This past spring I was late getting my tomatoes planted. However, I usually do not put in the plants until May 15th but with the wet weather they went in later than usual. And then just sat there and I waited. Then we had some very hot days and so I was unable to get out in the afternoon and weed. As a result the tomatoes and the weeds grew and I waited. Then we had a few cold evening and the green tomatoes did not turn red so I waited. Finally, last week I was able to get most of the weeds out, the last of the soaker hoses in, and some of the tomatoes have turned red, and the Lemon Boy turned yellow. They were good on my sandwich and in the salads. The wait was worth it.

          Also I have been removing the leaves that have blight but some have completely taken over the whole plant. Some plants are beyond repair. I have been feeling better and next Monday I get another shot and hope then I can keep on top of the weeds and harvest, and do more of the things below.

          1. I add Plant Start when I plant my tomatoes and other vegetable plants. I then side-dress with 10-10-10 slow release granular garden fertilizer to the soil in three weeks. This fertilizer lasts for three months. I side-dress again about August 1st and they grow tall and produce until frost. Do not over fertilize with nitrogen or you will have beautiful plants but no flowers and fruit. If you use water soluble fertilizer try to find a “bloom buster” formulation that has a larger middle number than the first number such as a 15-30-15.

          2. I made good strong tomato cages from wire fencing used to reinforce concrete driveways and streets. This fencing is usually 5 feet tall and I use a 5 foot piece for each cage. You can bend the end over to secure the cage or tie together with a piece of wire. My tomatoes are usually very tall so I have to use at least two pieces of rebar pounded into the ground and then attached to the cage to keep the wind from blowing them over. This gets the tomatoes up off the ground and away from some insects and diseases.

          3. I use the stretchy “TIE TAPE” to tie the plants to the cage or the whole plant will collapse under the weight of the tomatoes when they get tall and large.  

          4. Between the cages I put at least 6 pages of newspaper to keep the weeds down. Newspapers are made from wood pulp and they use soy ink so the  papers can be tilled into the soil at the end of the season to increase the organic matter. Dirt, grass clippings, straw, compost, coffee grounds, etc. can be used to cover the newspapers so they do not blow away. Do not use the colored sections.

          5. I do a number of the things because the tomato blight pathogens are in the soil. When the tomato plants get about 3-4 feet tall, I prune off the lower 8-10 inches of leaves and stems. This gets the leaves up and off the ground so the pathogens are not splashed up on them when it rains. Also it opens the plant for good air flow up through the plant. Leaving plants on the ground only encourages insect and disease problems. I also prune out the suckers for good air flow. Poor air flow invites disease problems.

          6. Remove all blight infected leaves from the plant immediately to help control spread of disease. Also remove the leaves from the garden and do not compost. This year with all the spring rain, one plant really got infected and I have very few leaves left. Since I had to remove so many leaves, some of the tomatoes have sun scald. I will now cover the cages with row cover, cheesecloth, or weed barrier to shield the tomatoes that are left.

          7. Rotate where you plant tomatoes to prevent blight. I have enough space so I grow tomatoes in the same location for only two years and then move on to another area. Potatoes and egg plant are in the same family so don’t rotate with these crops. Do not return to the same location for at least three to four years.

          8. When watering do not overhead water unless you have to. This will reduce the pathogens splashing onto the lower leaves. Also do not overhead water after 2:00 pm in the afternoon. Most disease pathogens need a drop of water on the leaf going into the evening in order to inoculate the plant. This is true with every plant including grass, annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, etc. Let the leaves dry before night.

          9. Tomatoes do not need insects for pollination, contrary to popular belief. As with some other vegetables and other plants, the flower is a perfect flower which means it has both male and female parts in each flower. These plants do need wind or movement to transfer the pollen from the male part to the female part. Hormones and other sprays, such as Blossom Set, does not increase pollination in tomatoes according to a study at Iowa State University. A friend, who interned in California, said he saw many helicopters flying low on a regular basis over the commercial fields of tomatoes to create winds to increase the pollination. In a hydroponic greenhouse they have large fans, or the workers may rub against the plants as they walk up and down the aisle, or go around with a small tool that looks like a toothbrush and vibrate the plants, to insure pollination. Insects can pollinate tomatoes but are not necessary.

          10. According to Dr. Laurie Hodges, Vegetable Specialist, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “A lot of research has been done on tomatoes and especially fruit set in tomatoes. Day temperatures over 90 degrees F. and night temperatures over 70 degrees F. reduces fruit set. Also as few as 3 hours at 104 degrees F. on two successive days may cause failure of fruit to set.” (From Farm to Market”, Volume 14, Number 3, July 2005. Edited by Dr. Laurie Hodges, Vegetable Specialist, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln: pages 4 and 5.)

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