The satisfaction that comes from watching a plant you have nurtured and tended to every single day, bloom with flowers and fruits is indescribable. If you have ever tried anything of this sort, you probably know that swell of pride I am referring to and if you haven’t well, that’s why we are here.
I remember vividly how accomplished I felt when I stepped out of my house one morning to see, that on my very first try at growing tomatoes on the garden beds in my backyard, the average sized beautiful green fruits hanging happily from the stem were beginning to ripen. I would smile at them every single time I passed by. But my bliss was short lived and dark spots started appearing on my fruits and leaves. Not long after I lost all my plants to the annoying Late blight, my first hard learned lesson at growing tomato plants. Many more shall follow here.
Today we will be talking about all things tomato. I will attempt and I choose to believe succeed, in guiding you through the steps and processes involved in growing your own tomato plants successfully.
Now, one question: ToMAYto or ToMAHto?
Does it matter? Probably not right now… But what does matter is the fact that there are over 10,000 different species of tomatoes. That’s quite a lot. This speaks to the hardiness and importance of these delicious and beautiful fruits. Yup! Fruits.
Tomatoes exist in a variety of colours; red, pink, orange, yellow, purple, black and to variable sizes as well. They are rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin A, Calcium, Potassium, as well Lycopene which is a red coloured carotenoid hydrocarbon responsible for the common red colour of tomatoes and as studies have shown, contains plenty of antioxidants and thus, plays a role in cancer prevention and improving cardiovascular health. They also just look really great in a salad.
It no wonder increasing numbers of people grow their own tomatoes. As an activity, growing anything works wonders for the soul and if you think big, growing tomatoes can be good for your finances too.
Well, before you rush off to get your tomato seeds or seedlings (whichever you prefer) there are a couple of must have factors that you should know about.
1. TEMPEARTURE AND LIGHT INTENSITY
Tomatoes love the sun. They grow better during the warmer seasons, bearing fruits for the duration of that period and would typically reduce or stop bearing fruits during the colder seasons like winter. They need strong sunlight of 8-10 hours. Science explains this in connection with the process of photosynthesis for which sunlight is a primary requirement.
They will do well in a temperature of 20- 25 degree Celsius during the day and 15-18 degree Celsius at night. Temperatures below 13 degrees Celsius or higher than 32 degrees Celsius are adverse and possible lethal to the plant. Too much sun and High temperatures may cause the soil to lose more water by evaporation causing the plant to wilt, fruit formation is halted or already formed fruits may drop from the plant. Tricky stuff. The minimum temperature for germination is 15 degree Celsius.
Erecting a simple shade of thin white fabric between two stakes in the direction of highest sun intensity can help reduce the intensity of the sun on the plants.
If you are growing your plants in an area of lower sun intensity or during the duller seasons, a big shiny material can be placed behind the plants. This will help reflect more light onto the plants.
These hardy plants can grow almost anywhere. You just might need to tweak the soil a bit. Tomato plants will grow well in soil that is adequately loose and loamy, about a foot deep and slightly acidic with a pH of 6.0-6.8. Avoid wet areas or waterlogged soils with poor drainage. These will only lead to more problems when you finally start growing your plants.
In truth, none of us have naturally perfect soil. That is why before starting your garden, it will do your plants a world of good to honour what they need by testing the pH and providing nutrient amendments. Test kits should be available in garden stores.
‘Amending’ with regards to soil, is adding missing nutrients or minimizing negative elements in the soil. In plant growth, this goes a long way to create an ideal environment for them to thrive, flourish and shine bright above all else and… this is not a competition so let’s forget about that last bit.
If you are growing an in-ground garden, a mixture of the necessary soil amendments and Compost (organic manure is always best) spread on top of the garden area should do the trick. In recent times, most gardeners prefer dig only on a need to do basis. So, just spreading the additional components on the prepared area should suffice. If your soil is compacted or extremely sandy, clay or dry you might want to consider tilling the soil together with your additives. The amendments here as for all cases will depend on what your soil lacks or what needs to be augmented.
For plants that are to be grown in raised beds or in containers indoors or outdoors, the soil composition is much easier to control. The right amount of nutrients can be provided and closely monitored with an added advantage of better pest and weed control. One point to note here is, the soil in these types of gardens generally have better drainage and would need for regular addition of the necessary nutrients.
