seed starting Tomatoes

Tomatoes – Early Blight – Varieties – Changing Some Things

Last year as usual I started my tomatoes in jugs (succession seeding) from about the middle of March through the middle of April. After they germinated I taped the jugs closed and put them outside.  It seemed a bit colder this year so I gave them additional protection by placing the jugs under a makeshift cold frame.

Transplanting to the garden started in late April.

Early Blight  – Some Varieties Resist Early Blight Better than Others

Last summer (2012) was the first year I’ve had early blight at this garden. (Moved here in the fall of ’98) Towards the end of July of this year when the vines were heavy with fruit early blight started again.  After about a month or 6 weeks it subsided on most varieties.

The disease was worse on some of the new varieties I was growing and because of that I’ll never grow them again. (Julia Child and Oxheart.)

I’ve seen gardeners who had blight so bad that it stripped the vines of leaves for the rest of the season and left only a a few tomatoes hanging.  I think in the case of those gardeners it was their impoverished soil that was responsible.  But after this year, I realized that variety can have a lot to do with it as well.

Although Julia Child and Oxheart were by far the worst, San Marzano was a close runner up.  I won’t grow any of those varieties again.

Stakebreaker, Beefsteak, and Big Beef (the open pollinated version that is not owned by Monsanto) all had blight in varying degrees depending on where they were located around the borders and garden.

Two of the tomatoes planted in rye stubble — one at the upper end of the garden (Big Beef) and one at the lower end (Beefsteak) —did better than any of the other 22 plants. There were so many variables that I’m not really sure exactly what condition or conditions were responsible for that.  But it was VERY noticeable.  Although I was extremely pleased with the results of planting into the stubble of the rye, it did not stop the blight.  Others planted in the stubble still had early blight.


The tomato (Beefsteak) closest to the roll of straw to the left never got blight.  The tomato to the immediate right of the Beefsteak which was Julia Child lost all its leaves and never recovered.  All of these were planted in the rye stubble. Picture was taken August 9th.

Early blight stopped a month to 6 weeks after it started and the new growth that followed was unblemished in all varieties except Julia Child and Oxheart. Those two never totally recovered.

Changing my Tomato Staking Procedure — for more Air Circulation

For years I’ve staked my tomatoes with one tomato stake and added the second if needed.  I’ll be making a change in that procedure next year.  I think they get so crowded that it hampers air circulation which could give early blight more of a foot hold when conditions favor it.

Next year I’ll put a tomato stake next to each tomato and one 3 feet from the tomato. I’ll  suspend a bamboo pole or maybe a piece of pvc pipe as a rail between the two stakes. (I can run them through the top sections of the stake and then secure them with ties.)  I can run strong twine at an angle from that rail down to the tomato and secure the twine to the bottom of the stake.  I think this will allow the foliage to have the space it needs for better air circulation.

I’ll perfect the plan as I go.  (There are lots of ways to do this — but I want to use what I have on hand rather than buy something new.)


This is to the right of the above picture.  These also were planted in the rye stubble.  These pictures were taken August 9th.

Other Observations

  • Tomatoes that had morning shade and then shade again in late afternoon produced but did not give me the dozens and dozens of tomatoes per plant that I’m use to.
  • Tomatoes in the borders did not do as well as those in the garden in previous years.  Border soil is good, but just not as good as my garden soil.
  • Tomatoes finished up in the garden about the first week in October rather than November.

(It’s interesting to note that when we use to live by the water (the river)  we always had tomatoes in the garden until sometime in December because the river holds more heat. Hard to believe that only 7 miles inland makes all that difference.)

  • I’m still eating tomatoes fresh from the ones I picked before the first freeze.  I usually have fresh tomatoes through December but this year they’re not keeping like usual.  We had a week of rain before I picked them and it really effected the storage quality.
  • There’s enough roasted tomato sauce in my freezer to get me through until next July — or close to it anyway.

