The Road to Healthy, Productive Tomatoes

comments (11) August 5th, 2008

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Crop rotation and compost fight diseases from the soil. One of the best ways to avoid serious disease problems is not planting tomatoes where they, or any other members of the Solanaceae, have been grown during the past three years. This is a tall order, since eggplants, peppers, and potatoes—big favorites of home gardeners—are all closely related to tomatoes. Rotating where you plant vegetables is a good idea in general, but it’s critical for tomatoes because some of their most serious disease pathogens can survive for a number of years in the soil.

But what if your space is so small, a four-year rotation isn’t possible? Plant tomato varieties that show some resistance to nematodes as well as to the common foliar diseases like verticillium and fusarium wilts. Then add plenty of aerobic compost to the soil.

  Learn more:

Yes, You Can Practice Crop Rotation

Video: Composting Made Easy

Aerobic compost is turned every three days for several weeks, which speeds up decomposition and adds oxygen to the finished product. The compost should reach a temperature of 150°F during the process. Allow it to cool down and mature for at least four weeks. The finished compost will contain many beneficial microbes that can provide biological control of the undesirable soil organisms that cause sick tomatoes.

Add the compost either in the fall or in spring, at least four weeks before you plant your tomatoes. Mix in two or three heaping shovelfuls of compost per two cubic feet of soil.

The biological control of soil pathogens has been under research for many years, but is only now becoming practical in the real world. Companies are beginning to offer products containing mixtures of various microbes to add to potting mixes or to the soil at transplanting time. Some of these mixtures contain VAM fungi, and are already on the market for farmers. VAM stands for Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhizae—aren’t you sorry you asked?

VAM fungi actually attach to or penetrate the roots of a plant, increasing its vigor by enhancing its ability to take in nutrients. If these fungi do turn out to be as useful as their promoters and some scientists claim, no doubt home-garden-size packages will soon become available. But in the meantime, you can go a long way toward increasing VAM fungi and other beneficial microbes in your soil by adding well-made compost to the garden on a regular basis.

Rogue out sick plants and clean up debris in the fall. A number of pathogens can be blown from one plant to the next by wind, splashed around by rain, or transmitted by sucking insects such as aphids. Thus, plants that appear sick during the growing season should be pulled out immediately and all fallen debris from them raked up and removed. Leaving sick plants in place is a hazard to the healthy fruits and vegetables in your own garden and your neighbor’s.

  Read about fall cleanup:

Getting Ready to Garden

All the suspect vegetable matter can be put into the compost pile. As long as it gets really hot, at least 150°F, it will destroy the microbes that cause disease, essentially pasteurizing the material for your use next time. Since bacteria or fungal spores of many tomato diseases survive on plant debris at the end of the season, whether or not symptoms were visible, all vegetable remains should also be raked up as cleanly as possible after harvest and put into the compost rather than left to decompose in garden beds.

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posted in: tomatoes, pests

Comments (11)

steviestever writes: Spraying a light iodine solution 2% has been very effective for me. It seems to give the plants some immunity boost and keeps the leaves green and strong. I've used garden sulphur but it's not half as effective or as pleasant to work with as the iodine. :)
Posted: 11:54 pm on August 9th
butchfomby writes: A lot of tomato problems i think are caused by plant not getting the calcium it needs...I had trouble with blossom end rot until I started adding a handful of epsom salts to each tomato...must be that epsom salts makes calcium available to the plant or so it seems...a good ratio of calcium and magnesium is vital also...also we add a handful of gypsum to supply calcium and not change ph...

I think tomatoes growing to fast causes a lot of problems...the best crop for me ever was very slow growing...seems like they would never grow and produce, but canned 300 quarts from 12 plants...never been able to match that season since...well water 240 ft deep, soil was sandy loam and filled in holes with virgin forest soil so had mycorrhizae going good, never got over 95 that summer...all you can do is keep trying...the indian
Posted: 1:48 am on September 16th
butchfomby writes: A lot of tomato problems i think are caused by plant not getting the calcium it needs...I had trouble with blossom end rot until I started adding a handful of epsom salts to each tomato...must be that epsom salts makes calcium available to the plant or so it seems...a good ratio of calcium and magnesium is vital also...also we add a handful of gypsum to supply calcium and not change ph...

