first ‘ripe’ tomatoes: uh-oh, green shoulders!

tomatoes with green shoulders
AND THE WINNER IS…GREEN SHOULDERS. I feel as if every year the first tomatoes to ripen here put me to a little test. As if I hadn’t waited long enough, they almost make it to the finish line, but then don’t, exactly. Last year my first fruits had blossom end rot, which like the green shoulders of this year’s issue (above), is not a disease but a physiological problem usually attributed to stress from weather, particularly in susceptible varieties.

The fruits above (which are ‘San Marzano 2’) got exposed to too much heat and sun while ripening, which caused the chlorophyll up toward the stem end to fail to break down and give way to other pigments. Again, apparently some varieties are more inclined to have this issue surface under such stress than others that are more resistant; I have read that heirlooms are more inclined to green shoulders than hybrids, but who knows if that is so? Sometimes the color shifts to yellow (called yellow shoulders, of course)–but even then, not to red.

The good news is that assuming subsequent fruits don’t get roasted and toasted on the vine, they’ll be fine. These two were on the lower part of the plant where some foliage had dried and dropped off, leaving them out in the altogether during the recent heatwave. If the plants had lost foliage where other fruit are forming, leaving them vulnerable, too, I’d provide some shade with a knitted fabric, forming a loose tent to block maybe 30 percent of the light or so.

Having your own tomato troubles? Misery loves company, so jump right in and let us know. (Or consult my Tomato Troubles FAQ’s if you want to do some homework right away on what’s up and how to handle it.)

  1. matthew g says:

    We’ve had a bit of blossom end rot…but it seems to have been only a few fruit on one vine. So far the only trouble has been a lack of rain (Northeast Indiana) and my lack of planning-the vines are hitting 6′ and my cages are mush too small (so lots-o-staking in going on). The watering continues…

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Matthew. i finally invested in giant tomato cages about five or slightly more years ago, and they will outlast me. Last year we had no rain to speak of during much of the tomato-growing season, and it really is hard to keep up with the watering, I know.

  2. I’m happy to report that my own tomato-blushing contest is coming along nicely. As always, Mexican Midgets were the first to ripen, quickly followed by German Pink and Italian Heirloom. Two days later, red Amish Paste and a lovely Cherokee Purple. The last two varieties to turn for me this year are Hungarian Heart and Brandywine Sudduth.

    I have dealt with a bit of blossom end rot in my Hungarian Hearts and German Pinks.

  3. Joan says:

    I have a few ripe tomatoes, but several are showing damage from the brown marmorated stinkbug–I hope I spelled that right. My only recourse is to pick before they are ripe or cover them. What an awful bug.

  4. NancyH says:

    My problem with tomatoes this year is that I did not get to plant any! I will be hitting the Farmer’s Market looking for any kind of shoulders they may have. As long as the tomatoes I find are not “baseball tomatoes,” I will be satisfied…and try again next year!

  5. Patsy says:

    I had blossom end rot last year too. I think it was because I used Miracle Gro against my instincts and they got too much phosphorous. This year I used Alaska Fish Fertilizer and they don’t have the rot. They are small this year due to the relentless heat I think but pretty hardy. Just starting to ripen and they are sweet as sugar.

  6. Judi says:

    Having the same issues here in Michigan, I didn’t think to shade them. silly me. Mostly my Amish tomatoes have a greem shoulder. I thought we just picked them too early. They did redden up in the basket in the counter, Taste pretty good too but are quite dry on the inside. Not as much seed and juice as usual. But I have a bunch f other heirloom varieties to wait for. Actually the tomatoes would be perfect as Christmas ornaments.

  7. gretchen says:

    count me in, annabelle. there are plenty of tomatoes on the vine, they look wonderful, they just aren’t ripe yet. sigh. we’ve had the first of the sweet corn here in eastern iowa but will have to wait a bit for our first tomato salad supper.

  8. Kristi says:

    My romas have blossom end rot. Is there anything you can do about it at this late date?
    The extended family beach trip is less than two weeks away. Must have tomatoes for the shore!

  9. Linda in gnawbone indiana says:

    Hi Margaret,
    We have had our share of weather adversity here in Indiana too. Way way too hot for too long. Plants look beautiful thanks to constant tending, but tomatoes are suffering from too much heat and sun….except for two plants which you turned me on to last year. “Reisentraub” and “Juliet” are awsome. Nice red color, prolific, and “Juliet ” was my first red tomato. So tasty too. No desease at all. Thank you for enlightening me about these two varieties. I will plant more next year!

    Linda in Gnawbone Indinana

  10. Kim Jessen says:

    It really seems as if all my tomatoes are taking much longer this year to turn red. There also has been some of what I call “dropage,” where I am finding little green tomatoes that have dropped off the vines before they ripened or finished growing.

  11. Kris Mo says:

    Blossom end rot is the pits! I’ve had a bit of it this year on my ‘Black Plum’ variety – likely because of the very erratic weather this season. Fortunately, it seems that newer fruits aren’t being affected. Can’t wait for that first, ripe bite!