Some of the essential nutrients needed by tomato plants include:
It can be added organically by putting Bone meal or compost into the soil and inorganically by adding Rock Phosphate or super phosphate.
It fosters growth and improves the plants’ resistance to disease. Potassium can be added by putting wood ash into the soil. Typically, 10-15 pounds of wood ash per 10000 square meters or go with ½ a pound per plant. Inorganically it can be added using Potassium sulphate or rock sand.
Calcium is popularly added to soil by crushing up clean, washed eggs shells added to the other necessary nutrients and spread on the soil.
Tip: Compost adds air pockets to the soil which will improve drainage, overall plant nutrient absorption and growth. Composted manure, made at home or purchased from the store is the best form of compost to use. Our normal kitchen organic wastes like banana peels can be used as manure but there will be the possibility of plant infection by bacteria or viruses if these wastes are not properly treated.
Applying a 2-inch layer of straw mulch and proper irrigation will keep the soil moist and reduce evaporation.
pH is a measure of the level of acidity or alkalinity of a substance. As mentioned above, tomatoes do well in slightly acidic soils; 6.0-6.8 as do many vegetables. It is highly important to measure the pH of your garden soil at least every 2 years. This can be easily done now by purchasing a pH kit available in most garden stores. The soil pH affects how efficiently a plant will take up nutrients from the soil.
If the pH of your soil is higher than required (alkaline soil), you can lower the pH by elemental Sulphur, or a sulphur compound like Aluminium Sulphate. This should be done before planting. If the pH is only slightly high, going with the more organic option of using a generous amount of compost should help with that problem.
Some soils have pH lower than the required range (acidic). This can be amended by adding Lime to the soil. It is available as Calcium Carbonate or Dolomitic limestone. Again, these should be added before planting.
The specific water needs of a tomato plant are tied to the species of the plant, temperature, growth stage of the plant and type of garden the plant is growing in.
85% of a tomato fruit is water. This tells you water is an important component in the life if these fruits. In this regard, the general rule of thumb is that tomato plants should be watered slowly and deeply, guiding the water closer to the base of the plant and towards the ground than overhead to the foliage (In the use of sprinklers this is unavoidable). Watering the entire plant can create the right conditions for disease and pest attacks while also encouraging premature evaporation.
Deep and slow watering encourages the development of strong root systems as opposed to shallow water which results in ‘lazy’ roots and poor absorption of nutrients therefore, poor growth.
EXACTLY WHEN SHOULD THE PLANTS BE WATERED?
There is no standard answer to this question. However, if soil is dry up to 2 inches below the ground, then it is time to water. The amount of water depends a lot on the temperature conditions. For example, you will have to provide a little more water during hotter periods like Summer, sometimes as much as watering the plants daily if they need it as opposed to the slightly warmer periods. Tomato plants grown in containers and raised bed gardens will typically need more water as well given their propensity for good drainage. This should be accompanied with regular nutrient addition.
For a newly transplanted seedling, in the first 7 to 10 days, watering should be done regularly especially if the weather is warm. 10-14 days after the seedling has been transplanted about 1-3 inches of water can be provided. After the 14th day i.e. 2 weeks 1-3 inches of water can be provided in a week. Make sure to water the crops 3-4 days apart not all 2 or 3 inches of water at once.
Irregular Watering of the plants can cause Blossom-end rot, where the tomato fruit starts blackening sinking at its bottom. This arises from improper uptake of calcium by the plant roots. It can be prevented by meeting water needs and adding a mixture of crushed egg shells and potting mix to the plants.
- Hand watering. Superficial, Relatively easy but time consuming.
- Sprinklers. Easier, but wets the leaves too thereby increasing the possibility of disease occurrence and encourages the growth of weeds.
- Drip watering. More costly than the others. Allows for slow deep watering and can be done at any time by setting up the timer.
TYPES OF TOMATO SPECIES
Deciding what kind of tomato, you want to grow is a prerequisite to success and great yield. When you picture your tomato garden which fruits do you see? The small round cute ones? Or the long juicy orange ones? We get to choose here.
