Homegrown Tomatoes: Diagnosing & Fixing Troubles

The Gardenist

When I left for a three week camping vacation earlier this month, I arranged for a fantastic gardening friend to care for my vegetable patch while I was away. Despite her care, though, I came home to a few troubles which I am quickly addressing — particularly with my beloved tomatoes. How is your garden growing… are you noticing any of these issues?

Tomato season hasn't fully set on for me in Massachusetts, but the early arrivals of Sungold tomatoes were almost universally split (although not as beautifully as the example above, from the Phantom Rickshaw).

The culprit for this was easy — right before we left we installed a brand new irrigation system, and then the morning that we left the power went out briefly. Who knew that the new timer didn't have a memory and would need to be reset? So in our first days of travel, our tomatoes were not being watered consistently (or at all). Noticing the problem, my garden-helping friend re-programmed the water sprinkler, but not before we suffered a batch of baby tomatoes that matured into split tomatoes. Split tomatoes generally come from inconsistent watering. They are growing inconsistently (due to irregular watering), and they simply split the skin when the water comes back. Fix the watering cycle and you will likely fix the tomatoes.

Do you have a batch of split tomatoes? Don't throw them away… throw them in a pot! They make lovely sauce with the use of a Passata Maker (if you love to grow tomatoes, you simply must have one of these — and it should be noted that I 100% disagree with the reviews of this product on Amazon. If you need help figuring it out, leave a comment and we can discuss — it is the best.). Boil the tomatoes (perhaps adding a little onion, garlic or even some other veg), then run the whole thing through the passata maker, and like magic you have perfect tomato sauce without the trouble of peeling, seeding or anything else that is tedious or time consuming. You can even use the tiny tomatoes without making yourself crazy.

I also noticed a some yellowing leaves on my plants, which I immediately panicked over. If you grow tomatoes, you must educate yourself about Late Blight. Late Blight threatens to wipe out organic tomato crops completely, and since it is is highly contagious, it will take a community of growers (yes, even those of you who just grow a few in your back yards are included) to control it.

Late Blight has threatened tomato crops throughout the country for the last few years. Here in Massachusetts, a USDA disaster was declared in 2009 for the tomato crop when it was all but wiped out from blight. Keep an eye on your crops and get to know the warning signs… see them here.

I don't have Late Blight — what I have is plants that have grown like healthy weeds during my three week journey, and subsequently some of the leaves on the inner sections of the plants are wilting, yellowing and dying from lack of light and air. A little leaf thinning (but not too much) should solve the problem. If your plants are doing the same, there is nothing harmful about thinning out the leaves (just pinch them off at the stem) to help the plant maintain itself.

What tomato problems are you experiencing? Or maybe you have a bumper crop? I would be happy to offer some advice — or we can collectively help each other out — in the comments.

(Image: Shutterstock)