Tips to Help Ensure a Good Tomato Harvest
What is more exciting than fresh vine ripe tomatoes?! Red and juicy tomatoes are as much a part of summer as hot dogs, swimming, the Fourth of July and baseball. Often, our hot and dry Midwest summer weather is not kind to tomatoes. Following are a couple of pointers to help ensure a season full of the favorable fruits.
Are your tomatoes orange-red instead of deep red? If so, do not worry; so are everyone else's. This color development is a result of the high temperatures. Temperatures above 95 degrees keep the normal red pigments in the fruit from developing properly. The result is the orange-red color. The good news is that the flavor is not decreased. The tomatoes' appearance is just not as appetizing. To improve the color of the tomato fruit, pick them when they start to turn and allow them to finish the ripening process indoors under cooler conditions. This will result in better coloring without a loss of flavor.
Even, consistent moisture key to successful tomatoes
Another tomato tip is to provide even moisture throughout the growing season. Tomatoes grow rapidly during the summer months, and even moisture is key for good flower and fruit development. Uneven moisture results in smaller fruits and cracking around the stem end. The cracking ruins much of the tomato, as it must be cut away before eating.
Mulching with 2 to 4 inches of straw, grass clippings or leaves will help by providing more uniform moisture along with cooling the soil. It is best to water tomatoes once or twice a week by flooding the soil at the base of the plants. Overhead irrigation is all right, but avoid evening or night watering, which will encourage disease problems.
Tomato foliage diseases and solutions
Diseases of the foliage are a perennial summer problem with tomatoes. It is not normal or healthy for the lower leaves to turn brown and wither. This browning of the foliage progresses up the plant and greatly reduces the ability of the plant to produce food and energy to nourish the developing fruit. Two diseases are common, Septoria leaf spot and early blight. Control is achieved through good cultural practices such as proper watering and sanitation at the end of the growing season.
Fungicide applications with chlorothalonil are recommended on a regular basis throughout the growing season once the disease appears. Read and follow all labeled instructions including the amount of time between application and harvest.
Proper care during heat and drought will help keep the vines healthy and producing an abundance of vine ripe tomatoes up until frost. Need more information or have other gardening questions? Call the Johnson County Extension Master Gardener volunteer Hotline at 913-715-7050, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m. It is a free service designed to assist local gardeners with their growing concerns.