All Tomatoes are vines with stems or runners. We can however separate them into groups based on their mode of growth and genetic constitution.
Primarily, tomatoes are divided into two groups;
The Determinate types and the Indeterminate types
- Determinate types. These are the ‘bush’ types. They spread and sprout along the ground, are usually shorter than the indeterminate variety and grow to a defined maximum size, usually about 3-4 feet. They produce fruit over a shorter period of time and plant growth slows after the fruit is formed. They often result in lower yield than the indeterminates.
These types are good to go with if you are growing your plants indoors, in containers or hydroponically. They thrive in hot and relatively dry conditions.
- Indeterminate types. These tend to grow vertically and usually need for support. They grow tall, up to about 6-20 feet and have no maximum size so, with proper pruning they can keep growing throughout the growing season. Their flowers bloom along the vines not at the ends and they produce fruit over a long period of time. These are great for inground and raised bed gardens. They do well in warmer more humid areas.
Hybrids and Heirlooms are another two ways of grouping tomatoes.
Hybrids are species obtained from the crossbreeding of plants in order to take advantage of certain important traits such as;
- Resistance to disease
- High yield
- Some hybrids can also be made to occur naturally. Examples of species in this group include; Cherry punch, Bella Rosa, Chiquita.
Heirlooms are much older species, some with a rich history spanning over 50 years. They are often open pollinated.
Tomatoes can also be grouped as;
Examples here include Cherry gold, Gardener’s delight, Sugar snack NT, Sweetie
- Medium sized
California sun VFN, First lady VFFNT
ACE 55VFA, Better boy VFN
BUILDING YOUR TOMATO GARDEN
If you want good tomatoes, you have to give them a good place to grow. That about summarizes it all. Building your garden starts with make an appropriate garden choice given the space available and the type of tomato plants you will be growing. The tomato plant, in addition to all the amazing thing we already know about it, can be grown in a good number of garden types. Here are some pointers to help guide the creation of your own special garden and the garden types you can chose from.
1. IN the GROUND.
Choose an appropriate location. A sunny, dry location with a good amount of regular sunlight.
Create the design for the garden, dividing the allocated space into garden beds no wider than 4 feet so you can reach the middle of the bed from the side. Be sure to include spaces between the garden beds.
Choose the type of tomatoes you want to grow. Both the determinate and indeterminate types grow well in this type of garden because the will have ample space for growth.
Remove any existing lawn (if applicable)
Outline the beds using flour or stakes attached to strings at each corner of your intended bed.
Build the soil by adding nutrient amendments and compost mixtures to the existing soil.
Prepare your seedlings for planting.
Planting and maintenance.
2. IN RAISED BEDS
Building this type of tomato garden is similar to the in-ground gardens.
The raised beds need to be built with timber or you can purchase and assemble an already made bed kit. The latter offers more by way of variety.
The soil used for this type of garden is a mixture of top soil, compost (manure), organic fertilizer and nutrient amendments for the right pH.
Mulch the soil before planting.
Seedlings are prepared in much the same way.
3. IN A CONTAINER
Select the right container. Tomatoes can in grown in a good number of containers. Is this plant incredible or what? Anyway, they can be grown in a bucket, whiskey barrel, grow bag, hanging basket or in an upside-down planter. A 5-gallon container (whichever you choose) with a width of 14-20 inches works well.
Check that your container has drainage holes. If it does not, be sure to drill some in there. These helps prevent waterlogging and possible incidence of blossom end rot.
Choose the right soil. Containers need light airy soil so going with your regular soil might be counter-productive. A mix of good potting soil and the appropriate nutrient amendments should suffice.
Choose your plants. Again, here you will want to go with the bush or determinate types which have a maximum attainable size give the restricted space.
Plant your seedlings. Seedlings can be chosen as opposed to seeds because they will take a shorter time to grow enabling you to maximize yield. I know you want as many tomatoes as you can get but be sure to place only one plant per container. This gives them enough space and nutrients. Crowding will just undo all the great work you would have done so far.
Place containers with established plants in a sunny location. Shady areas are not a good idea at this point. Avoid windy spots as well.
Add cages or stakes around the plants. Cages for bigger plants and stakes for smaller plants.
