The heat and humidity are back! Though we may not love it, the tomatoes are having a blast – this is their favorite kind of weather. It’s during this crazy kind of heat that tomatoes grow the best. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year that pests and disease start to show up. Here are a few fun, interesting and important things about tomatoes that will either help you grow better fruit or may just be entertaining.

Did you know?

  • Tomatoes were classified as a fruit in the 1800s so they could be taxed.
  • Tomatoes contain a bunch of healthy vitamins, including beta carotene and lycopene.
  • The lycopene in tomatoes may act as a natural sun protectant. You can’t skip the sunscreen, but for added protection, researchers in the UK found that consuming tomato paste added an extra protective boost. Sounds like a good reason to eat more marinara sauce!
  • More than 90% of American gardeners grow tomatoes. And, America is second only to China in tomato production.

Tomato care basics

For all these tasty tomatoes to thrive, there are a few tomato care basics to follow.

If you haven’t been fertilizing your tomatoes, start now! They need good food to produce good food for us. Choose a fertilizer with calcium, which helps prevent blossom end rot. Purple Cow Tomato, Coop Poop, and Tomato Tone are excellent choices.

Stake those indeterminate varieties. Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain height and stop. They flower and set fruit and are done, which makes them great for canning because you get a big yield all at once. Indeterminate tomatoes are like vines and just keep going and going, including their flowering and fruiting, and they generally taste better than determinate varieties. They do best when supported by a stake or cage.

Remove leaves that touch the ground to keep them from picking up diseases in the soil.

Prune suckers to increase production.

Mulch with straw or herbicide-free grass clippings to conserve moisture.

Problems and solutions

Tomatoes can suffer a variety of disorders and diseases. Some are preventable, some aren’t really a big deal. Here’s what to look for and how to help.

Leaf roll – If the leaves of your tomato plant roll up like a tube, the plant is probably just stressed from dry weather, too much water, or growing too fast. This problem will likely fix itself and not cause a lower yield.

Tomato with anthracnose

Tomato with anthracnose. Photo from UMN Extension.

Anthracnose – Ugly, sunken spots on fruit. Stake and mulch to help prevent, use copper fungicide if necessary, and clean up plant debris at the end of the season (this is how anthracnose overwinters).

Blossom-end rot – This is an ugly, soft black spot on the bottom of the tomato. Though it’s caused by calcium deficiency, it may not be a sign of too little calcium in the soil. Instead, the tomato may not be able to take up the available calcium. To help prevent the problem: keep the soil consistently moist (as much as possible), add a fertilizer with calcium, and don’t over-apply nitrogen.

Sunscald – These are light yellow spots caused by too much sun exposure. This isn’t overly damaging. Don’t over-prune to maintain good leaf coverage, and stake tomatoes so they can hang below leaves to prevent too much exposure to the sun.

Early and late blight – Both live in the soil and show up as ugly splotches on the leaves. Fungicides may be effective. Mulch soil to prevent splashing onto leaves. Rotate crops from year to year so tomatoes aren’t grown in the same spot over and over.

Pests – Tomato horn worm and flea beetle are two pest problems. Typically flea beetle flies in, munches a few little holes, and is gone by the time the damage is noticed. They don’t really cause any lasting damage. Tomato horn worm can defoliate plants, and the bigger they are the more quickly they do it. Hand pick and toss into soapy water if found on plants.

For more information and photos of tomato damage to help diagnose problems, visit the University of Minnesota Extension site http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/vegetables/#tomatoes

Enjoy the harvest

After all that careful attention to tomato plants, it’s time to enjoy the harvest and eat up!

Why make the long trek from garden to house before enjoying tomatoes? They’re often best when just picked, slightly warm from the sun. Just dust them off on your shirt hem and enjoy!

If the tomatoes do make it all the way into the house, there are endless awesome ways to eat them. Caprese salads are always a favorite. Don’t forget about bruschetta topping, roasted tomatoes, kabobs, fresh salsa and pico de gallo, sliced with salt, tossed in pasta salad. . . .Enjoy the endless, delicious possibilities of home-grown tomatoes!

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