There are several sources of tomato problems while growing your tomatoes at home. These can be loosely classified as tomato diseases, tomato pests and tomato harvesting issues.
There are various kinds of diseases that affect home garden tomatoes.
Wilting diseases for example would include the tomato spotted wilt virus, which can start as brown and bronze colored spots on leaves, spread to the stems as cankers, and eventually affect the tomatoes themselves by displaying massive yellowish spots on the fruit.
Once discovered, the affected plants cannot be treated and must be thrown in the garbage (not on the ground). The best way to avoid this wilting disease is to start with seed that is certified virus-free. Look for instructions stating that the seeds are resistant to TSWV.
Another kind of wilting disease is caused by the Verticillium and Fusarium fungi. These are very similar tomato diseases symptomized by the yellowing and wilting of the plant leaves. Ultimately the defoliation caused by this disease leads to stunting of the plant growth.
Once again, the best defense is to never allow the disease to develop. Purchase seeds that are labeled VFN, to indicate they are fungal resistant.
In addition to wilting diseases there are also rotting diseases which affect tomato plants and have differing causes.
One of the easiest rotting diseases to prevent is soil rot. This is a fungal rot which causes brownish rotting patches on the sides of the tomatoes. It can show up during periods of extreme rain, or as a result of excessive watering.
Soil rot is caused by contact of the tomatoes with the surrounding soil. It can happen when rain or excessive irrigation washes the soil on to the fruit. More commonly it occurs when the tomatoes are allowed to settle on the ground during development.
The best cure for this kind of infection is proper staking of your tomato plants to support the development of your fruit above the ground.
Blossom end rot is another common tomato rotting disease which again is easily prevented. This kind of problem is commonly found among “newbie” tomato growers who may have forgotten to water their tomatoes for a few days, and then seek to make up for it by drenching their plants.
Long, uneven watering cycles like that cause calcium deficiencies in your plants. This results in the black or brown watery blotches on the blossom end of the tomatoes commonly known as blossom end rot.
The cure is even, steady watering of your plants every other day. Many growers prefer some form of drip irrigation or drip hosing of their plants. For many home tomato growers, the easiest answer is to simply bury a one gallon milk carton with several small holes punched in the bottom.
The container should be buried near the roots of the plants and filled with water, which can then gradually seep into the ground over time.
There are very many kinds of tomato pests in the garden, and a complete rundown of all of them would be impossible in this short space. However, we can discuss two very common types of pests that repeatedly show up in home tomato gardens – hornworms and cutworms.
These are very large caterpillars that feed off the leaves of the plants. They can average 3 – 4 inches in size which makes them enormous by the standards of most garden pests. This also makes them easier to deal with. Simply pick them up and throw them away. Preferably throw them in the garbage – just don’t throw them anywhere near your other plants.
Sometimes, however hornworms may be difficult to spot. Their greenish color can make excellent camouflage. One popular technique to flush them out is to spray your plants with water briefly to see if the hornworms will “squirm” around.
Cutworms are potentially tougher to deal with the hornworms. They are much tinier and therefore almost impossible to spot. They will feed on your young seedling plants and ultimately kill them.
The best way to defeat cutworms is to prevent infestation. A popular non-insecticide method is to surround your seedlings with “rings” – strips of aluminum foil or heavy cardboard at least 10 inches long and 4 inches wide.
Form the strips into rings surrounding each seedling. Sink them at least one inch deep into the soil to form a “wall” to prevent cutworm infestation.
First, you want to avoid a single harvest that yields too many tomatoes. When you have too many tomatoes at one time, you may not be able to adequately consume them before they begin to rot.
Second, you should consider the growing season in your area, since tomatoes tend to be warm weather plants.
Depending on where you live, a great solution for the problem of large harvests is simply to stagger the planting of your tomatoes so that they are harvested at different times – numerous smaller harvests rather than one big harvest.
In order to adequately facilitate smaller harvests, you must address the second problem – the growing season in your geographic area.
Most tomato plant varieties require 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day and temperatures of 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and no lower than 60 degrees at night. For this reason the optimal time to plant seedlings in most temperate climates is at the beginning of May. Harvests generally begin in late July and last through August.
If you are up to the challenge of planting tomatoes from seeds, then in most temperate climates in the Northern Hemisphere you should start the seeds in trays indoors in early to mid March. You can then transplant them outdoors as seedlings in May.
Now, for those of you who are fortunate enough to live in extremely warm climates, the tomato growing season may last through most of the year, and therefore staggering your planting will not present a problem.
For those who live in colder or temperate climates, however, you may have to manipulate the tomato growing environment in order to stagger and therefore lengthen the harvest time.
The most popular solution for cold climate tomato growers is to set up portable, compact greenhouses. These “mini-greenhouses” are readily available on the internet, and can be quite inexpensive. They can be purchased in any size to fit your garden.
With a mini-greenhouse you can gradually and safely expose the tomato plants to the outside cold and therefore lengthen the natural growing season for your region. But at all costs you must make sure that you protect your tomato plants from frost, which will kill the plants quickly.
No matter where you live, you should make sure your soil is kept moist and well aerated. In order to do this, you should use drip irrigation and till the soil well. The soil should be kept slightly acid with an optimal pH level between 6.0 – 6.5. Keep the soil well-drained and high in organic matter.
Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in the world, appearing in a myriad of dishes, sauces and salads. They are also among the easiest plants to cultivate. For these reasons, you will find tomatoes grown in homes throughout the world in many different climates. Following these basic guidelines will help you grow your tomatoes without any problems, no matter where you live.