In Your Garden: Tomatoes

We're in the home stretch for tomatoes.  After the hot weather of July most people finally have some fruits setting on their plants and some folks have started to harvest.  Now is the time for rewards for our hard work.  Just watch out for a few late season pests and you'll make sure to harvest all your ripe, red tomatoes.

First, scout daily for tomato horn worms.  These caterpillars can be difficult to spot as they are the same color as the stems and leaves of your plants.  You don't want to miss them, however, as a single worm can eat one quarter of a tomato plant overnight!  If you do find them, the best way to get rid of them is to pick them off and kill them.  Drop them in a bucket of soapy water or just squish them.  Either way, you'll stop their feast.

Also watch for leaf spot diseases.  When tomatoes are ripening, they need all the leaves they can to develop the sugars in the fruit that make them so tasty.  If you start to notice yellowing leaves or green leaves with black spots, try to pick them off and dispose of them away from the plants.  You may need a copper fungicide application if the spots are too bad, but early detection can help.  It's also best to water in the morning and try to avoid getting the leaves wet.  Most tomato leaf spots spread by splashing water so only water your plants at the base.

Speaking of water, as the fruit ripens, it's critical to maintain an even moisture to prevent fruit from cracking.  Cracking happens when the soil is dry and then the plant suddenly gets water either from rain or from watering the plants.  If the soil was dry, the tomato plant will take up a lot of moisture when it's available and try to store it in the fruit.  All that water too quickly swells the tomato and causes it to crack.  This can be avoided by making sure your plants never dry out.  Water them regularly and apply a nice thick layer of composted leaves or lawn clippings to help keep the soil from drying. 

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