Tomato Tips from our Master Gardener

Gwen shared so much great information last week that this post will focus on tomatoes. We’ll get to the pests another time!

A tour of the plots revealed an impressive variety of heirloom and traditional tomatoes of all sizes and shapes and hues. Sadly, a number of tomatoes have blossom end rot. The name says it all – the bottom of the fruit turns black and it rots away. There are different theories as to the cause: a lack of calcium is one. According to Gwen, Ontario soil typically has good calcium levels – except in drought conditions. This has been a tricky year, weather-wise, and the tomatoes reflect that. If your tomatoes have blossom end rot or blight (small black spots on the skin), you must take away the affected fruit. Put them in your green bin, don’t compost them. See below for fertilizing tips that may help prevent these conditions.

  • Don’t be concerned about yellow leaves; they show the plant’s energy is going to the fruit. Prune some leaves to allow air to flow around the fruit, but remember that leaves also protect tomatoes from harsh sunlight.
    heirloom tomatoes

    Anna’s heirloom tomatoes

  • Prune all stems and suckers below blossoming and fruiting stems to allow more light and energy to reach the plants’ fruiting parts. Suckers can produce fruit, but they diffuse the growing energy.
  • Epsom salts = magnesium sulfate and is a good mineral supplement. Add 1/2 cup Epsom salts to 1 gallon of water. Fertilize with this weekly if your plants are affected by blossom end rot and/or blight; otherwise, use once or twice per growing season. Next spring, use this at planting time as a dry side dressing: about 1 cup per small garden plot, with 1 tbsp in the planting hole.
  • Fertilize weekly: Use 5-10-10 NPK. Kelp is an excellent fertilizer, also fish emulsion. Crushed egg shells are also effective, but raccoons love them, so beware!
  • Water, water, water! Visit your plot three times a week and water as needed if the soil 2 inches down is dry.
  • Water at the base of the plant. Avoid wetting the leaves, as this can promote disease.
  • Mulch is vital. Put down 1-2 inches of compost, straw, shredded damp newspaper (there’s another use for your paper shredder!), even a thin layer of sawdust. Don’t let mulch touch the stems of plants.
  • When pruning a plant that has disease, be sure to clean your clippers before moving on to another plant. Gwen stocks up on small disinfectant wipes for this purpose.

Lastly, a couple of things to consider next spring:

  • When choosing tomato varieties, look for ones with the initial V, F, N or T. This means they are tolerant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, nematodes or tobacco mosaic virus.
  • Gwen recommends starting every season with fresh soil. (Note to self: put this on the agenda for next spring’s AGM!)

I think that captures last week’s tomato talk. Thanks for sharing your knowledge, and your notes, Gwen! Happy gardening, everyone!


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