What’s with all these green tomatoes?

tomato_green tomatoes

I’ve lived here for 21 years and have never seen the tomatoes ripen this late. In fact the majority of them in my garden are still green. I have a few sungolds and black cherry tomatoes and one Pink Berkley Tie Dye and a couple of red ones ripen but that’s it-the rest are still green on the vine.

tomato_healthy plants

The plants are big and healthy. So what’s happening here?

Problem #1
The first problem was we had a hot June (except for one weekend) and an unbelievably hot July here with day after day of 92+°F. Why does that matter? Tomatoes won’t pollinate themselves over 92°f-they drop their blossoms, which is commonly known as blossom drop. They will keep producing blossoms but won’t set them producing tomatoes until it’s cooler. So we lost a whole month, putting us behind schedule.

Problem # 2
So once the monsoons thankfully came in, it got cooler and now we have green tomatoes in various stages of ripening. But suddenly, it got even cooler. So much so that it is starting to feel like autumn in August with temperatures dropping at night into the 50’s and daytime temps are much lower in the 70s. So although the tomatoes can’t have extreme heat to set fruit, they need heat to ripen. With cooler temps, it takes longer for tomatoes to turn red, or yellow, or black or whatever color they should be when ripe.

Normally I show up at the Farmers Market middle of August with 6-8 boxes of tomatoes that then increases to 15-20 boxes every week.

tomatoes_first harvest

Here is what I have now. Only 2 little bowls of tomatoes, getting a bowl a day-hardly enough to go to market with.

Now it is a race to get some tomatoes to ripen before our first frost which usually comes in October but one year it came in early September. Let’s hope not this year!

Last year I decided to slow down and take a little time off (farmer’s burnout) and that I might not go to the market as much nor grow as many tomatoes either. I have 40 tomatoes this year (lost three to curly top virus) so now I have 37 compared to 125 tomato plants last year. I guess I made a good choice as I’m not sure how long into Sept it will be before I have enough to go to market if at all before a frost.

Great Weather! Time to Plant?

RAIN5

Wow! Great weather this weekend with no wind, warm temperatures and wonderful rain today. I hear tomorrow brings more rain. Today we had some great rain and boy is it welcomed. The native plants and trees and all of our plants are sucking it up. I can’t remember getting this much rain at this time of year in May. A great big plus is the night temperatures are starting to warm up too with the next 10 nights suppose to be from 35°F- mid 40’s. Pretty cold but above freezing.

So can we plant tomatoes? Is it time? Well that depends on whether the nighttime temperatures remain above freezing. Of course the first frost-free date is officially May 15th historically speaking, but back in 2011, we had a very warm May and many of us planted early as it never got below freezing that May. Is this one of those Mays? Who knows, unless you have a magic ball. By the way, I waited to plant my giant pumpkins till later in 2011 (as they are so frost tender) and my 2010 State Record got broken that year by someone who went for it early. I guess I should have put them in but I just didn’t want to chance it. You have to be a bit of a gambler to put your plants in now.

tomatoes in wall of waters 1

But if you are a gambler and want to plant your tomatoes early, be sure you plant using wall of waters (WOW) as shown above.  If you use them, and the temperatures dip below freezing, they will protect your new tender plants. I always use them even when the nighttime temps are in the 40’s as I feel they provide more heat at night and keep them from setbacks. The cells of water warm up all day and give back the warmth at night to the plants like little greenhouses or cloches. Once they outgrow the WOW’s  (like in the photo above), take them off  the tomatoes, which will probably be late May. Do not leave them on all summer.

Tomato Disease-Early Blight

early blight_plant

This is a tomato with severe Early Blight. Notice it has worked it’s way up through the plant. I should have removed the diseased leaves while it was till on the bottom leaves and then sprayed with Serenade. I may not be able to save it.

 

Early Blight is a fungal disease caused by the fungus Alternaria solani  which lives in the soil. When rain or water splashes the soil up on the lower leaves, the fungal pathogen gets on the plant. It starts as some yellow mottling on the lower leaves which left unattended, then proceeds to work its way up the plant branch by branch on the leaves as shown on the photo above. It is contagious to the other tomato plants next to it so you should get on this pronto if you see any sign of it. Some tomato plants are more susceptible to it as well.

