Jane Rozum, Horticulture Agent, CSU Extension Douglas County
“...But though an old man, I am but a young gardener." - Thomas Jefferson, 1811
I think of this quote every time gardening pulls a fast one on me. I refuse to think of myself as old (and it’s not polite to ask, I’ll remind you!), but I am often amazed when I follow all the researched-based information from CSU, and still find my skills as a gardener wanting.
Let’s take growing tomatoes as an example.
My new garden space seemed like a great place to start a small vegetable garden. Raised bed, decent soil (results from a CSU soil test) and ample sun. I started zucchini from seed, bought peppers and some tomatoes from a big box store and started to plant. While at a farmer’s market, I bought a few more heirloom tomato plants. A wonderful Douglas County Master Gardener shared a couple cherry tomato plants with me.
Though the garden was slow to start, the plant’s growth leaped once the weather turned warm. My heirloom tomato (Italian Heirloom) was gorgeous with large developing tomatoes. I was salivating with anticipation of those beautiful fruits. I wasn’t able to check my plants for over a week, but knew I’d come back to many large, deep red, sweet fruit.
When I returned to the garden, those beautiful tomatoes weren’t red, but a mottled reddish orange-yellow. What? How could this happen?
A closer look showed that the lush foliage had spots on the new leaves, which were also smaller and cupped.
My beautiful tomato plant had contracted Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV). This is a serious disease of many plants, and my beautiful heirloom was infected. I didn’t notice if psyllids, a tiny insect that can transmit the disease was on the plant, but it could also have come from my transplants. What to do when you have TSWV? Pull the plant…and don’t compost and hope the other tomatoes have resistance and aren’t infected. Lesson learned: Though I love heirlooms, I will now buy disease resistant varieties.
As I was mourning my loss, I also noticed other problems on my tomato plants. Early blight (photo2 ) is a fungal infection which tends to affect older leaves. You can treat with sulfur dust, but I pruned out the diseased leaves and applied mulch around the base of the plant so the spores don’t splash up and infect more leaves. Lesson learned: Get mulch around the base of the plants sooner, rather than later.
I also noticed that my Brandywine tomato had a blossom end rot on some fruit. I realized that consistent watering and fertilization or excessive heat (or cold) during blossom set may have caused the problem. Lesson learned: Practice consistent watering and fertilization to prevent blossom end rot.
Is there any wonder that CSU has an entire fact sheet devoted to tomato-growing problems? Check out ‘Recognizing Tomato Problems’ if you have these and other symptoms on your tomato plants.