It’s summer. Your garden is well underway but you notice that something isn’t quite right with your tomatoes. Some are looking yellow on the leaves and the leaves are dying. Some are not flowering. Or they’re not putting out fruit. What’s the problem? It could be a number of things. Let’s take a look at some of the most common problems and how to fix them.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Lack of Nitrogen
If your leaves are yellowing and dying it could be from lack of nitrogen. Nitrogen leaches out of the soil and must be replaced. A balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 would be a good choice here. Or the issue could be blight. There’s early blight that occurs early in the season. Then later, when the plants are fruiting well, late blight can set in. It is caused by a fungal spore that lives in the soil. There a few things you can do to help control it, but be aware, you may never be rid of it totally.
- Proper air circulation. If plants are too crowded, moisture has no way to evaporate.
- Water on the ground, not from above. We can’t do anything about rain, but watering from above can be controlled. Ground watering prevents the spores from splashing back up onto the plant.
- Mulch underneath. This too will help prevent back splash.
- Treat with a fungicide. A commercial fungicide, such as Daconil, which is available at most garden centers, is commonly used. I prefer to use Neem oil, a natural fungicide. You can also use lavender, thyme, tea tree or garlic oils. Use about 6-7 drops in warm water with a bit of liquid soap added. It will help dissolve the oils in the water and help them to stick to the plant better.
- Use copper sulfate. Again, it’s not a cure all, but it could help prevent the problem. Apply it to your beds in the fall so it can work all winter.
- Get rid of dead plants. Don’t compost them. You might be providing a place for the fungus to grow and spread.
- Rotate your crops. Don’t plants tomatoes in the same place year after year. Try to plant them at least 20 feet from where they were the year before.
Plants Not Flowering?
Sunlight and Fertilizer
Another common problem is not flowering. This can be caused by a few things as well. Is the plant getting at least 6 hours of sun a day? Tomatoes originate in the tropics and need lots of sun to produce flowers and then fruit. The problem could also be from the wrong type of fertilizer. A lot of fertilizers say they can be used for everything, but many contain too much nitrogen for flowering, and therefore, fruiting, plants. Use a balanced fertilizer, such as mentioned above, or choose one for blooms, such as 15-30-15. This will give you more phosphorus. Phosphorus is great for developing a good root system. Once you have good roots, you’ll get good flowers, and then eventually, good fruit. Too much nitrogen, which is in a lot of fertilizers as 24-6-12, is great for green leaves. For herbs, chard, spinach and other leafy greens, it’s fine, but not where you want to produce fruit.
Another common problem is blossom end rot. It’s where the fruit starts to rot at the bottom where the flower once was. It can occur in squash and peppers too. This is usually caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. It could also be caused by inconsistent watering. Be sure to water evenly and not let the plant dry out too much before you do water. As for the calcium, again, there are commercial preparations available, but I prefer to go natural here too. Use the water when you boil eggs to water the plants. Be sure to cool it down first! Save the eggshells and boil them again to get more calcium out of them. Add a few drops of vinegar to help leach the calcium out. Nettles also contain a lots of calcium. You can find them growing near water in moist areas. Bone meal will help some too, but it takes 6 months or so to get into the soil. Add it in the fall so it can be ready for spring planting.
I have to say here that I don’t like using lime for many reasons. The first is that it will alter the pH of the soil too much. Tomatoes like a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 and using lime will take up up to 7 or even 8. Too alkaline of a soil and tomatoes won’t produce well. I know a lot of old timers swear by it, but I’ve found it just doesn’t work well. Another problem with lime is that it takes 6 months or so to get into the soil. You might think you’re doing your garden good, but it takes so long to get into the soil that it doesn’t show any results until after your harvest is done, when the plants look bad anyway. I would just avoid it all together.
At The End of The Season
Finishing Up In The Garden
When your tomatoes are done for the season you can tear them out of the ground and destroy them. Remember not to compost them or you may end up with more problems. Turn your soil over and add some compost, mulch and biochar. I’ll always recommend biochar after doing the research on it and writing the article a few weeks ago. It’s a way to retain carbon in the soil as well as nutrients and beneficial bacteria and fungus. Plant a cover crop such as buckwheat and you’re all set for next year.
A Quick Recipe: Crushed Tomatoes
This year, now that we’ve solved many of the issues with tomatoes, the only problem you might have is how to use up your bounty. Here’s a quick recipe for Crushed Tomatoes that can be used with pasta or on bread, such as with bruchetta.
- 8-10 mediun tomatoes, peeled, seeded and crushed
- Fresh Basil, Garlic and Rosemary (to taste)
- Sea Salt, fresh gound pepper (to taste)
- Olive oil (to taste)
In a saucepan, simmer the garlic in the olive oil. The amount depends on you. I use a clove of garlic to 8 tomatoes. Don’t let it burn! Add the tomatoes and heat through. Add sea salt and pepper to your taste. When it is all heated through, remove from the heat and add chopped basil and rosemary. Serve over pasta or on bread.
Have you grown tomatoes this year? How is your crop doing?
photo credit to plutor