Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
I talk to lots of gardeners. Lucky me because I really enjoy it. Most of us are still waiting for our tomatoes to ripen. It has been too cool for them to ripen on time. As you know, I ate my first tomato on July 3. I have a good supply of the early tomatoes that I have planted; New Girl and Early Girl varieties. My other tomatoes are still mostly green. Patience is needed. The tomatoes will ripen; they are just going to be late. Some more warm weather will help. But there can be plenty of other troubles with tomatoes, too.
Two of the most harmful diseases that attack tomato plants are fusarium and verticillim wilt. Both are caused by a fungus. Infected plants display yellowing and wilting of the older leaves about midsummer. The yellowing moves up the stem until the whole plant is dead. Unfortunately, there are no controls which are effective against either fungus. Instead, gardeners should be proactive and practice crop rotation and plant only wilt-resistant tomato varieties which are designated by a VF after the cultivar name. The fungus can survive up to eight years in the soil and can also attack pepper, eggplant, potato, cucumber and melon, strawberries and many other broad-leaved plants.
Another problem that often occurs is blossom end rot. I have this big time. The fruits look normal on the top, but when you go to pick them there is a large, unappetizing black spot on the blossom end of the tomato. This is not a disease, but is caused by a lack of calcium in the fruit. One way to avoid this is to make sure you water and mulch regularly. Even moisture will also help keep the fruit from splitting. The fruit will still be good to eat if the soft spot is removed in time.
Tomatoes that you have picked should be stored stem side down. Tomatoes that are stored stem side up will shrivel and start to mold much sooner. Why? The theory is that the scar left on the tomato skin where the stem once grew provides both an escape for moisture and an entry point for mold and bacteria. By placing a tomato stem-end down you block air from entering and moisture from exiting the scar.
Summer is winding down and in a few short weeks our gardens will start to look a little bedraggled. Time to enjoy summer while it lasts, and I hope for you that includes a few sweet, juicy tomatoes!
If you have gardening questions or suggestions for Mr. Potato Head please e-mail him at
Mr. Potato Head is Stearns County Master Gardener and Kimball resident Rick Ellis.