top of my washing machine. I’ve always been able to keep a ripe tomato for weeks without it going bad. For the first time in 37 years I was not able to do that in July and August.
I’d put tomatoes in the basket one day and they were bad in two days.
In the last three weeks, things are back to normal. The tomatoes look perfect and are keeping for long periods of time. The ones in the picture have been inside for more than two weeks.
Was it something in the air? I can only guess.
And Yet Another Unknown
As I’ve mentioned in several posts, I usually see a total of about 6 hornworms a year. And the braconid wasp takes care of them for me.
After my August 15 post, I had an outbreak of hornworms, the likes of which I didn’t think was possible. Rather than a total of 6 hornworms for the season, I had at least 6 or more hornworms for every plant I had. And I have about 20 plants.
On the bright side, it was a banner year for my army of braconid wasps. They took care of 99% of the worms and I killed the rest.
A reader (who lives in this area) told me she also had a lot of hornworms and that someone else she had spoken to about 30 miles from here also experienced the same thing.
I sure would like to know what caused all that. I guess I never will.
For the last two weeks I’ve only seen dead and decaying hornworms on the plants. The cocoons are open. Thus, I know my “army” has more soldiers to fight my battles again.
Tomatoes – It Ain’t Over ‘Till it’s Over
We had some extremely hot weather sometime back. Tomatoes won’t set fruit when temperatures get up to 95 and above, so for almost a month my tomatoes didn’t produce any baby tomatoes.
After I harvested all the larger ones I had plants with no blossoms and absolutely no green tomatoes. To some extent I experience this every summer, but not this late in the season. That makes it a bit scary if you (like me) have your heart set on those tomatoes for late fall.
Now that temperatures have cooled in the last few weeks, I have all kinds of tomatoes from dime size to plum size. Those are the ones I’m depending on for fresh tomatoes through December.
If your plants have new growth and blossoms, don’t pull them up if you want more tomatoes before the cold sets in.
Assuming the weather holds, we should have plenty of time to bring in another harvest of tomatoes for late fall use. (At least in zone 7 and even warmer zones.)
And remember, in the garden it ain’t ever over ’till it’s over!
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