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wet-year tomato troubles: the plot sickens

rotten tomatoI HARVESTED TWO RIPE TOMATOES THIS WEEK, or so I thought. Too bad they were all black and nasty inside. Like I said not long ago in “Tomato Troubles in a Wet Year,” we’ve got trouble here in River City. And the plot just sickened.

I’m thinking the nearly 6 inches of additional rain this last week won’t exactly be providing any curative effects, either.

What’s wrong with my fruit? The plants they came from look otherwise-healthy (all are hybrid paste types; my heirlooms are on the critical list already, having no built-in disease resistance, apparently, to whatever ails me). I actually think that the red ones with the black insides suffered not from a disease, but from some meteorological upset at pollination time, affecting the would-be seeds, which might mean the later-setting ones (many green fruits are hanging now, all apparently intact) will be OK. (Aren’t I the endless Pollyana? Please, don’t burst my watery bubble.)

But that green guy with wet blossom end? I bet he has some anthracnose, or alternaria, or something else disgusting-sounding in the fungal arena.

I am no plant pathologist, so who knows what’s really up, and I suspect even the professionals’ heads are spinning in a year that has the Pacific Northwest and parts of the South like Texas toasted, and the Northeast drowning and relatively cool.

I’m just a gardener, and a cook whose vegetarian diet relies heavily on an annual stash of all my year’s worth of tomato products that I put up. So what I all I really want to know is this:

Where’s that going to come from? The usual “staples” (like part of last year’s frozen bounty, below) are starting to look like they’ll be luxury items in this upside-down year.

frozen sauce

  1. martina says:

    That is awful! One hint I heard somewhere is putting a Tums pill by tomato plant roots. It is supposed to stop blossom end rot. Our tomatos were planted in Miracle Gro soil with fertilizers. Probably not the most organic but the crops are doing great. The other thing I did was put copper tape around the raised bed perimeter(no slugs!).

  2. coryy says:

    Here’s a good link that explains BER (blossom end rot):
    http://faq.gardenweb.com/faq/lists/tomato/2000082444023571.html

    The huge amount of rain washes the calcium out of the soil, collapsing the plant’s cell walls. At least the damage isn’t contagious or fungal and is limited to the tomatoes at hand….If you can balance the ABSURD amount of water the plants are getting, it should fix itself on future tomatoes from the same plant. (and if you can stop all this rain, please, send that magic to Ohio! we’re drowning!)
    This is why I love to look at blogs like yours….where sensible people concentrate on things like perennials instead of re-building a veggie garden every year to see how to “learn something new the hard way” like I seem to be doing. I’m sorry about your tomatoes. At least you can FIND your plants…mine seem hidden by all the weeds, no matter how often I pull them! I just cleaned out the canning jar cupboard yesterday and looked at all those jars that won’t be full of sauce—unless, of course, I use this as a good excuse to stock up at the farmers’ market…..

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Coryy. Yes, all the leaching of nutrients will certainly make Calcium uptake a challenge. The thing about these lesions: they are watery, not leathery, and happened on a fully formed fruit, not one that was half-developed, hence my wondering/suspecting if/that it was one of the other things.

      Who knows (and a rotten tomato’s a rotten tomato!)? Cornell has a whole page about blossom end rot as well, for people wanting lots of detail. See you soon again, and thanks for the encouragement.

      Welcome, Katie. I am so sorry to read of your weather, which has been the inverse proportion of here (I think we are both in one of Dante’s stages of hell or whatever, as are my friends in Texas, but each a different stage). Compost tea is a good idea, thank you, and also thanks for your kind words. See you soon.

  3. Charlotte K says:

    Those look terrible. At first I thought they were red peppers with mold inside (the way they get if you leave them too long). I’m so sorry. I think I”ll go out now and stock up on canned tomatoes (although I gather this is an Eastern, not nationwide blight).

  4. Katie says:

    Aargh! I feel your pain! I am a Pac Nor’wester suffering from various tomato issues. I found your links to Cornell very helpful.
    Upon the advice of my local garden center employee, I drenched my tomato’s in compost tea. Hopefully it will help.
    P.S.
    I am a newbie to your site and have found all of the information very helpful!