Another Change for Next Year – Same Harvest from less Plants

The last several years I’ve increased the number of tomato plants to 40 because I was trying new varieties.  This year I decreased to 24 plants and still included new varieties.  (Harvest was better than usual!)

Rather than try several new varieties next year, I’m sticking to only a few tried and true.  My open pollinated Big Beef and the hybrid Dafel will head the list. I think I can easily get the same amount of tomatoes from only 12 plants using my tried and true varieties.

Another Possible Reason

For the last two years  (the time I’ve had the early blight) we’ve had cold weather at tomato planting time.  I’ve wondered if that could be stressing my plants even though they don’t look stressed when I transplant to the garden.  Then when they’re loaded with fruit (which puts a lot of stress on any plant) symptoms of early blight show up.

What Pests and Disease tell me

Although my garden is in overall good health and my tomatoes are strong enough to make a comeback from the early blight — the blight lets me know that something is not just right.  Whatever pests there are in my garden let me know the same thing.

I’ve asked myself lots of questions this year. I’m still not sure what the problem is, but I’m working on it.

Suggested Reading – Related Posts:

Warm Weather Crops and the Winter Sown Method

Early Blight on Tomatoes – There’s Hope

Tomato Plant Diseases – How Much do you Need to Know?


Organic Gardening is Easy, Effective, Efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.


All content including photos is copyright by  All Rights Reserved.


  • Since blight usually splashes up onto the leaves from the soil, the rye stubble probably helped keep it down.

  • Hi Theresa,
    I French pruned my tomatoes which gives a lot of air space and only a few varieties showed early blight…San Marzano was one. (That is one I didn’t French prune because it is determinate.) I also put a penny in the dirt at each plant and I swear it helped…but maybe I just imagined that!
    I wanted to let you know that I tried your roasted tomato recipe on some green tomatoes I picked before our first frost. Oh man, they were fabulous! Can’t wait for the red roasted tomato sauce!
    Happy Holidays!
    Suzanne@Le Farm

  • Dear Theresa
    You started this email with the following:
    “Last year as usual I started my tomatoes in jugs (succession seeding) from about the middle of March through the middle of April. After they germinated I taped the jugs closed and put them outside. It seemed a bit colder this year so I gave them additional protection by placing the jugs under a makeshift cold frame.”

    My first question is to verify your planting zone. I think we are the same.
    Next question: Does your cold frame have a buried heat cable?

  • GardenDmpls — That’s the reason I used the strategy of the rye stubble, and it may have “helped” but it did not prevent the blight. All except two plants in the rye stubble — as I mentioned in the post — had the blight.

    (I think I mentioned that in several posts. I touched on it in a lot but in rereading it I wonder if I needed to be more explicit for gardeners that are new.

    Suzanne — I’ve French pruned before — but it’s just something else to do. I’d have to be desperate to take the time to do it — and I’m not that desperate yet. Also it seemed to me that I got less tomatoes when I French pruned although it’s my understanding that one is suppose to get more tomatoes that way.

    Glad you tried the roasted tomato recipe. Really has great taste doesn’t it!?

    Happy Holidays to you to Suzanne! Thanks for commenting.

    Jack, I’m in zone 7.
    And no — my cold frame does not have any heat other than from sunshine.
    I wrote a post on how to do this and mentioned it under related posts at the end of this post. Here’s the link

    I don’t have proper lighting inside to grow seedlings and I have no green house, so I had to find a way to start things early without those things.


  • Hi Theresa! I also thought that the rye stubble would work. In my many years of fighting EB, I have only found a straw mulch to be effective for me. The other thing that I do, is to remove all branches and suckers that are less than 18″ above the ground. I figure that I will make those nasty EB critters have to jump at least 18″ to get me. (Sorry for that poor joke). I make sure that the plant is well established and growing well first, but before EB usually surfaces here. I am zone 5, W of Chicago. Hi to GardenDmpls from MrTomatohead.