I think tomatoes growing to fast causes a lot of problems...the best crop for me ever was very slow growing...seems like they would never grow and produce, but canned 300 quarts from 12 plants...never been able to match that season since...well water 240 ft deep, soil was sandy loam and filled in holes with virgin forest soil so had mycorrhizae going good, never got over 95 that summer...all you can do is keep trying...the indian
Posted: 1:47 am on September 16th
grimey writes:
I've been growing tomatoes on the damp West Coast of BC for many years and only avioded blight by 1)Cover them to keep all moisture, including night-time dew, off the leaves.
And 2) If you can't cover them, spray with copper sulphate every couple of weeks or after a rain. Copper sulphate spray is still considered organic practice.
And HaveGreenThumb is dead-on stessing the importance of calcium to prevent blossom end-rot. We save all egg shells, powder them in the blender, then throw at least 1 cup in every hole when we plant. In this form the shells break down for use by the plant...otherwise larger pieces remain intact and the calcium can't be used by the plant.
Posted: 11:27 am on July 9th
luckysea13 writes: I've a small garden space. I've grown tomatoes every year, in a difference spot in the garden. I don't have any problems w/ diseases or fungis & leaf blight. I get my seed from Big Lots or the Dollar Tree. I've not a single problem at all. Then, I've had those big green ugly worms w/ horns in the front. All I did was spray my tomatoes w/ a homemade organic insecticide to take care of the worms. Thanks for a good article on tomatoes & what to look out for.
Posted: 4:51 pm on July 13th
GardenShooter writes: Hello. In response to the numerous inquiries regarding tomato blight, spraying the soil in the garden with Neem oil in early spring, before planting, worked liked a charm in our garden. It also took care of squash bugs, something we'd been plagued with the prior season. After treating the soil with neem oil, we waited a week or two and then began planting. We had the most productive year ever after that.
Posted: 8:32 am on June 6th
mrgardenboy writes: To DMC58 & Gingercats

I had the same proplem with my tomatoes Last year I moved mine and switched them with my pepper plants and it seemed to work better.Also a home remide trick here in southern Michigan we get our frost Early October or Late September And I start getting the same proplem you are getting ut off the leaves that are bad this takes away food from the good part of the plant.I use TARGET OR MEIJER BRAND Mouthwash The mouthwash keeps the bugs off try getting a strong one it does not matter if it is expired.This will keep the bugs and the leaves from turning yellow or white spots.If this does not work you may need to find another location for your tomato plants.
Good Luck!
Posted: 9:44 am on July 8th
Schatzi writes: Response to Gingercat and anyone else with tomato blight problems. Here in Western Washington we had severe late blight problems for several years, seemingly out of the blue. Then it seemed to disappear. As a master gardener, I can track these problems by the number of questions we get from gardeners. It was so bad for several years that I started growing my tomatoes in a small greenhouse. Anything you can do to keep the leaves dry helps, but sometimes even heavy humidity can aid in infection. Early blight is not as severe a problem. Late blight is what caused the potato famine in Ireland in the nineteenth century. Fungicides have not been proven to help much, but may be worth a try. Other than that, pray for hot dry weather!
Posted: 11:02 am on April 28th
dmc58 writes: I'm having the same problems with my tomatoes too. I live in Daytona Beach and was wondering if not having any bees to polinate my vegs is part of the problem. All of my squashes, cukes or any vine that I plant, I maybe get 1 piece of fruit and then the vines don't produce any more- its very frustrating when you put all that work into planting vegs and not to have them produce fruit. I use my own composite, water and feed them, but have hard time growing anything. Any help would be appreciated.
Posted: 12:12 pm on August 26th
gingercat writes: I moved into my home in 2002, since the first summer of my veggie garden, I've had a huge tomato leaf blight problem. Every year I've tried numerous things, so I wouldn't have to deal with blight the folowing year. Nothing helps.
I was wondering if I should start treating them with an organic fungucide as soon as I plant them in the ground this year and continue to spray them every 14 day through out the growing season.
If anyone has any advise I would really appreciate it. I rotate, I plant them far enough away, I only water in the morning and I keep all my tomatoes caged and staked and I still deal with extreme blight every season. I hits mid season.
Thanks
Posted: 6:11 pm on April 24th
HaveGreenThumb writes: Just want to mention the importance of calcium to tomato health. It is very important to help prevent blossom end rot and cracking on the crown. Also helps prevent other diseases by building strong cell walls.

Dolomitic lime can help and there are natural products that deliver calcium to the plant by foliar spraying.
Posted: 10:46 am on April 24th
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