  5. Heather says:

    This has been such a terrible year here in the northeast. I’m putting off ripping out all of my tomatoes at this point. They are all quickly dying of early blight. I’ve had it most years, but usually in September. The rain is killing all the tomatoes and I don’t know a single gardener who isn’t affected around here. I’ll be stocking up on canned tomatoes before the price goes sky high.

  6. Bee Balm Gal says:

    An hour north of you, Margaret, my half-dozen tomato plants are a total wash out. I have resorted to a local farmers market vendor who has a large greenhouse…
    No just-off-the-vine insalata caprese for me this year (sigh!)

  7. Margaret says:

    Welcome, Heather. I am hoarding my remaining frozen tomato sauce from 08, and hoping that at some farm market or other I find passable tomatoes for some amount of sauce, if mine go kaput the rest of the way.

    Welcome, Bee Balm Gal. Greenhouse is probably going to be the way to go, you are right. And did you have to say “off-the-vine caprese”? Mouth is watering!

    See you both again, I hope.

  8. Karen Preuss says:

    Margaret, did you read the article on our tomatoes in this week’s New York Times (Style/Dining section)? Apparently, Northeast potatoes are going to have a rough go of it this year as well. The smaller greenmarkets I’ve been to in Manhattan and the Bronx the past two Saturdays have had pretty slim pickings for tomatoes, and what I did get were just tasteless. At least the corn is good….

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Karen. Yes, I did see The Times story, after the one in the Washington Post etc. Not looking hopeful at all. Sigh. See you soon again, if not for tomato news then something else maybe? :)

  9. Garden Guy Kenn says:

    All of my Brandywine tomatoes are toast. They look great until they begin to ripen, then this black, rotted hole begins at the bottom and at the top (stem end) of the tomato and they just get disgusting. When green, they appear fine (and quite a dandy size), but let them put on a little ‘blush’ of color and the rotting party begins. Truly disappointing after all of the tender loving care.

  10. Debkb says:

    Sorry about the tomatoes. They look awful. I’m afraid I’m not going to see a single tomato. Read on.

    Being in the northeast with the cooler and wetter weather my tomatoes weren’t doing too bad until the deer found them. They’ve always been around but usually leave my veggie garden alone. Notice I said usually. Not this year. First they stepped over the fence and ate the tops off of the plants. When they did that I at least had some green fruit on the plants. Then to add insult to injury they came back and ate all but one of the green tomatoes off all my plants and they’ve continued to eat more of the plants themselves. Aaaack! I was so disgusted when I saw all the tomatoes gone I wanted to rip the plants out of the ground! Any suggestions on how to keep them out of my veggie garden next year???

  11. Catherine says:

    man, read these reports with some sense of relief since my 15 tomato plants are flowered and have green fruit…then I saw the post about ‘first blush’ and kaput…that’ll be me screaming from NW IL….sigh

    Catherine

  12. Rosella says:

    Oh, dear! I don’t want to say this, because I can already feel the barrage of blossom-end-rotted tomatoes hitting me, but here in the mid-Atlantic things dried up in late June and we have had the second-driest July on record. Therefore–no early or late blight on the tomatoes, but not many tomatoes either because it just didn’t get warm enough for them to set their fruit, and some of my most reliable performers have just turned up their toes and given in.

    There is though a silver lining. We have a bumper crop of eggplant. Why did I feel it necessary to plant four of them when my husband doesn’t like eggplant even when I call it aubergine, and although I like it I can only eat so much?

  13. Margaret says:

    @Debkb: I am all about deer fence (whether just the vegetable area or the whole place. I don’t think anything else is suitable, especially on edibles, or as reliable as a barrier (whether temporary or permanent, and around a small or large area).

  14. Johanna says:

    I am curious, Margaret, can you still use the walls of those tomatoes? From the photo it appears that they are normal — if so, it would be a shame to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    Seeing them made me think of my old backyard peach tree. Just as the peaches reached fragrant peak perfection, the nasty squirrel would come along, pick one up in his furry mitts, take one bite and then throw the rest of the beautiful peach down to the grass where it would be covered in ants. At first I was disgusted, but as the days went on I changed my tune, hosed the ants off, cut away the squirrel bite and ate the rest of those peaches! Too delicious to let them go!