  • I use straw mulch too Mike. Have for 35 years. I also remove all branches that are less than 18″ above the ground.
    I agree that it’s a must for the plants to be up and growing well before EB surfaces.
    I’ve got all the bases covered on the “regular” stuff. Have covered those in previous posts.
    I’m looking for that extra edge. 🙂
    Thanks for commenting. I noticed you recently subscribed to receive notice of new posts. Welcome to TMG. Nice to have you reading!

  • Next year I want to try out your suggestion of planting my tomatoes in rye stubble. I’ve already sown winter rye in those locations. In my area of the world tomatoes are always affected by the EB unless we grow them under a shed-like protection. The early potatoes first get infected and then the tomatoes. I always try to obtain seed for relatively resistant varieties, but the most important thing is protection against our summer rain. I also feed the plants regularly with a liquid fertilizer made from stinging nettles and comfrey, which is considered to influence the health of the plants and their resistance to disease.

  • Sounds like you have a good plan Millard. Let me know how you.
    I think you’ll like planting in the rye stubble.

  • Theresa and Millard, if this rye stubble practice works for you, I will go to it next winter(2014-15). Looking forward to your comments next season. Tried annual rye a couple of winters, but did not die off either winter. I am zone 5 northwest of Chicago.

  • Mike —
    Annual rye is not the same thing as winter rye. Annual rye is not something that I would want to use in my garden.

    I planted winter rye in the fall of 2012.. I then cut the biomass in May 2013. I leave the roots in the ground to decay over the summer.

    Just to clarify a point — any mulch is good at “helping” to prevent the fungal disease Early Blight because it keeps rain from splashing the Early Blight fungi onto the plants. The stubble of the rye works the same way. It does not necessarily “prevent” the disease (because there are many variables that would cause blight) — but certainly it helps as does any mulch.

    The roots of the stubble also hold moisture, add more organic matter as they decay, loosen the soil deeply, and provide shelter and food for microorganisms.

    Thus — I am not sure what you mean by – “if this works for you”. Whether or not it “works” depends on what you want as the outcome. The outcomes that I wanted (listed above) were exactly what I got. But — as I said — it does NOT prevent Early Blight but “helps”.

    Hope this clarifies.

  • I like my cattle-panel in my tomatoe rows. The 8×10″ spaces allow for the branches to grow upright and allows for good aration. I plant 12 plants and after rooting the suckers, I end up with about 20 plants. (the suckers are picked off in the ‘light of the moon’ btw.) Bring on the Spring, Theresa, and thank U!!

  • Hi Barbi,
    Cattle-panel are just ideal for tomatoes. Wish I had known that years ago!
    Of course, I already have a lot of tomatoe stakes (not as good as a cattle-panel) but I’m going to try to set them up to imitate how the cattle-panels would allow more circulation.
    Thanks for the tip about picking suckers off by the “light of moon”. I’ll try it.
    We’ll be doing that before you know it Barbi!

  • Hi Theresa, Would you tie your plants to the panels as you do with stakes, or would you weave the plants through the mesh? I assume that you would still prune as before. What spacing distance will you try, to combat EB? Need some reading material- looking forward to the book. MIKE

  • Hi Mike!
    For the most part I would try to weave the plants through the mesh BUT I still think they’ll need to be tied in various places for proper support.
    As far as pruning goes, prune as before if you want to. Over the years, I’ve done it all kinds of ways. Time wise, I seldom prune anymore because it’s just something else for me to do. If you want to prune however — go for it! (Just to clarify – I always prune at the bottom to keep the branches from touching the ground. As you mentioned previously – about 18 inches.)

    Thanks for the encouragement about the book. I should have a bound proof in my hands by next week. After that point in time, I’ll be a bit more relaxed about things.

    I’ll keep you updated via a post on TMG as soon as I feel it “safe” to order.
    Let me know how you do with the cattle panels.

Leave a Comment