This refers to growing the tomato plants in a nutrient solution instead of soil. It can be done indoors or outdoors but growing the plants indoors will mean you need to provide the same elemental factors (we mentioned earlier on) which are naturally and freely available outdoors. However, if you are growing your plants in the colder seasons like winter (because this gardening type specifically makes this possible) indoors will be the safest option.
Plants grown this way can produce fruits all year round. This is an extreme advantage if you are a commercial gardener. Hydroponics is a good way to grow rarer heirloom varieties of tomato which are uncommon in garden stores.
The necessary conditions of pH, light, temperature and nutrients are as closely monitored here as they are in the other methods of gardening with approximations falling within the same general ranges.
The nutrients for Hydroponic tomato gardening are usually obtainable at garden shops and can be quite easy to use. They are specially designed for easy absorption and proper nutrient balance. Some hydroponic nutrients come with specific regimes for the different growth stages in the plant’s life. This can be quite helpful if you are unfamiliar with this method of gardening.
To start off, most veteran hydroponic gardeners sprout their seeds indoors. This helps make for a truly and properly controlled environment all through the plant’s life. Seedlings can be sprouted in a tray filled with a growth medium (Rockwool cubes are good). Wet the medium and put in seeds. Temperature should between 20-25 degree Celsius.
Within a 10-14-day period, the seedlings should sprout. They can be immediately transferred to your chosen hydroponic system with adequate light 10-14 hours).
A 5l gallon net pot bucket lid is a good and versatile choice for growing your hydroponic tomatoes.
The plant will be growing as a fast rate so nutrients and water should be topped off regularly.
Apart from these specifications, the tomato plants grown hydroponically basically grow themselves. Plants are estimated to start producing fruit in 45 -75 days depending on the species.
Common Hydroponic systems
There are quite a number of hydroponic systems out there and it can be a challenge finding one that will be suitable for your plants. Below, are a few common systems:
- Ebb and flow system
- Nutrient film technique
- Drip system (recommended)
- Deep flow technique
HOW TO PLANT TOMATOES
After choosing and preparing a location for your tomatoes, choosing what variety you want to grow and knowing what to watch out for, we are off to planting!
This process starts with seeds or seedlings (choice depends on the gardener) in pots and proceeds to transplanting the saplings into the garden.
The majority of gardeners prefer to begin their planting process with seedlings. These are small already nurtured tomato plants grown in a nursery. They are usually available by species, a good number of which are heirloom varieties. They typically already have the second set of leaves (true leaves).in addition, choosing to start with seedlings overs the advantage of a head starts especially in areas with a shorter growing period.
Starting with seeds is a good way to familiarize yourself with the plants and their needs and this can be done indoors or outdoors, although most gardeners prefer to nurse the seeds indoors in a green house or simply on a sunny ledge to minimize the possibility of infection and disease.
STARTING WITH SEEDS…
Starting with your plants indoors You will need:
- Tomato seeds. choose a suitable variety for your garden, easily obtained from garden shop or could be your own personal batch from previous harvest.
- Sterile potting soil for seed starting. Even though called potting soil it is a sterile soilless mix which is labelled for seed starting and should be easily available at the garden store.
- Sterile seed starting pots. These can be just about anything that can hold soil and has holes (or can be perforated manually) or purchase the specially made seed starting trays or biodegradable pots.
- When first placed in the pots the seeds need to be at a temp of amount 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. When they sprout, they will do best at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. So, if you do not have a sunny area to keep the pots, I recommend the LED grow light and a heat mat.
- Organic Fertilizer.
Start your seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the average last spring frost. There are websites that help you know when to expect the last frost so calculate 6 weeks before that date and start then.
Moisten the seed starting mx and fill the container to ½ inch from the top.
Place 2 or 3 seeds in the centre of each cell of the seed starter mix.
Cover the seeds with about ¼ inch of soil and gently press down with your fingers to firm up the seed. Moisten the soil with water to ensure good seed to mix contact, just do not put too much water.
Keep the pots in a warm spot or on a heat mat. Black Plastic wrap can be placed on top of the pots to retain moisture but be vigilant enough to take the plastic off once the seeds start sprouting. This stops them from succumbing to fungal infections and death of seedling.