  15. susan says:

    I would like to report that here in SE PA, I have been harvesting tomatoes for the past few weeks. I always plant a few different varieties , and I have to report that the Big Boy’s in my garden have been the best producers. My heirlooms are not so happy, ‘Mr Stripey’ past on a while ago, Brandywines are holding their own, although I found that by harvesting them before they are fully ripened, keeps the cracking to a minimum.

    My grandparents were Italian immigrants and they raised 8 children on what they grew, or the animals they kept. I can remember the excitement when the old Italian guys discovered the pomodoro “Bigga Boy”, followed by “Bigga Gal”. They would grow nothing else. This year, I now know why.

  16. Nancy says:

    Well, the rain has come again–don’t see why we can’t get two sunny days in a row–we seem to have no trouble gathering strings of rainy days!–and our tomatoes are clinging wetly to their vines. One is red, but not yet ripe, and two or three are starting to blush, including one on the “upside-down experiment.” The u-d plant is pretty bedraggled, and not keeping up with its right-side up buddies in production, but still going. What I see from this perspective is that there is lots more opportunity for the vegetation to wither (not enough consistent moisture in a situation of consistent overwatering–go figure).
    Next year, I think I’ll line the frame with peat mats and plant strawberries through the sides; might be pretty, even if I don’t get fruit–the woodchucks are not tall enough to eat the plants and I do have bird-netting available! Hope my tomatoes hang in, but I am prepared for the worst…I think.

  17. Margaret says:

    Welcome, Susan. Yes, the heirlooms really have taken a horrible beating in our wet areas. Good lesson for all of us to mix it up (which I always do….but I may mix it up even more in the future). See you soon again.

    @Johanna: Yes, can use them (and will). I always cut around bad parts of fruits and vegetables, having a very high “icky” tolerance here. The scary part, though: If you were canning whole tomatoes, as I did for years, you’d never know which fruits had this inside and wow, what a disaster that would cause.

  18. catjane says:

    I’m just keeping my fingers crossed. My tomatoes look OK so far. (Was that thunder I just heard?!) On a related question . . . does foliar feeding really work? Many of my plants need a pick-me-up, and I have a supply of fish emulsion on hand, but I don’t want to dump more water on the roots. I could use my sprayer to “feed” the leaves, if it would help.

  19. Amy says:

    Prob’ly nothing would help much in a season as bad as this one in the Northeast, but some thoughts:
    I’ve read that many of the tomato plants were already carrying diseases prior to sale. Tomatoes are really easy to grow from seed, and home-grown plants eliminate that risk.
    Gardens Alive has a tomato fertilizer that contains both calcium and magnesium I think, both of which seem to make the plants a little stronger.
    Adding regular old playground sand and all the compost than can be spared into the planting holes does improve drainage.
    And then there’s the Sun Dance…..

  20. ann says:

    I had to pull up all but four of my more-than-a-dozen plants yesterday because we finally got the blight. Sob. I harvested pounds upon pounds of green tomatoes, and since there’s not space in my freezer (it’s been a banner year for high-bush blackberries), I’m canning up a few quarts of green tomato sauce as I type. It’s not fresh, red, ripe tomato sauce, to be sure, but it’s still pretty good with lots of cheese, garlic and herbs. Good luck Margaret, and may this rotten rain go straight to hades.

  21. I’m in the Northeast and this year has been a bad harvest year for me. My tomatoes and eggplants are all in the Earthbox and I think the Earthbox helped a bit but the harvest is bad compare to last year. All my tomatoes are still green though.

  22. Kristina says:

    We could use some of that rain here in Nebraska! My tomatoes aren’t as vigorous as they have been in past years but I am getting some decent ones. I’ve added bonemeal to my soil in years past and that seems to have helped with blossom end rot. Good luck!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Kristina. I offered the rain gods first-class airfare to travel your way and farther west as well, but no dice. Thanks for the tips; I added bone meal in spring, but I think the 2 feet of rain since has just about undone everything. Sigh. See you soon.

  23. chigal says:

    This has all been very interesting to me as a container gardener. Lots of admonitions to keep tomato plants evenly moist in containers. And yet, too much water seems like a very bad thing, by this post. I’m hoping that as long as the containers have adequate drainage, the roots (and the fruit) will stay healthy.

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