If you’re having a productive and healthy tomato growing season then hats off, good on ‘ya and give yourself a back pat! The word in my circle of gardening friends is that it hasn’t been a good tomato summer. Why?
Let’s consider what goes into healthy tomato growth, followed by some suggestions and comments. I’ll share my tomato status at the end.
Soil – Without doing a full primer in this blog on bed preparation, soil tilth and the fertilizer status of your planting area, let’s assume all these factors were at least average at planting time. Good. But ….
If the soil wasn’t ideal for root growth (too rocky, too clayey, too sandy, too dry, too wet, etc.) and or the fertility levels were off (very high pH, too much/too little N, P, K or salt, too high/too low in organic matter), then any one or more of these factors can be possible reasons for crop issues all the way to failure or plant death.
Suggestion – fall, after the final harvest and bed clean up is a great time to work on your soil for next year. Start with a soil test and follow the recommendations for improvement.
Timing – if you’re inclined to plant tomatoes and other warm-season crops around Mother’s Day then conditions must be optimal, otherwise tomatoes and other wscrops may do poorly. The soil temperature for tomatoes need to be sixty degrees or warmer. Air temperatures need to cooperate too, see weather comments below.
Suggestion – a cold frame or plastic over the planting area works well to warm up cold soil. Plants would also need covering anytime temperatures dipped into the forties. Avoid using plastic that touches plant foliage which only conducts cold to the plants. Floating row covers are my go to recommendation since they allow sun and moisture to pass through but don’t crush plants like blankets and wet sheets.
Another suggestion – wait and plant your warm season crops in very late May or early June. No guarantees on weather, plant covers need to be within reach.
Weather – May into June of 2019 was mostly chilly – both day and night. Nighttime temperatures didn’t remain above the fifties until June 28. The exception, there were ten nights in mid-June that remained in the fifties, but it dropped back in the forties for a few nights around the summer solstice. Not good. Tomatoes want and need consistent warm nights to get established and growing. Nights in the forties will not only set them back, but catching up in growth is difficult. Nights at fifty-five are the minimum ideal for tomatoes, nights in the sixties are best.
Hail was hit and miss then hit again all spring and well into summer. Re-planting early in the season is the only way to battle severe plant damage. Tunnels/hoop houses or covers are helpful, For me they are a must for successful gardening in Colorado. Watch my Denver Post Video on how to construct easy, inexpensive tunnels or hoop houses – here.
|2019 Shaded Indeterminate Tomatoes|
Heat – On June 23 and 24 temperatures were in the mid-sixties. Then on June 27 we started a long stretch of nineties and ninety-plus days. In a nutshell, our plants were exposed to normal early summer temperatures (80s) during the day for about two days. Oven hot conditions kicked in so quickly that plants were stressed while getting established, growing and flowering. It was like a first grader being moved to high school overnight and expected to ace algebra. No way, no how.
Nineteen July days were ninety or above and never got below eighty-four. It looks like the total ninety plus days for August will be around twenty. We’re heading into warm September temperatures too.
Tomato flowers will simply dry up when temperatures remain in the mid nineties day after day. Dried flowers or “blossom drop” means no fruit, it’s that simple.
Suggestion – my tomatoes and warm season crops have been sitting under shade cloth for most of the summer. Shade cloth can reduce the temperature by filtering the sun by five degrees or more, plus it’s great for heavy rain and hail protection. It can help prevent sun scald on tomatoes with less foliage.
When our determinate plants were shorter, I simply pinned the cloth over the cages, but now that they have grown taller than the cages, I poked tall poles in the soil around the raised bed edges to hold the cloth. This system isn’t pretty and often I have to re-adjust things after a windy day.
Shade cloth lasts for years if stowed away at the end of the season. Find them at your local independent garden center, some sell it in bulk where you choose your length or in packages.
Other General Tips – stay on top of watering your vegetables. Their root systems should be fairly mature so water deeply every few days. I poke my finger down in the soil and if dry to the first knuckle, they are watered. Mulch helps keep the soil and roots cool too. I use chopped leaves and mulched lawn clippings that haven’t been treated with insecticides. Make sure the mulch isn’t packed so heavily it prevents rain and air from penetrating to the soil.
Our Tomato Story – I waited and planted all the warm season crops (except summer squash) the first full week of June. I covered them with floating row covers on cool nights and as mentioned – have had shade cloth over them most of the summer.
|Suspected TSWV and Cracking|
We started out with nine plants, two didn’t transplant well, so were pulled early in the season – I’m still scratching me head on those two. I pulled one last week that seemed like it had tomato spotted wilt virus. I didn’t have it tested at the Jefferson County Plant Clinic (which I highly recommend), but based on having this virus in past years with all the same symptoms I called an audible. I conducted my own diagnosis and cure (tossed the plant, no recovery possible).
Despite using shade cloth, tomato fruit numbers seem less compared to past seasons. The pepper plants are producing, same for the eggplant (just one this season). I direct seeded quick maturing (under 65 days) Cocozelle summer squash and lemon cucumber in early July in the spot were the fall planted garlic was harvested. Both plants are happy, no powdery mildew, cucumber beetle or squash bugs in sight (not the case for other gardeners I’ve heard). Any of these can still show up.
You might check out this excellent website from *Cornell University called Vegetable MD Online to key out diseases by crop name. For tomatoes, click here.
*Colorado may not be subject to all the issues listed on this site. It’s still advisable to get a firm disease diagnosis from a reputable garden center or plant clinic.
I’m not complaining about this summer’s challenges – it’s called gardening. We need to keep our expectations in check. Some summers are better then others. If plants didn’t do well there’s always local farmers markets and grocery stores to purchase locally or the kindness of other gardeners who share.
First tomato pie of the season 8-26-2019