If the pot is kept at the window sill, be sure to rotate it from time to time so that the seedlings do not grow to one side in their phototropic response to sunlight. If the grow lights are your choice at tis time raise them a few inches directly above the plants. Also provide a simulation of windy conditions could be a fan or moving your fingers gently along the plants. This helps build strong stems.
Thin the group of sprouts by snipping or pinching off the weaker seedling leaving only the healthiest. You want only a single seedling per pot. This may seem difficult for a sensitive gardener to do but it is a necessary step.
When the second set of true leaves appear start fertilizing the plant with aa water-soluble organic fertilizer.
If the seedling out grow their pots before planting time, they should be re-potted into bigger pots. Use pots that are 4 inches wide and 3-4 inches deep. They can be planted when about 6 inches in height.
Wait till the soil is about 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit before you transplant. This can be achieved by mulching that is placing a black plastic over the garden soil for about a week to be taken off immediately before transplanting.
Harden off the seedlings before planting them. This should take place over a span of 10 days. This prepares the seedling for the harsh outdoor conditions. Exposing them the heat of the sun or colder temperatures of the night all at once can lead to shock and sunburn.
Start off by take the seedlings outdoors, place them at a shady spot during the day and bring them back in at night. A shady spot can be created by stringing a shade cloth over head on the windward side of the seedlings. After a day or two of this, they can be placed under increasing amounts of sun light and brought inside at night. After doing this for five or six days, they can now be exposed to full sunlight and left outdoors at night. Make sure to monitor for any signs of distress.
When they are done hardening off, they are ready for planting. You can confidently release the into the world. Or something akin to that.
Make a hole in the soil (the exception to this is Hydroponic gardens), 2 inches in diameter and a few inches deeper than the pot the plants are currently in. Place a small handful of compost into the hole. Many gardeners prefer a blend of kelp meal and bone meal. This give the plats the extra boost for a head start. Its all about giving them the best conditions for growth. Day 1 of the hardening off is a good time to prepare the holes in the bed as well.
The plants should be planted at least 3 to 4 feet apart for the bush varieties and 3-2 feet apart for the indeterminate types. These are general estimates. The seed packages usually have instructions on how spaced the plants should be.
Remove each seedling from its container and loosen the roots gently.
Pinch off the lower leaves and holding the seedling gently from the leaves, plant the tomato transplant up to it’s two topmost sets of leaves. This means all of the root and most of the stem goes into the ground. If the seedling is long and wobbly try digging a trench and lay the plant on its side and gently bending it to a right, bury the stem up to the top 2 leaves. The buried stems will eventually produce roots.
Tramp the soil firmly around the seedling with your fingers and then water the plants to establish good root to soil contact.
Stake the tomato plants. This is done around the same time at the transplanting so as to avoid destroying roots during the process if done when the plant has already established itself. Tomato plants grow big or tall and heavy when bearing fruits. Trellising the plants is a good way of providing structure when they grow, support as they start fruiting so that both the plant and fruits are kept off the ground and relatively safe from possible pest and insect attacks. This should be accompanied by pruning especially if you are growing one or more of the Indeterminate varieties.
Water the seedlings whenever the soil dries out an inch or two below the surface. This could be daily if there is a heat wave. After three or four weeks of growth mulch the beds with a thick layer of straw for moisture conservation.
TRELLISING? YES OR NO?
Tomato plants absolutely benefit from trellising. This providing a lattice framework as a form of support for plants.
The determinate varieties that mature when they grow to a fixed size, will benefit if supported by stakes or cages.
The Indeterminate variety which can grow all season and fruit ripen till the death of the plant will best benefit from a trellis support system.
HOW TO STAKE A TOMATO PLANT
Use a wooden pole, 5-6 feet tall for determinates and 8 feet for indeterminates.
Position the stake 3-4 inches away from the crop and drive in into the ground about 1 foot down.
Tie the crop loosely to the stake with plastic ties.
- Caging one way of caging is by inserting a 3 ringed metal cage into the soil around the plant. Keep the branches inside the cage as they grow. Trim the extra side branches when they are 3-4 inches long to keep the plants vigorous.
There are a wide variety of Trellis ideas available for gardeners. Be sure to experiment depending on the amount of space you have.