  12. Melinda says:

    I had a great first flush from my “Porter” tomatoes. Does anyone know of a tomato that sets fruit in brutal heat? The low the other night in DFW was 86. Yes, I said 86. That was as cool as it got. From what I understand, even smaller fruited varieties like my treasured Porter fizzle out when the nights don’t cool into the 70s.

    BTW, that’s the highest “low” ever recorded in DFW. Yay us. *eyeroll*

  13. ann says:

    Tomato plants are loaded with fruit and have only 3 plants so will just allow them to sprawl on straw. Last year, wind blew cages over after fruit matured into top heavy and was a real mess..

  14. Eileen says:

    Tomatoes here in the Flint Hills of NE Kansas are later than I have ever seen them. July is over and there have been only a few Sungold cherries and a handful of Stupice which is a super-early variety. And one fabulous Marglobe, which is my new favorite heirloom. We had a long cold and rainy season and spring, and now two weeks of above-100 temps with only one rain.

  15. Jeri says:

    Hey Joan,

    About those stink bugs ….I found a praying mantis eating one yesterday! I even got a photo, I’m hoping they may be a good ally. As for tomatoes, all mine are volunteers, the gift of running out of time and being out of town. So far all are the surprise tomatoes are vigorous and ripening beautifully, the first is a roma, sooooo good warm right off the vine, heaven!
    Thanks for the conversation Margaret.

  16. Sandra Hutchison says:

    I’m impressed with the Hudson Valley Seed Library in that my earliest-ripening tomatoes have all been from their seed (for the varieties Principe de Borguese, New Yorker, and Fox Cherry). Principe was particularly early, by two weeks or so. The peppers from them have also been fruiting fast and furiously, though I was sorry to see that one of the “Bridge to Paris” plants got so heavy with fruit, it snapped in that storm this week. And yes, I have both green shoulders and my first case of blossom end rot in a paste tomato planted in the ground next to other, healthy plants. I think it’s Opalka, and it’s the only tomato in the front that is struggling, knock wood. (The heirlooms in the back are not doing well either, but that’s because they’ve already been eaten to the ground twice by deer.)

  17. mihaela cobb says:

    I need some of those Texas cages! They are expensive, but with the staking we are constantly doing these days, is money well spent. What is your favorite sauce tomato? I’m not so crazy about San Marzano-too dry, I want a little bit of juice- the Amish paste tastes better, but I’m still searching for the perfect sauce tomato.

  18. Too much rain and cool weather has left our crop far behind where is should be. We will also have to look out for the dreaded late blight with all this rain…now the zucchini on the other hand is as happy as can be! Kim

  19. Ami says:

    We have 2 -non organic tomato plants in containers growing on our deck and they both have blossom end rot. My boyfriend asked that these two were his and they be his Miracle Grow marvels. All my many plants in our vegetable garden are organic and show no Blossom end rot. They are loaded with fruit which are very unripe BUT I’ve been seeing these brown bugs wondering – what are they?? Im in Ghent in columbia county and never saw marmorated stink bugs. Well now I have and I guess I have to prepare for my gorgeous plants to go South. Me VERY SAD.

  20. Dee says:

    I’ve got tomatoes with blossom end rot and tomatoes with green shoulders and tomatoes with whirls of mosaic virus, and if I don’t pick them before they are ripe, the birds peck big holes in them. But I’m so glad for tomatoes that I don’t care — I can cut off the rotted ends and green shoulders and still make a sandwich.

    Check them out: http://behindthefence.net/2011/07/13/beauty-is-in-the-eyes-of-the-sandwich-maker/

    Incidentally, I lacked enough cages and stakes this year too, so I piled up mountains of mulch Ruth Stout style and let some of them sprawl. Those are doing better than the ones with support. Perhaps it’s the extra shade those get; we’ve had back-to-back 100 degree days for the past two weeks here in eastern North Carolina.

  21. Terri H. says:

    Wow–I didn’t know it was possible for tomatoes to get TOO MUCH sun & heat! But I guess that’s because I grew up in the Seattle area, where they hardly ever get ENOUGH sun and heat.

  22. Carla says:

    Margaret, I purchased the Texas Tomato Cages on your advice and WOW. The Sweet 100 has grown out of the 24 inch large cage with the extra 2 foot extension.

    I also (at the beginning) put hospital basins with the bottom cut out around each transplant so I fill those several times when watering. I planted them super deep to encourage rooting along the stem. Other than that I added eggshells and composted manure and water regularly.

    BMSBs are attacking individual tomatoes, that is about the only problem.

  23. We have 6 tomatoes sprawling all over the aisles of our raised bed garden with tons of green tomatoes and only some cherry varieties ripe so far. But the big deal is the dreaded tobacco hornworms that have been feasting on some branches and some tomatoes too. We have picked off and sent about 14 to an early watery grave but must be vigilant! Next year I will build those sturdy wooden supports, plant fewer tomato plants in a raised bed. Two across a 4′ span is one too many. The worms remind me of Alice in Wonderland. And, they are TOBACCO hornworms. Perfect!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.