Early Blight

Closeup of Early Blight on lower leaf

With all this cool rainy weather (we got 1″ on Tuesday night!) I have noticed more plants starting to get it especially as the season goes on. The older plants (just like people) get more susceptible to diseases as they get older. Here is a closeup of what it looks like on the leaves.

tomato plant trimmed

Tomato plant trimmed off of all diseased leaves-notice there are hardly any leaves

If you see any of this going on, you should immediately trim off all the branches that show signs of it. Be sure to disinfect your cutting trimmers between plants so as not to spread it. Your plant may not have many leaves  left like this one.

bleach water

Use a 10 % bleach solution in water to disinfect trimmers

I use a small container, pour some water in it to cover your trimmers and put some bleach in the water – 10% is good. But I don’t measure. I just pour some in-much less than if you were to put it in your laundry. The key is to dip the trimmers and your hand or hand in glove into the bleach solution and dry them off before I go to the next plant so not to pass the disease on to a healthy plant.

tomato fungicides

I Start with Serenade and then move to Copper Fungicide if it gets worse. Be sure to wash your tomatoes really well if you use the copper fungicide. Both are organic but the copper fungicide is stronger.

After you’ve trimmed off all the bad stuff,  you need to spray with a good organic fungicide like Serenade to help slow it down. Also Copper Fungicide works but be careful using it. They are both organic fungicides. It’s best if you start the season spraying your tomato plants early BEFORE you ever have signs of Early Blight because then it’s a preventative but you may be able to control it if it hasn’t gotten out of hand, maybe not depending how bad it is.

Some of my plants (about 5 have it bad and don’t have many leaves left on because I trimmed them all off but they are loaded with tomatoes and the disease won’t hurt the fruit so I’m letting them stay in till I harvest and then I will pull the plant. It is interesting to note I only have one double row of tomatoes where it started with one plant and has now spread to 7 plants. (I already pulled out 2 others that showed it real early) Now I’m up to 7 plants out of 12 in the bed that have it. The rest of the beds look pretty good. I wish I followed my own advice but was crazy busy in the garden this year and wasn’t paying attention.

How to deal with Early Blight

1. After you plant the tomato transplants and make a well and add your drip system (if you have one), put straw all around the base to keep water from splashing the soil up on the plants. This applies for either hand watering or even if you have them on a drip system because of the rain. And just because you put straw around your plants doesn’t mean it won’t get the disease, but it helps most plants.

2. Start spraying ALL YOUR TOMATO PLANTS with Serenade as a preventative right away. It has a bacteria that won’t let the Early Blight bacteria colonize on the leaves thereby thwarting the disease. Plus it doesn’t wash off as the good bacteria attach themselves to the leaves. Do spray about every 2 weeks even if it doesn’t rain as a preventative.

3. Once it starts raining, spray weekly. Be sure to add more straw if soil starts to show.

4. When you first notice the lower leaves yellowing, cut away any branches with the disease present.

5. Disinfect with bleach water between cutting limbs off different plants so not to spread it. You can use bleach water as mentioned above or alcohol on the blades. I use bleach as I have a lot of plants and it’s cheaper.

6. Spray immediately after trimming but I would wait to trim if rain is in the forecast for that day. I like to let the spray dry and let those good bacteria attach to the leaves so I don’t trim on rainy days.

7. If your plant continues to go downhill, keep trimming and spraying and of course you should be spraying ALL of your plants not just the infected ones. You can move to Copper Fungicide if you have to but I always take the least toxic organic methods first. And just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it can’t be toxic. Copper is organic and yet is toxic in great amounts but doesn’t last long on the plant so just wash your tomatoes before you eat them. You can also pull the plant early if it only has tiny fruit on it or wait if it’s loaded with bigger fruit but be aware it might pass it on to other plants nearby, especially those that it touches.

This might not help as much this year but keep this info for next year.

PS—Early Blight is not like Late Blight found on the East Coast. Early Blight if caught early can be controlled. Late Blight is always terminal for a tomato plant if it gets it. Luckily we don’t get Late Blight out here in the Southwest. It is currently confined to the North East part of the US.