HOW TO PRUNE TOMATOES FOR BETTER YIELD.
Pruning some amount of dedication and time. So, it really is an optional technique for Gardeners.
One glaring thing to note is that Pruning should be done on Indeterminate varieties ONLY. They produce new leaves and flowers throughout the growing season whereas the determinates have a fixed growth size n period so if you prune them you may reduce the harvest and that would be terribly counterproductive. This technique is generally recommended for strong, vigorously growing plants.
Advantages of pruning
- Bigger fruit
- Earlier ripening and harvest
- Improved airflow
- Minimize disease causing problems.
- At Planting, Removing the lower leaves before burying the plant in the ground. Remove any flowers that may be present at the time to redirect plant energy towards leaf production.
- Early to Mid-season, Remove the flowers until plants are 12-18 inches tall to redirect energy into vegetative growth.
- Remove all the leafy suckers (shoots that form in the axils) that grow below the first flower cluster by pinching them off when still young.
- When the plant develops its first flower cluster of tomatoes cut off leafy suckers growing below the cluster.
- This is known as Missouri pruning and is suited for warmer climates.
- Always keep lower portions of mature plant thoroughly pruned. The plant’s leaves should never be touching the ground. This helps prevent disease.
- Do not prune wet leaves. This promotes spread of disease.
Within two months of planting the seedlings your tomato fruits should be filling out and starting to colour.
They are at their peak flavour and size when they are fully coloured.
One big question when it comes to picking tomatoes is, should they be picked fully ripe or when green?
Truth is, Tomatoes can be picked when they have reached their full juicy blossom or when they are still fully grown and green. Both choices have their merits.
Determinates varieties tend to ripen faster and all at the same time so picking them off.
To pick tomatoes, cut them off with a scissors or hand pruner, leaving a short stub of stem attached to the fruit. This stops the scar at the top of the fruit from rotting.
Some varieties crack when they ripen so picking them off when green can safe your harvest from rotting.
A constant temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit will not favour fruit colouring. The fruit might begin to rot on the vine even without colouring up. Picking them early and ripening them indoors can potentially save the fruits.
Green tomatoes placed in a cupboard or paper bag will ripen indoors in about 2 weeks. To help speed up the process place a banana or cut open apple in with the tomatoes. The combines ethylene gas produced will speed up the ripening process.
Once they ripen, they can be kept for weeks at 55degrees before the start to decay and may even last longer in a refrigerator.
TOMATOE PESTS AND DISEASES
Tomato plants, like many leafy green vegetables attract a good number of pests and diseases but when you think of how awesome your crop will be then the effort you will have to put in to fighting the various disease-causing agents will be worth it.
The tomato plant emits a mild toxin that repels many small insects. But there are a host of other possible organisms that can halt the growth of your crops. They include: Bacteria, fungi, cutworms, Aphids, Hornworms, tomato fruit worms, while flies, rats.
Common tomato pests
How do you know?
- Yellowing distorted leaves, Stunted growth, black sticky substance on the plant. Generally, if ants are present then Aphids are too. They spread viruses.
- Spray plants with Soapy water.
- Encourage natural predators like Lady bugs and lacewings by growing plants that attract these insects like Dandelions close to the Garden.
How do you know?
- They are big green caterpillars with a horn-like tail; the larvae of the hummingbird moths. You will notice that the leaves of your plant are missing or partially eaten.
- Pick them off and put in soapy water when you see them.
- Encourage natural predators like the Ladybug.
3. Slug and Snails
How do you know?
- The tomato leaves will have holes in them. Look for slime trails.
- Hand pick them from the plants.
- A shallow dish filled with beer near the plants to trap these pests.
How do you know?
- They are visible, bright white winged insects. There will be a sticky film on the leaves accompanied by yellowing leaves and stunted growth.
- Introduce predatory insects
- Place reflective surfaces such as aluminium foil close to the plants.
- Spray plants with a heavy stream of water with a watering nozzle. This should knock off the insects.
- Do not use insecticides. Most of these pests are resistant.
5. Cut worms
How do you know?
- If you find that some seedlings are missing, they are the most likely reason why. They are the larvae of Night flying moth.
