My mom left a bag of goodies in my car this week. No, it wasn’t zucchini overload from her garden. It was a bag full of green tomatoes.
Homegrown tomatoes are hanging heavy on the vine and it doesn’t hurt to pull a few off early and fry them while they are green. Keep an eye on your valuable summer fruit and try to avoid some of the most common problems as they ripen.
Some tomatoes growing on the vine have large cracks on the top. This also happens when we have a long dry spell, then a heavy rain. The plant gets stressed out without water, then is overwhelmed with too much moisture. The drought tells the plant to hurry up and ripen. Then when it is hit with a nice long rain, the fruit starts to grow again and its skin will stretch and crack.
If the cracks are deep, this invites other pests. Bacteria and other bugs like to feed on them. This can ruin the fruit. But shallow cracks can heal on their own and still make it to the dinner table.
Some of the larger tomato varieties are more vulnerable to the moisture changes and are more susceptible to cracking. And these splits will show up later in the growing season when the days are hotter.
To keep your tomatoes from cracking, keep their water level even. Give them about an inch of water a week in the early morning.
Black spots on the bottom of your tomatoes can be a sign of stress on the plant. According to Ohio State University, blossom-end rot starts when the fruit is small and usually appears where the fruit is wet. The fruit sits too close to the ground or under a leaf that keeps it moist. Black sunken spots appear and can get bigger and even turn leathery, sometimes covering the bottom half of the fruit. This is a sign that the plant is low in calcium. The dry, sunken areas are where the cells didn’t form properly and start to break down.
Once it is infected, other parasites might jump on board like molds that feed on the rotting fruit and will turn the edges tan or white. It affects tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Squash and watermelon can also be affected by blossom-end rot.
Here’s some good news. The healthy part of the fruit can be salvaged and is edible. Give your plant about an inch of moisture each week. It is best to do this all at one time to encourage the roots to grow deeply into the soil, rather than stay on top to drink up a few minutes of sprinkler spray every day. Keep your soil pH around 6.5 and an extra dose of lime might help boost the calcium for your plant.
An aggressive fungus can cause a lot of problems in our tomato patch. It is called anthracnose. Small black sunken spots are one of the first signs on your ripe fruit. You might see the black rings on the foliage and on the stems. The leaves will turn yellow and start to fall off early.
The fungus that causes anthracnose is in the soil. It spreads when it is wet and splashes up on the plant it can spread like wildfire in hot, rainy weather. It will also multiply if you are watering too much or when it is cool in the evening, not giving the foliage a chance to dry off.
A fungicide can help once you see first signs of anthracnose. Always destroy all fruit and foliage once it is infected with anthracnose. But fruit that is clear of small black rings is fine to eat. You will also have to rotate your crops away from that section of the garden for a few seasons. Avoid planting peppers, squash, eggplant and watermelon in that location too.
Fried green tomatoes, BLT’s and fresh salsa. I think I must be my mom’s favorite. Just don’t tell my brother and sisters.
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at email@example.com