- Place an aluminium foil or cardboard collar barrier around transplants.
- Use Bacillus thuringinsis, a naturally occurring bacterium that targets caterpillar-type pests.
TOMATO PLANT DISEASES
1. BACTERIAL LEAF SPOT.
Forms small rough black spots surrounded by yellowing leaves. To prevent this water the plants at the base, keep the garden weeded, provide good air circulation and sunlight.
2. Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt
Fungi which cause yellowing of the leaves, discoloured stems and large brown spots on leaves. If you notice these signs, pull out your plants completely and do not plant in that same soil for a while. The have access to plants through moist conditions so to control them water the plants properly and provide good drainage.
Early Blight is caused by a fungus Alternaria solani. It usually shows up after heavy rainfall. You will recognize it by brown spots with concentric rings and yellow halos on lower leaves which eventually drop.
To control early Blight, remove and destroy infected leaves. Use organic fungicides as soon as possible.
Late blight is also cause by a fungus; Phytophthora infestans. It affects both leaves and fruit. The leaves develop dark grey spots which turn brown and the leaf eventually drops. The fruit develops irregular greasy spots which can affect the whole fruit.
If untreated, late blight can consume the entire plant in as little as 1 week!
To control late blight, remove and destroy all the infected leaves. Be sure to clean your hands properly after that. They can be treated with organic fungicides but they quickly develop resistance so this should be done as soon as the infestation is detected.
On the Bright side, many tomato species have one or more inbred disease resistance traits. These are usually indicated with uppercase letters beside the common name of the species for example Better Boy VFN.
A= Early blight Resistance
C= Leaf Mould Resistance
F= Fusarium Wilt resistance, race 1
FF= Fusarium wilt resistance, race 1 and 2
N= Nematode resistance
T= Tobacco Mosaic virus resistance
V= Verticillium wilt resistance
Knowing resistant species can direct seed or seedling choice and overall, reduce incidence of diseases thus offering the plants a better safer shot at growing healthy and strong.
HOW TO DRY AND STORE TOMATO SEEDS.
If you had a particularly great harvest and the fruits came out looking and tasting amazing, you might want to be able to try this again with the same specie you just used. This will be achieved by drying and properly storing the tomato seeds. This logic works well with open pollinated plants and the includes the heirloom plants. If you planted hybrids, the 2nd generation will not result in the same type of plants.
First off, select your healthiest tomatoes. Only the finest make the cut!
Slice open the tomatoes in half such that the blossom end is on one half and the short stem stub is on the other. The exposed seeds are enclosed within a gel like substance which contains growth inhibitors that prevent the seeds from sprouting while inside the tomato. The best way to remove this gel is to allow the seeds to ferment. This happens naturally when the ripe fruit falls and start to rot. For convenience however, we will be speeding up this process.
Scoop out the seeds and the gel. Sometimes even after this is done, the rest of the tomato fruit can still be used or eaten.
Put the seeds and gel into a clean glass jar or bowl. Glass canning jars are great for this.
Water can be added if the pulp is too thick. This allows the seeds to float while the thicker liquid pulp sinks below.
Set the jar in a warm spot and leave for about 2-4 days for fermentation to take place. The process will produce an awful smell so you might want to keep the jar in an area where that will not be an inconvenience.
If you are using the glass canning jars, they have extra space at the top which lets out some of the odour and gases produced. Cover the top of the jar with a paper towel to keep away fruit flies.
When the fermentation process is complete, you will see a layer of mould covering the surface of the pulp and some seeds will settle at the bottom of the jar. Stop the fermentation process at this point to stop the seeds from germinating or just going bad.
Remove and dispose of the mould covering. Rinse the good seeds which should have settled at the bottom and strain of the excess. Rinse the seeds again under running water to remove any remaining pulp bits and mould.
Spread the seeds on a paper plate, glass dish or coffee filter and keep them in a dry, warm spot to dry. Shake them regularly to avoid clumping. Do not use heating methods, you might destroy the seeds making them useless for planting. Avoid using paper towels as the wet seeds will stick to them.
When the seeds are hard and completely dry, you can store them in an air tight container in a cool dry place. Incompletely dry seeds attract mildew. Remember to date and label the containers and you are set to go.